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Can Top Gear America Save Rally Racing?

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Rally racing is the most dynamic motorsport on earth—or at least it used to be. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, rally racing did wear that crown and rally cars were some of the most coveted vehicular icons of their time. The sport birthed world-renowned stars in both driver and vehicle, like Colin McRae and the Subaru WRX STI. But recent years have not been kind to the sport of rally racing and it is in need of a facelift. The Top Gear America hosts think they have that all figured out.

The Heroes of Rally Racing

Rally drivers are some of the best race car pilots in the world. The constant variations in terrain and traction combined with open-stage course conditions that can change in seconds forces them to develop god-like levels of control and finess. It’s no wonder legends like Walter Rohrl and Sebasian Loeb crossed over into road racing with great success. Rally racing has produced (or attracted) some of Formula 1’s greatest drivers like Alain Prost and Kimi Raikkonen, too. Even modern legends, like Ken Block and Travis Pastrana, regularly demonstrate that they can hold their own on tarmac with the best.

The drivers aren’t the only heroes. Cars like the Lancia Stratos were hyper-exotic poster art akin to Ferrari and Lamborghini and just happened to be extremely capable race cars; winning races and stages for years on an out-dated two-wheel drive chassis when the dominators of the sport had long switched to four-wheel drive.

But it wasn’t just the country club and yacht crowd that could attain a world-class rally car. Group B rally racing turned everyday appliances into legends. Cars the Fords Escort, Focus and Fiesta, the Toyota Celica, Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Lancer were all boy-racer dream cars that the average weekend warrior could attain. Ever wonder why WRXs and Evos were so popular in the 1990s? Win on Sunday, sell on Monday and boy did those cars do lots of winning.

Fundamental Flaws of Rally Racing

Rally racing, today, is not what it was 20 years ago. Only three manufacturers competed in the 2020 World Rally Championship (WRC) when dozens used to compete. Fan participation has dropped, tv coverage and viewership has dropped, but the Top Gear America hosts know how to fix it. The way they see it, rally racing is facing five fundamental flaws that they’re going to address in only the way Top Gear America can.

The Cars—Modern rally cars are cool and fast as all get out but they’re all based on boring subcompact cars that no one likes. If you went to high school between 1995 and 2005, you probably wanted a Subaru or Mitsubishi as your first car and it was because of rally racing. What car inspires the youth of today to get out and drive, the Ford Fiesta? Ford doesn’t even make it any more!

No, rally racing needs vehicular heroes that bring variety back to the sport and can capture the hearts of the youth. Jethro is kicking it old-school in his 2020 Subaru WRX STI Series White, figuring this more-street tuned evolution of Subaru’s indomitable rally car still has the right DNA.

Dax has gone for more of a sleeper approach with the 2020 Infiniti Q50 Red Sport 400. A sporty sedan in a rally race? Don’t worry kids, Dax hasn’t lost his mind. The Q50 Red Sport has 400hp and all-wheel drive, plus it comes from the same engineering geniuses that created Rob’s ride—the 2020 Nissan GT-R Track Edition—which does not belong off-road at all. But Rob thinks it will be a blast anyway with it’s 600 Tokyo-destroying horsepower.

The Drivers—Modern rally car drivers are just too dang good! How is the average weekend warrior supposed to keep up with Tanner Foust on a local race-weekend? They can’t! So the guys want to attempt to level the playing field and give everyone an equal shot at victory. Remember, Jethro is a real professional race car driver—Rob doesn’t have a hope in matching him for skill. But at the same time he has almost double the power in the GT-R as Jethro does in the Subaru. Time to break out the handicaps!

Audience Participation—The best part of motorport for the spectator is being there; feeling the exhaust pressure hit you as the cars race by, the wall of sound vibrating you to the core and the smell of hydrocarbons littering the atmosphere. Rally racing fans are some of the most dedicated to getting as close to the action as possible, often risking life and limb to get the best view. So how can our brave hosts get the people closer to the action without risking their safety? This one might need to be workshopped a while longer…

The Look—A modern WRC car looks like the technological marvel it is—and usually technological marvels are expensive. At around $750,000, a WRC race car doesn’t miss that mark. To get more people involved in rally racing, the barrier to entry needs to be lowered so that the amature racer isn’t priced out, but the cars still have to look cool.

Jethro has gone for a clean set of graphics, a la Colin McRae and his 555 liveries. Dax has gone for more utility and ruggedness by cutting his fenders and lifting the Infiniti. The light bar adds a mean look, too. Rob just went for off-the-wall-style points—no rear bumper, side pipes and truck-bed liner to armor the fenders. The guys definitely present a diverse cast of eye-catching characters here.

The Event—Rally race events themselves need the most help. The same stages get run year after year, cars are released one at a time to prevent everyone’s favorite part of motorsport—the crashes—and co-drivers are so good with the notes that even if a driver is unfamiliar with the terrain, they can confidently charge forward. It’s time to flip that on its head! No more co-drivers, no more well-known stages and tracks and give us that wheel-to-wheel action! What could go wrong?

