Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Go Faster – Marketing done sideways

A cold October day in a goods yard in Dagenham might not seem like the most glamorous way to spend a day, but it made the perfect setting for a getaway movie. Containers littering the area suggest that the location could be anywhere industrial. We’ve arrived for a day of stunt driving in Ford’s Focus RS and Mustang halo models, with a promise of being part of the action.



Pulling up through a set of security gates, we tuck our nose in to a space alongside a modified bright blue Focus RS,  this thing has presence. The RS is less than subtle in standard guise but sat low with exhausts big enough to attract interest from a party of caving enthusiasts keen to wander in and explore; there is no doubt that this is a machine meant for more than family-hatch duties. The two other blue examples look considerably more reserved by comparison.

It’s clear that the day is going to connect with enthusiasts – one of the keenest proudly grinning under his RS emblazoned baseball cap; but there’s a good mix of people and cars in the car park, a selection of hot machinery from Subaru to Golf R, Mustang to a GT40, and plenty of more ordinary metal too.

Between two huge movie poster style banners, is a sign on a tent showing a trailer reel, ‘props’ from the movie and a machine dispensing welcoming hot cups of coffee.  Producer Jess comes over and firmly grabs my hand “Michael, great to see you!” (We’ve never met before) “I’ve seen some of your work and your agent… well they say you’re the best in the business! Look forward to seeing you out there”. It’s a fully immersive experience this – think Secret Cinema and you’ll not be far off the mark.

The basic premise is that a slick looking heist movie ‘Go Faster’ (itself a play on Ford’s current ‘Go Further’ tagline) is in the process of being shot. Most of the film has been cast, save for one key character the androgynous ‘Wheels’ as eponymous wheelman (or woman). Here’s where we come in, auditioning for the role.


We’re given a tour of the ‘set’ complete with catering, edit suite, wardrobe and led through to a coned area where a team of stunt drivers arrive sideways, in a cloud of tyre smoke, drifting, donuting and braking hard to a stop just ahead of us, a line of 8 or so RS’ and a pair of Mustangs, offering a taste of what’s to come. ‘Henry’ a superbly over-the-top British ‘Stunt Supervisor’ gets us going. Calling names from his clipboard, he directs us off in groups of three to our various stunt lessons.

First up, it’s the J turn; actually my favourite of the day. There’s a nervous energy made all the better by being one of three people taking turns behind the wheel of the car. ‘J Turn John’ gives me a nod “Right arm at 9 o’clock, spin it right, round to 6… Into first – away you go.” My turn. Jumping into the driver’s seat I eye up the rear-view mirror and my hand for some reason wanders to the handbrake. “You won’t be needing that!” I give it a go… up to 20, some fast steering, but too slow into first. It’s ok though, there’s two more goes to perfect this... Second time, left hand on the gearknob ready; I focus, hard on the throttle – aggressive steering input and flat out with a satisfying squeal from the tortured tyres. I checked the trip computer – 83 miles old and an average of 2.7mpg. No question these poor cars have lead a hard life... The third time I hit it harder still, properly satisfying. Taking a seat in the back the manoeuvre feels absolutely savage and my head ricochets off of the inside of the c-pillar in a cascade of four letter words. None of us are being easy on the car. Poor thing.

Next, is a handbrake park. This time the car’s been rigged with a hydraulic handbrake to help kick the back end round– it’s particularly tricky this, a tight box marked out with cones looks impossibly small. Our driver, one of Paul Swift’s team, tucks it in in an effortless manoeuvre that’s never going to be easy to replicate… Deep breath and away we go, the back swings round and I miss... the back end is sticking out. Round two with a bit more aggression and the front end nearly swallows a cone. Third attempt and it’s in; just, and not neatly either. Reverting to type I ask our young driver about his job – “Go on” I say… “What’s it like to do this for a living?” He grins at me “What do you think? […] I’m at college actually” he replies… “I do this part time”. I’m jealous – when I was his age the closest I got to professional driving was behind the wheel of a B&Q van in between hefting bags of concrete. We goad him into some hooliganism – holding on to anything we can use to keep ourselves upright – the RS pulls up to 1G sideways… It turns out he’d been stunt driving since the age of 14.


