Friday, 25 February 2011

Fountains Abbey

Finally after ages of grey and damp horrible winter English weather we finally got a half decent day to get out for a family day out.  We chose Fountains Abbey near Ripon, which is owned by the National Trust and is a World Heritage Site. Beautiful scenery and the remains of the Abbey that was founded in 1132.  Well worth a visit. 


Fountains Abbey is approximately two miles outside of Ripon and is one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian houses in the country.  More info at http://www.fountainsabbey.org.uk/






Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Picture of the Week - Norfolk Broads Sunset


This image was taken at Thurne on the Norfolk Broads at the end of a short boating break.  The weather had been typically British but as we moored up for the final evening the sun came out and  I managed to capture this picture of the sun setting behind the windmill on the other side of the river.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Ignoring Opportunities on Your Doorstep

Why is it when we visit places it is usually away from your own local area?  I am as guilty as most when it comes to photographic locations; I'd much prefer to be up in the Highlands of Scotland.  Well I've decided that it is about time I started exploring the surrounding areas of Grantham where I live so I have set myself the weekly task of visiting somewhere within a 10-mile radius of Grantham and come back with at least one decent image.


The first place on my list was the Vale of Belvoir (well the area around Belvoir Castle) so with the sun shining I set off for a couple of hours to see what I could find.  First up was one of my favourite haunts from years ago, the hill above the village of Woolsthorpe by Belvoir looking across the valley to Belvoir Castle.



I then moved to the other side of the castle to Jubilee Walk where I came across a Monkey Puzzle tree and some very unusual sheep - white heads with black wool - which I later found out to be the Herdwick breed of sheep.


The next stop on this whistle stop tour was a group of trees near the village of Knipton that I knew would look fantastic as a black and white image.


As the clouds started to come over I headed back to the office, very pleased with my first efforts to document my local area. More updates in the coming weeks.


More images on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/macleancomms/

Monday, 14 February 2011

Picture of the Week - Argentine Lightning Strike


The picture of the week was taken at Potrero de los Funes, near San Luis in Argentina during a thunder storm that was one of the best I've ever witnessed.  Potrero de los Funes is situated on a lake in the middle of the crater of an extinct volcano.  The image itself was quite easy to capture. I set the camera on a tripod and pointed it across the lake towards the town and then opened the shutter on a very long exposure (30 seconds) and waited for the lightening to fork across the sky.  It was a bit hit-and-miss but I got this image on the fifth attempt.

Monday, 7 February 2011

New Photo Website is Launched

The brand new MacLean Photographic website home page
The new website for MacLean Photographic was unveiled at the weekend after several weeks of behind the scenes work.  Websites are difficult things to quantify but one thing is clear, in this day of instant communications your website is the shop window for your activity, whether it is business or pleasure.


I have been a professional photographer since leaving the military in 1996.  While the vast majority of my income now comes from MacLean Communications (ie the writing and organisation side of the business) being a competent photographer has enabled me to secure work over other highly experienced PR professionals.  It certainly doesn't hurt to have that extra string to the proverbial bow.


Websites are also a personal thing that reflect your business and brand values.  I had investigated the template website option that are available from some very good and reputable firms.  While they offer a quick, easy and very effective solution, I couldn't get the look I wanted from the template solution.  Then it dawned on me I already had a solution in my existing MacLean Communications website, which was launched in 2009. I used the existing site the template for the new MacLean Photographic site.  As adding several extra pages for galleries and other information, I linked the two sites directly, giving a seemless transition when moving between them.  The colour palate used was slightly different between the two sites, enabling visitors to quickly know they were on a different website but still under the MacLean Communications brand. A new MacLean Photographic logo was designed, using an image of a soaring White Tailed Sea Eagle I'd taken on Mull in August 2010, but kept the same font to tie the two areas of the business together. 

All in all I'm happy with the look of the two websites but, as with all things, I will modifying, tweak and evolve the sites as we move forward into 2011, with the first job to add an eShop to the photo site.

