Barry Sheene

By now, all racing enthusiasts would have heard that Barry Sheene, the famous British motorcycling champion, has died. It was ironic that he eventually succumbed to cancer of the throat and stomach, having cheated death so many times at the race tracks. There is an amazing footage of Barry stepping off at 170 mph on the banking at Daytona after his engine seizes. Bike and Barry hurtle into the infield doing cartwheels together and eventually he is shovelled into the ambulance with multiple broken bones, arms legs, pelvis, etc. Just before they closed the door, he waves, saying that he would be back in 6 weeks - and he was! As well as being a fantastic rider, he was just a truly nice chap. Sorely missed.

The economy picks up and the luxury segment gets bigger

After the 1997 financial fiasco, the luxury end of the local automarket was practically negligible. Near new Merc’s were in repossession yards all over the country and sales were at an all-time low. However, you only need to look around you to see that financially things have been picking up. In the building sector this can be seen by all the new building projects going on, and in the automotive sector it can be seen by the second hand yards appearing everywhere as people trade in their old car for something newer - and more expensive.

All the local manufacturers are aware of this, and with the free trade agreement starting to be implemented (AFTA), prices are ‘reasonable’ at the top end. For example, the 735 Li BMW is going out the door for 8.1 million baht, and the cheaper (relatively) 730 Li will be along later at about 6 million or so. Also in that range are the S280L Benz at 6.2 million and Jaguar with the new XJ at around the same money.

If these are not enough, have you noticed the slow infiltration being done by Lexus, and the long wheelbase model of the LS430 is expected. Audi is also supposed to be bringing in the LWB version of the A8.

For those who have deep pockets, there is certainly going to be plenty of choices for you in the next 12 months. Again I would suggest the Bangkok International Motor Show is the place for you to decide where you will leave your millions!

Malaysian GP this weekend

The second GP of the year is on this weekend at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. I believe the starting time for this GP is 1 p.m. Malaysian time (instead of the 2 p.m. local time it is everywhere else!), so that should mean mid-day our time - but please check with your local TV feed - I would hate to be blamed for your missing the start!

The new qualifying procedure should continue to mix up the grid somewhat, and the regulation that all the cars have to start the race with the amount of fuel they had for qualifying means that those who ran light on the Saturday will have to come in early on the Sunday race to refuel.

What did we learn from the Australian GP?

After the rather different Australian GP, where David Coulthard managed to bring his McLaren Mercedes home in first position after being 11th on the grid, there were certain people saying just how great the new qualifying system was, and how it had enlivened the racing, with dices and passing going on all the way through the order.

Unfortunately that was not quite the true facts. Even Coulthard admitted that he did not pass anybody on his trip to the front! His own team’s designer, McLaren guru Adrian Newey said on the British BBC Sport website, “Melbourne was a good race on TV, but that was because of the weather, not the rules.”

Adrian Newey

The driver who should have won was the fiery Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, who saw his grasp on the top step of the podium slip away when the field got bunched up again in safety car periods and then he really threw it away with a spin with only a handful of laps to go.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya is a fairly direct and uncomplicated character, and I think you will agree after reading this transcript of the post-race press conference. He was asked what he thought of the race and he replied, “I think it was a pretty disastrous race. We took the right tyres, I had a 16-second lead, and everything was going my way. Then the safety car, then we went again, I had like 10 or something like that second lead and safety car again, so I pretty much got screwed twice. Even like that, after the second pit stop I had the lead and, I don’t know, I went into turn one and picked up the throttle, the car turned ends on me, so just my fault.”

Q: “In that second pit stop, you didn’t change tyres, it looked as if you hit the lollipop as you left as well. Was the not changing of tyres in any way a factor in the spin?”

JPM: “Probably yes and no, because the previous run on new tyres the pattern was a disaster and on old tyres I had a much better balance, I was more competitive, so I decided not to change tyres and I thought it was the right thing to do. And I still think it was the right thing to do; I would have been even less competitive if I would have changed tyres. So it was just, basically sh*t happens.”

Q: “Juan, it seemed in pre-season testing for a lot of the time you were struggling with this new car, but suddenly it seems a lot better. Was it just circumstances or did finally some breakthrough come about?”

JPM: “No, if you look at the lap time we did in Jerez, look at the lap time we did in Valencia, the only place we kind of struggle a little bit at the moment is Barcelona and everywhere else we have been competitive. I think it’s just the press, because day one the car wasn’t quick and everybody will tell us day one is going to break the lap record around Barcelona, everybody said the Williams sucks but it doesn’t. It’s true. It needs a lot of work the car, the car’s got a lot more potential, I think there’s a lot more things coming through aerodynamically to make the car more competitive during the race. As you saw today, our lap time yesterday wasn’t on low fuel. I think a lot of people thought we had quite low fuel and I didn’t and the pace was there so it’s quick.”

Of course, for once, Mrs Schumacher’s eldest boy wasn’t on the podium, so we do not really know what he thought of it all. Undoubtedly he had the potential to win, but after his bargeboards shook themselves to death, he was not going to be in the hunt. Even his team manager Jean Todt was philosophical after the race. With Barichello attempting to prove himself and leave his mark this year, it was ironic that the only mark he left was a big red splodge on an Albert Park wall! Definitely not the Scuderia’s best outing.

What else did we learn? Well, we found out that the BAR team have a problem with communications, with both drivers arriving at the pits at the same time! Jenson Button, in the second car, who was held up for something like 13 seconds was furious, blaming team mate Jacques Villeneuve for deliberately sabotaging his chances by diving pit-wise before him, even though the team had not told him to come in. Team boss David Richards will have had a few unkind words to say before the next race this weekend in Malaysia.

Jaguar, even though both drivers failed to finish, showed some promise with Mark Webber up to 4th at one stage before rear suspension failure sidelined the popular Australian. Pizzonia suffered the same failure on his Jaguar, but the team will have corrected that before Sepang.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned the Indy 500 - a classic race of enormous proportions. It has also been a race that was dominated for many years by the front engined “roadsters” but eventually they were eclipsed by the rear engined “funny cars” as the American drivers called them. One American driver believed that the funny cars would win the Indy and paid for a famous British F1 designer to come to Indy to watch and then come back to Indy the following year with a car for him to drive to contest the race. After that long-winded introduction, I asked who was the American driver and what was the name and model of the funny car he brought in the following year? The answer was Dan Gurney and the Lotus 29.

So to this week, and an easy one. The 1953 Morris Oxford was, in my opinion, not the greatest example of auto engineering of the 50’s, but it’s still in production today. What is it called now?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania

Good luck!

BMW 330

For the past week I have been running round the countryside with a BMW 330 sedan. I have always been impressed with the new Beemers, and after a week it was very difficult to give it back. It is almost the ‘perfect’ car in my books. I will give a full report on it next week, but if you are going to the Bangkok International Motor Show (March 28-April 8), it is worth going and having a look at the BMW stand. There will be the new V12 BMW 7 series there too. Almost 500 bhp of ultimate technology. I have been promised a fang in one of the new 7 series soon. I am definitely looking forward to it.