For the next challenge it was time to swap RS abuse for Mustang time-trial action. Just one practice this time, slaloming through cones, a couple of roundabouts and stop in the box. Sounds easy, but it’s tight. After the agility of the RS the Mustang feels like an absolute barge. Yes, it sounds the better of the pair, arguably it looks better too, but by comparison it feels soft and unwieldy; like pushing your couch through football agility training. The key here is smoothness not speed. Sadly, by this point my inner yob had already made a judgement call. I’m not going to be the fastest but I definitely want to be the most sideways. No time to wrestle with my Id, I decided to go committed. The donut is a mix of understeer, oversteer and smoke but if nothing else a big grin. Fast it was not – around the bottom of the top ten. On the road this is a superb GT, here it lacks finesse, I suspect the brilliant Fiesta ST would have taken several seconds off the time.

Back to the RS then; this one feels more tortured, more tired than the others. The heating is on full blast, almost unbearably hot, an effort to direct heat away from the engine. The rear grab handles are missing too, ripped from the headlining. It’s filthy, with bits of tyres hanging off the wheel arches. It looks mean; angry at its mechanical torture. This is the drifting section and there was no sympathy. The Focus is in ‘Drift’ mode, ESC off.

As I hurled left around a single cone in the centre of the deliberately wet box, the back end broke free and my poor passengers were thrown into the door cards, switching direction was absolutely savage, violently throwing everybody to the otherside of the car “that’s how the handles came out” laughed our instructor. With no air to cool the 2.3 turbocharged lump, engine temps climbed, eventually overheating the steering and rear diff causing the car to wash wide. We’d broken it… temporarily at least and a slow drive was needed to get some cool air back through the front.

 

I needed it too. Dressed via the wardrobe in a green bomber jacket and leather gloves we made our way indoors for some green screen action. Posing for a photo and doing my best to wind down the cheese, I found myself in a rig ahead of a green screen, superimposed into a movie poster. Director Gus, a hilarious pastiche encouraged us through a short acting sequence that would be inserted into the film's movie trailer (see below) – an awesome momento of the day. Of course, interior shots driving the car were also needed, bringing us on to the final challenge.


We were met again by Henry, who gave us our final instructions – a series of manoeuvres, this time watched by all the participants and no practice, just one take. The Focus looked odd, the badges and plate backwards, setup so that it would work for the left hand drive cars of the America-set film.


For the first time I felt nervous.. Nobody wants to fluff up a stunt in front of a crowd. J turn first; I floored it, yanked the steering, slipped the RS into first and floored it again. I pulled it off too, phew.  A drift around a camera followed for a side in – shot and a powerslide with a glasses off – stare at the camera before heading back to the studio.


It has been an epic day and I awaited the trailer eagerly – yes it’s a bit cheesy but I’m somehow quite proud of it. This was a day of genuine excitement, yobism and automotive abuse that you’d never in your right mind subject your own car to.

Worth the £99 ticket price? Absolutely.

I must have used that in tyres and fuel, let alone the wear to the cars.

This had us thinking, surely Ford couldn’t pull this off at a profit; rough maths says £3,000 a group, £9,000 a day versus a fleet of cars, damage, a lot of expensive Michelin tyres and a fuel bill that would make you consider shares in BP…

No, the cost of Go Faster is incidental; really, this is a masterstroke in marketing. A few cars, a superb setup and experienced stunt team all cost; but compared to say, pitching an SUV during Premiership half-time this is cheap advertising. In an age where social media rules, this is viral marketing at its best. It’s an experience you’re unlikely to forget and one you’ll probably keep talking about too.

If this is how Ford want to sell us its cars, sign me up; I’ll happily pay for the privilege. Marketing is most definitely best when it’s done sideways.

Michael Gates

Monday, 6 November 2017

UKMotorTalk News highlights podcast - London to Brighton Veteran Car Run 2017

In this episode of UKMotorTalk:
  • 2017 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run
  • Lewis Hamilton - 2017 F1 World Champion
  • Ford Robutt - Robot seat tester
  • Project Bloodhound
  • Winter Driving - Tyres and Lights
  • Autonomous driving tests
  • Older Drivers

To follow the UKMotorTalk podcast, and not miss a thing, go to:
http://shoutengine.com/UKMotorTalk/

Ford's Robutt seat tester can be seen here:

Monday, 30 October 2017

Jaguar Land Rover and project REALITY: The Future of Recycling

Jaguar Land Rover, the largest vehicle manufacturer in the UK, made ground-breaking steps in 2008 with the launch of their REALCAR and REALCAR 2 projects, aimed at increasing aluminium recycling rates and reducing carbon emissions.

However, their latest project REALITY is showing early signs of being the most pioneering yet.

So, what has been going on behind the scenes so far…


What is the REALCAR Project?


The REALCAR project began in 2008 and was the first step introduced by Jaguar Land Rover to boost aluminium recycling rates, aiming to boost the amount of recycled aluminium used in vehicle manufacture to 75%, lowering their overall carbon footprint.

