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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Off-Season Road Race News

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On: Mon, Dec 13, 2010 at 4:59PM | By: John Welch

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly: Off-Season Road Race News

The advancement of electronic locomotion knows no bounds apparently, as several sports car teams and companies pledge to include some form of energy recovery system on their 2011 racing machines. This includes all of Formula 1, which will see the return of KERS after a one-year hiatus. Two new GT2 cars coming in 2011, the Ferrari 458 GT2 and the reinvention of the Porsche 911 RSR. Though similar to its 2010 sibling, the RSR is fresh as a daisy under the skin.

Finally, what do you consider ugly? Does pure function override decidedly homely appearance for you? Would you prefer your LEDs with or without pontoon fenders? Audi has released images and important data regarding their new R18; we just aren't sure we wanted them to.

The Good: Racing is the birthplace of many (I dare say 'most') automotive advancements, and it is no surprise that some teams are considering hybrid technology for their already highly specialized cars. In 2009, Formula 1 flirted with 'KERS', Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems. In one way or another, KERS-equipped cars gathered wasted energy from braking and returned it to the drivetrain, at the driver's command, for up to 13 seconds a lap. The range of power available depended on the system, and its effect, or the advantage it provided are debatable. McLaren had KERS and was typically the fastest team all year. Brawn GP did not, and still their ex-Honda chassis walked away with the championship. KERS will be used in F1 again in 2011, but it is not mandatory. Who will use it? Who won't? Will it be worth the extra chassis weight? These questions to be answered in a few short months.

Porsche proved the hybrid idea would work in a race car; they flat out dominated the GT classes at the last ILMC race in Zhuizuai China. Finishing almost half a lap ahead of the first GT2 car, the electronic Porsche ran circles around the field. All of the gremlins that hampered the car at Road Atlanta were gone, and it steamrolled its way to a GT victory. It wasn't classified as a GT2 car, so technically, it wasn't a real victory, but you get the point. Flywheel-based hybrid systems work, and can win races.

The Bad: Bad for Corvette, BMW, and Jaguar, that is. Porsche is updating the 911 RSR significantly, and Ferrari is rolling out a totally new GT2 car. Lesser sports car makers beware. The RSR is already competitive, winning the ALMS GT2 title last year while way down on power compared to its rivals. Now it has five more horsies, revised bodywork, and a lighter chassis. The Ferrari 458 is a completely new car, and, if its 430 GTE father is a good indicator, the 458 will be a winner. Testing for the RSR is complete, whereas the 458 continues to undergo final preparations at the Fiorano Circuit in Italy.

The Ugly: Let's be honest; the diesel-powered Audi prototypes haven't been, how shall I say it, they haven't been real lookers. The R10 was enormous and plain, the R15 had too many surfaces and ducts and vents and that weird, flat nose. The R15 Plus was an improvement, but the addition of LED headlamps sort of ruined the looks of the car. Frankly, the R8 was not all that gorgeous either, not like the Lola/Aston Martin, or even the Bentley Speed 8, but it was well proportioned.

Audi is keeping its fine tradition of confusing prototype styling alive with its newest creation, the R18. The function of the car has been maximized while the aesthetics have taken a back seat. Taking a page from the Acura ARX-02a playbook (another hideous prototype, raced only in 2009) the new Audi sports rear tires at all four corners. This design requires rather large front fenders, which Audi has provided. They just aren't very curvaceous. A full complement of LED lighting is used on the R18, and it is unappealing to this critic's eyes.

The R18 is powered by a 3.7 twin-turbo diesel, and it employs a few tricks to keep the engine's dimensions reasonable. The turbos reside inside the engine's 'V', where the intake manifold should be. They breath though a backwards exhaust layout, and all waste gasses exit through a tiny triangular muffler. The car is a coupe, proven to be more effective than a roadster per the current regulations, and it will not make its debut until June. That means the old R15 Plus will have a swan song at Sebring in March, one last chance to justify its existence. Hopefully Audi selects an attractive livery for the R18; it needs all the help it can get.

Allan McNish as James Bond? It works . . . nice suit!

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gwyn | 1:44PM (Tue, Dec 14, 2010)

truly crazy looking car

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