Posts Tagged ‘ford motor company’

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Just Drifting: A Japanese Import Roaring on American Race Tracks

June 21, 2013
Vaughn Gittin's 845 HP Monster Ford Mustang RTR

Vaughn Gittin’s 845 HP Monster Ford Mustang RTR

 

By Roger Witherspoon

 

          Anyone who has driven a car on sheet ice knows the feeling.

You hit the gas pedal, and the wheels spin faster and faster, but the rear of the car is sliding sideways and there is no forward progress at all. At that point, most motorists know they are in trouble.

Unless, of course, sliding sideways is what you intend to do.

At that point, it is called drifting and, if one is good at it, he can make a car go down a track sideways at more than 100 miles per hour, shoot straight through a curve and slide out the other side.  And if one is really good at it, he or she can turn professional, guiding a roaring racing drifter nearly sideways down a track a couple of inches away from another side winding machine and wheel them around each other like very big spitting cats.

Anyone who has ever seen the equivalent of the automotive ballet employed in televised ads with sleek new cars sliding in and out of each other like a choreographed ballet, or sat through any of the Fast and Furious movies, is familiar with drifting. It’s a street sport variation on drag racing which originated in Asia and in the last decade has caught on with the drag strip crowd.

“The sport started in Japan where this was done as an exhibition of speed and car control,” said Richard Kulach of Nissan Motor Sports. “It blossomed over there and then took off in the US.

“Nissan was associated with it early on, particularly the 240 SX model. It had a four-cylinder motor and was a rear wheel drive car, and that is the preferred drive train.  The car could also be modified easily. The SX was available in a turbocharged version which produced double the horsepower than the cars originally came with.”

The sport migrated to America as the Japanese auto industry gained more prominence on American roads. Japanese drifters began having demonstration competitions on west coast speedways – and that intrigued American drag racers and the makers of traditional American muscle cars. As a result, the ad hoc nature of these demonstrations morphed into formal Formula  Drift competitions, with the American manufacturers playing an increasing role. For auto makers like Ford and Chevy, drifting was a progression from their heavy involvement in American NASCAR and other organized road races.

The result of that intercontinental competition will be on display today and Saturday at the Wall Stadium Speedway, off the Garden State Parkway in Wall Township, New Jersey, which is hosting the Formula  Drift Championships.

“The Formula 1 Championship is essentially a title fight where the premier competitors have to earn a right to sign up,” explained Paul Brearey, who oversees marketing for Ford’s drift racing efforts.  “You have to start somewhere else and participate in local geographic drift series and at least place to earn the right to move up. It is a different type of sport from traditional racing, especially if you are from the old school where someone clearly wins and loses.

Paul Brearey

Paul Brearey

“Drifting tends to be more like dancing with cars – at high speed – rather than a race. And it is somewhat subjective, with the judges looking at style and how they went across the track rather than actual objective numbers.  There are, however, sensors on the walls on the curves and the closer you get to the wall without crashing the more points you’ll get.”

It’s the mechanical dance which gripped Vaughn Gittin, Jr., the 2012 drift champ who is seeking a repeat to the podium Saturday in his Monster Ford Mustang RTR (Ready to Rock).

“It’s not exactly a street car,” said Gittin of what came out of the Ford factory as a Mustang GT. “At 845 horsepower she wouldn’t get goo good gas mileage. She drinks over a gallon a lap, and a lap is three quarters of a mile.”

Heavy engines in small cars are the norm for drifting competitions. Chris Forsberg, who drives a modified Nissan 370Z – which is usually a reliable roadster – discarded the Z’s standard engine and replaced it with one from a Nissan Titan pickup truck.

Nissan Drifting

“Drifting is fast,” explained Gittin. “The Mustang RTR can easily do 200 going straight, but we are going sideways and around curves at over 100 miles per hour. The car is sliding sideways but always going forward. You need a lot of horsepower so you can put a ton of grip in the road to go forwards and still drive it sideways. If you don’t have a ton of grip, the car is going to slide right off the track.”

Gittin came to drifting slowly, and his acceptance of an American car was even slower.

“Growing up,” he recalled, “I was not a big fan of Mustangs. It had a little to do with me being rebellious and not wanting what my parents had.” His father had been a used car salesman from Newark, “and I remember him squealing tires and I thought that was the coolest thing ever.

“I had a go-kart as a kid and was an adrenaline junkie. I used to fool around in industrial parks, and then when I was 19, I saw a video of drifting and fell in love with the sport that let me express myself behind a wheel. It was like skateboarding in a car.”

