Mazda RX Vision – An Analysis

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The long-anticipated successor to the Mazda RX-8 has finally arrived. The big reveal was made at the Tokyo Auto Show a few weeks after Mazda released a dimly-lit silhouette rendering to pique the world’s interest. Thankfully, as the “RX” nameplate suggests, there wasn’t a piston in sight. Worried about boost? Mazda’s head of research and development, Kiyoshi Fujiwara, has revealed the company’s plan to include a turbocharger to not only improve fuel economy, but performance as well. It seems, at last, that the rotary engine will finally be reunited with the forced induction it so desperately needed in the previous generation.

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What to watch: Mighty Car Mods

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If you haven’t subscribed to their YouTube channel, you better get moving. Mighty Car Mods is easily one of the best automotive channels YouTube has ever seen. Co-hosts Marty and Moog are not only full of energy, but overflowing with automotive knowledge. The Australian duo has been creating DIY guides, informational videos and even full-length documentaries since 2007, when they got their start in Marty’s driveway.

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Sebring SCCA autocross GoPro footage

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The key word here is progress. Although I still have quite a bit to learn before I give long-time STX competitors a run for their money, the improvement in my driving is undeniable. I managed to smooth out my slaloms, hit the properly apex each corner and destroy far fewer cones than the last event I drove in.

That being said, there are some minor mistakes shown in the video that can easily be avoided next time. Coming out of the S bend right after the start, I had no reason to be off the throttle. The inconsistent throttle input led to an unbalanced corner, causing me to lose valuable time. I can carry more speed through slaloms and need to work on keeping the car more balanced through the tighter corners. Once these minor issues are corrected, my times will be surely reflect it.

Sebring SCCA Autocross Recap

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The concrete plant photo-op was too great to pass up. We passed this location on the way to Sebring International Raceway.

This autocross was not only my first Sports Car Club of America event, but my first opportunity to leap from the novice class to the far more competitive “Street Touring Extreme,” or STX class. Luckily the car I compete in, owned by Madison Swartz, was built to compete in STX. With 17×9″ Enkei RPF1 wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, Fortune Auto 500 coilovers, PBM rear control arms, a full exhaust and a custom tune, the car performs like a dream on the track. The steering is direct and predictable, traction is consistent and oversteer is gradual and predictable. The car described in one word? Balanced.

Unfortunately for Madison and I, most of the other STX cars were equally as balanced and driven by far more experienced owners. Although I have certainly noticed improvement in my driving throughout the last few months, my best run, a 50.135, still landed me in seventh place. The good news? I wasn’t last. I owe Swartz a beer for the confidence boost. Probably two after that jab.

After watching such experienced drivers slaughter my run times, I have realized a few issues present in my own driving that I have begun to eliminate.

1. Overdriving 

As a new driver, chances are you’re either going to be too timid or you’ll do the exact opposite and overdrive your car. Although timidity is a safer route to take, it will kill any chance you had at setting a decent run time. On the other end of the spectrum, there is overdriving, which was my most significant weakness. To keep the definition simple, overdriving is when you fail to remain controlled on the track. General signs of overdriving are plowing through turns, harsh understeer, jerky steering input and losing control of the car. Although going balls out sounds like the best option on a race track to most novices, all it does is kill any chance you had at remaining competitive. When I managed to address this issue in my own driving, I was able to carry more speed through turns, keep the car balanced with smoother steering input and maintain control of the vehicle at all times.

2. Getting nervous

Although first-lap jitters are fairly common, psyching yourself out before every run will never be beneficial. The key to improving is to remain focused, learn from your mistakes, seek advice from other drivers and keep your eyes on the course. When I finally managed to stop worrying about hitting cones or spinning out, I was able to approach the starting line with a new level of clarity, and my times reflected that.

3. Being too serious

The whole point of track driving is to have fun. When you calm your nerves and look at your driving from a more objective standpoint, the whole autocross experience changes. When there is no money or sponsorship on the line, the only reward you can expect from a track day or autocross event is the fun factor. When you’re out there having a good time, everything else just seems to fall into place.

