US GP this weekend

The World Championship is still up for grabs with a possible 20 points available, but only Michael Schumacher (82 points), Juan Pablo Montoya (79) and Kimi Raikkonen (75) can win it. With his failure to compete at the last round in Italy, Ralf Schumacher (58), can only come 3rd at best, so he must drive to assist his team-mate Montoya, no matter what the words given to the press may be. “Team orders” are forbidden, says the FIA, but “team tactics” cannot be regulated. Ralf is part of the BMW Williams team, and would be expected to push the aims of that team. End of story.

It should be televised here, but I think it will be at some gawdawful time. Consult your local TV directory to find exactly when.

What did we learn from the Italian GP?

Anyone who watched the enthralling start, with Schumi the elder and Montoya side by side through the first series of corners would have had to come away with admiration for both drivers. It would have been so easy for them to come unstuck, and thereby handing the title aspirations to Kimi Raikkonen, but they did not. They raced cleanly, knowing that much was at stake.

It was also interesting to hear the views of both the drivers. Schumacher saying, “Yeah, it was already tight in the first corner. I had a lock-up into the first corner and almost didn’t make the chicane. I had the option to go straight on or make the chicane in a sort of not very good way. I thought it was better to do the chicane, although I might lose a position which almost happened, because Juan came on the outside and we had a nice fight through these two corners, very hard but fair and I think that’s what people love to see. In the end I was able to win that fight and run up a lead which was vital to win the race.”

From the cockpit of the BMW Williams, Montoya saw the scrap as follows, “After a good start I took the first opportunity I saw to try to pass Michael Schumacher at the first chicane. We came out pretty even, but he had better acceleration than me and he kept the lead. We competed cleanly as neither of us could afford a DNF (Did Not Finish).”

These were not hot-headed youngsters, but true professionals hard at it. I was impressed, and let me assure you that after watching F1 for 50 years, it takes a lot to impress me!

Mention of hot-headed youngsters brings me to Alonso. The young Spaniard, who won the previous GP, was relegated to rear of the grid, having spun in Qualifying. I mentioned to the person sitting next to me before we watched the race that Alonso would crash into the car in front, the Renault being very good off the line. True to my prediction, he did. Once again, you do not win the race at the first corner - you only lose the race at the first corner (or in this case, on the way to the corner).

The race was actually not all that exciting after the initial laps, as I certainly did not see much passing activity on the race track. You cannot call being lapped as passing activity as the lapped cars are obliged to pull over when shown the waved blue flag. Remember when drivers used to pull out and out-brake each other into the corners to gain a position? Remember when there could be several lead changes per lap? Oh dear, am I really that old?

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked who won the world championship and everyone said it was a fluke. He returned the following year and scored five wins in a row and won the championship again. Six years later he did it again in a car he built himself. Who is this driver? The answer was Sir Jack Brabham, 1959, 1960 and 1966.

So to this week. Let’s get right away from F1 and over to jolly old England. In 1953, Daimler (the British one) produced a 2.5 litre engined saloon. This was called the Daimler Conquest. All I want to know is why did they call it that? Clue - think history!

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

Lexus RX 330

The Lexus brand name represents the finest that Toyota can produce, even if they would like you to think that Lexus is a stand-alone company. In different parts of the world some vehicles are badged as Lexus, and in others as Toyota. The RX series Lexus is, I believe, one of those, being called a Toyota Harrier in Japan, but a Lexus here and in Australia, where our down-under correspondent John Weinthal has just finished testing the latest RX 330. The RX 300 is catalogued as being sold in Thailand, and commands the whacking price of just under 4 million baht. Ouch! For an ‘off-roader’ too. Is it that good? Here’s what John Weinthal thought of it.

“The Lexus RX Series was the first of the relatively new wave of luxury sometime off-roaders. The first RX was launched in the US in 1998. It was an instant and enduring hit. Australia gets the second generation high riding luxury full-time four-wheel-drive five-seater Lexus; the all-new RX330.