This project assisted in the design of a new alloy made from discarded, aluminium scrap; the RivAlloy, which combines the benefits of largely reducing the amount of wasted material and dramatically minimising transport emissions from using UK materials.


REALCAR 2


REALCAR 2, the second wave of the REALCAR project, focused on separation technologies and the “technological shift” needed to change the future of vehicle recycling.

In figures set out by Jaguar Land Rover, the REALCAR programmes have reclaimed more than 75,000 tonnes of aluminium scrap which was then able to be used in the manufacturing of new vehicles.


What is the REALITY Project?


Moving into the final stage of a larger plan, Jaguar Land Rover have announced how their last project will attempt to increase the amount of recycling from ‘end of life’ vehicles to witness a surge in the amount of aluminium coming from scrap:

“Aluminium from other sources, including end-of-life vehicles, can now be graded and ‘born again’ in the manufacture of new cars.”

The REALITY project is scheduled to last for three years and will build on the foundations of the REALCAR projects. REALITY is concerned with enabling and promoting closed loop recycling- a unique system that helps to bring about both financial and environmental benefits.

The REALCAR projects have so-far already received super brain-power from the likes of Brunel University, Novelis and part-funding from Innovate UK:

"Innovate UK is proud of our support for the REALCAR programme, and this exciting latest stage of the project, REALITY, is another excellent example of collaboration between large and small businesses in the supply chain, supporting them to scale up and become more productive. These projects have been a model in terms of professional delivery of complex research and development."

REALITY has now also called upon the help of a new partner- AXION for a specifically designed process tailored to the recycling of aluminium.

If you’re interested in seeing more videos like this, you can subscribe to Innovate UK’s YouTube channel here.

Additionally, you can follow @InnovateUK on Twitter here.

Friday, 27 October 2017

The UK’s ongoing headache with potholes

The RAC have released new data that suggests that drivers in Britain are still having recurring issues with potholes and this is causing a lot of problems. Used Volkswagen provider Inchcape Volkswagen, who offer thorough aftersales services, MOTs and repairs to solve issues such as wheel misalignment and suspension damage, explores…

Between January and March of 2017, the RAC had dealt with almost 7,000 breakdowns that were likely caused by poor road conditions. The last time that so many pothole-related breakdowns were recorded in a three-month period was in the first quarter of 2015 (almost 6,900 breakdowns were recorded then). However, in the early months of 2015, the country was subjected to more days of frost and rainfall when compared to the first three months of 2017, when the nation experienced mild and moderately dry conditions.

“Our figures sadly show a surprising and unwelcome first quarter rise in the number of breakdowns where the poor quality of the road surface was a major factor. We had expected a figure no worse than that recorded in the first quarter of 2016 (4,026) and it is very concerning that the roads, strangely, appear to have deteriorated in a mild, comparatively dry winter.” Commented David Bizley, a chief engineer at the RAC.

But do we actually know how bad these pot holes are in Britain? 

Where are the potholes?


The table below is based on the number of road hazards which were reported to them with research carried out by FillThatHole.org.uk:

Position
Authority
Region
Total reports
Open reports
Fixed reports
% fixed
1
Surrey
SE Eng
7,657
6,473
1,149
15%
2
Hampshire
SE Eng
4,133
3,241
849
21%
3
Essex
SE Eng
3,804
2,912
878
23%
4
Hertfordshire
SE Eng
3,557
3,004
530
15%
5
Kent
SE Eng
3,478
3,105
364
10%
6
Lancashire
NW Eng
3,301
2,484
792
24%
7
Oxfordshire
SE Eng
3,245
2,225
985
31%
8
Glasgow
Scotland
3,059
2,444
601
20%
9
Cheshire East
NW Eng
2,980
2,110
787
27%
10
West Sussex
SE Eng
2,845
2,034
783
28%

... Surrey having almost twice as many reports as the next county, Hampshire.

How many potholes are being filled?


We can see that across England 13,468 potholes were filled throughout 2016/17 by local authorities – in the Asphalt Local Authority Maintenance Survey 2017 - A small percentage of the total number being reported and causing damage (and compensation costs!).

Some local authorities are able to claim that more than 90% of the reported potholes are subsequently fixed... Well done to them!

However, from the table above, it is clear that there are still many places where only 10-15% are being dealt with.

In the past year, in London and South East England, more than 1.6M drivers reported damage to their vehicles. A costly problem.

With the cost of road repairs averaging £163 per pothole in Eastern England, and £124 in London and the South East, you can see why struggling authorities appear to be burying their heads in the sand.

