Monthly Archives: June 2011

Nihao!

What do you expect from China?

If you have the possibilty come over and experience the big contrast between tradition and modern lifestyle. I started living and working in Beijing some months ago and i can tell you- there is a lot to see and learn. Besides culture- as a petrolhead you will be surprised what is driving around in the capital. Welcome to carfreax.com/cn!

STUTTGART 125

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It’s Friday evening, It’s May and Summer has started early I’ve just discovered there’s a major car event at the ‘Neuen Schlosses’ Stuttgart this weekend. 125 cars will line up to celebrate 125 years of automobile history. I phone Mattijs “what you doin’ this weekend” I blurt. “er nothing, why?” replies the bewildered voice. I explain what’s on and spring the clinching final words “we can visit the Porsche museum, as well”. Mattijs thinks about it for 2 seconds, before answering “I’m in!”

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Saturday morning 8.45 a.m. Were streaking down the A8 towards Stuttgart in a TTRS. We're late! Breaks in traffic allow us to hit 260 km/h occasionally. The event starts at 10 and we want to get there before the crowds start. Finally we arrive at 11 and the place is packed! The Schloss is in the middle of town, it’s Saturday, there’s a flea market and everyone wants to go shopping. Parking? Forget it! We finally leave the insect covered TT hot and ticking in an empty corner of an underground car park.

 Stuttgart 2011-03 

It’s not worth rushing anymore, and we decide to have a quiet coffee, or so we think! For the next twenty minutes were bombarded by the sight and sound of exotic metal driving past, not just the local Porsches and Merc’s, but Lambo’s, Lotus’s, Ferrari’s and even a Spyker. If this is the starter, what’s the main course like?

 Stuttgart 2011-04

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Time to hit the Schloss! A feast of shiny metal and chrome is laid out before us, the only problem are the crowds, this is going to be a challenge for our photographic skills! 

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The variety of cars on show is amazing, from huge American barges to tiny Fiat 500’s, Fast Ferrari’s to Meandering Microbuses and Muscular Supercars to puny Economy cars. The sun is shining and there’s a lot of cars to photograph. With no real plan Mattijs and I split up heading for our favorite cars, we bump into each other occasionally drooling over the same cars, both of us trying to find just the right angle to photograph while negotiating those goddamn crowds!

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At the end of the day celebrity judges from the world of car design officially judge a Porsche 356 Carrera GT as the winner of the day. The spectacular RUF CTr is a runner up, winning the sports car category. This beautifully detailed Kermit green supercar packs 745 PS, It’s chassis no1 and surprisingly the only one in Germany. 

It’s not quite the end of the day for Mattijs and me yet. We hit the road again and set the navigation to the Porsche museum, but that’s another story.

- Steve.

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Stuttgart 2011-11-Ruf CTR

(photos Steve/Matt)

SPA SUMMER CLASSIC – 2

Why is it that formula cars and Sports 2000 racers appeal less to the imagination than other track weapons?

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One theory -invented on the spot- is that they don't have a 'face'.

This theory works for me. Comparing the typically pointy, sex-less expressions of many formula cars around with the older, open-mouthed 'cigars' in the paddock convinces. The presence of just that mouth in the anonymous face already makes a big difference. Having said that, upon closer inspection there is actually lots to see on these lean machines' bodies; this is even the case with the skinny 'Formula Kent' series. Flo and I take our time and soak up the wealth of details; from purposeful tight packaging bulges to massive NACAs – and the odd leather strap. Even duct tape can be beautiful on these bare, functional fuselages. Yet the difference, made by well-executed graphics, is phenomenal. Most owners are either running traditional race colours (good!), a non-discript pale livery which was probably developed for their truck fleet (bad!) or a detonating combination of the favourite colours they had as kids (ugly!). Most cover their monoposto in random clouds of stickers and decals.

A manga-style track fighter stands out, however – graphics with almost military intent, properly designed. Good job, studio 54!

While the last strips of duct tape are applied to squeeze those last drops of aerodynamic drag out of the fiberglass shells, we slowly move on – to check out the action in pit lane. A semi-pro blue crew is manning the wall as one after the other racer rolls out of its box – proudly carrying the latest technical approval stickers, while the engine barks deafening, raw and brutal soundbites. Back to the action!

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Not much later we find ourselves further down, on the opposite paddock side, where we choose to stroll down the other, older pit lane with its many small boxes. This is where the touring cars live these days. Many of them are jacked up, wheels removed. Must be the weather – unreliable as always down here. You never know which type of tires you need until it's too late. Pushing back the decision. Many pit boxes are deserted, in some cases a bored wife is sipping coffee while hubby (Austin Powers?) is making final adjustments to the car – or trying to relax, if he still can. The atmosphere is friendly, sometimes candid. Open door policy – no questions asked when we walk in to admire the machinery. 

Hmmm… nice!

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When the formula cars have finished their laps, our interest is back to the races again. Must be the face thing – can't help it. It's also brilliant to see that the cars that we've only just looked straight in the eye have now all come to life – to fight it out on the track. Sleeping Beauty has transformed into Speed Beast. Pedal to the metal.

Yeah baby!