This isn’t the end of Top Gear America for this season. The action all comes back starting May 7th, 2021, only on the MotorTrend App. Don’t worry, there’s plenty to watch in the meantime, like seasons 1-27 of BBC’s Top Gear, Roadkill, Fastest Cars in the Dirty South or Dirt Every Day. Plus, there’s no better time to binge the first half of this season of Top Gear America than right after watching the midseason finale.

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Tesla Model S Plaid Fast-Charging and Range Test: How Far Can It Go?

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When the now popular Tesla Model S electric car was first introduced in 2012, there were no Superchargers available. Today, there are 25,000 Tesla Superchargers around the world, and with the Model S Plaid adopting a new powertrain, Tesla was able to re-design the battery to take advantage of the third-gen 250-kW Supercharger. Despite Tesla still using the 18650 form-factor cylindrical battery cells, these now have improved chemistry to deliver higher performance and durability. (This is the fourth major chemistry improvement since the first Model S.) With it newest 100-kWh battery pack, Tesla claims the Plaid can recover 187 miles of driving range in 15 minutes of charging at a V3 Supercharger. But just how realistic is that claim in practice? 

First, a little background on charging an EV in general. Many factors are in play to determine the charging performance, from ambient temperature to battery temperature to state of charge to charging station type. As a result, charging rates do vary in practice. Lithium-ion batteries have a certain working temperature range, typically 40-130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the higher end of the range is typically conducive to rapid charging. For an electric car that has sat unplugged overnight or in cold weather, charging time is prolonged. In a Tesla, when a driver puts a Supercharger into the navigation as its destination, the car preconditions the battery pack for rapid charging before it reaches the plug.  This helps to deliver a more consistent rapid-charging experience and eases congestion at charging sites. 

The V3 Supercharger

In our testing, with a preconditioned battery pack and an ambient temperature of 71 degrees, the Tesla Model S Plaid needed 51 minutes to charge from 5 to 95 percent, which added 87 kWh. The latter figure indicates the usable battery capacity is about 97 kWh, with 3 kWh as a buffer. As shown in the charging curve, it indeed reached the 250-kW maximum V3 Supercharger rate and sustained that figure for the five minutes it took to charge from 10 to 30 percent. 

In order to take advantage of peak charging rate, showing up to a Supercharger with the Model S Plaid depleted to between zero and 5 percent of its full charge is the optimal starting point. After the peak, the charging rate gradually ramped down as the pack’s state of charge increased. (Imagine people rushing into an elevator: It’s easy when the elevator is empty, but as more people get in, it takes longer to let them find space to wiggle through.) If you’re on a road trip, 60 percent is a good point to stop charging the car and continue driving until you reach the next Supercharger. The reason is, after 60 percent, the charging rate begins to dip below 2 kWh per minute, so you may as well go to the next charging site, at least from a pure time standpoint. And hey, 18 minutes of charging time is good for another bathroom break. 

As for Tesla’s claim of adding 187 miles of range in 15 minutes of charging time, it is pretty dead-nuts accurate with a Model S Plaid. (At least with the standard 19-inch Tempest wheels.) However, this can only happen when you begin charging the car when it already has a low amount of juice remaining. And on a Model S Plaid with the more energy consumptive optional 21-inch wheels, you are looking at adding 167 miles of range in 15 minutes. 

Tesla Model S Plaid with 21-inch Arachnid wheels

SOC Time Recharged 

Energy

Recharged 

MT est range

(highway/city/)

Recharged

EPA 

est range

Recharged 

Drag Strip 

est range

5% to 30% 6 minutes +24 kWh 75/82 miles 84 miles 2.4 miles
5% to 55% 15 minutes +48 kWh 151/165 miles 167 miles 4.8 miles
5% to 60% 18 minutes +52 kWh 163/178 miles 181 miles 5.2 miles
5% to 70% 23 minutes +63 kWh 198/216 miles 219 miles 6.3 miles
5% to 80% 31 minutes +72 kWh 226/247 miles 251 miles 7.2 miles
5% to 90% 41 minutes +81 kWh 254/278 miles 282 miles 8.1 miles
5% to 95% 52 minutes +87 kWh 273/298 miles 303 miles 8.7 miles

Range: Dragstrip vs. EPA vs. MotorTrend’s Real-World Estimate

Manufacturers love to talk about their electric cars’ range to sell people on buying an EV, but in reality, range is heavily dependent on the way you drive, traffic, and weather conditions. The Model S Plaid with 21-inch wheels uses 2.5 percent of its battery to finish a quarter-mile run on a racing dragstrip, so in theory—we didn’t actually launch it repeatedly until its battery died—it has roughly 10 miles of range if used for 40 consecutive dragstrip runs. Tesla says the Model S Plaid with the 21s has an EPA-estimated 348 miles of range, and that is according to EPA’s conditions and using a mix of 55 percent highway and 45 percent city driving. See the range difference from different use cases there? 