The MacLean Communications home page

Audi R8 V10 Road Car Test

The FIA GT3 European Championship features race cars that are based on a road going production model from each of the brands taking part in the twelve race series. What is it like to drive the road going version of one of these fire breathing feats of automotive engineering?  Jeff Carter had the pleasant task of finding out when he drove the Audi R8 V10 FSI quattro.



 
Audi’s motorsport pedigree certainly ranks amongst the world’s best when it comes to building championship winning cars. Audi have won at almost every level from the Le Mans 24 Hours, World Rally Championship and in Touring Cars both in DTM and the Super Touring era worldwide including the BTCC; the German manufacturer’s trophy cabinet is bulging at the seams.  In 2009 Audi added the FIA GT3 European Championship to this roll of honour when the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS powered Christopher Haase and Christopher Mies to the Driver’s Title in the car’s debut season. This made the Audi R8 CoupĂ© the car of choice for 2010 and four two-car teams are currently racing the Audi R8 LMS in the FIA GT3 European Championship – United Autosports, Sainteloc Phoenix Racing, Black Falcon and Team Rosberg – with the later notching up the car’s first win of the 2010 season at Jarama in Spain.




So what about the road going cousin of the race winning Audi R8 LMS?  Whatever angle you look at it the Audi R8, in race or road trim, is a beautiful car and the blue example that was delivered to my door for the weekend was a stunning example of Audi’s finest.  The visual differences between the road and race car are obvious, with the road version missing the huge rear spoiler, the bonnet air vent and it sits higher off the ground.  Personally I think this makes the car look even better, especially the rear of the Audi, which now looks in proportion with the rest of the car having lost the ‘boy racer’ appendage.   The R8 still has a small spoiler that keeps the back end firmly planted on the ground at speed and rises automatically at a set speed..  The mid mounted 5.2 litre V10 engine is on show to the world through the rear window and so it should be. It is a visual, and aural, work of art – but more of that later. 




The looks extend to the interior, which is to the high standard that we come to expect from Audi.  This is no stripped out race car for the road, this is Grand Touring luxury with the “hard core” lightweight and more powerful GT version set to appear on the road next year.  Leather abounds in every corner of the sculpted cabin with cruise control, Sat-Nav, climate control, a Bang and Olufson sound system, bluetooth phone connection all adding to the luxury car feel.  I have to be honest at this point, I have never driven, or been driven in, the Audi R8 LMS race car but I’ve been in enough race car cabins to know that the driver’s environment is purely functional, stripped out to the bare essentials to save weight, hot and very noisy.  The road car couldn’t have been more different.




So what’s it like to drive?  Sitting low down in the leather seat, which is adjusted by electric controls on the driver’s right hand side, you have the analogue instrument binnacle directly in front of you through the steering wheel, with the centre console dominated by the screen that controls the Sat Nav, entertainment and phone. The aluminium control knobs are machined and have a tactile feel.  This also extends to the six speed manual gearbox that is a joy to use. 

A quick flick of the key (no gimmicky engine start buttons here) and the V10 fires into life and produces a glorious sound from the twin exhausts.   Supercars have a reputation for being difficult to drive around town, so I was pleasantly surprised to find the Audi R8 easy to steer around town. With the sports suspension switch set to off the car didn’t crash over the typically British pot holed tarmac, it was very smooth and composed.  The same could be said about the engine, it was extremely easy to drive at 30mph in the start-stop morning traffic.  However, once out of the town traffic, the car came alive as the horse power was now unleashed.  




On the open road you know you are driving Audi’s finest as the V10 suddenly came to life and produced a sound that set the hairs on the back of my neck tingling.  The acceleration is extraordinary; the gear changes from the 6-speed manual ‘box slick and precise and the power delivery is poised as it is sent to all four wheels rather than just the rear wheels as in the GT3 race car.  But it is the soundtrack from the V10 that was the best bit, it made you want to rev the engine just to hear the noise from the power plant that was situated just a few centimetres the other side of the bulkhead by your left ear.  I mentioned earlier that the car came with a Bang and Olufson sound system and in any other car I would have been making the most of this.  However B&O hardly got a look in as the V10 was the soundtrack of choice every time I drove the car.  On the way down to South Wales I have to admit to a bit of over indulgence. When travelling through tunnels the windows would be wound down, the gearbox would be selected to 4th and the right foot was planted to produce a glorious sound that would rival the acoustics at the Albert Hall.