“Its primary competitors are the similarly pedigreed Mercedes Benz ML wagons and the BMW X5. Both are substantially more expensive - and even more so if you tick enough boxes on the order form to get close to the Lexus’ lavish equipment levels.

“No doubt all these factors contribute to the Lexus’ domination of this rapidly growing sector in the USA, even though the Lexus is imported from Japan while both the BMW and Mercedes Benz are home-grown Yanks.

“The Lexus is sold in both front wheel and 4-wheel-drive outside Australia, while the BMW and Merc are 4-wheel-drive only. There are other competitors including VW’s true luxury on and off-roader - the all-new Touareg. However the excellent Touareg, which we will report on shortly, is more sensibly positioned compared with its sister, the Porsche Cayenne and Britain’s brilliant Range Rover. Honda sees its MDX as a competitor, but I suspect few customers will.

“These may well be vehicles without real purpose. They are heavier, less wieldy and, in spite of the ads, only remotely car-like in their driving characteristics. As off-roaders there are perhaps a dozen much more useful devices around, most of which cost less, carry more and go further. Lexus at least makes no pretence about off-roading intentions for the RX 330; they call it a sports recreation vehicle.

“As with the Benz and to a lesser degree the BMW these are neither sporty nor terribly useful. Their primary purpose is to provide a luxurious ride slightly above the mass of traffic with their high fashion badges prominently applied to impress or incense the neighbours.

“The Lexus does not offer the swag of models and engines of the Benz and BMW.

This can confuse comparisons. The American pair need a host of expensive extras before they come near to matching the Lexus standard specification and these can take them anything up to AUD 20,000 above the Lexus asking price, before ticking the box for their most powerful V8s. There’s one 172 kW 3.3 litre Lexus-smooth V6 model. It costs AUD 69,990.

“There’s just one option pack call Sports Luxury which costs an extra AUD 8500. For this you add a no doubt frightfully clever colour rear view fascia mounted TV screen - which I found to be almost totally useless in the real world; a multi-vision display, sat nav and an Opera House quality Mark Levinson audio system.

“So, you get that lot plus the standard RX330’s moon roof, steptronic-style automatic transmission, climate-control air-con, 17 inch alloy wheels, leather trim, power sun-roof and too much more to list here for less than AUD 80,000. At this stage the Lexus starts to look something of a bargain compared with the Merc and BMW.

“In the real world the Merc may be best off-road and the BMW offers the most communication with the road for a relatively sporty drive. The Lexus is quickest as it is the lightest and most aerodynamic of this trio - until you stretch way beyond AUD 100,000 for the V8 BMW and Benz.

“I drove and enjoyed a friend’s V8 BMW while I had the Lexus but he was quick to comment on the solid feel, the quiet and the refinement of the Lexus. All three are immediately apparent when you move from one to the other.

“Safety is a big deal in each three of these larger luxury soft-roaders with all the electronic aids imaginable and air bags everywhere. There is even one for the driver’s knees in the Lexus.

“Did I enjoy it? Too right I did, even if it makes little sense beyond its pose value and the satisfaction one derives from being in command of something of such tangible quality, not to mention one of the most appealing fascia designs of almost any car I know, regardless of purpose.

“For anyone with any serious off-roading pretensions, or of a practical bent, the recently tested 4 litre 179kW Toyota Prado Grande for about the same money makes far more sense. The Prado has greater carrying capacity and can seat eight when required. But no Toyota has the cachet of the same company’s Lexus badge, even when both exude similar quality and comfort traits. Both represent good value in their respective fields, with Toyota and Lexus quality and reliability as added attractions.”

(I must say I do agree with John Weinthal’s comments regarding the practicality of these cars as pseudo-offroaders. One wonders why bother, but it probably is for the snob value. Whoever thought that one day a “Toyota” would have snob appeal? Shows that we are living in an ever-changing world. Dr. Iain.)