Gittin was a computer geek at the time, working as a network administrator for an Arlington, VA company but spending his spare time and money building and modifying cars to compete in drift races.

“In 2004 I saw the new redesigned Mustang and thought it was cool-looking and thought it would be cool to bring a Mustang to an import-dominated sport.  Once we built the car and drove it, I fell in love with it and that was all she wrote.Vaughn Gittin JR

“When drifting started it was kind of monkey-see, monkey-do. All the Americans were doing exactly what we saw the Japanese drivers doing. I was no different; my car was a Nissan 240 SX, a rear wheel drive sports car. Little did I know then that we had the best kept secret in our own back yard – the Ford Mustang.”

In 2007, Gittin gave up the computer job and began working full time as a professional drift driver. Along the way he has won both the American and Chinese Formula Drift series.

This weekend’s championship at Wall Speedway is something of a special return engagement for Gittin, whose parents were Jersey natives. “I have a ton of relatives here,” he said “and about 40 or 50 will come out to support us. It’s our homecoming, and it’s going to be really awesome.”

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2012 Explorer: Another Big SUV from Ford

August 4, 2012

By Roger Witherspoon

            The storm had been building up all day, the dark, angry clouds piling up on each other, crowding out the sky as if waiting to see which member of the celestial gang would attack first. In the end, the signal was given by the rising north wind, which launched one fierce gust after another, making the traffic on the west-bound interstate a white-knuckle game of trying to drive in a straight line while being shoved from the side.

Into this game came the rain, slashing, pouring, and quickly filling the roadway and the small, meandering streams nearby. Depressions in the road were quickly filled, forcing the drivers of small cars and low sports cars to pause as water reached their doors and they wondered if they could roll through the fast-moving puddles.

            But none of that really mattered since we were in a Ford Explorer which seems to have borrowed some tips from Land Rover and treats water, mud, gravel and dry pavement as pretty much the same surface. We rolled through nearly a foot of water in a low area and, at one point, drove around a stuck car by rolling over the curb and through a mud puddle that had been a grassy glade. The large SUV was too heavy to really care about the sideways pushes from the wind, and since the Explorer no longer had its traditionally ugly box shape the car was aerodynamic enough to deflect much of the force of the wind over and around the vehicle.

So we passed the potato chips, had Outlaw Country on the Sirius radio booming from the dozen Sony speakers, and sang along with Robbie Fulks and his scatological Nashville tribute “F… This Town!” All things considered, it was a great road trip.

The guys at Ford Motor Company are allergic to minivans and their designers just won’t draw them. So the company has three versions of stretch SUVs with three rows of seats and a smorgasbord of capabilities and amenities. For those seeking to maintain a bit of status while hauling a carload of kids, there is the MKT from Ford’s Lincoln line (  http://bit.ly/MEbjWC  ). If you don’t care about status but like being a bit different, Ford offers the Flex, (  http://bit.ly/NrKYtr  ) a sort of grown up version of the wooden trucks little boys play with. And now, for those who want a large SUV but would prefer if it had a bit of style and could do more than just be really big, Ford has redesigned its old workhorse, the Explorer.

Like all of the stretch SUVs, the Explorer can haul seven passengers because it puts a third row of seats in what is normally the trunk.  In the Explorer, the rear seats have a certain amount of versatility. The third row has a 60/40 split, and can be operated independently. They can either fold flat or, at the push of a button, disappear into a bin in the floor.  That arrangement leaves you with an SUV which comfortably seats five and has enough storage space for a week’s worth of luggage for everyone.

But if you need all of the seats, it is easy to get into the Explorer’s third row. At a flick of a lever, each of the second row seats will fold up and away, allowing access without having to go through a lot of awkward climbing. The problem, however, is that once you are in the last row you are pretty much stuck there. There is not enough leg room for an adult and kids can’t get out unless they wait till the second row is empty and folded out of the way, or they climb over the rear. In an emergency, either would be difficult. And if the passengers in the second row decide to take a nap and recline their seats, the passengers in the back will really become claustrophobic. The folks in the second row, on the other hand, heave it easy. There is enough head, hip and leg room for a pair of 400-pound pro linebackers or three, relatively normal, 6-footers to relax on a cross country road trip.

But the lack of space in the third row, and its impact on the cargo area are common complaints with the stretch SUVs and the price paid for not being a minivan.

On the positive side, Ford packed a lot into the Explorer for $46,000.