UKMT comments:


My recent drive across several neighbouring nations has convinced me that Britain is now the  pothole capital of Europe.

Travelling mostly on secondary category roads, the equivalent of our A and B roads, I have found French and Spanish roads to be in considerably better condition than ours. 

Ah you say, they have toll roads. Indeed they do, but the toll network of motorways is entirely self financing and in both countries the A and B roads are financed from local taxes and fuel duties.

In our case most of the finances raised by the treasury from road tax, fuel duties, motor insurance levy, vat etc etc does not get spent on the roads. The ring roads are not ring fenced, nor indeed are any of the others!

The government returns a steadily diminishing amount of the taxation to local authorities to keep local roads in good order. Desperately cash strapped councils then divert some of this money to other equally underfunded areas of their responsibility. 

The result is a pathetically small amount of money left for road repairs and, just as bad, no inspectors to check the few works that are done. The inspectors have mostly been made redundant.

I live in Sussex but drive all over, so am certain this sad state of affairs operates throughout most of the UK. 

Every minor road I travel is littered with holes and those few repairs that are carried out are usually of poor quality and often only last a few months. 

We have become a third world country in terms of our roads despite inventing the tarmacadam process ... or at least the Scots did... Thank you Scotland.

According to a recent survey most local authorities now spend more on settling motoring insurance claims for pothole related damage than on repairing the potholes. 

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

UKMotorTalk News highlights podcast

In this episode of UKMotorTalk:
  • London's T-Charge
  • A new child seat with air bags
  • 2018's Grand Prix of South America long distance rally
  • A review of the US Grand Prix
  • A look forward to the 2017 London to Brighton Veteran Car Run

For more information about entering the Grand Prix of South America rally event, visit: http://www.bespokerallies.com/grand-prix-of-south-america-2018/

For more on the London T-Charge, visit: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/emissions-surcharge

To follow the UKMotorTalk podcast, and not miss a thing, go to:
http://shoutengine.com/UKMotorTalk/

Friday, 20 October 2017

F1 News - Alonso stays at McLaren

So, finally, the announcement Fernando Alonso has signed for McLaren for another year ...

He says he is very happy at Woking alongside Stoffel Vandoorne... but only for 1 more year.

Now the double world champion has had 3 terrible seasons at McLaren, and few other driving choices.

There are no seats at top three Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

But I don't believe it is either inertia or money that is keeping Fernando in Zak Brown's squad.

He knows something.... There are engine and chassis developments afoot that have persuaded him to stay post the Honda debacle.

I think he knows 2018 could be a major return to form for the team and he wants to be back in the points not back on the retirees list.

Alonso is a truly great racer, give him just half a chance in anything reliable and he will work wonders. All of the other front runners, Lewis, Sebastian, Daniel, know, respect and perhaps fear him a little. Only Max fails to give respect.

Will we see him back on the podium next year? I believe we will ... and much more importantly, Fernando believes we will.

Graham Benge

Friday, 6 October 2017

DS 7 Crossback La Premiere - Guided Tour!

DS Automobiles UK's Head of Communications, Kevin Jones, shows us round the DS 7 Crossback La Premiere, due to be available in the UK early 2018.
Kevin's tour is also included as a UKMT podcast:

UKMotorTalk - DS7 Crossback La Premiere - Guided Tour

To follow the UKMotorTalk podcast, and not miss a thing, go to:
http://shoutengine.com/UKMotorTalk/

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Are UK new car sales dramatically on the decline?

A balloon can collapse in 2 ways... Either with a dramatically loud explosion, or slowly with a gradual release of air and a humerous noise.

Both ways however result in a flat balloon or whoopee cushion.

Why do I make this zen like analogy?

The SMMT has this morning released the latest car sales figures, and it is becoming increasingly clear to observers that the new car sales market is deflating .... rapidly.

Four straight months of decline clearly show new car sales peaked in 2016, a record year, and a severe decline is now in progress.

The evidence on any motorway journey is there are huge numbers of new cars out there.

Of the 35 million or so cars on the UK's roads, probably a higher proportion than ever are less than three years old.

A sales boom in 2015 and 2016, fueled by cheap credit deals, was simply not sustainable, and has, as a by-product, severely damaged the used car market.

With increasing fears over the end residual values of these cheaply 'bought' cars, the prospects for car dealers, especially the larger groups, look comparatively bleak over the next few years.

Recently introduced scrappage schemes don't seem to have (yet) halted the decline, for that is entirely what they were intended to do. They were never about saving the planet but were all about an increasingly cynical ploy to grab market share.

