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Part 2: Better Place Israel Experience Center: I Just Drove (One Version Of) Our Future

[Read part 1 too!]

by Peter Dushenski @carenvy

Driving up to the cylindrical two-story Experience Center north of Tel Aviv, bordering a lifeless ocean of unsold French cars, we parked our Mazda5 next to a pair of electronic Renault Fluence ZEs. At a normal car dealership, we would’ve waltzed in unannounced only to be molested by a pimply salesman with an ill-fitting suit. Since this was the “Experience Center”, however, the Better Place website encouraged us to book a tour in advance despite not having any clue as to what such a tour might entail.

We were penciled in for 3:00pm that Friday but Israel’s road network had other ideas. We got so dazzlingly lost trying to find the damned place that we started to wonder if the Byzantines called really complex crap “Judean”. As such, we were a solid 45 minutes late. As we tardily strode into the airy building, we were found the reception desk, explained the situation, and were promptly signed up for a private tour at 4:00pm. With a few minutes to kill, we acquainted ourselves with the spotty (but delicious) cappuccino machine. Before we knew it, we had individualized name tags and the fun was set to begin!

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Part 1: Better Place Israel Experience Center: Did I Just Drive Our Future?

By Peter Dushenski @carenvy

In the birthplace of monotheism – where the scriptures that formed the foundations of western culture tell of divine intervention and retribution – lays a truly heavenly assortment of desert flowers and blushing greenery, beautifying the once-lifeless landscape.

On our recent family trip to Israel, the vibrant flora was an ever-present reminder of the power of human will. Although Israel finds itself atop a Mediterranean desert, it’s lush and unexpectedly well shaded. It was only when we returned home to the bursting Canadian spring and the dense layers of Edmonton’s river valley succession that Israel’s precisely placed plantings looked so retrospectively sparse. Israel might have tall trees and dazzling flowers, but the majority of the country’s lawns seemed confined to the steep-as-a-double-black-diamond Baha’i Gardens in Haifa. That the country’s vegetation felt as natural as it at the time did speaks to the the desire of the Jewish people to bring as much of Old Europe to their new home as possible.

Had you visited Israel without visiting the tree-lined cities, and never seen the Bedouin-dotted patches of crusty rock that nestled between lemon and olive plantations, you’d never notice the unforgiving wasteland that lies beneath the Jewish civility. In the cities, thick, vine-covered trees shade popular streets, like Tel Aviv’s boutique-lined Dizengoff where my fiancée found her wedding dress. Between every building palm trees hide, boxed in though they are by graffiti and wrought iron window bars. If the past six decades had accomplished no more than vegetative abundance in the middle of the desert, dayenu. But there’s so much more.

There’s Israel’s automotive future. And perhaps ours as well.

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Carspotting and Bicycling in Berlin, Germany

by Peter Dushenski

It’s amazing to see what people drive when they don’t need to drive.

I’ve spent the past two weeks cycling and taking the S-Bahn everywhere I’ve needed to go in Berlin. It’s been punctual, efficient, healthy, and a fraction of the cost of car ownership. Berlin is no small town. With a population of 4.4 million, the capital city of reunified Germany (arguably the wealthiest country in the world today) covers a huge area, about as much as metro Edmonton. Yet, car ownership is far from a necessity. In this expansive cosmopolitan area, bicycles are not only given priority by automobile drivers, but cyclists are granted their own dedicated lanes in the overwhelming majority of the city, demarcated by a red tinged strip of special pavement three feet wide. The S-Bahn (above ground subway), which complements the U-Bahn (uh, underground subway), works in concert to provide a transportation network that whisks citizens and tourists whenever they are too tired or lazy to walk or cycle. So owning a car isn’t weird – it isn’t awkward – it’s simply a luxury.

As a result of this intricate and inspired alternative transportation network, Berliners make do with only 358 cars per 1000 people compared to an average of 570 per thousand in Germany and very nearly the same density in Canada (although personally owning two cars at home skews this somewhat). An S-Bahn pass for 5 days costs around $35, which is on its own less than the cost of the gas it’d take to travel the same distances we did, with none of the depreciation, insurance, maintenance, and interest payments associated with car ownership.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the obvious financial, logical, and environmental detriment entailed by car ownership, Berliners have nothing less than an eclectic taste in automobilia. Classic French icons mingle with Autobahn Destroyers, which in turn covort with British Bruisers and limited editions galore. The streets of Berlin alone are worth the trip and being on a bicycle is a great way to see them all up close.

Here are my highlights:

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Photographic Retrospective: Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix 2010

Kuala Lumpur’s Sepang circuit was the stage for this Sunday’s 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix and the typically rain marred race did not disappoint. Heavy rains were the story during qualifying, with some teams gambling on intermediate tires for faster times and other teams playing it safe with the full wet rubber. As a result, this was easily the most mixed up starting grid this years. Big names like Button, Hamilton, Massa, and Alonso didn’t even make it to Q1, meaning they weren’t even in the top 10 in qualifying. Those four heavyweights started behind second-tier cars including both Toro Rossos, both Renaults, both Sauber, both Williams’ and both Force Indias. Apparently, those “second-tier” teams are only second best in the dry and they shine in the wet. Who knew?