Beginning with its design, the new Explorer seems to have borrowed ideas from Ford’s former relationship with Jaguar/Land Rover. The Explorer no longer looks like a big box. The hood is longer and flatter, a trick from Land Rover which doesn’t make the SUV svelte, but tricks the eye into focusing on the long lean look, rather than its bulging middle. It looks thinner than it is.

As a practical matter, that long wheelbase increases the stability of the Explorer, which handles more like its smaller cousin, the Ford Escape, than like the truck that it really is. Powering the Explorer is a 290 horsepower V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. That makes it both fast and nimble on the road.

            Off-road, Ford has borrowed additional ideas from Land Rover. In the center of the console is a circular control with pictures of different road conditions: normal, hill climb, downhill assist, sand, and snow. As the pictures imply, the Explorer’s gear settings change to meet the road needs. The downhill assist is interesting in that it is meant to prevent the car from slipping backwards on a steep slope, or when towing a heavy load on a hill.

Unlike the Land Rover or Ford’s heavy duty F-150 truck, however, the Explorer is not really designed for really rugged terrain. It does not have a skid pan protecting its undercarriage and, therefor, it cannot, for example, really handle a rock crawl though the transmission is able to split the torque from the front to the rear or from one side to another so the SUV can continue driving even if one wheel is off the ground. And while it can ford running streams, the design is about eight inches — though the doors are sealed tightly enough for  deeper streams.

The Explorer also has a few of Ford’s latest safety options which can come in handy on long trips or in really bad weather.  Their land changing system monitors the dotted road lines from a camera embedded in the windshield and alerts the driver if you are veering into another lane.  This is useful in a heavy rain storm – particularly at night – when the lanes can be difficult to see. Further, if there is a continued pattern of wandering into adjacent lines, the leather steering wheel vibrates and a little coffee mug on the dash lights up with a note saying it’s time to get some rest.

There are also lights embedded into the rear view mirrors which alert the driver to cars in either side blind spot. While the sight lines on the Explorer are good, a vehicle of this size is going to have spots that are difficult to monitor and the blind spot notice should be considered a necessity rather than an optional add on.

Ford gave some thought to the Explorer’s interior – a reasonable thing to do since that’s where the people are.  To begin with, it’s quiet. The sound proofing is such that not only will it shut out the winds at high speed so you can enjoy a quiet, flute solo from Harold Johnson Sextet’s Moses, it will also block the sound of a riding mower when you’re parked near a garden and just enjoying the view. Ford hasn’t always had that level of quality, but the same sound proofing can now be found in the compact Ford Fiesta at the other end of its product line.

The seats in the Explorer are soft, padded leather, and those in front are powered and can be heated. The door arm rests and dash are padded faux leather with wood accents which give the area a living room feel.  There are bottle or large cup holders in the door which can actually hold an 18-ounce water bottle, and the second row has both a regular power outlet for phones and a 110-volt outlet with a standard plug. If your phone is a mobile hotspot, passengers can plug in a computer and turn the Explorer into a fast moving office.

On the dash, the eight-inch, touch activated, information screen is really easy to use and is divided essentially into four quadrants: Bluetooth, navigation, climate, and audio. Each sector can be activated with a light touch or voice command from Ford’s SYNC system.

If you need to haul both a lot of people and a lot of their stuff, there’s nothing like a minivan. But if a stretch SUV fits your needs, the Explorer may give its Detroit siblings, and the Audi Q-7 and Infiniti JX and run for the money.


2012 Ford Explorer

 

MSRP:                                                                        $46,740

EPA Mileage:                        17 MPG City                          23 MPG Highway

Towing Capacity                                                        5,000 Pounds

 

Performance / Safety:

 

3.5-Liter aluminum DOHC engine producing 290 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque; 6-speed automatic transmission; 4-wheel disc brakes; all wheel drive; MacPherson strut independent front suspension;  SR1 independent multilink rear suspension;  rack and pinion steering; traction and stability control; fog lights and high density headlamps; 20-inch, polished aluminum wheels; heated side mirrors; blind spot and lane change monitoring; reverse sensing and rear view camera;  dual front stage and side impact airbags.

Interior / Comfort:

 

AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio; 390-watt Sony audio with 12 speakers; Bluetooth; CD and MP3 player; USB and iPod ports; tilt & telescoping, leather wrapped steering wheel with fingertip audio and cruise controls; leather seats; powered, heated front seats; fold flat rear seats with push-button stowing for 3rd row; 8-inch color information screen.

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