On the motorway the Audi R8 CoupĂ© is the consummate cruiser; a pure Grand Tourer.  At 70mph on cruise control, with sports suspension off, you could be driving any big engined Audi.  The wind noise was maybe a little higher than you’d find on an A4 or A6, but it was still excellent. In cruise mode the R8 just eats the motorway miles while you travel in comfort and you arrive at your destination relaxed.

Off the motorway the R8 becomes a completely different car.  With sports suspension set to on and the twists and turns of Welsh A roads gave me the proof that this is certainly a car that makes the best of both worlds – a comfortable GT cruiser that also holds impeccable supercar credentials when called upon.  The Audi encourages you to push on but you do have to watch your speed because it would be very easy to lose your licence in a very short space of time at the wheel of this car.  However in its natural environment the Audi R8 reminded me why I love driving and it had me grinning like an idiot for mile after glorious mile – I certainly didn’t want to stop.

The downsides of the R8? Well there are a couple.  Luggage space is a bit of a problem if you wanted to use this car as a Grand Tourer.  There is room for a small case under the bonnet and there is a shelf behind the driver and passenger seats that would take a couple of overnight bags, but that’s it.  The other is the fuel economy but then you don’t purchase a 518bhp GT car and expect it to be economical.  Having said that I was pleasantly surprised at the 19.1.mpg the car returned at the pump, especially after the uneconomical way I had been driving at times.  If you can afford £105,000 for this car, fuel economy isn’t going to be top of your priority list but at least it is better than most cars in this class.

My conclusion after a weekend with the Audi R8 V10?  I always knew Audi built great cars, but this is on another level.  This is no stripped out, lightweight road going race car. The Audi R8 is an extremely fast Grand Tourer that can cope with every type of road condition with ease and, in my opinion, could certainly be used as an everyday car.  It is comfortable to drive around town and certainly is a head turner. If I had one Pound for every person that nearly twisted their head off looking as I drove past, well, I could afford to buy an Audi R8 V10. This is a 5 star offering from Audi and is certainly worthy of the many motoring accolades it has won since its launch.  I will certainly be watching the R8 LMS version on track in the FIA GT3 European Championship in a different light.



 
Audi R8 LMS   Audi R8 5.2 FSI quattro
Engine   V10 5.2 Litre  V10 5.2 Litre
 4 valves per cylinder,  4 valves per cylinder,
 Petrol, direct injection,  Petrol, direct injection,
 Drive  Rear Wheel Drive    Four Wheel Drive
 traction control (ASR),   Yes  Yes
 Power  Approx 500 hp (reduced power).     518bhp
 Gearbox Sequential pneumatic activated
6-speed sport gearbox with
shift-paddles
Choice of 6 speed manual or
R tronic sequential gearbox
 Weight  1,320kg  1620kg
 Body carbon-fibre composite/
aluminum bodywork
 Aluminium (ASF)




  
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Saturday, 5 February 2011

First Post

Welcome to the new MacLean Communications Blog.

I will endeavour to keep this blog current and interesting as we move into 2011.  Work travel plans include 17 events this season and I'll be travelling to Abu Dhabi, Portugal (Algarve), Spain (Pamplona), Italy (Monza), France (Marseilles, Nevers and Paris), Belgium (Spa-Francorchamps and Zolder), Germany (Sachsenring and Dusseldorf), China (Ordos), Brazil (Curitiba), Argentina (San Luis), Russia (Smolensk), The Netherlands (Zandvoort) as well as visits to Silverstone, Thruxton and Croft here in the UK.  On top of this trips to the West Coast of Scotland are planned and I will be endeavouring to add more images to the MacLean Photographic archive on the local area of South Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire / Rutland.

All feedback is welcome and thank you for reading this blog.