While Ferrari and McLaren struggled in the rain, Red Bull and Mercedes dominated with Webber and Vettel qualifying 1st and 3rd, respectively, and Nico Rosberg splitting them in 2nd. Rosberg continues to out-duel teammate Michael Schumacher despite the media’s focus on the 41-year-old. Force India’s Adrian Sutil impressed all with a 4th spot on the grid as did Kamui Kobayashi with a 9th place start.

If Malaysia was engrossing at the start due to rain, the surprisingly dry race made for even more captivating action. See below for the full field results and an impressive gallery of photos.

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Photographic Retrospective – F1 Australian GP 2010

This would be the last time Herr Vettel would smile at the 2010 Australian GP. Just as two weeks ago in Bahrain, his Red Bull car would give up the ghost and cost the talented Teuton another race win. This time though, his RB6 car also robbed him of any points, as a brake failure would send him into the gravel, rendering him unable to finish. Red Bull looked set to dominate this weekend’s Grand Prix with Vettel and Webber qualifying 1-2. The usual suspects of Ferrari’s Alonso (Q3) and Massa (Q5) and McLaren’s Button (Q4) and Hamilton (Q11) were also near the front of the grid. Another strong contender was Renault’s Robert Kubica, who found himself on the top of time sheets in practise Friday, but stumbled in qualifying into 9th on the grid. After a tumultuous start to the race that saw Schumacher’s front wing damaged, Kubica jumped up to 4th and Alonso and Hamilton were sent further back. Kubica would finish the race is a solid 2nd.

The race started with a wet track, but warm weather was on the way. Button used his gut feeling to pit early on lap 7 for dry tires and used this strategic manoeuvre to vault past other cars still on wet tires. Using his characteristically smooth driving style, he didn’t need to pit again and would go on to win the Australian GP for the second consecutive year – also marking his first win with McLaren. Hamilton used a two-pit strategy and made for a very interesting second half of the race as he closed in on the two Ferraris ahead of him who were on older tires. Hamilton closed a 20+ second gap in no time but couldn’t get past the cunning Fezzas. Massa and Alonso would stay ahead of Hamilton for the duration of the race and finish in 3rd and 4th, respectively. Naturally, Hamilton started whining over the radio to his pit crew about how Button had only pitted once and he had pitted twice. Boo hoo. Hamilton ended up in 6th despite a late race spill with Mark Webber’s Red Bull. Webber would finish in 9th.

Away from the drama at the front of the pack, both Virgin cars, Sutil’s Force India, Petrov’s Renault, Senna’s HRT, Buemi’s Toro Rosso, Hulkenberg’s Williams, and Kobayashi’s Sauber all failed to finish the race.

Schumacher snagged a 10th place finish after spending about 30 very frustrating laps stuck behind Toro Rosso’s Alguersuari. Mercedes GP teammate Nico Rosberg finished in 5th, once again ahead of his 7-time World Champion teammate, proving that he isn’t afraid of a challenge.

It was also a big day for Force India, who secured crucial Constructor’s Championship points after a 7th place finish by Vitantonio Liuzzi.

Those who were concerned that the 2010 season would lack drama and excitement quieted down after this morning’s race. It turns out that it was the Bahrain event itself that was lacking. All the season needed was a little rain.

The full gallery of haps, mishaps, and candid driver moments is below.

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The Indelible Story Of The Renaultsport Hot Hatch

For Canadians, the Renaultsport brand-within-a-brand may be unfamiliar, which is just fine because Renault doesn’t currently sell its wares on this continent. Perhaps the first time you heard the name “Renaultsport” was when Top Gear Magazine made the motorsports division their Manufacturer of the Year for 2009. Or maybe you missed that too.

Even those of you who are already familiar with their current Twingo 133, Clio 200, and Megane 250 offerings, may not be acquainted with the storied brand’s previous models – all of which were the result of the accumulated artistry, engineering adroitness, and experience of the very best minds within the French company. I happened upon one such result this summer in Barcelona, Spain.

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F1 Everything-But-The-Drivers Roundup: New Points System, New Stewards System, Silverstone’s Return, Renault, and the 2010 F1 Calendar!

Jean Todt smiles for the camera
It’s official: the FIA World Motorsports Council convened on Friday, 11 December and approved a new points system for F1 that will go into effect from 2010. Follow the jump for more.

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Rallye du Var: Rally Prowess Runs in the Loeb Family


What’s that, you say? No 2009 WRC round in France? That’s OK. French fans instead got a treat when multiple world champion Sebastien Loeb brought the show to them once again, at the ultimate round of the French National Championship at Rallye du Var. Follow the jump for more.

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