Schonesland Dragoon Trail Drive 2014

The weather could not have been better for Schonesland’s Dragoon Trail drive this past Saturday.  The sky gleamed blue with the occasional bit of glittering cirrus frosting as a procession of Porsches nearly two dozen strong filed out of the Machine Shed in Urbandale, bound for parts north.  Convertible tops went down as temperatures cleared the mid-sixties and climbed into the seventies.  From my point of view, last in line with my wife Anne and my two boys in my 996 C4S, trailing just behind Sue’s gleaming black-on-tan 987 Cayman S, things had started off pretty perfectly.

Shortly before we crossed onto the the IA-210 bridge over the Des Moines River, running parallel to the famed High Trestle rail bridge, I noticed that I wasn’t last in line anymore.  Somehow a lovely silver 993 had taken the tail-end-Charlie position from me, and I was having trouble keeping my eyes off the lovely front end of it as it winked in my rearview mirror.  This was not a standard 993 Carrera, I noted by the low-slung artistry of the front bumper.

The convoy ducked into the Casey’s on Mamie Eisenhower Avenue in Boone, IA for a quick stretch.  The marching order got a bit scrambled as we all scanned for parking spots, and the 993 passed in front of me.  And I’d been right!  Not just any Carrera, but a 993 Carrera 4S.  Oh, how I’d wanted one of those when my search for a 911 began.  In my eyes, they had just the perfect look for a 911—the right hips, the right ride height, the right wheels, the right lights.  The perfect mix of subtlety, menace, and style.  Sadly the 993s hovered just out of my price-reach, and I “settled” for my car.  (And you’ll pry it from my cold, dead hands, you air-cooled purists!)

We turned keys to press on after our break and relished the chorus of the boxers.  These were accompanied by at least two 944 inline fours, plus a lone BMW V8—bless Skip for nearly having reached 100,000 miles on that stunning Z8 of his.  We passed the Scenic Valley Rail Station—stop by there during this coming holiday season for a ride, I highly recommend it—and proceeded north out of Boone.

Positions had again switched; Sue’s Cayman was now behind, and the 993 C4S was in front of me.  This was delightful, for as lovely as the front of a 993 C4S is, the back is perhaps even more perfectly formed.  I could now hear the rasp of the flat six and watch the rise and fall of the rear wing as the group negotiated intersections and stop signs.  I noted that said rear wing on the 993 didn’t seem to abide by the same numbers as my rear wing; mine rises at 75mph and remains up until the speedo falls back below 37mph.  The 993’s numbers seemed to both be a bit lower.

And then, as we pulled up to a stop sign just outside Stratford, IA, the 993’s wing didn’t retract at all.  Anne and I both said something to the effect that that was odd.  And then I heard the 993’s starter clicking away, and the driver waved me past.  Right, as if I was going to leave the automotive equivalent of Christie Brinkley stranded on a random road an hour from home.

I hopped out, introduced myself, and met Karen, the driver.  First order of business was to get the 993 off the road, so Karen put it in neutral and Sue (who’d also stopped, bless her) and I pushed the car into a nearby driveway.  I had some jumper cables, and when I brought this up, my boys, ages 4 and 5, got very excited—they thought the cars would physically leap off the ground when the cables were put to use.  They seemed sort of surprised that this was the first they had heard of jumper cables, and if they’d put a bit more thought into it, might have asked why we don’t just use the “jumper” cables all of the time and avoid traffic.

Anyway, over the course of the next hour or so, I learned where a 993’s battery is (different spot, further forward and lower down than in my 996), as well as that it doesn’t much matter how many times you jump-start a 993 if the accessory drive belt is broken.  Note: it’ll run for as long as the cables are hooked up, but not long after that.  Karen spoke with her insurance company, but before they could respond, a helpful local from a nearby shop had gotten word, arrived, and fairly quickly diagnosed the root cause of the problem.  Karen begged us off to lunch, and I thought we’d best go, as our boys had been well-behaved thus far but would soon get tired and antsy.

Sue’s 987 led the way as we two Porsches shot across the farmland from Stratford toward 209Main, the massive restaurant at the same address in Paton, IA, where we rejoined the group, actually arriving only minutes after they did due to our direct, non-scenic route.  Sue went the extra mile by recruiting Gary and going back with him to Stratford to retrieve Karen and her daughter, bringing them both to the restaurant once the 993 was safely in a shop with a replacement belt ordered and on the way.

