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Germans Invade France: Victory at Le Mans

Disaster turns into victory.

by on Jun.15, 2011

Germany's secret weapon: the Audi R18.

It started back in 2000 when the first Audi prototype showed up at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  At a race where sports car manufacturer Porsche has won 16 times and Ferrari nine times, the upstarts from Ingolstadt came with a serious race car, the turbocharged gasoline-engined R8, and took first, second and third the first time out.

In the years since, the Audi R8, R10, the R15 diesel and now the new R18 diesel have won the race nine more times.  They took a year off in 2003 when, at the suggestion of management, the Audi race car was reconfigured into a Bentley coupe, and the Bentley took first and second using Audi engines.

In 2004, the R8 returned and took first, second, third and fifth.  The following year, the updated and heavily restricted R8 won again, with Danish driver Tom Kristensen winning his seventh Le Mans in a row.

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The world of sports car racing changed forever in 2006 when Audi showed up with its new R10 race cars, powered by 5.5-liter turbocharged diesel engines.  Diesels?  At Le Mans?  Yes.  Using specially distilled diesel race fuel, the Audis qualified first and second and beat the closest gasoline-powered car by four LAPS, owing to the diesel’s reliability, huge torque off the corners, and far fewer stops for fuel.  The winning Audi diesel covered 3164 miles in 24 hours, at an average speed of 131 mph.

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Audi, Chevrolet, BMW and Even Ford Enhance Their Reputations at Le Mans

Despite two crashes, Audi overwhelms field with new R18 turbodiesel.

by on Jun.13, 2011

Though two of its three cars crashed, Audi's #2 R18 turbodiesel went on to win.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans, the greatest auto race on Earth, tests engineering skill, driving skill, mechanical skill and everyone’s patience.  This year’s race, the 79th running, showed once again what great racing companies like Audi, Chevrolet, Nissan, and BMW can do.

Audi brought three brand new, brutish-looking diesel-powered R18s to race in the top LMP1 class, with new V-6 turbodiesel engines replacing the older, heavier and less efficient V-10 turbodiesels.

Before 15 laps were done, their #3 car had crashed heavily, sending Scottish driver Allan McNish to the infield hospital.  Around 11:45 PM, the #1 car tangled with a Ferrari and lost, taking out a huge section of guardrail and sending German driver Mike Rockenfeller to the hospital, as well.

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It took more than two hours to fix the guardrail while the field of 56 cars idled around in the dark under a yellow flag.  But the remaining #2 car, with drivers Marcel Fassler, Benoit Treluyer, and Andre Lotterer, soldiered on and won the race, a close finish, with five diesel Peugeots trailing it home.  It was Audi’s tenth overall victory at Le Mans, now more than Ferrari.

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Requiescat In Pace, Pontiac

When GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet, the Pontiac brand was born.

by on Apr.29, 2009

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first step up marketing ploy.

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, was Sloan's first "step up" marketing ploy.

In truth, the Pontiac brand is not yet dead; it’s only had its death sentence pronounced by General Motors, in an April 27 announcement about adjustments to its February plan for survival that was rejected by the U. S. Treasury Department. The pronouncement came after months of rumors and speculation. 

In addition to announcing that Pontiac would be “phased out by the end of 2010″-20 months from now-GM said it would dispose one way or another of Saab, Saturn and Hummer by the end of this year, a mere eight months distant, in the process targeting a 42% reduction in dealer count by the beginning of 2011. 

When all these cards are dealt, or dealt with, GM will still have a viable “step-up” product system with Chevrolet car and truck, Buick, GMC truck and Cadillac. Many of GM’s dealerships lately have been Pontiac-Buick-GMC and Cadillac. I’ll be willing to bet that for 2011 Buick will get some entry-level models, as they once had beginning in the Sixties, and it is conceivable they could be called Pontiacs or even have familiar Pontiac model names.  

This announcement is very hard on GM people whose pride is grievously wounded whether or not they still have jobs and benefits. To the legions of Pontiac fans, especially the boomers who came of driving age just as Pontiac changed is image from stodgy to racy in the late Fifties, the news is nothing short of cataclysmic. 

The Pontiac brand, introduced as a 1926 coupe and sedan, became the first major, uh, product step in Alfred P. Sloan’s strategy to create “step-up” marketing of motorcars. Notably both Pontiacs were “closed” at a time when “open” cars were still the majority of those sold, one of many “firsts” known to Pontiac enthusiasts. 

Three years earlier, by means of price adjustments, Sloan had rationalized GM’s crazy quilt organization of different brands and companies acquired by founder Billy Durant starting in 1908. 

In 1922, GM’s car lineup consisted of five brands: Chevrolet, priced at $510 to $1,395, Buick from $865 to $1,395, Oakland from $975 to $1,545, Oldsmobile from $1,095 to $2,145, and Cadillac from $3,100 to $4,600.

This confusing overlapping stew was corrected a year later with this lineup: Chevrolet $490 to $795, Oldsmobile $750 to $1,095, Buick Four $935 to $1,495, Oakland $945 to $1,395, Buick Six $1,275 to $2,285, and Cadillac $2,985 to $4,600. Later came product feature step-ups, a straight eight in the Buick, for instance.

But GM decided it needed an easier step-up from Chevrolet-offered then only with a four-cylinder engine–so it introduced Pontiac as a one-price ($825) model with a standard six-cylinder engine, a companion to the pricier Oakland.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM's Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs generally shared GM's Built by Fisher "A" Body with Chevrolet.

After international promotion around its quintessentially American “Indian” name, it could be said that Pontiac was an overnight success, but so were Plymouth and DeSoto a couple of years later. By the depth of the Great Depression in 1932, Oakland-a Durant acquisition in 1909–was gone but Pontiac lived on in its place.  

From 1936 to 1956, Pontiacs were noted for their often heavily chromed waterfall front end appearance. Generally they shared GM’s Fisher “A” Body with Chevrolet.

A flat-head straight-eight engine was added. Pontiac claimed to be first with a column shift, in 1938. For 1949 an “Indian” moniker, Chieftain, was introduced for the upper series.  (more…)