Motorsports Monday: Le Mans, Earnhardt Jr. Triumphs and WRC Tragedy

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Welcome to Motorsports Monday, a recap of the thrills and spills from the weekend of racing. Today we cover the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, IndyFest, Quicken Loans 400, Alliance Truck Parts 250 and Targa Florio Rally for the weekend of June 16-17, 2012. Pull down your visor.

Le Mans: Speed can be deceptive in auto racing. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing cars move at an incredible rate that we’ve also grown immune to it. On big ovals, 200mph can seem like crawling. On street courses, tight turns and short straights make cars dart around the track rather than power through it. But that is never the case at Le Mans; a massive road course that demands ultimate speed at all times. Watching the LMP1 prototypes blast through 3.5Gs in the Porsche Curves is a modern marvel. The braking power it takes to stop a full speed GT car is visibly tortuous. There is no illusion at Le Mans. When these challenges aren’t handled correctly, we’re reminded of just how close these machines are flying to the sun. It’s what makes the Circuit de la Sarthe the pinnacle of motorsports, because ultimate technology, design and strategy are needed to simply finish the event. This edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans provided everything that you would expect, and more. Memorable moments abound, from Romain Dumas literally ripping his Audi apart to keep it running to the Toyota team apologizing to Nissan-Deltawing for an accidental shunt. This is one of those races that turn people into racing fans, and one that racing fans will carry with them for a very long time. This is why Le Mans is Le Mans. Click here to read yesterday’s recap of the race. more

Le Mans 24 Hours: Audi Sweeps Podium With 1-2-3 Finish

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A host of new competitors and experimental technologies dreamt of victory in the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans, but in the end, Audi cars finished 1-2-3 to capture their 11th victory in the past 13 years in the world’s most famous endurance race.

In an uncharacteristically dry 24 hours at Le Mans, speed and technology danced together through the twists of the La Sarthe Circuit in the race’s trademark display of determination that ultimately resulted in triumph, tragedy and, often, pure beauty.

Andre Lotterer brought the No. 1 Audi R18 e-tron quattro across the finish line first, completing 378 total laps and becoming the first hybrid vehicle to win at Le Mans since the event began in 1923. A second R18 e-tron quattro, the No. 2, finished next in front of the No. 4 Audi R18 ultra – identical in appearance but powered by a non-hybrid turbodiesel engine. more

Pop The Hood: 24 Hours of Le Mans Edition with Audi, Toyota and Nissan

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Welcome to Pop The Hood, a weekly feature that examines the industry’s latest innovations and what makes them tick. Recently, we’ve poked around inside the Shelby GT500, Infiniti M35h hybrid, Hyundai Veloster Turbo and many others. Today, we take a detailed look at three of the most innovative racing machines ever: The Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, Toyota TS030 and Nissan DeltaWing.

This year’s running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race may seem like a cakewalk for Audi. After all, the German marque have captured victory in 10 of the last 12 years. But this weekend will put thrilling new technologies on display that could threaten to end their reign, and we’re not just saying that for dramatic effect. Here is an in-depth look at three engineering marvels that will round the famed Circuit de la Sarthe twice around the clock. more

With V6 or 38 MPG, 2013 Nissan Altima Aims For Midsize Segment Throne

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It may have been the second best-selling car in America last year, but there was apparently plenty of room to improve the Nissan Altima for the 2013 model year. The new model began production last week and will reach dealerships in late June boasting a bevy of class bests that aim to knock the Toyota Camry off its No. 1 perch.

First and fuel-most, the EPA has granted the Altima with 27/38 MPG fuel economy ratings, best in the midsized car segment for non-hybrid vehicles. That’s better than direct competitors like the Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata, and much better than the highest-rated car in that class, the Ford Fusion. Ford will release their new Fusion and its Aston Martin looks sometime next year, and it will be interesting to see how that car stacks up in terms of efficiency. But for now, Altima is king of the midsize MPG battles.

And they wont let you forget it. Nissan is touting the 38 MPG number extensively, and it will be available in the Altima 2.5 models that feature a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. The more powerful 3.5L V6 engine is available in the Altima 3.5 models. more

Apple Announces Automakers That Could Feature Siri Within the Year
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At their annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), tech giant Apple announced partnerships with nine major automakers including Audi, Toyota and General Motors, to eventually equip new cars with the Siri voice recognition system available now in iPhones.

