Motor sports in Thailand. On the right track?

Motor Sports has had, if you pardon the pun, a chequered history in Thailand. From Prince Bira, the man who thrice won the BRDC Gold Star (the equivalent of today’s World F1 Championship), pre WWII with his Team White Mouse ERA’s, to the AIM Motor Sports Grand Champion Cars of this year, many tyres have been shredded in the unending quest for speed.

Thailand, unlike many of her neighbouring countries, has always had a strong following for Motor Sport, be that circuit racing, rallies or just “doing it in the dirt.” In line with the “Asian Tiger” economy, motor sport blossomed, with corporate support being evident for the many private enterprise backed teams as they filled the grids of the mid 1990’s. 2 Litre ex-British Touring Car Championship cars were in abundance, with names like Opel, Mercedes Benz, Nissan and Toyota and even “Vauxhall” present in Thailand’s motor racing when no Vauxhalls were available for sale in Thailand. International rivalry produced the Asian Zone Touring Car Series, modelled on the British Under 2 litre series. The only way forward was Up! That was until the bubble burst with the economic crash of 1997, which in turn produced a wholesale crash in the motor racing world in Thailand. The fall of the financial boom-gate wiped out complete grids, formulae, teams and drivers overnight.

Fortunately there were those who were not prepared to see motor sport finished in this country. Amongst them were the president of Grand Prix International, Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow and the managing director of AIM Motor Sports, Prutirat Seriroengrith.

Dr. Prachin was a man who had been a competitor, and was a man with a well developed sense of history. He had in the past arranged for Prince Bira’s historic racing collection to be displayed in this country, and was involved with the group controlling the Bira Circuit. He also was aware that the Bira Circuit would need to be maintained even though the sport was at such a low ebb, and took some international ex-racers as advisors for the circuit in preparation for the better days to come.

Prutirat Seriroengrith is also a racer, who has won not only national championships, but has also raced in Europe to great effect. He is also president of AIM Motor Sports, a team that had been the front runners in the Asian series as well as in the AF2000 formula. Here was a man who could see that for Thailand motor sport to regain its position it would need a direction and a plan. He had it. The plan was called the “Concept” Cars.

It was two seasons ago when AIM Motor Sports released the AIM Concept car version I to the racing fraternity in Thailand. It is history now that the AIM Concept Car series was an unqualified success. New drivers were introduced into the sport, and even some overseas hopefuls were attracted by the overall concept and made the trip to Thailand. Motor racing in this country received a huge stimulus through it and everyone felt it was a job well done. All except Prutirat.

Prutirat, the enthusiast, knew that unless there was another rung on the ladder, there was no real opportunity for ascendancy for the drivers. From there, the AIM Concept car version II was born, now called Sport Grand Champion. Bigger, brighter and faster than before. This was to be a pukka race car, but still had to be one that the young enthusiast could afford and work on. Working within these parameters, Prutirat and his team of designers and fabricators went to work and have come up with one of the slickest racing cars around - and yet eminently affordable at around 750,000 baht.

I put it to Prutirat, the businessman, that this seemed too cheap but it was Prutirat the enthusiast who replied, “I am not doing this to make money. Perhaps in two to three years we may see a return, but it is more important that we do something for motor sport in this country.”

Every developed country in the world is aware that for motor sport to continue to flourish, it is necessary for there to be a system in place to foster individual progression; however, most countries have bogged down in masses of legislation and a plethora of divided classes.

Thailand has managed to avoid the current crisis with an extremely well thought out concept, and some equally well thought out concept cars. There is no doubt that Thailand Motor Sport is on the right track - and heading in the right direction. Manufacturer interest is again on the increase and do not be surprised to see manufacturer backing for “Production Car” racing again in Thailand in the not too distant future.

It was also very interesting to see Sonthaya Khunpluem, the new minister for sport and tourism, at the final round of the Thailand Grand Touring Car championships at the Bira circuit last month. His advisor, Chanyut Hengtrakul was even talking about F1 in the future - so you never know. After all, Malaysia built an F1 track. Are we next in line after China?

DIY Bamboo Car for Thailand?

You are all probably just as bamboozled as me over the term “Retrofuturism” as I am; however, they actually just held an exhibition called “Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays” in Los Angeles. Apparently, this was to showcase 22 years of work of FoMoCo’s design chief since 1997. Since joining Ford, Mays has completed the development of several new models including the 2002 Ford Thunderbird, Ford Forty-Nine concept car and the Ford GT, which all take their inspiration from classic models of the past.

However, this latest creation takes the wood concept in motorcars to a new level (the last I remember was the Marcos which had a wood and fibreglass composite chassis). This jigger is called the MA which according to the blurb relates to the Asian philosophy of “the space between”. The philosophy refers to a kind of threshold where two concepts can exist in a mutually beneficial relationship. As a car, the MA is meant to represent the same idea, occupying a space between emotional and rational, art and science. “The MA, with its architectural, minimalist appearance, poses what an automotive aesthetic might look like in the future,” said Mr Mays.

“This car is hard to pin down - and that’s what the MA is all about. It’s about proposing solutions that are not obvious, that are between our traditional visions for a car.” I’m afraid he’s lost me already!

Designed totally on a computer, the MA uses a futuristic combination of materials: bamboo, aluminium and carbon-fibre. The car has no welds. Instead, 364 titanium bolts hold the MA together.

Again, according to the blurb, bamboo was chosen as it is a regenerative natural product. A sort of grow your own mudguards in your own backyard idea. Instead of being produced in a plant (no pun intended), the vehicle comes in a more than 500 piece kit, ready for assembly. “This would be a great hobby vehicle,” said Mr Mays. “You could put it together in your garage at home with your son or daughter.”

Having said that, the MA is targeted at younger customers looking for new interpretations of an automobile. According to Mays, the MA’s low-slung, aerodynamic wedge shape and mid-engine balance conjure up images of a two seat, neighbourhood sports car. Well, I don’t know about my neighbourhood!

This is not a vehicle to leave parked for too long as only a few parts are painted. There are no hydraulic fluids and none of the industrial adhesives are, making the MA more than 96 percent recyclable. It will return to nature as you watch it. At least that makes a difference from watching your car rust away over a period of time.

For go power, the MA concept car uses a zero emission, low-speed electric engine that has virtually no environmental impact. However, the car could also be outfitted with a small conventional petrol engine, says the source.

Sports car? That usually means performance, something the MA appears to be lacking on paper. However, there may be a great export opportunity here to flog off some surplus bamboo!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned I had something completely different! One of my American motoring friends has kept a camera with him and snapped a few “interesting” vehicles in Thailand over time. I was not sure on some of these either, and I was looking for you to let ME know what they are! I am still looking and waiting, so please keep trying!

So to this week. There are plenty of Ferrari fans out there, I am sure. This then, should be a very easy question. Remember the Tipo 815? Now recall that the first “Ferrari’s” were actually Alfa Romeo’s modified for Scuderia Ferrari, but in the Tipo 815 we had Enzo’s design for a car. A light tubular chassis with an inline 8 cylinder engine, which was made by cobbling a couple of FIAT engines together. The question is, who actually made this car?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]

Good luck!