The initial schemes had some merit but those that came to the market later were often highly selective enhanced trade-in schemes.

Add into this mix the uncertainty over the future of diesel cars - it's taken nearly 30 years for me to be able to say I told you so! - and there seems little chance of an upturn in the mainstream market until some of those 2 or 3 year PCPs come up for renewal.

The Bank of England has already expressed its concerns about cheap car loans and their effect.

A decade ago it was cheap loans on houses that got us all into a global meltdown... 10 years later will the effects of cheap car loans be just as bad? ..... Or is my glass just less than half full this morning??

Graham Benge

Monday, 2 October 2017

Devil's Dyke Road... in a DB7..?

OK, so perhaps it's not quite as dramatically scenic, as rugged or even as long as our other suggested great drives, but a personal favourite of mine is a road that I have often used for benchmarking the handling of a wide variety of cars. 

The road in question is just north of Brighton, the Devil's Dyke Road up towards Horsham.


It's set in the South Downs National Park, and uses the Downs' green contours as a rural switchback.

It's narrow with multiple curves. In fact, it has hardly any straight bits at its southern end, so it's more like the Millbrook Alpine handling track, used all year to put test cars through their paces.


Both have an incredible variety of curves, cambers and elevation changes and if treated with respect, they will reward any keen driver. Just remember, on the South Downs you won't have much time to admire the scenery you'll be so engaged.


It was on the Devil's Dyke Road that I once took an Aston Martin DB7 for a quiet, relaxing drive in the countryside. A beautiful car, in a beautiful part of the world. Both fully lived up to expectations.

Graham Benge

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

True driving roads of Snowdonia

Considering its reputation for rain, you’d be forgiven for dismissing a topless tour of North Wales, however when it comes to driving roads Snowdonia really delivers...

Miles upon miles of roads uncoil themselves as they thread through blue-grey mountains, through sweeping bends and impossibly tight apexes. In places, rock thrusts from the ground as if it had forced itself through a carpet of alpine-esque trees; dropping away to vast valleys, torrents of water forming streams and picturesque waterfalls, such as those at Betws-Y-Coed.

If it’s a drive through stunning scenery you’re after, you won’t be disappointed, (notwithstanding any fog) the scenery is as dramatic as it is beautiful.

You have to be careful though... unforgiving slate walls line the road a mirror’s width away and oncoming traffic, wide lorries in particular, remind you that wherever you are, you are peddling around 'main' roads - motorways and bypasses conspicuous by their absence.

Traffic can be either slow or heavy at peak times, worse still wheezy caravan-laden work horses can provide miles of tedious trundling. Still, such is the risk on truly involving A-roads with minimal straight stretches offering the possibility to overtake.

Plumping for an early, summer morning blast is favourite here; although don’t necessarily expect warm sunny weather, Welsh rain somehow seems heavier than most.

There are hazards, yes, a lack of signage when you need it - an over abundance when you don't and the odd errant sheep wandering into your path having escaped from a nearby field, but these are small fry... There are so many roads round here, each as breath taking as the last and nearly all equally unpronounceable.

It’s pushing on through these mountainous roads that, given the right car and conditions you can reach a state of driving Nirvana. With the benefit of choice, here it has to be a manual box. If you’re so inclined, a slick flappy-paddle system follows an acceptable second; but it is swapping cogs through a series of bends that really makes this type of drive shine, a gentle blip on downshift and a crackling exhaust fully add to the drama; I’d admit that a fun and fizzy car such as the excellent Fiesta ST, or Mini Cooper S feels incredibly at home here.

Focus RS
Focus RS

I took on the drive in one of my favourite cars of the last two years, the Ford Focus RS. This is a car I advocated so strongly that I managed to convince myself (and more importantly Mrs. G) to put my money where my mouth is and order a signature ‘Nitrous Blue’ example at the start of the year; siting the Focus practicality and inherent modern day safety kit that propped the RS as a ‘sensible’ daily driver.

Focus RS
Focus RS

I’ve got to know Snowdonia relatively well over the last decade or so; my wife’s parents living within a short hop of Snowdon itself has afforded me some fantastic drives and great memories too.

I have to admit that I approached the trip with both excitement and trepidation, had the car not measured up I’d undoubtedly be devastated. My fears however were for naught. As I progressed through the hills and valleys, the car came alive; playfully popping and banging on each lift of the throttle, glued to the tarmac and changing direction as if seeking out a golden-snitch. It was one of those moments where nothing else mattered – pure escapism, a perfect drive through an impossible landscape. Better still, when you’ve parked up and enjoyed it all, you can turn around and do it all again.