Apple said they plan to have Siri-outfitted vehicles on the market within twelve months, handling duties like turn-by-turn navigation, voice command, text messages, phone calls and even online notifications. A new Apple system called Eyes Free – because it won’t force drivers to turn their attention away from the road – will run the functions.

The full list of participating automakers is below:  more

May Auto Sales Recap: Worldwide Sales Down, Big Three Fall Short
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Several automakers set new May sales records for the month of May 2012 and Japanese companies returned to pre-tsunami figures, while others like the Big Three fell short of projections.

German rivals BMW and Audi each set record sales figures for the month of May, selling 35,127 and 11,503 vehicles, respectively. It marks the seventeenth consecutive month of record sales for Audi.

Subaru also reported record May sales, up 48.35% over May 2011 and boosted by the success of the new Impreza. The new model has increased sales of the Impreza from just over 2,000 in May 2011 to nearly 6,800 in May 2012.

"Demand for the newly-introduced Impreza has far exceeded expectations,” said Thomas J. Doll, executive vice president and COO, Subaru of America, Inc. “With new product launches just around the corner, we know the upward sales trend will continue throughout the year."

Ford also set a personal sales record for the month of May, but still fell short of predicted figures. Sales increased 23% over May 2011 numbers, but the company did not meet projections from some independent firms. The conundrum underscores a difficult market for American automakers. more

Motorsports Monday: Honda Surging in IndyCar, Le Mans 24 Prep Begins
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Welcome to Motorsports Monday, a recap of the thrills and spills from the weekend of racing. Today we cover the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Island Grand Prix in IndyCar, a big DTM win for Audi at the Spielberg Red Bull Ring, drama in Formula One, the FedEx 400 and the 5-Hour Energy 200 for the weekend of June 3-4, 2012. Strap into your racing harness. 

IndyCar: Sunday saw the first running of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Island Grand Prix since 2008, when it was discontinued largely due to poor track conditions and maintenance. Apparently not much has changed in four years, as the race ended 30 laps early when the street course literally began to fall apart and send drivers careening into the walls. Crews had to work feverishly to lay down new asphalt that dries within 30 minutes and the obvious question is why they didn't just use that stuff in the first place? Scott Dixon overcame the most Detroit thing ever as he led all 60 laps, holding off a furious group of contenders for the second straight victory for Team Ganassi and Honda engines. Simon Pagenaud continued his hot streak with a second place finish and Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti leap-frogged series leader Will Power late to finish third. After three straight road course wins earlier this season, Power is beginning to lose ground in the championship standings to Dixon (second with 206 points to Power’s 232) and Franchitti (tied for fourth with 176). IndyCar now heads to Fort Worth for the Firestone 550.  more

Motorsports Monday: Briscoe On Indy 500 Pole, Audi Wins Nürburgring 24
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Welcome to Motorsports Monday, a weekly recap of the thrills and spills from the weekend of racing, Today we cover the Indianapolis 500, the Nurburgring 24 Hours, NASCAR and DTM for the weekend of May 19-20, 2012. Please take your seats, everyone, we have a lot to cover today.


Indianapolis 500: Grab the Vegemite and crack open a Fosters, mate, because Aussie Ryan Briscoe will start the Indianapolis 500 from pole position on Sunday after qualifying in first place with a 226.484 mph speed. Can Briscoe turn pole into podium? Well, he’s powered by the best engine in Chevrolet, and is part of the dominant Team Penske. But while Briscoe has fifth, tenth and fifteenth place finishes to his name, he’s also finished worse than 23rd four different times. Pressure will come on the front row from runners-up James “The Mayor” Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The highest qualifying former winner is Helio Castroneves in sixth. The top qualifier with a Honda engine was Josef Newgarden in sixth as Chevy teams have the clear advantage, and Lotus drivers Simona De Silvestro and Jean Alesi puttered into the final two spots. Hopefully their slow pace won’t pose a hazard on the treacherous course, especially with the new DW12 chassis providing an immense draft force that will slingshot cars around the oval. Teams for Bryan Clauson, Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia have just a few days to repair their cars after qualifying wrecks. The green flag will drop on the 96th Indianapolis 500 at 12:00pm ET this Sunday.