So we all successfully made it to lunch and enjoyed some views of harvest-time Iowa.  And while this article (and its’ author) may not have followed the route that the reader may have expected, it really does serve to highlight PCA’s “cars…people” tagline, does it not?  One might join the club to see some beautiful cars, and see beautiful cars one certainly would.  But what keeps the community alive and well are the people that go out of their way to make it so outstanding, no matter what happens.  I’ll be in PCA for a long time, I think.

993 C4S


F1 2014 – Four Races Remain

Before anything else can be said about the 2014 Formula 1 season, it is necessary at this point in time to preface with a sincere hope that Marussia driver Jules Bianchi of Nice, France experiences a full recovery from his severe injuries sustained in his crash at the Japan Grand Prix in Suzuka.  Motorsport is dangerous—Jules knew this far better than most of us can—and yet he regularly strapped himself into a Formula 1 machine that was never going to win a race, simply because (and I can find no other way to express this) motorsport is glorious, too.  Indeed, all of the very best to young Jules and his family.

The 2014 Formula 1 season raised the curtain on a new era.  F1 has forever been the most scientifically advanced racing series, and in 2014 it would raise the technological bar to never-before-seen heights.  Leaving the V8s of 2013 behind, the new “power units” (it would be a vast oversimplification to call them “engines”) output nearly the same energy as their forebears, but while using 35% less fuel.  They accomplish this by incorporating a turbocharged 1.6L V6 and two massively complex electric propulsion systems: one connected to the V6’s crankshaft, and one mounted to the turbocharger’s turbine shaft.  Both of these provide both energy capture and energy output.  For example, the turbine shaft system (MGU-H) generates electricity created by the spinning of the turbo (which is motivated by the engine exhaust gases) and can send that power to the other electric system (MGU-K), which can add up to 120kW to the driven wheels.  Alternatively, the MGU-H can expend collected energy by keeping the massive turbo spinning while exhaust gases are NOT flowing (i.e., the driver is off-throttle while slowing for a corner).  Thus when the driver reapplies power exiting the corner, there is no waiting for maximum power from the turbo since it never slowed its spin.

Of course this is all much more easily stated in words than physically made to happen.  The electronics assemblies in the cars must be meticulously programmed to make all of these parts do the right jobs at the right places and right times, optimally in a manner completely transparent to the driver, all while being thrashed around a track, wheel to wheel with other cars, at speeds up to two hundred miles per hour.

It sounds preposterous.  Nigh impossible.  And yet with each passing race, we see the F1 teams come out and put this technology to use.  And in the case of the Mercedes AMG Patronas team, we see it put to use in a manner which has proved better than all others.

In this age of such stunning technology, there was concern the machines would overshadow the men piloting them.  That has not been the case.  In fact, far from being the relative snooze-fest that was the 2013 season, 2014 has been utterly gripping.  Both Mercedes teammates, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, are at the top of their game, battling against each other lap by lap, race by race, for the driver’s championship.

Lewis last won the title in 2008 with McLaren, the team that brought him into the sport.  He surprised many by leaving McLaren at the end of the 2012 season for Mercedes, whose cars were hardly competitive in the era prior to 2014.  He’s proven that the move was a masterful one, both for him and the Silver Arrows.

Nico started in F1 with Williams and performed solidly enough to generate interest at Mercedes, who signed him for the 2010 season.  While often overshadowed as a result of being teamed with 7-time world champion Michael Schumacher, Rosberg frequently earned the better result of the two.  Now, he’s overshadowed again by being paired with Hamilton, who hails from the UK—the seat of power in F1.  It hasn’t dulled his ability to win.

At the 2014 season opener in Australia, Hamilton was forced to retire with engine trouble while Rosberg crushed the field, winning by 24 seconds.  Next up was Malaysia, where Hamilton took the top step of the podium, besting his teammate by 17 seconds.  This was the first of a string of four wins for Hamilton, the most thrilling of which took place in Bahrain, where he and Rosberg dueled wheel-to wheel so fanatically that during a period of yellow flag, Mercedes’ team technical director Paddy Lowe implored Hamilton to “make sure we bring both cars home.”

Rosberg dominated Memorial Day weekend at Monaco, taking the top step of the podium at F1’s most glamorous race for the second year in a row.  In Canada, the Mercedes cars encountered reliability problems.  Hamilton was unable to finish the race due to brake failure, while Rosberg nursed his car to the checkered flag with an MGU-K problem, managing second behind the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo.  Brake problems again plagued the Mercs in Austria, requiring constant attention from both Nico and Lewis, with Rosberg notching another victory over Hamilton, who finished second.

