Mercedes Vision CLS

The new concept Mercedes Benz from DaimlerChrysler is called the Vision CLS, and what a great looking car this is. It was previewed at the Frankfurt Motor Show last month and MB called it a cross between a sedan and a coupe. Judge for yourself - it’s a four door coupe.

Mercedes Vision CLS

The engine is also somewhat out of the ordinary too. It’s a diesel! The engine develops 198 kW (265 bhp in the old money) and pushes the CLS to 100 kph in 6.4 seconds. One (or really two) reasons why this engine performs so well is because it has twin turbochargers. It is a miserly engine too, returning figures of 7.5 litres of diesel per 100 kms and apparently passes the stringent EU-4 exhaust emission limits. Modern technology is turning the diesel into a preferred engine choice these days.

DaimlerChrysler admit that the response of the public to the new vehicle will determine whether or not it makes production. Believe me - it will, but we are probably looking at 2005/2006.

BMW announces American series

BMW AG has announced its new Formula BMW USA, which debuts next year. This is to add to the world-wide coverage of this rapidly growing series which already is established in Germany, Asia and recently announced in the UK.

“Formula BMW USA will provide the young entry-level racer, particularly from the kart racing ranks, the opportunity to experience all the demands of professional motorsport,” said Tom Purves, CEO of BMW of North America. “This is an exciting way to develop promising drivers by showcasing their talents and preparing them to compete in the higher ranks of international motorsports. We would be thrilled if the next American Formula One driver comes from Formula BMW USA.”

Talented drivers between the age of 16 and 23 will line up on the starting grid. They will learn the details of their sport with the most innovative Formula racing car in its class. Each of the candidates will be eligible for scholarship support from BMW of North America. As part of the total Formula BMW USA program, drivers will participate in the Motorsport Professional training program. This program will provide young drivers with skills that they will need long term in the world of motorsports. BMW will organize several seminars conducted by experienced individuals to review important subjects such as: Fitness Training & Nutrition, Vehicle Dynamics and Chassis Set-up, Driving Technique, Public Relations and Media Training, Sponsorship Research and Sports Management.

“Formula BMW is firmly established overseas as the best entry-level form of motor racing for promising young karters looking for a stepping stone to single-seaters on their way to Formula One,” says BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. “With a strong desire to promote open-wheel racing in the U.S., we believe this to be the perfect time for us to introduce Formula BMW to America. For us safety is of paramount importance. We believe the Formula BMW car is the safest entry-level open-wheel racecar on the market.”

The top finishing driver for the season in Formula BMW USA can go on to race in Europe, where the majority of world-class open wheel racing takes place. The season winner will earn a $50,000 scholarship that can be applied to a year of participation in Formula BMW in Germany.

This state-of-the-art single-seat racecar is powered by a 140 bhp BMW engine. Inspired by the BMW Formula 1 shape, DesignworksUSA sketched and modeled the Formula BMW car, which has a high-tech carbon-fiber chassis, meets the FIA safety requirements of the more powerful Formula 3 racing cars, and has been expanded to incorporate a Formula 1 standard with in-house development of the BMW Formula Rescue Seat (FORS). For additional safety measures, all drivers will be able to wear their HANS device (Head and Neck Support system).

BMW of North America is currently in negotiations with Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) to potentially host select races in conjunction with the sanctioning body in 2004. An entire schedule of races in the U.S. and Canada will be announced later this year and may include the 2004 United States Grand Prix. The schedule will include a total of 14 races - two races will be run on each weekend at seven racetracks in North America. The majority of the race schedule will cover the summer-break period, between June and September, allowing young drivers to finish the school year. Formula BMW has already launched numerous drivers onto the professional circuit. In particular, BMW WilliamsF1 Team driver Ralf Schumacher, who made his debut in the forerunner to this series in 1992 and whose career has taken him to success in the Formula 1 Championship.

The VeeDub Microbus returns

Following the success of the new Beetle, VW will be introducing the ‘new’ Microbus. The Microbus will be coming on sale in the United States in 2006, marketed as a 2007 model. The actual vehicle will be very similar to the concepts shown in Detroit (2001) and Frankfurt (2003).

