NASCAR knows best

NASCAR gets a bad rap. Is it the pinnacle of automotive technology? Hardly, but that’s besides the point. NASCAR is all about putting on a good show. There is genuine competition among the field (if you drive a Chevy, sorry Ford). 10 different drivers have won races this season. F1 and WEC have elected to focus on outright performance as opposed to viewer enjoyment and both series are dominated by single teams.

That being said, NASCAR isn’t for me. My new favorite form of 4 wheel racing is Stadium Super Trucks (SST). It’s essentially trophy trucks racing on paved road courses with jumps added to the straightaways. Off-road tires coupled with the huge suspension travel gives these cars poor on-road performance but makes things terribly entertaining. The trucks are either on three wheels in the turns, launching 20 feet in the air or crashing. This might be the best form of motor racing I’ve ever seen.

short slow mo

onboard

unconventional

If you were asked to start from scratch and design a purpose-built race car, chances are it wouldn’t be front-wheel drive or a front-engine layout. But Nissan has done just that with their front-engine front-wheel drive LMP1 GT-R LM prototype that will compete in the World Endurance Championship (and Le Mans) against Porsche, Audi and Toyota’s trio of mid-engine rear-wheel drive bias prototypes, and I’m hoping that Nissan destroys the competition.

This isn’t because I’m partial to Nissan or FWD, but because it challenges the status quo. Nissan has been on a bit of a roll with unconventional setups, first with the Delta Wing/ZEOD but that was more of a proof of concept than competitive challenger like the GT-R LM. Manufacturers understandably don’t take risks on this scale very often. It’s horrifically expensive to develop and race a competitive hybrid prototype in WEC’s LMP1 class, and Nissan’s gamble could totally backfire. Bottom line, you have to respect Nissan for the effort.

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton's batmobile

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton’s batmobile

It also doesn’t hurt that the GT-R LM looks absolutely insane. While its styling and packaging is all in the name of airflow and performance, it still ends up looking more hot rod than endurance car with the driver positioned low behind the long hood and the exhaust spouting flames in the driver’s field of view. Just completely ridiculous. FWD FTW?

because not race car

A McLaren P1 spitting fire mid-drift around the Bahrain circuit at night is mesmerizing. It borders on automotive nirvana. It’s also totally removed from reality, just as it should be. While supercars may scream to be measured objectively, it is ultimately a misguided exercise. If anything, it destroys the mystique of the car. Quantifying a car’s performance is effectively embracing its obsolescence.

I want to be there.

I want to be there.

There is this perceived correlation between performance and driving enjoyment. Newer = faster = better. It’s a form of planned obsolescence through technical advancement. Road cars are built to manufacturer’s individual objectives, not the rulebook of a race series. There is nothing stopping them from adding wider tires, more downforce, more power and more aggressive gearing. The lap times that people obsess over have no real context. Any legitimate race series takes these performance imbalances into account, separating cars into classes and further leveling the playing field by limiting power, grip and weight discrepancies.

Road cars are not race cars, even in light of how fast and powerful some have become. This relentless increase in performance neglects the fact that road cars are experienced in subjective isolation. Back roads and track events are about the driving experience, not the performance of one car/driver relative to another. Road cars should not share the same priorities as race cars.

The Nissan GTR, a turbo’d double clutch AWD sled, may keep 14 year olds up at night with its gaudy performance numbers, but I’ve never heard anyone with a driver’s license commend the car for its driver engagement. Do you think a Ferrari 250 GTO’s value is pegged to where it sits in the pecking order of Nurburgring lap times? The lasting appeal of a car is tied to everything but its outright performance.

baggage

2014 marks the Mustang’s 50th anniversary on sale. Yet few would argue that it’s been a smooth ride, and Ford’s decision to launch the new Mustang to coincide with the anniversary highlights everything that’s wrong with the brand.

Debuted in 1964, the original Mustang was a pony car, not a muscle car. Then Carroll Shelby’s GT 350 came along and redefined the Mustang brand. That’s about all the Ford wants you to remember. They would rather you ignore the fact that the third generation Mustang was on sale from 1979 to 1993 or that new sixth generation is the first to get independent rear suspension. Basically, Ford has been lazy with the Mustang, and now they want a pat on the back for dragging the brand through the mud for the better part of a half century.

Quit the charade

Quit the charade

If Ford had cared for the Mustang like Porsche has cared for the 911, which coincidentally celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, then the Mustang would be something to truly cherish. Instead, the brand feels hollow. At its inception, it may have resonated with people but now it just feels burdened with decades of neglect. The biggest hurdle facing the new Mustang is that it’s a Mustang.

Sports cars cannot rest on branding alone, especially bad branding, and the Mustang has become the poster child for rental cars, often dressed in garish colors, as opposed to the enthusiast’s choice. There’s little racing history in the Mustang’s bloodline, let alone simply being known as a competent sports car. Legitimacy breeds desirability, and the Mustang has virtually none.

Ford can make great sports cars (Ford GT), but the Mustang brand is holding them back. They won’t kill the Mustang simply because they’ve already invested so much into it. Keeping the brand alive is the safe move, and safe is rarely good for a sports car’s image.

track toys

Evo picks their favorite track toy from a list of cars that will never make it to the US…

Skip driving in traffic and just go to the track.

With such an heavy emphasis on outright performance, modern sports cars are better suited for the track than the street. They are just too fast for most public roads. So why buy a car that is compromised with the rules and regulations of the street when the only place you can really enjoy it is at the track? Go all out. Get something that doesn’t have to meet pedestrian impact rules or get 25 mpg.

Who cares about lap times?

Even at the track, comparing lap times between cars insanely pointless. Evo rightfully picked the car that was the most fun to drive, not the fastest. The notion of being fastest only applies to club or series racing. Head to head racing doesn’t happen at open track days. You’d get kicked off the track real quick for trying to out brake another driver at any DE event.