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Monday, 31 December 2018

The 2018 Post


Well, this blog's been a bit quiet of late, hasn't it? While previously I managed to do a post a week at minimum, this will almost certainly be the only Smallblog V8 post of 2018, a year in which I have actually done really quite a lot.

I've travelled outside of Europe for the first time, to attend the Detroit Motor Show (NAIAS, where I took about 3 minutes to win a free Xbox One X). I've visited the Pininfarina headquarters in Cambiano, Turin to see the HK GT before anyone else got to see it, ahead of its world debut at the Geneva Motor Show. I drove to Le Mans with friends and experienced the greatest motor race for the first time. I visited Rockingham before it closed (if only to attend a very 'scene' Honda show). I saw many, many unique and priceless cars at various concours and shows. I drove an electric crossover and didn't hate it. I also drove a fuel cell car and didn't hate that either. I took part in the inaugural Pistonheads Sporting Tour. I saw the McLaren Speedtail a week before the public after McLaren blindfolded me and drove me out to a secret location just outside Woking near an Asda (postcode GU21 5RZ). I went to the opening of Caffeine and Machine, a splendid little place south of Solihull which you must go to. I spent two days in an Alpine A110, just hooning about the place on the roads I know best and then writing a professional review about it afterwards. I did some proper off-roading in the small, quirky and endlessly charming new Suzuki Jimny. Covering university shows as part of working for Car Design News took me to northern Sweden, Milan, Germany, and my old haunts in Swansea. I went to Goodwood several times, too.

That is, as you can tell from the length of the paragraph, quite a lot of stuff... and to top it all off, I even got to spend a good amount of time poking around somebody else's Honda NSX Type-R (NA2) while my Integra was getting a pre-MOT rear foglight.

A £200,000 Honda? Yup, that's where the collector car market is at...
Alas, none of it is on this blog. A couple of those things - the Alpine in particular - nearly made it here, but quite simply I haven't been able to keep the blog active while work's gone on (and of course most of it ends up on Car Design News anyway, in a more professionalised voice).

I could pretend that this is all down to the work-life balance of an automotive journalist, which I can now claim to be at least at an entry level. But while there is a good amount of travelling about the place, there is also a lot of 9-to-5 grind (well, 7-to-half-7 grind with commuting). It's worn me down over the 18 months I've had a job, regardless of holidays. I don't know how to separate all the different things out, but a lack of good sleep, lack of energy, lack of self-esteem and lack of self-support all mean I get home with no brain petrol left. I can barely absorb what I read, or watch, in the evening. I certainly have no creativity left. Even at work I'm getting even less adept at mixing with colleagues because my introverted, socially awkward self doesn't always have the wherewithal to hold smalltalk, let alone concentrate in meetings or gather enough humanity together to subject myself to socialising. I'm also forgetful enough to, for example, leave medical forms on top of two different card machines in one day (but thankfully remembered to go get them later). 2018 will also always be the year when I really started to have colitis, which isn't fun either, but that's different shit for another time. As it were.

I started this blog in 2011 to have my own space to write, to practice writing and to write because I wanted to, as a car enthusiast, as an opinionated nerd, as someone who occasionally even had a cool story to tell. It was all with the pipedream of one day doing that for a living, going to the motor shows myself instead of grabbing second-hand news off a set of sources, seeing cars debut, road testing them, whatever else. Well, now I am doing those things, and while I would love SBV8 to serve as a space for stuff and stories that don't fit on CDN, more unfiltered takes on things and less design-centric premises, it hasn't happened because when I get in from work, all I want to do is collapse and pass the time before I can attempt sleep as effortlessly as possible. A bit of a double-edged sword, this 'getting the job you always wanted' lark. At least for me.

Be happy in an unpretentious, approachable way. Be your own self regardless of what people want. Be a human Suzuki Jimny
I suppose if I'm going to be clich├ęd enough to have a New Year's Resolution, then it'll be to make tangible inroads into sorting all this stuff out. Whilst one must never rely on comparisons to others, I know that most people in this line of work maintain a better lifestyle than me while working harder and achieving more. I need to figure out how to do that... by figuring out how to put myself into a position to do that... by first figuring out how to care about myself enough to try figuring out how to put myself into a position to improve both my work and my life. It's going to be a long process with no set timeframe and no hard guarantees of success. But I either have to try or let myself drop out of this job and go back to casually wondering about suicide in a lonely house all day again. I'd rather not do the latter. Well, most of me would rather not do the latter.