Heading to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, the storyline revolved around hometown crowd favorite Hamilton barely hanging onto his championship hopes.  Rosberg seemed to have weathered the previous races’ reliability storm a bit better, and had built a significant points lead in doing so—165 to 136.  With the Mercs’ nearest competition far behind and eleven races remaining in the season, it seemed that Hamilton could hardly depend upon recovering the lead conventionally, were he only able to claw back seven points at a time (first place pays 25 points; second pays 18), allowing for some inconsistency.

Hamilton seemed to seal his fate at Silverstone when during qualifying he set a great lap time, only to relax on his final lap before time expired in the belief he could not better his time.  Track conditions were improving, however, and Rosberg (as well as four other drivers) pounced, relegating Hamilton to sixth on the starting grid.  Lewis had no explanation for not playing to the proverbial whistle, looking visibly staggered in the post-qualifying presser and calling it “my mistake.”

Hamilton charged back through the field on race day and was pressuring Rosberg, but further drama was unnecessary; Nico’s gearbox failed.  Hamilton went on to win, narrowing the points gap from 29 to 4 in one fell swoop.  The UK crowd was delirious to see this play out before their eyes.

The competition remained tight through the German and Hungarian GPs, with Lewis dogging Nico’s every step.  In Germany, Hamilton suffered a wince-inducing crash in qualifying due to a brake malfunction, then battled up through the field on race day to achieve a third-place finish while Nico breezed to a win.  Hamilton battled yet more adversity at the Hungaroring when his car was consumed by fire in qualifying—he still managed to finish third, with Nico fourth.  Then, at Spa in Belgium, the drama intensified yet another notch: while battling for the lead, the two Mercedes cars touched, and Hamilton got the worst of it, coming away with his left rear tire cut and deflated.  Unable to finish the race, Hamilton watched as his teammate took the win, returning his points lead to 29.  After the race, Rosberg admitted culpability and was “disciplined” by the team.

At Monza in Italy, Hamilton’s car bogged down at the start.  Rosberg leapt into the lead, but twice during the race missed the chicane at the end of the start/finish straight (the second time while under intensifying pressure from Hamilton, and after saying to his engineer “do not tell me the gap [between Lewis and I]”).  Rosberg’s gaffe enabled Hamilton to regain first position and take the victory over his teammate by three seconds.

Two weeks later in Singapore, the two Mercs qualifying times were separated by a mere seven-thousandths of a second.  Rosberg suffered an electronics failure on the race starting grid, however, and ultimately retired after thirteen slow, frustrating laps.  Hamilton battled hard in the heat and humidity with the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, ultimately maximizing his tires over a long fast stint to build a lead large enough to survive a late-race pit stop for fresh rubber.  Vettel overtook Hamilton as Lewis exited the pits, but only just, and the Mercedes car spent only one lap behind the Red Bull and its spent tires before blasting past into turn seven.  Hamilton then pulled away and logged a victory by a margin of thirteen seconds, vaulting him back into the overall points lead for the first time since the Spanish GP more than four months earlier.

Race day on the stunning Suzuka Circuit in Japan brought significant rain from the fringes of Typhoon Phanfone.  Rosberg had qualified in the dry two-tenths faster than Hamilton, but complained of oversteer in the wet race conditions.  Hamilton proved faster, overtaking his teammate into turn one midway through the race, which saw two periods of red flag.  “Lewis was quicker today and deserved the win,” Nico said afterward.  It was Hamilton’s third first-place finish in a row.

All of which brings us to the present.  Four grands prix remain: Russia, USA, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi.  Somewhat ridiculously (2010-2013 world champion Vettel called it “absurd”), the winner at Abu Dhabi will score double points, that is, 50 instead of the usual 25.  So as if there was not enough drama in the season thusfar—after fires, malfunctions, collisions, drifts, pit lane starts, crashes, some epic saves, and some incredibly tight, flat-out wheel-to-wheel racing—it seems very likely that the championship will remain undecided until the final race.  After early-season concern that the new cars might not sound good enough, the on-track product his been so compelling that that discussion has fallen out of the collective consciousness entirely (well, almost entirely).

While some decry the hybrid era, this author welcomes it.  It’s pushed F1 back to the forefront of powerplant technology as well as brought on some spectacular competition.  Here’s to a great 2014 season, here’s to a great final sprint to the checkered flag, and here’s to the health of Jules Bianchi.

MercAMG W05