Also in the area: If you get the time also try the A470 between Snowdon and Brecon too, it’s nothing short of incredible and the drive from North to South takes in some of the best views Wales has to offer.

Michael Gates

Cornwall in a Convertible

Following on from our recent "Scenic Drives" post from our friends at Design 911, it got me thinking about some of the more memorable drives I've taken on holiday in the UK and one area which particularly stands out is the South West - in particular the pointy bit of Cornwall.

Back in the days of yore, before the patter of tiny feet necessitated the purchase of something a tad more practical, I was the proud owner of a Fiat Barchetta - to my mind one of Turin's most distinctive and delightful creations of recent times and a car I loved - sometimes literally - to pieces.

The Fiat Barchetta - the 'Little Boat'

Surprisingly practical, the 'Little Boat' was more than up to the task of swallowing enough luggage for two and regularly found itself pointed in a south-westerly direction in the Summer as the missus and I set off on another trip to a part of the country by which we are genuinely taken.

Cornwall is a county to which the tourist is naturally drawn - a good few undoubtedly to the sandy beaches, ice creams, sunshine and surfing to be found on the southern coast, whilst others - and I'd include myself in this - revel in the landscape and the landmarks both natural and man-made to be found in this spectacular part of the world.

Probably one of the best known and regularly-frequented attractions in Cornwall is Land's End. With its diametrically-opposed cousin at the extreme North East of the UK - John O' Groats - it's (in)famous for being the start/finish line for countless charity journeys over the years and enjoys a degree of hype that's been capitalised on by its opportunistic owners who have turned it into - in my humble opinion at least - something of a tacky theme park.

Suffice it to say that it's one of those places that I'm glad to have visited but was even more glad to head away from..

Which brings us to the point of this rambling essay, because as referenced above, one of the top scenic drives suggested by our friendly Stuttgart sportscar afficionados was the coastal route up to St Ives which, appropriately-enough begins at Lands End.

Heading up the B3306 and running parallel with the rugged coastline I can well recall a mixture of open, sweeping and flowing roads with plenty of opportunities for straight-lining well-sighted S-bends. Yet conversely in places the road is challenging and tight, high hedgerows and wind-blown trees rising above you as you negotiate the more testing and twisty sections.

With the sun shining and the little Fiat's easily-stowed roof hibernating under its solid cover behind us, the joy of driving this road - and indeed pretty much all of Cornwall's country lanes was enhanced a hundredfold as the sounds and smells of the countryside sharpened the senses - helping to paint an ever more vivid picture of this stunning and beautiful part of the world.

Despite being left hand drive, the Barchetta wasn't really any more difficult to pilot around Cornwall than its omnipresent rival the MX5, and whilst overtaking could sometimes require a certain degree of faith in one's co-pilot -"anything coming.?" being an oft-posed question from the left seat - the benefit of being closer to the edge of narrow lanes helped immeasurably when trying to squeeze past oncoming caravans/tractors/milk trucks on some of the more 'breathe-in' stretches.

There's plenty to see along the coast as you wind your way towards St Ives - the view of the sea tempting you to stop and and find a vantage point either up on the headlands or down at one of the little coves nestling away between the granite outcrops where land meets sea in quite spectacular fashion. Either way, there are ample opportunities to stop and take it all in, perhaps whilst clutching the ubiquitous pasty - examples of which seem to be available at every outpost of civilisation throughout Cornwall (this is not a complaint by the way).

Whether you're out to enjoy a spirited jaunt or happy to kick back & amble along taking in the scenery, the journey along the north-westerly tip of Cornwall is a must for anyone with petrol/diesel/electrons flowing through their system. And if you're lucky enough to be in possession of a rag top in the Summer sunshine, you're guaranteed to have a smile on your face as you rock up in St Ives having gained a healthy tan into the bargain..

Dave Wakefield

Monday, 25 September 2017

Five best scenic drives in a convertible in the UK


If you’re lucky enough to own a convertible car, then you will know how fantastic it is having the wind in your hair and the sun on your back as you hit the open road.

Here in the UK, we’re lucky enough to have some fantastic scenic drives on our doorstep, through mountain crescents, rolling fields and long stretches of road, allowing you to really open up your vehicle and make the most of your road-trip.


The car experts at Design 911 have listed their 5 top scenic drives in the UK that will make you want to pack up and drive off into the distance.