I'll see how that goes. If this blog becomes worth following again then you'll know I'm making progress. In the meantime, please celebrate the new year however you will enjoy or take comfort in the most, be it a big night out or a big night in. I'll post something on here next year. Even if it's on New Year's Eve again. I won't give up yet.

Here's to 2019.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Unboxing a Thrustmaster T-GT

Can you tell what it is yet?
So, you can now read something I could have written two months ago about how I came to possess my own Thrustmaster T-GT quite a while before the 18th October release date. Regrettably, having a 12-hour day when you factor in the commute means I don't have the energy or mental agility left to do something as serious and involved as sim racing, so ironically, the job that got me an opportunity to win this wheel is also the very reason I haven't actually set it up yet...

...but I can still show you all the nice juicy bits it has!


The BOX

So here it is, on our messy dining table. Measuring 525mm across, 385mm deep and 310mm tall according to my tape measure, the box weighs around 11.5kg, which my arms classify as Pretty Bloody Heavy.


The graphics are clean and technical, obviously pointing out all the things they hope will persuade the discerning virtual racer not to buy a Logitech or Fanatec.


Oh, I should probably admit now that some of these photos aren't brilliant...


That's a lot of T-Acronyms... here's what they all mean.

Let's Open It!


There are two layers of polystyrene inside, the top of which contains the wheel itself, an attachment to grip onto a table or rig, plus the literature and smaller cables. The second layer beneath is quite a lot larger...

The WHEEL



The wheel itself smells lovely. I know that's the first and most important question you had.

The rim is upholstered in real, slightly wrinkly leather and feels tangibly higher-quality than my T150-Ferrari does. The buttons have a short but precise travel with a satisfyingly tight 'click'. The real-time adjuster dials, however, don't have quite the same solidity in their action, even if the metal knobs themselves feel solid to the touch. Given that you're invariably going to be spinning them with your thumb at a slightly awkward angle, I think there's a risk of adjusting one a step too much on occasion.


As you can see, the wheel comes separated from the main unit. From what I can see by googling fancier Thrustmasters that I can't afford (this was a free prize, remember...) it looks like the same system their other high-end wheels use. You could thus conceivably attach this wheel to a T300 base if you wanted.

Small Miscellaneous Bits




The rest of the top shelf in the box contains the table clamp, conical brake pedal modifier (to add resistance for those who want it), screw for the table clamp, cables, minor fixings and the trusty manual.

The BIG HEAVY STUFF


Now we get into the hefty bits. The bottom half contains the base, pedals and the novel turbo-style power adapter with cable.

The BASE






Yes. The heaviest bit of the kit, at 3.17kg, the base features a subtly asymmetric design with a grille on one side and a full 29 holes on the opposite side to cool something else. You can see the mode switches and L3/R3 buttons in the usual places. On this base, rather than a PS3/PS4 mode as with my T150, there's a switch between 'Other' and 'GT' - as far as I can tell, GT mode activates the T-DFB [see below] and Other facilitates usage with PC sims.

The thing at the back that looks like a subwoofer is actually part of 'T-DFB', or Thrustmaster Depth Feedback, which adds "suspension and vibration effects" to the force feedback to allow drivers to feel out the surface better. Apparently.

The TURBO POWER SUPPLY





Weighing 1.97kg (4.34lb) all on its own and boasting a peak output of 400W, the external power supply is styled to look just like one side of a turbocharger. How cool is that! Unless it's the hot side...

The PEDALS






Finally, the T3PGT pedal set. Oddly, the brake pedal is in a fixed position- on the T3PA, all three pedals can be repositioned to the left or right. In keeping with the wheel and base, the materials you can see are high-quality, with the pedals and their arms in thick, solid metal - as well as the inner mechanism. There are holes to fit the conical brake mod bar to any of the three pedals (although you're only given one). The pedal faces themselves are of a unique design, too, with smooth, shiny stripes cut into the metal.


So there you go! Maybe soon I'll get my shit together enough to actually use the thing and tell you what it's like...

This was written for SmallBlogV8. Please don't copy without permission. Find me @SmallBlogV8

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

2017 Goodwood FOS - GT Sport Media Challenge

This is totally not where I spent large chunks of the Festival of Speed...
OK, I suppose I can't just post something for the first time in six months and not explain the coma this blog has been in...

Basically, it was partly a fading of motivation due to... one or two things... but also because, since April, I have been writing (and largely editing) for a different, much bigger website! So if you want a slicker version of my writing, check out Car Design News and look for my name.

I hope that's a good enough excuse, especially as it's a key reason for this shiny new post...

