Thursday
Aug062009

From The Archives "Mladin The Destroyer"

This column originally appeared on May 23rd, 2001 on the original Rumblestrip.NET I thought it fitting that I repost it given Mat's announced retirement at the end of the season. Enjoy!

Mladin The Destroyer

by The Duke

On the flight back to Detroit from Atlanta Sunday night, reflecting on the weekend, I recalled Mat Mladin's words from the interview I did with him at Laguna during pre season testing - "I think we're going to win it (the championship) easier than we won it the last two years." The first two words that popped into my mind were bull and shit. With the quality and level of talent in the series there was no way that was going to happen.

While we are not quite one quarter of the way through the season, those words may yet be prophetic. With 151 possible points this far into the season, Mladin has 136. He has missed out on only 15 points all season! If he continues as he has, he is on pace to score 474 points this season!

Like Patton and the Third Army marching unstoppable across France and Germany, only forces out side his control (for Patton it was Ike, for Mladin who knows yet) can stop him at this point from victory. Like Patton, Mladin has a supporting cast that is almost unequalled. Sun Tzu said that all battles are won and lost before they ever begin. With Mladin and his band of merry marauders this is most evident. Walk by the Yosh trailer that holds Yates and Hacking's team and there is a buzz of activity, mostly due to how many times they have to repair Hacking's crash damage. Then go by Mladin's rig. While busy, there is calmness, a non-frenzied atmosphere. Mladin's crew have it easy. When was the last time they had to thrash with repairing either crash damage or motor problems? They unload and focus on setup. They are able to maximize their on track time. With Peter Doyle, Reg O'Rourke and Amar Bazzaz at his side, Mladin has assembled perhaps the strongest team since the days of Spencer and Kanamoto or Carruthers and Roberts. The only other team that I would put up against what Mladin has put together would be Eboz with Joey Lombardo and Al Ludington. However, given that Eric must run both the 600 and the Superbike, the Kawasaki effort by design can not be as focused as Mladin's.

If Mladin and crew go on and win this year's championship, then I agree with Larry Lawrence who wrote over at AMA Soup that it is time for Mat to go. What more does he have left to prove here? He should be piloting a World Superbike or be back on a GP machine, not stuck in the US.

It's a shame that he won't be racing in the WSBK round at Laguna, it would be very interesting to see how not only him but his crew stack up to some of the worlds best. It's understandable why it won't happen. Mat has been hired to win the US Championship. Why risk injury in a race that means nothing and throw away the championship here? Sure it would be great to see the Yosh bike running with "The Troys" and Captain America, but it ain't gonna happen. Factor in the expense of building and testing a bike that will need a different combination due to the use of unleaded fuel in the WSBK series, and with the potential of showing up the Alstare team.

While the Alstare team has struggled, the Yosh team has dominated. I would not discount the level of talent or support here in the US either. With the likes of "The Show" and "The Kid" and their full factory backing from Yamaha and Honda, it is certainly very close to what he would face one level up. The sad thing is, if Mat were Spanish, it would be him and not Sete Gibernau as a teammate to KRJR. Instead of the second Suzuki bike battling for 11th spot every race, as it currently is, it would be running with the front runners trying to get on the box. But I guess the Spanish sponsors, Telefonica and Fortuna, would much rather have a mid pack running Spaniard than a front runner of other nationality. Go figure. In this day and age of politics and economics in the GP, and to some extent WSBK ranks, unless you have personal sponsorship or can bring a big time sponsor with you, you can almost forget about landing the big ride unless you are the factory's darling. The days of making it on talent alone are over. For Mat to have a shot at this point he needs to bring along someone like Qantas, Fosters or maybe the Aussie Board of Tourism to help him land something. Well that's more like his agent's job, but you get the idea.