Nürburgring 24 Hours: Audi, not content with simply winning 9 of the last 11 runnings of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, fought off fierce competition from countrymen BMW and Mercedes-Benz to capture a 1-2 finish in their hometown endurance race over the weekend. The No. 19 BMW Z4 GT3 actually took pole and led into the night, but a driveshaft failure cost it six laps and couldn’t recover. Audi took the lead but when two of their entries collided with each other, the No. 22 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 took over. A suspension failure cost Mercedes the lead, and twin Audi R8 LMS ultra cars slid into the top positions and never let go.

The private entry P 4/5 Competizione, based on the iconic Ferrari 330 P3/4 and built on a Ferrari F430 GT, took twelfth place overall to become the first hybrid to ever finish the N24, and looked awesome doing it.

The win is the first ever overall victory at the N24 for Audi, who have been racing the R8 LMS there for the past four years. “Over the last 24 hours nothing whatsoever was handed to us on a plate,” said Audi Head of Racing Commitments Dieter Gass. “Our victorious drivers and teams produced a fantastic, consistent and error free performance.” It used to be that endurance races determined which car was the best for the public customer. If that were still considered the case today, after a race of attrition, there’s little question which car would be flying off lots this morning.

NASCAR - Sprint Cup: Jimmie Johnson edged out Brad Keselowski in the annual Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte which, like the NFL All Star Game, has no bearing on the season at all, but unlike the NFL All Star Game, manages to keep things competitive by offering a $1 million prize. Are you listening, Roger Goodell?

NASCAR - Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overcame an early rush from Sam Hornish Jr. to pull away from the field and dominate the Pioneer Hi-Bred 250 on Sunday, his third straight victory at Iowa Speedway. His Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang led 209 of 250 laps and Stenhouse Jr. increases his series lead to 28 points over Elliot Sadler.

DTM: Mercedes saw victory slip through their fingers at the Nurburgring, but not at Brands Hatch. In the third race of the DTM season, Gary Paffet won for the second time in his Mercedes-Benz AMG C-Coupe, leading from pole. The diverse podium featured Bruno Spengler of BMW M3 DTM in second and Mike Rockenfeller of Audi A5 DTM in third. DTM will resume at the Red Bull Ring in Austria on June 3.


Click here to visit our Performance section, and be sure to check back next Monday as we recap the greatest weekend in racing following the Indianapolis 500, Grand Prix of Monaco and Coca-Cola 600. Which are you most looking forward to? more

Pop The Hood: How the 2013 Audi S6 Hits 0-60 MPH in 3.7 Seconds
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Welcome to Pop The Hood, a weekly feature that examines the industry’s latest innovations and what makes them tick. We’ve poked around inside the Scion FR-S, Ford Shelby GT500, BMW 335i and Buick Regal GS. Today, let’s crack open the Audi S6.

The term “sleeper” used to be quite prevalent in the automotive industry, to describe a car that packed surprising performance underneath a pedestrian exterior design.

But the term has basically been phased out altogether, because modern day high performance cars are easier than ever to spot. In the luxury sedan market, one glance makes it pretty clear that the BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG pack a pretty mean punch. A car with a monstrous 556 horsepower V8 like the Cadillac CTS-V would make the perfect modern day sleeper, but with those 19-inch wheels and bulging hood, it isn’t fooling anybody.

The 2013 Audi S6 boasts its fair share of sporty design features, but looks downright conservative compared to the other three. It even produces the lowest horsepower figure out of the four – by far – making 420 hp from a 4.0L twin-turbo V8.

Which is why the new Audi S6 became the ultimate sleeper car when Car And Driver got ahold of one, laying down a 0-60 mph sprint in just 3.7 seconds that sent the entire Internet into a collective, “Eh… scusi?more

2013 Chevrolet Trax Makes Bold Design Statement, Will Debut in Paris
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If the recently released 2012 Chevrolet Trax is any indication, Chevy design is about to head in a whole new direction.

The automaker released the first image of its small sport utility vehicle recently, showing off a brand new model that will officially debut at the Paris Motor Show this September. Chevrolet is looking to deliver SUV muscle with small car performance, and is also promising build quality and refinement that belies its value. more

Motorsports Monday: Maldonado Returns Formula One Glory to Williams
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Welcome to Motorsports Monday, a weekly recap of the thrills and spills from the weekend of racing, Today we cover Formula One, IndyCar, the American Le Mans Series, NASCAR and GRAND-AM for the Mothers Day weekend of May 12-13, 2012.