1. Kendal To Keswick, Lake District
This 30-mile stretch in the Lake District National Park is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful drives that England offers. This slightly more winding drive gives off some fantastic views along the way, including views of Lakeland fells and Lake Windermere and Lake Thirlmere. Why not stop off at the Lakes and get a real Cumbrian experience by staying over in a cosy B&B and visiting Lake Windermere for a long meandering ramble in the day. 

2. The Northumberland Coast
The coastline of Northumberland was given the title of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1958 and it’s easy to see why. The Northumberland Coastal route takes you along some stunning areas including many eclectic towns and villages. From Seaton Delaval you can head north and visit Alnwick and then follow the 35 mile coastal drive route from Alnmouth to Lindisfarne. This route is the perfect drive in September, when the tourist crowds are dwindling and the late summer sun is still shining. 

3. Land's End to St Ives
It’s no secret that Cornwall offers some jaw-dropping coastal views and cliffs, which many roads are very close to, offering a ‘hairs standing up on the back of your neck’ moment. One of the more enjoyed routes is the drive from the famous Land’s End to the superbly quintessential English beach town of St Ives. The road wanders up and down dales, and into dramatic countryside scattered with ancient stone walls and farmhouses which really give off that rugged Cornish feel, enough to make you feel like you’re on the set of Poldark.

UKMT's Dave Wakefield enjoys the Cornish experience too - see Cornwall in a convertible


4. Beddgelert To Betws-Y-Coed, Snowdonia
Snowdonia is one of the most diverse and beautiful areas of the UK, so it’s no surprise that it has made the top 5 drives. One of the country’s most scenic drives is the run along the A498 from Beddgelert, past two lakes, Llyn Dinas and Llyn Gwynant, and up the Nanat Gwynant Pass and into Snowdonia, finishing at the fantastic Swallow Falls at Betws-Y-Coed. Why not stay in Betws-Y-Coed village for a few nights to experience the real Wales and enjoy some fantastic walks up mount Snowdon.

UKMT's Michael Gates also makes the most of the Snowdonian roads


5. Inverness to Nairn Circular, Scotland
Scotland offers some truly stunning natural beauty and rugged terrain, and those who have been lucky enough to visit beforehand will know how great it is to drive around. One of the more enjoyable routes is the impressive two-day drive starting at Inverness which takes in the dramatic coast alongside Lossiemouth before heading inland past some wonderful castles, as well as heading into the Cairngorms National Park which can be enjoyed on foot if you fancy taking a break from the drive. 

Piece brought to you by the experts at www.Design911.co.uk

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

An all-round view of F1

If you're a fan of F1 then you'll almost certainly have spotted the name and branding of TATA Communications strategically-located in and around the circuits.

As well as being a technical partner of the all-conquering Mercedes team the telecommunications arm of the vast Indian conglomerate is also - and I'll quote this verbatim given the degree to which Formula1 and its various corporate acolytes like to exercise control over these things - the 'Official Connectivity Provider' in addition to being the "Official Web Hosting And Content Delivery Network Provider Of Formula1.com".

So there.

Anyway, being pretty cutting-edge, the clever boys and girls at TATA have been working with their counterparts at Formula 1 on enhancing the 'show' for the viewer and their latest wheeze has seen them experimenting with 360 degree live video feeds from a race - specifically the recent high-value stock-car smashup that was the Singapore Grand Prix - good timing..


Now, whilst 360 degree video is a relatively new technology it has been available in a number of forms for a few years now - most recognisably in videos available on Youtube where the viewer can pan and tilt the camera either in their browser or Youtube app or alternatively by donning one of the ever-increasing number of virtual-reality headsets whose complexity ranges from a cardboard affair into which one slips their smartphone, right up to the high-end, high-definition devices which imbue the wearer with a sense that he or she has just stepped off the set of the latest Star Wars epic..

Either way, the technology is starting to mature and this hasn't gone unnoticed by - amongst others - the aforementioned  Formula 1/TATA partnership & whilst other sporting events have dallied with this emerging applied science, their output has been limited - for technical reasons - to a delayed feed, (typically by 30 seconds) which isn't really ideal if you're wanting to convey an immersive, live atmosphere to those who weren't able to make it to the event being relayed.

So, the boffins at TATA got their collective thinking caps on and managed through some form of electronic witchcraft to live stream the recent carbon fibre-strewn proceedings in real time through a pair of 360 degree cameras; one being located in the paddock and the other trackside, so, conceivably you could have followed the fractious relationship between Sebastian Vettel and his team mate from 'racing incident' to recriminations and huffiness back at the team motorhome..