This vehicle has apparently caught the imagination of the VW engineers and designers, according to Bernd Pischetsrieder, VW’s supremo. “Our designers get crazy when they talk about the Microbus,” he said. “They play around with this Microbus in more configurations than we could build. Everything from campers to pickup truck versions to open roof configurations, where you can fit surfboards and such. Obviously, the Microbus is a little more about lifestyles, and we are looking for a vehicle built around lifestyles. I promise you it will be something more exciting than what is already on the market,” he said.

The Microbus will be built on VW’s redesigned T5 platform that is used in Germany for its large, luxury vehicle called the Multivan. Microbus will be a little shorter than the Multivan’s 195.6 inches with a 120-inch wheelbase.

VW are looking ahead with aggressive marketing and new models, to cover every section of the marketplace. The automaker is developing a convertible to be positioned between the Jetta and Passat. It is contemplating building a sedan, internally called the C1, that would be positioned between the Passat and luxury Phaeton. They are also considering derivatives from the Touareg platform and building the Concept R two seat sports car also shown at the Frankfurt auto show.

As far as marketing the Microbus, Jens Neumann, a member of the American VW board, said some people will buy the Microbus because of their attachment to the original Microbus. “It will remind them or bring them to an emotional state,” he said. Ah yes, I’ll never forget whatshername!

What did we learn from the US Grand Prix?

Well, for starters it was the best race of the season. More passing, more action, more thrills, spills and brave pills. Forget about the new regulations and team tactics and all the rest of the tommy twaddle - all that was needed was rain, the great equalizer.

In the GP, there were many lead changes, with Jenson Button (BAR), Mark Webber (Jaguar), David Coulthard (McLaren), Kimi Raikkonen (McLaren) all having a turn at the sharp end, but it was the rain meister himself, Michael Schumacher, who demonstrated just why he is still the best driver out there. Not a wheel wrong at any stage and three seconds a lap quicker than the rest of the field in the rain. The Schumacher steam-roller flattened everyone, and came home a well deserved winner.

We also learned that the race stewards are not afraid of handing out penalties, even to those drivers who were, up till then, running strongly in the championship. Juan Pablo Montoya being given a (deserved) drive-through penalty for his over enthusiastic assistance to Rubens Barichello’s Ferrari on the opening laps. David Coulthard also got pinged for speeding in the pit lane, something that a driver of his experience should not be doing anymore.

The Villeneuve fans (and there are still some, though I don’t know why) had nothing to smile about. Once again he was overshadowed by his quicker team mate, Jenson Button, who drove with skill and maturity, and was deserving of a podium position other than another Honda engine hand grenade.

Sauber! Suddenly Sauber became a presence in the race, instead of languishing down the back. 3rd place for Heinz-Harry Frentzen and 5th for Nick Heidfeld leapfrogged the team from 9th in the constructor’s championship to 5th. The general talk is that Frentzen will be put out to pasture next year, which may not be the right move, as I believe he is still better than Heidfeld who has not lived up to his promise. Heinz-Harry also knew that he was not in the Sauber equation for 2004 when he said after the race, “Tonight we’re going on to the streets to have a party! I’ll invite the whole team. We definitely have a reason to celebrate. We made a big jump in the championship. My third place gives a lot of motivation to the team. I wish it all the best for the future.” The only confirmed driver at Sauber next year is Fisichella, and the other seat will probably be filled by the returning Massa, returned from Ferrari’s testing duties.

Finally we learned that the US Grand Prix comes at a most unsociable hour for Thailand, starting at 1 a.m. and I must thank Kim Fletcher and the Shenanigans staff for keeping smiling while the motor racing fans held them up!

Japanese GP this weekend - and the decider!

Well, it was what the FIA had hoped for - an exciting finish to the World Championship. From last year’s runaway victory, this one has come down to the wire. The World Championship is still not decided, with Raikkonen having a mathematical chance, 9 points adrift of Schumacher. To get the big one, he has to win in Japan on October 12 and Schumacher has to finish worse than 8th, or not finish at all. The chances of that happening are not great, but Schumacher has been carted off the circuit more than once in the past few years. The biggest question mark, however, is can Kimi make it to the finish in P1? He has to be considered the outside chance, while Schumacher remains a very firm favourite.