Formula One: In the first race following the Spring testing break, Pastor Maldonado became the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race and the Williams team won for the firt time since 2004. Maldonado drove a fast and composed race at the Spanish Grand Prix, outrunning a determined Fernando Alonso on his hometurf. Maldonado even put space between himself and the Ferrari so that by the end of the race, Alonso was defending against Kimi Raikkonen in third rather than pushing for the lead. Five different drivers have now won the first five grands prix of the season, with Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg and Maldonado collecting the first of their careers. Is this parity good for the sport? Or are the increasing FIA regulations and overtaking assists unfairly keeping the fast teams from staying on top for long? Red Bull utterly dominated last season, but now Ferrari find themselves atop the table despite McLaren seeming to have the best overall package. Alonso and defending champion Sebastien Vettel are tied for the points lead, with at least five others well within striking distance. Formula One returns with the Monaco Grand Prix on May 27.

IndyCar: Sebastian Saavedra topped the opening weekend of Indy 500 practice with a top speed of 221.5 mph, largely due to the massive draft effect of the new DW12 chassis design. Saavedra used a tow from Andretti Autosport and Chevrolet teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay for his best lap, but the strength of the draft from behind a DW12 has surprised drivers thus far. It will be interesting to see how they adapt, as some report that it’s so strong that following cars lose front wing downforce and have difficulty turning. Turning is easy for teams using Lotus engines – it’s speed they’re worried about. Dragon Racing drivers have been told to prepare to switch to Chevy any minute, and the two other Lotus drivers had the slowest speeds all weekend. Practice continues through Thursday and qualifying begins on Sunday. Hunter-Reay is also making news for sporting a custom helmet honoring Dan Wheldon, which will be auctioned off during the Yellow Party on May 24. more

Volkswagen Sales Up 38.0% In U.S. Through April
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Sales of Volkswagen passenger models in the U.S. rose a whopping 38.0% through the first four months of 2012, the automaker announced today. Volkswagen sold 131,900 vehicles to customers from January to April, compared to 95,600 for the same time period in 2011.

Worldwide, Volkswagen sales increased by 9.4%, from 1.66 million vehicles in 2011 to 1.81 million in 2012. Their biggest regions included a 103% sales increase in Russia, a 55.7% sales increase in Eastern Europe and a 13% sales increase in China.

Things were a bit slower elsewhere, with a 0.6% sales increase in South America and a 5.1% sales decline in the struggling economic market of Western Europe. more

2013 Cadillac ATS Priced From $33,990
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As if luxury brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz weren’t facing enough pressure from the likes of Audi, GM has announced that the 2013 Cadillac ATS compact luxury sedan will be priced from $33,990 when it hits showrooms this summer.

The sharp and sporty Caddy is sure to draw looks away from the European luxury hallmarks, especially priced $1,000 below the class-leading BMW 3-Series.

The lineup begins with the base ATS, armed with a six-speed transmission and 2.5L engine producing at least 30 mpg. more

Toyota Camry Conundrum: Why Beige Looks Good on Midsize Sedan Drivers
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The 2013 Toyota Camry and its predecessors may not be canyon carvers or autocross stars, but automotive enthusiasts should celebrate it. Here’s why.

The argument against the Camry – a popular one amongst bloggers, car websites and recently The New York Times – is that it lacks soul. The design is bland, the performance is like Ambien and the features are menial. It’s less driving machine, more transportation appliance. So then why is it that, since 1997, the Toyota Camry has been the best-selling car in the U.S. every single year except one?

After all, the success of the Camry is not for lack of competition. The mid-sized sedan market is as competitive as they come. Compared to the Camry, the Mazda6 is a joy to drive, the Hyundai Sonata boasts a striking design and the Ford Fusion is the best overall package. Automakers have proven that reliability and excitement need not be mutually exclusive.

But customers vote with their checkbooks, and Camry haters are severely outnumbered. This only further infuriates the Camry Crusaders, accusing the success of the Camry of dumbing down the market – a race to the bottom as automakers stuff their sedans with cupholders and numb steering, instead of six-speed short shifters and Recaro bucket seats.

The Camry, however, is defined by what it does have. Buyers know exactly what they’re getting from the mid-sized sedan: Reliability, comfort and value. The 2012 Camry has the best MPG in its class, and scored a five-star overall crash test rating.

