Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Once more, an opportunity to enjoy time together on the road

Can’t escape it any more. Road trips mean all but one car stay behind. These days, with our off-premise storage housing our Corvette and trailer as well as our RV, the company command center, it means that our Jeep SUV and the mean-looking Bimmer M4 will be locked away. In all seriousness, who wouldn’t opt for the Bimmer i8 with its miserly demand for fuel? Never experienced anything like it before – it is even better on the gas mileage than any of our cruiser motorcycles! We had a very minor scrape on our trip to Dallas a couple of months ago, but it was all repaired nicely and now, with our minds at ease over how it looks, we have chosen the i8 for the last two business trips we have taken. After all, it is set aside for business purposes and it meets the demands of business easily.

However there is more to this tale than simply the choice of vehicles. Whereas the previous month’s trip had been to California and took in many miles along its famous coastline, this time we drove deep into the heartland of America. We would be passing through Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana on our way to Ohio. For my Australian friends, this is probable the equivalent to driving deep into the interior of Australia. If the trip from Sydney to Adelaide is just over 850 miles, we covered more than 1,400 miles, each way, which for the benefit of our European friends is more like taking a trip from Frankfurt to Lisbon.  Which reminds me that that would be a fun trip to do with a choice of many different routes. Ohio in August can be very, hot but not this time as we encountered wet weather for most of our time in Columbus where our meetings took place.

After more than two years driving the i8, what has been our impression of the driving experience? Once you get accustomed to the piped-in engine noise (a reminder that for every action there is a reaction so yes, hitting the gas pedal hard should make the engine sound angry), it is among the most relaxing of cars we have ever owned. Better than the 5-series and 7-series Bimmers we have owned in the past and considerably quieter than the sports cars we tend to gravitate towards. 

However, the decision to get the i8 was driven by the fact that we see it as the future for cars. We haven’t been big fans of pure electric vehicles but hybrids? Out here in the west, with the roads we chose to drive on, we never wanted to face any restrictions based on range, so hybrids looked to be our best bet. Are there even any fast charging stations way out in the middle of America’s loneliest highway, US highway 50? We have never seen any but then again, when it comes to the i8, power train options aside, it's always been easy to attract passengers!

So, how has this hybrid performed over the years we have had it and the nearly 20,000 miles we have driven. One word perhaps comes to mind almost immediately – stupendous. This car meets, or exceeds nearly every criteria we set for it. It’s all-wheel drive when it needs to be. It’s pure electric when we tool around town, so much so that those standing nearby simply don’t hear the car as it approaches them.

Hit the gas hard in order to pass more than one car on a two-lane highway and it leaps – perhaps not as much as our Viper or Nissan GT-R used to, but pretty close. As for the 6 speed gearbox, which we weren’t sure about at first, well, it matches all our needs all the time seamlessly and when we select manual mode and use the paddle shifter it’s lightning quick. Our M4 has a double-clutch automated manual and the two seem to be about the same as far as speed. Over the past two years we developed a system for packing bags into the car and even with the restricted trunk option, using the back seat – yes, it’s a true 2 + 2 exotic – we haven’t had any trouble packing for a long trip. 

We broke the trip into three stages, giving us around 450 miles to cover in any given day. That meant we had one day where we covered an excess of 500 miles, but at no time did we experience any discomfort, seating wise. Again, the seats look kind of skinny on first sight but they have proved to be exceptionally comfortable on our longer trips. No complaints whatsoever in this department. The infotainment system though, well, what can we say. It’s more hit or miss than anything that looks routine but since we only use the SAT radio and Navigation, we seem to muddle through most of the time.

We are now onto our second set of tires – the first lasting 15,000+ miles before becoming as bald as they could be and still be drivable. Our previous trip to California had me checking the depth of their tread each morning as we headed back home but there was just enough to ensure we could corner the car as we normally did. However, when the tires arrived from TireRack and we saw old up against new we could see that we definitely got our money’s worth from the originals. As for brake wear, rotors and pads are still all good and will see out the three years we planned on keeping the car. We did replace a cracked front windscreen almost a year ago, which was a saga as no one but BMW can see the drive train and of course, the front window required material that pulled away from the hood revealing the electric motors so only a “specialist” BMW’s window replacement company could do the work. And no, I still haven’t seen any of the drivetrain of the i8 after all this time.  