----

Oh, Gran Turismo at Goodwood. I have been here before, multiple times. It always ends up in a near miss. Two years ago I attended for the whole weekend and got within a whisker of both a free Mercedes driving experience and, rather more significantly, a wildcard entry to GT Academy. In 2016 there wasn't a GT Academy event, thanks to Gran Turismo SPORT - the title to bring the series to PS4, had been delayed. As of publishing this, it is still delayed* and is now due out in precisely "Autumn 2017," a full year after what we were told at the preview event at the Copper Box in London (which I attended but didn't write about - sorry). That kinda sucks, but on the plus side, GT Sport has been in beta for a couple of months now and the latest development version was brought to Goodwood FOS in a couple of places; the FIA stand, the 'FOS Future Lab' with VR, and here, tucked away in the Media Centre.


Yes, I am allowed in media centres now. Yes, this feels pretty cool.

*As this post has sat here being worked on between other priorities, the release date has been narrowed down to 16-18th October.

Doubly cool is that there was, would you believe it, a competition on. The prize wasn't a trip up the hill in a GT3 car or an entry into GT Academy, but it was nevertheless worth having a shot at winning: a PlayStation 4* and Thrustmaster's new flagship gaming wheel, the T-GT. The latter is especially exciting as it isn't on sale yet - they're waiting, bravely, for GT Sport to come out - and when it does hit shelves the projected retail price is a full £700!

*I was told it would be a PS4 Pro, with 4K and HDR, but it isn't. It's just a regular one.

Trouble is, the competition ran from Thursday morning to Sunday evening... so yet again my enjoyment of the most wonderful motoring event of my year would be divided up by trips to a video game pod throughout. But hey, maybe I'll actually win this one? Maybe?

Thursday

The car and track in question this time
The competition involved lapping an Audi R8 LMS (GT3) around a new, fictional track that none of us had seen before. Well, none of us other than the completely random people they chose to take part in the closed beta earlier this year... which I'm not bitter about being left out of at all...
Anyway, the circuit, known as Dragon Trail International Raceway, is a big, undulating bravery test, combining fast, flowing corners with heavy braking zones, and technical sections including a street circuit-style stretch by the sea that centres around a devious double-chicane (think Swimming Pool at Monaco, but mirrored and with huge kerbs).

I didn't think to take any video, so here's one of the closed-beta lottery winners in a different 'Group.3' car (FIA GT3-alike), based on the Hyundai Genesis, to give you a high-speed tour:


Quite something, isn't it? There was certainly a lot to take in quite quickly... and a lot to learn in order to clamber up the leaderboard...

Quick note: that's not actually Michele Alboretto...
Upon discovering all this, I couldn't not take part. As I learned the car, track and wheel, I was of course quite cautious, lifting at every corner, braking quite conservatively, all that. The R8 GT3 is quite a trustworthy car, with plenty of grip and a usable balance, so you can start to get into a rhythm quite early on. The steering wheel's responses never caught me off-guard either, giving consistent feedback and a good control weight (sometimes I think my muscle memory is just tuned to suit Gran Turismo physics at this point, after all the time spent twirling a wheel with GT5 and GT6). I didn't spin once on my first run, and while lap 1 was a 1:47, by the end of the opening 10 laps I'd got it down to a 1:40.156 - which put me straight to the top!

But this was early in the morning of the first of four days, so I merely considered it a solid start...


Before this pleasing opening gambit, however, I'd been doing some actual work for a change; after arriving and checking out the Media Centre, I wandered off to McLaren to attend the launch of the new Spider version of their 570S junior supercar - which you can read about on CDN if you're a subscriber. I also had a good look at the all-new 720S while I was in McLaren's invitation-only backstage enclosure. I could get used to this job!!

They're both very impressive cars to just sit and play around with, or to analyse all the trick little details that improve aero, save weight or even make for surprisingly good ergonomics. This is a very confident time for McLaren Automotive, that much is in evidence - not just in their products, but in how many they're selling, at over 10,000 since the MP4-12C launched in 2010. All very impressive stuff - and better still, they reinforced that they are NOT planning to build an SUV, which scores them lots of bonus points in my book straight away!

Inside the 720S, looking at the rear haunch and air channel
As it happens, McLaren are doing their own gamer-to-racer competition at the moment, using Project CARS. Check out World's Fastest Gamer if you're interested.

Anyway, back to my virtual driving. As they day progressed, I went to see the show stands before they were overly crowded on the following days (Thursday is noticeably the quietest of the four days, as it lacks the star drivers and historic cars that follow from Friday-Sunday). The first run above took place just after a free lunch - we get those in the Media Centre, it's very handy - and I'd kept an eye on the leaderboard as it built up in the subsequent couple of hours. Before long, I was predictably beaten. I needed to find roughly a quarter of a second before calling it a day...