Is it going to make your heart jump? No, but it looks good. Will it turn you into a traffic light drag racer? No, but it will likely run for hundreds of thousands of miles with minimal maintenance required and who drag races at intersections anyway? The 268hp Camry SE will do 0-60mph in less than six seconds, better than a BMW 528i. That enough for you, Schumacher?

In all its iterations, the Toyota Camry is a perfectly capable and reliable car. But that in itself is not why enthusiasts should celebrate it. They should applaud the Camry because it allows Toyota to pursue racing and passion projects that otherwise would simply not be possible.

The Lexus LFA is a $375,000, 552 horsepower V-10 supercar with perhaps the most glorious engine note this side of a Formula One car. It took ten years to design, test and build. It has competed, nearly stock, in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring since 2007. It is, by all accounts, exactly the kind of soulful and driver-centric performance car that we demand from automakers.

Toyota sold five Lexus LFAs in April 2012. They sold 36,820 Camrys.

The fact is that automakers need to make money before they can make performance cars. Purists blasted Porsche when they decided to produce the Cayenne SUV, but the Carrera GT would have never been possible without it. Without the Panamera, there would be no 918 Spyder. Behind massive sales of their “soft” California model, Ferrari posted record figures in 2011 and we’ve been rewarded with the F12 Berlinetta and forthcoming 900+hp Enzo successor. Porsche can take risks like the GT3R Hybrid and a Le Mans prototype under development. Ferrari invests hundreds of millions in F1 every year.

Enzo Ferrari famously believed that the only purpose of selling production cars was to finance his racing teams, and it’s a formula that Toyota has adhered to for decades. After all, the LFA is hardly alone in the pantheon of Toyota performance.

Without the success of the Camry, we may never have seen racing legends like the fearsome Toyota GT-One. Toyota competed in WRC for 26 years and won three championships, and even ran in Formula One from 2002-09. Say what you want about NASCAR, but Toyota has invested heavily, and they’re winning races – in a Camry, no less!

This year, they’ll return to Le Mans to take on mighty Audi with the outrageous Toyota TS030 LMP1 hybrid. And you’d better believe there would be no Scion FR-S if it weren’t for the Camry.

There will always be driving enthusiasts, and no amount of CVT transmissions and standard Traction Controls will ever change that. But not everyone shops based on performance, and for that vast majority of the market there should be something for them to fall back on.

The Toyota Camry may be, to some, the lowest common denominator, but that’s only because it does everything well – and that’s considered boring. For most people, doing everything well is all they need out of a car, and that’s what makes them happy in a car. And in the end, whether it’s a Camry or a Carrera, the most important thing about your car is that it makes you happy.

So power on, trusty Camry. And if you could, send a few pennies toward building a new Supra. Pretty please.


Audi Posts 15-Percent Increase in U.S. Sales, Best April in Company History
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The fastest-growing automaker is showing no signs of slowing down, as Audi reported record numbers for the month of April after a 15% increase in sales.

Audi sold 11,521 vehicles in the United States in April, a significant increase over the 10,018 they sold in April 2011. The boost is due in large part to the new 2012 A6 sedan, which jumped up by 136.8% over sales of the outgoing model in 2011. But the A6 wasn’t the only bright spot.

Sales of the A7 Sportback increased by 91.2%, the Q5 crossover by 24.5% and the Q7 SUV by 12.3%. The A4 sedan dropped slightly by 6.6%, but is still far and away the best selling vehicle in the lineup with more than 3,100 units moved in April.

The figures make April 2012 the best April in Audi history, and the fourth best month of sales ever. It is the sixteenth consecutive month of increasing sales for Volkswagen’s upscale brand. Audi has made no secret that their sights are set squarely on countryman BMW, who reported a 6.1% increase over April 2011 and – bolstered by a new 6-Series coupe and the ever-popular X5 SUV – sold more than twice the vehicles that Audi did. Still, the contenders are encouraged by their rapid growth.

“Audi’s progressive luxury positioning in the market clearly speaks to discerning consumers as they are seeking out the most technologoically advanced vehicles in the market,” said Johan de Nysschen, Audi of America President, in a press release.

“This is the fundamental reason why Audi has set record sales in sixteen consecutive months and will continue to register steady and sustainable sales improvements.”

Audi says they plan to spend about $17 billion on new products and technologies through 2016. Their sport-inspired S6 and S7 models will be available soon, and an A3 Cabrio and R5 coupe are in the pipeline. more