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One of the best fights we witnessed that day had to be towards the end. After having ventured into new territory, by walking up the hill from Pouhon towards Rivage. We cross a big welcome sign, at the back of the track, that seems to represent the main entrance for a more important audience – the F1 circus? We make our way back to the best part of the circuit – along the long straight towards Kemmel, Raidillon and …Eau Rouge.

The decision to first stop halfway down the straight appears to be a good one. This is where some big m*****f*****s are going to be screaming their rebel yells only a matter of minutes later. The best howl must be from the viper-green-and-black Dodge Challenger; independently Floris and I get visions of a World War Two fighter blasting past us, as it chases a bright blue 911 RS up the hill towards Les Combes.

Shivers down the backbone!! (Shakin' all over!)

- Geert.

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SPA SUMMER CLASSIC – 1

Saturday 11th June, 10 AM.

The citizens of Francorchamps have already had their involuntarily early start to the day over an hour ago, by the time we finally arrive at the track. The day's second session is already well under way. As with previous editions of the Summer Classic, the brutal noise of race cars shifting down for the La Source hairpin is almost lost in the naturally quiet Ardennes surroundings. It surprises us -again- how little public is attracted by these fantastic Francorchamps race day events. After our two-hour road trip, we opt for a cappuccino and pain au chocolat on the paddock restaurant's balcony, while we take in the high paced laps of the CSCC 'Swinging Sixties' machines. A bright red Camaro soon becomes our favourite, but it can hardly keep up with the canary yellow TR7 it is chasing. But wait – wasn't that a seventies car?

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…Too right it was!

But that's the Summer Classic; while the contenders do race as hard as in any other competition, the various classes are such a rich mix of vehicles that it is often a challenge in itself to try and guess its common denominators. But then, who cares? Certainly not the mixed bag of drivers: captains of industry, their well-off 'sons-of', a rich variety of smaller company owners (judged by the obscure sponsor names, written in large on their cars and trailers) and numerous plain enthousiasts who have probably put most of their savings in a Caterham Seven or, say, a Lotus Cortina. Which is often maintained by a bunch of even more enthousiast mechanics – seemingly from the local town workshop. They often race in various classes simultaneously and are all just here for a few days of undiluted fun. And for the fans that we are, the Summer Classic, as always, is a great way to come oh so up close and personal to the cars and their drivers.

This rich mix of pedigree seems slightly off balance when the Formula 3 series get ready to rumble. The average age of formula car drivers seems well above 50 (60?), judged by one after the other grey-moustached, well-weathered face that we spot through most helmet visors. Nevertheless these guys mean the business. Some cars look like miniature Formula 1 racers and the attention to detail -as the level of tech support- is impressive.

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As the weather changes, sometimes dramatically, in an almost hourly rhythm, we do our best -as the drivers do- to anticipate and plan our obligatory track walk. You don't want to get caught in one of those sudden Francorchamps rain showers! Before you know it, the shimmering hot and sticky asphalt may change in a soaking wet and slippery slide. Which will consecutively heat up so quickly again that steam rises from it, thick as smoke. The air will be hot and humid once more, with ten degrees centigrade difference in a matter of minutes. Ah, Francorchamps!

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We alternate watching the races with deep-diving into the paddock and pit lanes. Every tent, every pit box its own atmosphere, nationality and -in many cases- family feel. Lots of Brits today! A bit further down, we chat with the 2 meter tall Dutch driver of a tiny orange mint condition Elan, who explains us why the car looks so good: it was built up all over again after a recent dramatic crash. Changed my opinion on shiny race cars once and for all! "It's all in the game", he smiles, indifferently. Later that day, he would finish third – his cheeky little Lotus snapping at the tail of a big, bad 'Vette.

It's those unexpected stories and meetings, together with the ever-inspiring hunt for details, brilliant war paint and graphics, that make these days so great. On top of the continuous speed kicks and eargasms that is.

What a wonderful day!

- Geert.

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CURBED

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We are strolling down Guloudong Dajie, a street full of little boutiques and tea houses. I can't help drawing parallels with Main Street Santa Monica, or better, Melrose Avenue. The atmosphere, the trees, city life. As my mind travels back in time my local city guide asks me to stop comparing. "This is Beijing, not California!"

He is right. A different kitchen with new ingredients, nevertheless spicy and colorful. One would not expect it, but the locals have a hang towards Tokyo style car tuning. Bright with a broad brush approach and funky detailing. A colorful example is parked in front of a model and figurines shop. A perfect match. CFX Beijing could be a nice side kick. To be continued…

- Mattijs.

CURBED

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Somewhere in a parallel universe someone had the same idea I guess. I am on my way back home after a fantastic weekend in the Ardennes.

As I weave through the one way streets of Thuex it starts to rain cats and dogs, well a whole asylum that is. In centre ville the Belgium grays are lit up by dashes of bright yellow. An opportunity I can't resist. I park my car, grab my camera and run across the street. A curbed Alfa Romeo 1750 GTV Bertone in full rallye trim. Within minutes I am soaked with inspiration and rain, wondering what the fire extinguisher is doing here on the sidewalk.

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- Mattijs.