We took the Tesla Model S Plaid on separate road routes for highway (70-75 mph) and city driving, then looked for the efficiency. We drove the car four times on each route, two times with air conditioning on and set to 72 degrees, and two times with it off and only the fan on.

With the ambient temperature below an average of 75 degrees, we saw 3.43 miles/kWh for city driving and 3.14 miles/kWh on the highway. Using the same EPA highway-to-city ratio, our theoretical measured range is 318 miles. 

Multiply the number with energy, and you can reveal the estimated range. For example, on a road trip, chances are you would drive mostly on a freeway or highway, so you’re looking at 305 miles of total range. However, in real life, chances are you are not driving from a fully charged pack to empty. Let’s say you recharged 72 kWh (from 5 to 80 percent): Expect about 226 miles of driving on a freeway at 70-75 mph. 

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No Yoke, the Refreshed Tesla Model S Ditches the Round Steering Wheel Entirely

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  3. No Yoke, the Refreshed Tesla Model S Ditches the Round Steering Wheel Entirely

It’s yoke or nothing for buyers of the updated electric sedan.

Despite it appearing in images pulled from Tesla’s own website, as well as making cameos in a handful of the automaker’s test cars, a traditional round steering wheel is not in the cards for the refreshed Model S electric vehicle. Instead, the brand is committing to the funky yoke-style steering device that the updated luxury sedan debuted with, which looks much like a normal steering wheel sans the upper rim. For those with a knack for pop culture, think of the steering setup used by Knight Rider‘s K.I.T.T.

Admittedly, we rather like the design of Tesla’s new tiller (admit it, it looks cool), however, we were left underwhelmed by its execution after a week of living with a so-equipped Model S Plaid. This was especially true when driving at lower speeds where the car’s quick, but not quick enough, 14.0:1 steering ratio made it difficult to complete near-full-lock turns without awkwardly fumbling for the device’s (purposely) missing upper rim out of habit. 

We’ve heard a variety of reasons for Tesla’s decision to fit every variant of the new Model S (and presumably the similarly updated Model X SUV), ranging from the company’s hope to improve visibility to the car’s gauge cluster to its desire to create a better Autopilot experience, but we have yet to hear any rumblings that the automaker has any plans to offer a traditional steering wheel as an alternative to the yoke. 

Sources within Tesla revealed the steering wheels seen fit to aforementioned 2021.5 Model S prototypes were strictly there for engineering purposes. Nevertheless, it’s clear Tesla has the resources and capability to build and offer a more traditional steering wheel for the updated Model S. While the revised EV is currently offered exclusively with the yoke, it’s possible a more typical steering wheel may find its way to the car’s cabin as an optional feature in the future. After all, Tesla moves quickly and the brand may simply decide to fast-track production of a full-rimmed steering wheel for the refreshed Model S if enough customers find the yoke more charming in theory than in practice.

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You Can Buy Ken Block’s Menacing 1977 Ford F-150 Hoonitruck

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  3. You Can Buy Ken Block’s Menacing 1977 Ford F-150 Hoonitruck

The 914-hp, Ford-GT-engined Ford pickup premiered in Gymkhana 10.

The widebody F-150 pickup truck premiered in Gymkhana 10, where the tire slayer wreaked havoc through Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas. He topped off his tire-slaying tour by drifting around a drove of artfully staged rusted vintage cars. But the career highlight of this custom Ford F-150 came when it conquered the allegedly most dangerous road in China, the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road located within Tianmen Mountain National Park.

Peeking through the hood is a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 EcoBoost pulled from the Ford GT Le Mans race car. The modified engine develops 914 horsepower and 702 lb-ft of torque, routed to all four wheels via a Sadev six-speed gearbox. The customization includes a tube frame chassis and military-grade aluminum bodywork, finished in the signature matte black and gray color scheme. It has a carbon fiber dashboard, Recaro race seats, FordPass remote start, and a backup camera.

The raucous Hoonitruck comes fitted with a uniquely designed set of Fuel Block forged beadlock wheels painted in gloss white and rides on ST/KW suspension. Because the widebody flares make the pickup truck just over 79 inches wide, an issue during transportation. Detroit Speed in Mooresville, North Carolina, designed the Hoonitruck to be highly modular. If any problem arises or in case of an accident, the truck can be taken apart and rebuilt on-site.

Detroit Speed built the hardcore F-150 pickup from the ground up, and it reportedly cost upwards of $1.5 million to bring to fruition. LBI Limited is handling the sale, and the asking price is a mind-boggling $1.1 million—a decent discount, we suppose? Additional parts included in the listing are an extra 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine, wheels, body panels, and suspension components.

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