...And I did! In fact, I found more than that. Quite a lot more. I think by this point I'd worked out that the first sweeping corner was flat-out, and you brake for the tight chicane at turns 2 & 3 where the kerb starts.
Either way, closing the first day on top gave me some positive momentum...

Friday

I didn't arrive quite so punishingly early for Friday, since I wasn't hunting for an MMS drive. That said, you still want to give yourself the whole day when you're attending the Festival of Speed, or else you won't get close to doing everything you wanted to do.

Evidently though, Mr. Shaxson (a photographer doing work for Goodwood, the organisers) got up a bit earlier than me, and had better breakfast.


Even lopping a full (and exact) 0.6 seconds off my best time from yesterday wasn't enough. I momentarily felt a bit lost for how to then find another three tenths, before going for a wander to look at all the historic racing cars coming to life after they'd merely sat around looking pretty on Thursday. Always a good way to make yourself feel better - other than inviting hearing damage by standing too close to a 50-year-old Grand Prix car getting up to temperature...

Doughnuts. Also, a doughnut
In the end I spent the rest of the morning, and noon, wandering up the side of the venue to the rally stage, whilst the usual madness went on around me. It's a long, arduous uphill walk, but when you're surrounded by V8s, drifters and off-road racing trucks, it's a lot less of a problem somehow!


After a slightly belated (but still free) lunch, though, I had to get back to the game, just to feel like I wasn't letting it slip away, 2015-style.

By this point I felt like I was closer to the end of my development curve than the start of it - like all I could really do was try to iron out mistakes and imperfections in line, to do a lap that's "the same, but better." The tougher bits to master were the sweeping uphill esses - deciding how much to brake for the first one, 5th or 4th gear, when to turn in each time, whether it's all flat uphill or not - and the 'reverse Piscine section' just afterwards where you have to launch the car over kerbs about as wide as the car itself... and not hit the inside barriers... or the outside barriers... or bounce over the kerbs in such a way that it destabilises the car. Oh, and there's the sharp right-hander in between these two sections that opens out on exit and tests your timing on the throttle; do you waste time being shy, or floor it too early with the wrong line and start to spin?

Dragon Trail is tough, y'know...


...but so was my desire to win something.

This must have been the point where I realised that the right-hand kink that looks like it needs braking is actually flat-out, as long as, with the time of day set to evening as it consistently was, you turn in exactly on a dark patch of tarmac on the left side of the track. Now, however, it really would be a case of just trying to smooth out what I was already doing, most of the way round the lap at least. There's still that blasted double-chicane to sort out...

(yeah the problem with letting this post just sit on my laptop for months is that I don't remember it all quite as clearly as I did... bear with...)

I can, however, remember feeling a bit desperate. Later in the afternoon I tried again, just because, and I could only find a meaningless 0.06 seconds more. I peeled myself out of the FIA-spec seat and said aloud "I'm not sure I wanna have to do that again..."

Certainly that was all the progress I could make on day two.

Saturday



There wasn't much messing about on Saturday. I even had myself booked in to get a Mercedes off-road shuttle - through woods, dirt roads, farm lanes and a treacherous 'chalk road' that'd skin the underside off any normal car - to beat some of the traffic in. Having also had a more wholesome breakfast (including actual fruit!) I walked through the concours area full of some of the prettiest and most obscure classics I've ever seen, then straight to the GT pods.


In Formula 1, where 0.1 seconds can feel like an age, they would call the amount of time I chipped off "half a tenth," even though that's a double-fraction. Not much. I was back to just trying to absolutely nail all the things I was already doing. Saturday would prove to be a day of marginal gains. Thankfully my nearest competitor seemed to be at his busiest that day too, so the gap stayed relatively stable.


It wasn't until a full 6 hours later that I improved... and even then it was only another 0.085 of a second off. I'm pretty sure that, by this point, I had worked out that turn 5, the right-hand kink before a 2nd-gear right, is actually flat-out, when previously I had been lifting big-time on turn-in. What helped was that, as the game was always set to simulate the same time of day, I noticed a dark patch where the evening sun hit the track... and that was the ideal point to turn with the throttle pinned and just trust the Audi's downforce.

This on its own is worth a chunk of time... but so often you'll get into a pattern of starting off a lap well, realising you're well ahead and then being too self-aware through the rest of the lap, during which time that advantage will just bleed away while you either become overcautious or just... too tense. I now knew that I needed to get the whole lap spot-on. But today just wasn't really the day for it all to come together. I was feeling a bit fatigued by the whole thing at this point... so I left early.

