Friday, October 16, 2015

In the Catskills, you could hear the death rattle of those infernal gas, diesel engines

If you aren't a speed freak with the mentality of a high school student, you couldn't help but enjoy driving a Hyundai Sonata gas-electric hybrid over winding country roads draped in fall colors.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, automobile writers who gathered for their annual race-track ritual served to focus attention on the environmental damage caused by the antiquated internal-combustion engine.

The emphasis at Test Days is speed, though members of the International Motor Press Association are warned repeatedly they are there to "test" the latest production models, not "race" them.

I attended Wednesday's session at Monticello Motor Club, which bills itself as "North America's premier automotive country club and private race track" just 90 minutes from New York City. 

TV commercials show cars being driven at 100 mph or more, appealing to the male race-car driver fantasy, and then the manufacturers bring their most powerful -- and loudest -- models to Monticello.

There, auto writers and other IMPA members, who pay $100 each, can drive some of the fastest, most expensive cars made over the challenging 4.1-mile race track, loud mufflers echoing off of the surrounding hills.


But course workers were ready to report over-enthusiastic drivers who put a wheel off the track or wiped out traffic cones meant to slow them down. 


The penalty: Cutting of the wristband all IMPA members had to show to get on the track. 



More green leaves than cars


IMPA sold more than 230 tickets, but the turnout of green cars was disappointing, as it was last year.

Nissan didn't bring its all-electric 2016 Leaf, and Toyota didn't show up with the highly anticipated 2016 Prius, the next generation of the world's best-selling hybrid.


Oh, BMW did make available, only for driving on public roads, the noisy, overpriced i8 plug-in hybrid sports car that debuted last year.

The only all-electric car there was the 2015 Tesla Model S I drove from my home in New Jersey.


Early today, Tesla downloaded new software to all owners who bought their Model S four-door hatchbacks after October 2014, giving them Autopilot, Autosteer and Autopark, a huge step toward a fully autonomous driving experience.


One owner reported commuting to Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway this morning, and using Autopilot, which he said worked flawlessly both at 60 mph and in bumper-to-bumper traffic.



One of the cars in high demand on Wednesday at Monticello Motor Club was this 645-horsepower Dodge Viper.


Burning rubber and gasoline

The horsepower race at the track usually is won by the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, which packs a ridiculous 707 horsepower.

IMPA members who drove it on the road course were accompanied by an instructor who made sure they didn't go completely crazy.

Before the track opened on Wednesday, writers attended a so-called drivers meeting.

Test Days Coordinator Paul Licata scolded unnamed members who were doing "burnouts" in the Hellcat on public roads.

Licata recalled that was something he did in high school, and called those who did the burnouts now "dumb."

But can you blame them?

The auto writers are accustomed to having the world's fastest and most expensive cars provided to them free for a weekend or a week, ostensibly to evaluate them for reviews.

They are delivered to their home or office -- and picked up -- by a small army of low-wage workers employed by ESI, STI and other companies that clean and service the press and marketing fleets maintained by all of the major domestic and foreign automakers.

If the writers or VIPs damage the cars, they aren't held responsible, though the fleet-management companies will insist that any one of their drivers who scratches or dents a car pay for the repairs. 

Few, if any, of the auto writers and bloggers are worried about climate change or the number of people killed by air pollution, and if they are, you never see that reflected in media supported by ad revenue from the major automakers.

VW's so-called clean diesel


These are the same writers who helped Volkswagen pull off one of the greatest scams in automotive history, the so-called TDI Clean Diesel Engine (turbocharged direct injection).

When VW unveiled what it claimed was a cleaner diesel engine in 2009, the automotive media merely regurgitated the company line, even though they should have known a diesel could never be cleaner than a gasoline engine or a gas-electric hybrid.

Now, after admitting that 11 million Volkswagen and Audi diesel engines worldwide were rigged to fool government emissions testers, VW says it will invest more money in plug-in hybrids and purely electric cars.

Still, will the company's reputation or the environment ever recover?

Don't forget, this is a company that was born in 1937 at the behest of Adolf Hitler, who directed engineer Ferdinand Porsche to design a "People's Car" or Volkswagen.

It won't happen in my lifetime, but I can envision a day when production cars equipped with internal-combustion engines of 200, 300, 400, 500 and more horsepower are banned from public roads, and can be driven only on a race track like the one at the Monticello Motor Club.


This Dodge Challenger with a 392 cubic inch V-8 engine is what the company calls a Scat Pack Shaker Model.

Options on this 503-horsepower 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS include $9,900 for Solarbeam Yellow Paint and $8,500 for an AMG Carbon Ceramic Braking System. Total retail price is $171,900.


Pro race-car driver Andy Pilgrim, who works for Cadillac, gave me and my wife the ride of our lives around the 4.1-mile circuit on Wednesday. Pilgrim said he was doing 110 mph through the S curves; my wife, who sat in the back seat, said she had her eyes closed most of the time.

Pilgrim drove a stock Cadillac ATS.

To me, the onetime owner of a 1966 Fort Mustang GT, the new model is noisy, heavy and not much of a thrill, even on a race track.

The most entertaining car I drove on the track Wednesday is this 380-horsepower 2016 Jaguar F-Type S Coupe with a manual, 6-speed transmission, above the below.

Jaguar calls this color Italian Racing Red. The car's MSRP is $91,145.

Jaguar's 6-speed manual transmission. 

The 707-horsepower Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat. When I drove it on the track, an instructor gave me tips on turn in and braking.

IMPA Test Days Coordinator Paul Licata reminding automobile writers they were at a private race track on Wednesday to "test" cars, not to "race" them.

I took a spin on public roads in a Fiat 500 that was similar to the one Pope Francis rode in when he visited the United States.

One of the public road loops marked with IMPA signs included Dingle Daisy Road in Monticello, N.Y., connecting Sackett Lake Road and Route 42.