Although I am no professional by any means, I can attest to the effectiveness of eliminating these three common driving issues. In the coming months, I hope to further improve my driving and eventually become a competitive driver in the STX class. As usual, keep an eye out for video from this event, which should be up within a few days.

Driftworks Outsiders: A must-see documentary

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Between the beautiful cars, culture shock and abundance of valuable automotive insight, there isn’t much more you could ask for from a drift documentary. Recorded during their 2011 trip to Japan, the film follows the Driftworks crew and their friends on their journey to see where drifting originated, and to learn more about the sport’s growth and evolution.

Filmmaker Al Clark did a fantastic job capturing not only the automotive side of this adventure, but the cultural side as well. Although the film is clearly meant to cater to car enthusiasts, it isn’t a stretch to say it could be enjoyed by just about anyone. Thankfully, Outsiders can be watched on the Driftworks YouTube channel free of charge, so get to it!

Automotive Photography – It’s all in the details

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This week, it’s all about the details. Although wide, overall shots are an essential element of any photographer’s repertoire, this should not overshadow the importance of close-up shots. These types of photographs use unique framing, layering and angles to give the image a much more creative feel. In automotive photography, detail shots are a great way to highlight particular parts or features on the car. In my case, I tend to focus on higher end parts, such as brand name wheels, a quality turbo manifold or a unique pair of race seats.

Rather than boring you all with another 500 words on various photographic techniques, I’ll load this post up with interesting visual content that exemplifies the oh-so-important detail shot. For those interested in improving their own photography, keep an eye out for a beginner’s tutorial write-up in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

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To see more of my photos, click here to visit my Flickr page.

Opinion: Why you shouldn’t stance a sports car

I’d like to start with the disclaimer that I’m not one of those “I hate stance” guys. I can totally appreciate every aspect of the car enthusiast world, whether it be stanced cars, track style builds or full-blown race cars. It’s obvious that everyone has their own taste and differing goals, and that variety is what keeps the car scene interesting.

That being said, the destruction of purpose-built sports cars needs to stop.

It’s one thing to throw some low-offset 10 inch wide wheels on your Honda Civic and increase the camber to -10 degrees in the name of fitment and car show competition, but to destroy the suspension geometry of an Evo, STi, S2000, or any other well-built sports car is downright sacrilege. If you want to stance a car, buy something meant to go slow. If you want to race one, buy a sports car. That’s about as simply as I can put it. Buy the car meant for your end goal and don’t get your lines crossed.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t still make a well-built sports car look great as well. Need examples? Look at the images below, both from this year’s Titan Motorsports open house event.

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See? You can still rock some awesome wheels and be as low as you want without ruining your car. The 2jz powered FD RX7 was rocking a massive set of five spoke Work Equips, while the S2000 was sitting on CCW Classics. Both owners managed to make their cars look amazing without sacrificing functionality and performance.

One place where form and function seem to have fused perfectly is the drifting scene. There are countless cars rocking some of the rarest Japanese wheels, in ridiculous sizes, still managing to perform well on the track and maintain decent alignment specs. It’s all about knowing your car, what your goals are, and what modifications will allow you to maintain functionality.

Now, although I think we can all agree that the Lexus IS250 with a gorgeous set of Work Rezax looks fantastic (see below), we have to remember that the newer Lexus IS series is nowhere near performance oriented, excluding the IS-F. What does this mean? By going for a wheel and suspension setup this aggressive, the owner wasn’t ruining a car built to perform.

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In the end, trends come and go. Although the stance craze is surely on borrowed time, I can only hope that the next new style to catch on won’t have thousands of car owners saving up to the functionality of perfectly good cars. Until then, save the hardcore stance for econo-cars and luxury sedans.

The value of GoPro footage in racing

Professional racers and athletes do it, so why don’t you?

Since the dawn of the consumer-level video camera, reviewing footage has been a major part of any driver’s post-race routine. Although most of the people reading this blog aren’t racing on the professional level, they can still greatly benefit from reviewing their own footage from any autocross, drifting or track events they attend.