I don't care if you make seven figures or not, if there is no challenge how much fun can it be? Well, maybe enough. I have noticed that Mladin seems to have less of a severe look on his face this year. He seems to be smiling much more and even looks content on the podium. Ducati press officer Wendy Hogg, an Aussie herself, and I came up with a different phrase for his look on the box at Road Atlanta, but I'll refrain from repeating it here since I don't need Mat calling me about it. Then again, I'll probably get a call anyway, "OK mate what did it look like?" Don't get me wrong, Mladin is still a hard bastard who would bite your arm off in a nanosecond if that's what it took to win, but he doesn't look angry like he did last year. Be honest, did you ever see a picture of Mat last year where he didn't look pissed off? He had that scowl perfected to the point that no one would come within 20 feet of him. Maybe it's having a twenty six point lead this early in the season, who knows? You'd have more luck getting the answer out of the Sphinx. I often think you'd have better luck asking the magic 8 ball [Ichecked, it said "Better not tell you now" -disco]. But that's fine.

When you are at the level of people like Mladin, Rossi, Fogarty and Lawson, you are not "normal". You don't think the same way others do. You have to find new ways of keeping yourself motivated and amused. Hell, look at Anthony Gobert. In 1999 his goal was to see how fat and out of shape he could get and still win races. While he never got to the Scott Gray level of physical (un)fitness, he certainly looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy out there. But like I said, at that level you are not "normal". This year Mladin's fun seems to come from seeing how much misinformation he can throw out about tires without someone calling him on it. At Sears he was talking about how he was using the hardest dual compound tire he could, like you'd use at Daytona. In Europe the riders use the press to psych out one another, but the press there knows what's going on. I wonder how many here are bright enough to realize how much Mat is trying to use them for his own ends.

So, who has a shot at Mladin this year? Mladin, and that's it. The way it looks here on the 23rd of May, 2001 is that the only way Mat Mladin will not be a three time AMA Superbike Champion is if he beats himself. Either by mechanical DNF, not likely, or crashing, even less likely. So what will 2002 bring? If things are right in the universe, Mat along with Nicky, Kurtis and Eboz should all be off to Europe to race in the two top series'. Mladin & Chili or Mladin and KRJR? It could happen.

 

Tuesday
Aug042009

Top Gear V12 Vantage

This post isn't to talk about all the nonsense floating around about Top Gear being over, because it's not. It's about the segment, or film as they would call it about the Aston Martin V12 Vantage.  For the final show of each series they usually do something big, trip through VietNam, a run off against the Germans at the Nurbugring, etc..  This time it was a something different.  This bit on the V12 Vantage is stunningly beautiful.  If Aston Martin didn't pay for this segment, then they should because it's better than ANY ad agency could put together.  The visuals, the colors, the sounds, the music, the editing, just stunning.  If Top Gear does not win some sort of award for this segment then there should never be another TV award given, period, end of story.

Enjoy and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday
Jul292009

Old Aussie Car Ads

Season two of Top Gear Australia was much MUCH better than season one, if nothing else it was addition by subtraction with Charlie Cox being replaced as the show host.  A segment that they ran in season two was old car ads from Australia.  It was funny to see that their car ads were just has cheesy and horrible as the ones here in the US.

Michael Banovsky of vLane Blog has an affinity for old quirky car ads, I figured this was right up his alley.  Have a look.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul282009

Two Wheel Tuesday Brno WSS Last Lap

The last lap of the World Supersport race from Brno this past weekend was just about one for the ages!  Want to show people why motorcycle racing is SO much better than cage racing, this would be a good place to start.  Maybe not as good the the Assen WSS race last year, but still quite good.

Monday
Jul272009

Reviewed 2010 Camaro SS

As General Motors emerges from bankruptcy and all the talk of the car that will save GM is the Volt, a funny thing happened on the way to the production of "the cars American's want to drive"(™V.I. Obama). America did find in GM a car that they wanted to drive. In fact for the month of June that single model out sold both the entire Buick and Cadillac brands in their entirety. The new halo car for GM and Chevy is the Camaro.

 

 

 

 

For the month of June, the Camaro sold a touch over 9700 units. Quite a remarkable feat in the current economic unpleasantness. Unlike many of their other models, dealers are getting full MSRP with no incentives. If the buyer can get financing, they are going right out the door.