You pass many big rigs out on the highways of America. So much is transported by these behemoths that after a while, you pretty much ignore their presence on the road. However, every now and then you come across something that tells its own story. This time we passed three bright red Firestone transporters. We have seen these rigs a couple of times before, trackside, at major motor sports events. When it comes to Indy races, Firestone provides the tires and as each event is set up, you can walk past stacks of tires, mounted to wheels, with driver names and car numbers clearly visible on each stack. Firestone collects all the tires after each event and then brings brand new ones to the next event with a choice of tire hardness provided in accordance with the requirements of Indy – sometimes they are hard compounds whereas at other times they can be super soft and of course, there is always a liberal supply of wet weather tires. 

Passing these big transporters had us speculating about where they were headed but as the weekend for Indy was going to be at the Pocono “triangle” course on the eastern side of Pennsylvania, just a tad south of Interstate 80, this time they would be transporting fresh tires for all the participants. At this time, if you haven’t already heard the news there was a horrific high-speed crash that hospitalized the rookie driver, Robert Wickens, who in earlier years would simply have not survived the crash – the carbon fiber “tubs” utilized in both Indy and F1 are practically indestructible – and with speeds in excess of 210 mph, the energy that needs to be dissipated following a crash wreaks unimaginable destruction on all components. Safe to say, the Indy community let out its collective breath once the news broke that Wickens was cognizant of his surroundings as he was airlifted to a hospital.

Seeing this transporter did remind us both that next month, we will be taking to the road once again as we head to Sonoma to see the final race of the year for the Indy cars. We will be joining our good friends Brian and Jan Kenny and together, with the RVs, we will be entertaining (and being entertained) by folks close to the Andretti team as Bryan Herta is the Kenny’s son-in-law. One immediate benefit for me is that a quick email exchange with Bryan got me a pay-to-ride seat in the Andretti Indy car (the two-seater, fighter pilot style), where I will enjoy two hot laps of the Sonoma track and experience what it really is like inside a modern Indy car. 

I am sure there will be a post to follow so look for it late next month. Again, many thanks to Bryan and to the Andretti organization! One final note about Sonoma? Grandson Colton Herta may take the seat of a real Indy car for the first time but at this stage this is as much me being hopeful as it is anchored in anything real. With only a handful of races left in the Indy Lights series, Colton is in second place and next year, we will likely be able to watch him running full time in Indy. So fingers crossed! Regardless; getting my own ride on the Sonoma track in an Indy car? Priceless!

Of course, once we had settled into our hotel in Columbus, Ohio, it meant finding a good place to eat. Unfortunately, where we were meant that there really wasn’t any fine dining options to be found! With little fuss or push back, we spent our first evening at an English Pub, the Old Bag of Nails Pub in the company of good friends Tim and Craig! Suffice to say, it provided a variety of pub food selections so it was time to chow down on fish and chips. The next night we hit a BBQ smokehouse and then on our last night, it was Chinese. Nothing to get excited about and nothing to write home about! However, the company we had each night was good as we were with old friends from the time we all worked for Insession – the Australian company that moved its head office to Boulder before selling to ACI Worldwide. Those were great times for all of us so, as you could expect, what followed were many conversations covering shared experiences.

The drive home was different. On a previous trip where we took the Maserati GTS to Toronto, Canada, we stopped in at Indianapolis where we overnighted before driving all the way back  on US highway 36 that ends in Estes Park, Colorado. This time, we overnighted in Peoria, Illinois, before driving all the way back on US highway 34 that, like 36, ended in Estes Park. Why the two highways, starting in Chicago, finished up in the tourist spot, Estes Park, we have no idea but now we have driven both of them and this is a continuation of our desire to spend time on highways apart from the interstates. You cannot drive them at the speeds set for the interstates but you see so much more as you drive through small townships and many, many, almost ghost towns.

But then, once home, there was the obligatory washing of the car which we did the very next day and with that, we once again parked the car in the garage alongside the M4. Musing to ourselves, the next trip we take will be in the M4, but then we realized our next trip would involve the company command center so no, the M4 will just have to wait. As we closed the garage door we wondered what stories will the i8 share with the M4?  And just like that, we closed the door on yet one more adventure on America’s open road and headed through the door for the evening’s first martini!

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