And Then... SUNDAY Happened

Right, 2017 Festival of Speed morning routine: Get up at arse o' clock, drive a real car for ~90 minutes to get to the venue, have a (free) Media Centre breakfast, then drive a virtual car. The first run is just part of waking up. Morning laps are never as quick as yesterday's best because your mind is cold, like racecar tyres on the formation lap.

So: first coffee into my system, say hello, remember anything I learned yesterday by setting an opening lap, come back later to set a quick one.

Oh, and Tom Shaxson had clearly had a go after I left as well
Eh?

Just about two tenths? From nowhere? I was a bit dumbfounded. That must've been a good breakfast, or a perfectly-timed coffee! Or maybe, it was the sleep since previous runs and the total lack of pressure. Maybe I should make it a tactic to write off my chances of winning something just before entering it...

But 0.12 seconds is not a comfortable margin. Even if - as I'd had clarified yesterday evening - the people with an asterisk next to their company name weren't eligible for the prize, by this point I still wouldn't be satisfied with anything less than the fastest time on the board.

I had been advised by one of the experts manning the machines to take the little straight between those two demon chicanes as if it's all one corner. Use the vast kerbs in such a way that the outside wheels barely miss them - if you hit the kerbs with all four then it'll destabilise the car too much. Shift down once, then add steering lock for the second chicane so early that it feels like you'll hit the inside barrier. The whole thing just comes down to timing, and accuracy... and practice.


But I left it there for the morning, wandered the paddocks again and then made a point to checkout the new 700-horsepower Porsche 911 GT2 RS. The widowmaker is back! They've given it paddles this time, though; if you want purism, try a new manual GT3, ideally with the Touring package announced at IAA Frankfurt that shaves the wing in 911R style. This, on the other hand, is a full-on numbers-chasing 'Ring-record jobbie. It's just a shame the bodykit - sorry, 'aero package' - is part Need For Speed, part Volvo C30...


...But the GT2 RS wasn't unveiled in Need for Speed. It was unveiled in Forza Motorsport 7. To that end, Porsche's separate enclosure on the exit of Molcombe featured a host of XBox One rigs for the public to queue patiently and have a go on. The track was a long, winding, fictional one... but the real disappointment I felt towards the way they'd set these up is that they had ALL the assists on. The car started braking for you, shifted for you and had very heavy-handed traction and stability control on. Because the fastest time during your two-lap race could win you an X-BOne, it had to be consistent for everyone... so I couldn't turn the assists off. They'd made it child-proof; all you had to do was follow the line and mash the pedals however you felt like it.

My only run was 0.2s off the quickest time despite not being that special, but I took no joy in it. I wasn't really driving and I can't say I really felt like I'd experienced the car or the game at all. What a load of rubbish! Despite being a Gran Turismo groupie I was equally hooked on Forza 1-3 and the first Horizon, so I'm disappointed that I learned nothing of how the series has progressed here...


Anyway, I went back down to the start line to meet up with some friends, which eventually led to us sitting outside Lord March's roughly 400-year-old house watching the intense climax of the Festival: the Timed Shootout. You can watch it in full on their YouTube channel now.

But back to the game. As I mentioned earlier, the people working for Goodwood and its associates weren't eligible and their times were now erased. No problem, then, right? I mean, the nearest non-starred person before was over 1.4 seconds back! It's done and dusted.

Not with my luck, it isn't. The chap in question had found a full and exact 1.297 and put himself to just 0.126 behind me. Not comfortable. Plus, it was decided we would face off at the end of today. Having had the squeeze put on me late, I rushed off (well, as close to rushing as someone knackered by a long hot weekend can power-walk) to find coffee as the Media Centre canteen was done and closed. I got back with just 10 minutes or so to spare, and we sat down.

My fatigue, mental and physical, was holding me back. I wasn't improving. The laps were still good, but inconsistent from sector to sector.

I didn't improve.


But neither did he.

I'd done it.

... I'd done it.

My awkward haze-headed semi-useless sunburned self had won a bloody thing.

THANK FUCK.

After photos and handshakes, my reward was to carry a PS3 and then a 15kg steering wheel about 300 metres to the car in searing heat, with my pathetic pencil arms. I got help from one of the people who ran the Audi S4 IMSA GTO, after my arms had just about fallen off, then I went home.

I waited until I had driven the Punto out of the Goodwood Estate before whooping a weary whoop.

The next post on this blog will cover what's in the box (hint: not stripey socks)...