 

Why is it that the new Camaro is moving so well? I believe there are a number of factors here. Number one: in an era where there is little innovative styling going on, designers (not just in the car industry) have fallen in love with retro styling because it's easy. The new Camaro IS retro, but not in a patronizing way like most others are. The new Camaro feels like a natural evolution of the Gen 1 67-69 series in much the same way the current 997 series Porsche 911 feels like a natural evolution of the original 63-69 911.

 

For the last six months to a year we have been told by those in power that we will all be driving small, fuel efficient, bland, uninteresting appliances for the most part. CNBC's Larry Kudlow calls them "little green go-karts" and while the American spirit of independence, individualism, and rebellion has been beaten almost out of existence, a small flame still lingers. I think the Camaro represents that spirit, much like its rival the Ford Mustang. Something that the average person can reach for, even if it's not the V8 model, to say that those in the ivory white towers will not dictate to them what they can and cannot choose to drive.

 

The lines are classic sports/muscle car, no matter it be American, British, Italian, etc. - a long front end, a compact passenger compartment and a short rear section. While I'm not always a fan of the move to the 19" and larger wheels that have been the trend in the last 5-7 years, the 20" wheels on our test car looked good and did a nice job of filling in the massive wheel wells.

 

This last point brings up my major beef with the new Camaro and I wanted to get it out at the top of this review. The car is too large. It's a bit too long, way too wide and it is 500 pounds too heavy. While we didn't have a chance to drive it over the scales to verify, the official measurements have this coming in a couple large deluxe pizzas shy of 3900 pounds. 3860 is the official number for the V8 equipped SS that we drove with a six speed automatic.

 

Weight is the enemy of all car design. In the last decade to decade and a half the weight creep on cars has been astounding. Thanks to more electronics in cars these days, elaborate engine electronics, sat nav, stereos, bluetooth, active handling, more governmental demands for crash worthiness, demands for more quiet interiors by the consumer, increased complexity of emissions equipment and now hybrid systems have added close to half a ton in weight on most cars.

 

I will give three personal examples. My 1983 Mustang GT with me in it weighed 3016 pounds, my 1992 Mustang LX 5.0 weighed 3285 pounds and my 1983 Mercedes 300SD, a FULL SIZED car with a diesel motor, weighed 3795 pounds. I think that last number really puts things in perspective. A luxury four door diesel car weighed LESS than the current Camaro SS. I will say this though - the Camaro was nearly as quiet, and rode almost as well as the Mercedes. The question then arises: Is that last bit really a complaint for a muscle car, or have our minimum standards changed that much?

 

Climb into the Camaro and their are two things that you notice immediately. One, because the windshield is raked back so dramatically the area you look through makes it feel like you are driving in a chopped 50 Merc. The other, much like the same custom Merc, is that the visibility to the left rear for the driver is nonexistent. You will be relying on your mirrors and an involved twist which requires you twisting your head to the left to peer around the side of the drivers headrest to see out the back window when making a lane change or to see if anything is looming in your blind spot. While I will often complain about all the technology in cars today, this is one situation where a blind spot warning light in the side mirrors could be useful.

 

In the interior the fit and finish is pretty good, save one spot in our test car that was pretty obvious. Much has been made by others of the hard plastic on the dash, and I agree with them, though it looks good. I'm not sold on the orange plastic inserts in the doors that wrap around the dash. Chevy did attempt something similar to Ford's mood lighting with it though, as the top edge of this on the doors had a lighting feature that, had it been better implemented with a stronger light for the whole length of the door panels, could have been interesting. The front seats are good, though not great. They could use a little more lower lumbar support. In a 200 mile trip to Indiana to visit my grandmother, I found myself moving around a bit trying to get comfortable after about 90 minutes. While there is not much room in the back seats you can fit an adult back there as long as you don't slide the front seats back too far. At that point the leg room goes from tight to nonexistent.

One mega huge improvement on the new Camaro over the previous generation is that you can actually see and get to the spark plugs and most other areas of the engine with no issues. Another improvement is - If you need to pull the motor for some reason you don't have to put it on a lift and drop the entire K-member and suspension. All my hot rod friends thought this may be the single best thing about the car!