At the moment, this experiment in all-round visuals is being treated very much as a proof of concept and we're probably a few years away from being able to take control of the camera angles from the comfort of our own sofas, but rest-assured - this is a technology which will come into its own within the next decade as the infrastructure and demand for it become ever more pervasive. As mentioned above, Formula 1 is keen to improve the spectacle of the events it stages, not least in the face of increasingly lower audience share and it will undoubtedly see this toe-in-the-water-exercise as a step towards offering the service - perhaps as an additional cost package - in the not-too-distant future.

In this era of video on demand and timeshift recording capability, the consumer is becoming ever more used to deciding what he and she..consumes..and for the die-hard F1 fan, the ability to be able to call the shots is one which I feel will be pretty attractive.

Even with the drop off in viewing figures in recent years, subscription viewing numbers remain fairly healthy and if a value-added service such as TATA and F1 have just trialled is rolled out for a relatively cost-effective fee I wouldn't be willing to bet against it becoming a popular option for those who want a bit more from their F1 involvement.

Watch this (3D) space I guess..

Dave Wakefield

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

All Change!! - F1's musical chairs

Over this last weekend, Singapore appeared to be turning into a glittering high rise rail terminus so common were the cries of "all change" in a veritable waterfall of announcements from the majority of F1 teams.

So, continuing my watery analogy, let's try to fathom out the extent of the flood.

Starting with unpicking the driver moves, as ever there are far too many talents for too few seats.

Mercedes have re-signed Bottas but only for 1 year which gives both parties options for 2019.


This especially apt as Kimi has also done a 1 year deal with Ferrari for what will probably be his last season in F1, leaving a very desirable seat that many will look towards.

Massa, having already retired from Williams once before, will probably step aside at the end of 2017 in favour of a younger hotshoe.

The principal question is where does Alonso go? Will the engine change chez McLaren persuade the double World Champion to stay on for possibly another rebuilding year? Or will he be persuaded that the Renault engine is ready now? Fernando says he's waiting for more info before deciding. I believe he will want a chance at a 3rd Championship in a 'red car', so will wait a year before moving.

I am reminded of those motor sport historians who reckon Stirling Moss could have won several championships had his car and engine choices been better or luckier, whereas Fangio always seemed to sign for the right team, with the right car and engine, at the right time.

Luck or judgement?

Meanwhile, it looks like Jolyon Palmer is out of Renault to be replaced by Carlos Sainz. Will there be another slot for a talented driver with poor luck? Only his wily dad will know what irons are currently in the metaphorical fire.

Dutch Photo Agency/Red Bull Content Pool


It looks like the very patient Pierre Gasly will step up from years as Red Bull test driver to a Toro Rosso drive.

Perez has re-signed at Force India, but his team mate may yet change, and I expect some changes in the sponsorship arrangements. You can only sell so much beer to finance your team.

The merry-go-round has many revolutions yet to go before the 2018 grid is settled.

On the engine front, the biggest change is the (not entirely unexpected) split - by mutual consent - of McLaren and Honda. After 3 dire seasons where the once great team and engine supplier have both lost considerable face, it is certainly a more important loss to Honda than for the recently installed tough Executive Director of McLaren, Zak Brown.

Into McLaren comes Renault with an engine deal of promised parity with the Renault works team. An engine that looks like it should revive McLaren's fortunes. It is hoped that this will push the orange cars way up the grid, the Honda power unit being by far the weakest component in an otherwise strong McLaren this year.

Honda will go off to power Toro Rosso, but I think this will be a rebuilding year for a demoralised Honda before they do a long term deal with Red Bull.

Red Bull are also rumoured to be in talks with Porsche as an engine supplier, or perhaps the highly profitable sports car maker will even buy the whole team. It can afford to, and retain Horner and both drivers, perhaps in 2019..? This would allow Red Bull (the drinks company, not the team) to reduce its huge spend to that of a sponsor.

Ferrari had a lousy weekend, and there are clearly political machinations again. I suspect a change in senior management is imminent.

Philip Platzer/Red Bull Content Pool


Aston Martin, which is currently closely linked with Red Bull, have been rumoured to want to either set up or buy a team. Their MD, while at first reluctant to comment, then offered in a grid interview with DC that they were looking closely at the 20/21 engine regulations and were confident they could produce a package. With a lot of Arabian money in the mix, we could well see Aston Martin on the grid in 2021. Let's hope they are more successful than the disastrous Jaguar entry of a decade ago.

So as the teams head to Malaysia, expect more team, driver and engine announcements to come. Just bear in mind, through all the speculation, that to be successful, any team needs to have available the mighty resources that brought Mercedes to the top. Even the smallest teams have budgets in excess of £100million.....

Graham Benge