Dating back to my first competitive autocross event, I have been recording myself on the track and reviewing the footage to learn from my mistakes. Although many on-course slip-ups can go unnoticed in the heat of the moment, they’re all too easy to pick out on a computer monitor. Whether it be braking too early or too late, coming into a turn too fast or upsetting the car’s balance with jerky steering inputs, any minor mistake can add precious seconds to lap times. Although there are other strategies for improvement, such as having a driving instructor ride shotgun on one of your runs, reviewing footage is arguably one of the most effective.

Here are two videos from my most recent autocross event at Sebring International Raceway. Although my driving wasn’t exactly stellar, I managed to set the fastest time in the novice class. After reviewing the footage, I can see where I took turns too wide, lost too much traction or braked too early. I can use this knowledge to improve my driving at future events by preventing myself from making the same mistakes again.

Sebring autocross recap

The main tower of Sebring International Raceway, located in Sebring, Florida.

The main tower of Sebring International Raceway, located in Sebring, Florida.

Another autocross event is in the books, and what a successful day it was. With low registration numbers — about 35 participants all together — drivers were able to get in six full runs instead of the usual four allotted by Martin Sports Car Club events. Cloud cover was our ally, consistently protecting us from the harsh Florida sun throughout the day. Although there was a smaller turnout than expected, most of the drivers were relatively experienced.

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Chris Biedal, a fellow BRZ driver, putting on his set of dedicated track wheels before his first run of the day.

There was a decent variety of cars at the event, but as usual, a majority of the drivers were behind the wheel of either a Subaru BRZ or Mazda Miata. My car of choice for the event, as usual, was Madison Swartz’s BRZ. With Fortune Auto 500 coilovers, PBM control arms, sticky tires and a handful of power increasing modifications, the car is perfectly built to be competitive in autocross events.

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Track Difficulty

The course layout was extremely technical, but those up to the challenge were rewarded greatly. Between slaloms that seemed impossibly compact, sharp turnarounds and a rough track surface, my driving skills were tested on a multitude of levels. Cars were sliding through tight turns, demolishing cones and going off course on a regular basis. Having gone off course on my first run and then killing my fair share of cones throughout the day, I can attest to the challenges all drivers were faced with.

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The only track dedicated car of the day, an entry-level formula car powered by a Volkswagen Beetle drivetrain.

What I learned

After going all out on my first run, and seeing the terrible time I managed to set as a result, I learned the value of smooth, controlled driving. After lowering my intensity a bit and focusing on direct steering and fluid throttle input, the seconds were melting off each lap. Thanks to my newfound confidence, I was able to set my best time of the day on my fifth run, which eventually earned me first place in the novice class. Although I’m sure I’ll make the same mistakes again, I am now more versed in the art of subtlety and controlled driving.

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My ride for the day — a well-prepped Subaru BRZ owned by Madison Swartz.

Although I admittedly enjoyed the higher speeds of the Orange County Convention Center event, I learned far more from yesterday’s course. I feel more skilled and technical as a driver, more confident in recovering from mishaps and less nervous while on the track. I can only see myself improving from here, hopefully in a track car of my own by early 2016.

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Some E30s in the paddock before heading out to the track.

Automotive Blogging — My thoughts so far

The first three weeks of running my own automotive blog have been a great learning experience. Although I’ve always been well-versed in car knowledge and reasonably competent as a photographer, I have learned that blogging is a fantastic medium for those looking to fuse the two skill sets.

This blog has forced me to continue to produce quality photographic content on a regular basis, polish my writing abilities, and reflect on news and ideas that I would have otherwise discarded with haste. While taking in automotive journalism from some of my favorite sources — Super Street, Road & Track, Car and Driver and Top Gear, to name a few — I find myself reading the material far more critically, looking for techniques I can later use in my own writing. I look for what makes a story worth reading more than once, I see which photographs work best and I evaluate the types of cars each publication favors.

I am now excited to provide quality event coverage, live tweets (@TheApexHunt3r) and the occasional on-site photo from my Instagram account (@leroux.jpg).

This blog has helped me transform from an automotive enthusiast into an automotive journalist. It has certainly been a welcome transition so far, and I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store.