 

Now the part that all of you really care about: How does the car drive and perform? It drives quite nice, thank you. The steering has a nice weight to it and going down the highway it tracks nicely, even with the big wide tires. Throttle response can be interesting though. Let me go into further detail about this...

 

If you buy this car the first thing you need to do is get yourself some sort of aftermarket plug-in tuner or take it to a performance shop that can tune it for you. I'm not sure if this is because of emissions, mileage or what, but you can literally feel the computer running through different fuel strategies in the gas pedal! It feels like it's hunting for some optimal balance, and I'm not kidding about this as I had two other people take turns at the wheel and they noticed the same thing. In doing this it also might clean up some issues with the transmission. The car feels like there is another 20-40 horsepower just waiting to be unlocked.

 

Our test car was equipped with the six speed auto box, as a manual was not available for testing. While 85-90% of the time it worked just fine, there were moments that were frustrating. There are times when you are rolling along and you give the throttle the full stick, and there is no response for half a second, like the transmission can't decide which gear to choose. The other issue is in the "manual" mode. There are buttons on the back of the wheel, rather than paddles, and by selecting up or down doesn't always mean you get that gear and certainly not with speed you'd want. Under part throttle it's OK, but driving at any kind of spirited pace, there is a lag that will frustrate you.

 

With all that said, the 435 horsepower LS3 is a riot! It is, as the Brits might say, a proper American V8. It has big torque from off idle so that you can drive with a light foot on the gas and still accelerate at a good pace. It revs to 6200 RPM with ease and never feels out of breath, other than having to schlep two tons around. We were going to take the car to the drag strip for some proper (and legal) acceleration tests, but it rained on the the two days that we could have gone.

 

I often joke that there are more curves, twists and switchbacks on the road leading up to Laguna Seca Raceway than there are in all of the state of Michigan. It's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. With that said, the Camaro handles pretty well, but it's not at an elite sports car level by any stretch. Unless you are doing track days or auto crossing though, you won't care. Day in and day out the car is fun to drive and doesn't wear on you.

 

No matter where you go in this car, people young and old, men and women will flock to you to ask about the car, want to look at it, and have their picture taken with it. If you are shy, trying to keep a low profile or your time is really valuable to you, this is NOT the car for you. I can't think of anyone I ran across who had anything but a strong positive reaction to the car.

 

Many jokes have been made about the new Camaro that if you buy it you need to get your mullet wig to go with. While switching the XM radio over to the Hair Metal station and having The Scorpions, White Snake and Motley Crue blast out seems very natural, it seems more like it's taking a few minutes bringing back memories of high school. It feels almost as natural to just roll around in town in the car with XM tuned in to Chill.

 

For a car with the power and weight this has, the mileage it returns is more than reasonable. We got 18 in the city and on the trip back from Indiana just after I shot this pic it ticked over to an average of 25 for the highway. The highway trip was with the cruise control at 76-77MPH and I was NOT trying to be easy with it in in town driving so I would say these are numbers you can get with ease.

 

For better and for worse the Camaro has matured and grown up. It doesn't mean that it can't still go out and have a lot of fun mixing it up like it did "back in the day" but in that time it's gotten a bit heavier, a bit wider and mellow. It might not have quite the edge it had at one point, but it's more than just a weekend warrior.

 

It's hard for me to come up with a number for the final rating. I'll say 7.9 out of 10, and that probably would have been an 8.2 or more had the car had a manual transmission. Chevy has every right to be proud of this car. While it seemingly took forever for them to bring it to market, it may single handedly save the company. As a long time hard core Mustang owner and fan, I would spend my own money for this car, though I think I'd have to order that Kenne Bell Supercharger kit for it. After all, like Mark Donohue said, "If you can make black marks on a straight from the time you turn out of a corner until the braking point of the next turn, then you have enough horsepower."

 


 

Oh, and speaking of Mr. "The Unfair Advantage", forget the Transformers edition Camaro. I want the Mark Donohue Special Edition!

 

 

Final conclusion, the Camaro SS is a bottom of the ninth, two out, 0-2 count walk-off home run.