Your opportunity to ‘race’ in F1 in Melbourne March 7

The 2004 EffWun season kicks off in Melbourne on March 7, and there is a strong possibility that on the Sunday morning there will be a race put on for the public using the Minardi 2 seater race cars. Unlike a full GP drive, you don’t have to pay millions to get your bum in the seat, because yours is the rear seat and you don’t get pedals or a steering wheel. There is, however, a catch (there always is, isn’t there)! You have to be an ‘A-list’ celebrity. Now all that is really not too difficult, and in fact, if you have one of PM Thaksin’s Thailand Elite Cards, then you are a poofteenth of the way there.

The concept of the 2 seat GP is just that - a concept, but Paul Stoddart, el supremo at Minardi, has 10 cars waiting, painted in the colours of the different teams and is confident that it will happen. “A lot of questions have been asked and we’ve answered most of them,” replied Stoddart. “Bear in mind that we’ve carried 1352 passengers in the last four years, so we’re no strangers to this. Obviously those that aren’t familiar with the two-seater programme have a lot of questions and we’re trying to answer them.”

Stoddart continued during an interview on saying, “This is a great opportunity for the teams’ test and reserve drivers to drive the cars. All of these guys are eager to get a full-time F1 drive, this will be a fairly good shop window for them. None of them are going to go out there and go totally nuts.”

The idea came about last year, said Stoddart. “We had a team owners meeting at Hockenheim and that’s when we said we’ve got to do something about Sunday mornings, we’ve got to do something about giving the public a bit more access and a bit more of a show. This fulfils all of that. Anything to do with celebrity these days is big business, it’s very popular. It would be a mini Grand Prix,” he explained, “with a proper grid, grid girls, pre-race interviews over the PA. The same countdown you get with a real F1 race then away you go. It would be a ten lap race, maximum, or fifty kilometres.”

“The only other issue is insurance,” he admits. “And that is a risk, it’s a dangerous sport, but so is downhill skiing or motorcycling (especially in Thailand). Personally I think you have to balance risk against reward. When we had the King of Spain tearing round Barcelona with Brundle in the McLaren (2-seater) a few years ago, if Martin had gone off and into the barriers there would have been an uproar. Therefore we simply have to insist that the drivers drive within themselves. A majority of the time, passengers get to experience great lap times and a thrilling day, the key to it all is not pulling the Gs in the corners. If you want you passengers to last ten laps you don’t throw it through the corners.”

So are you still up for it? Well, not only must you be A-list (perhaps buy two Elite cards to be sure) then you also have to pass a medical. This is a full MSA (Motor Sports Association) medical. If you are over 45 it includes a full ECG, so you’ll have to get there early, because you’ll be getting the full ECG. Stoddart says, “There are no exceptions, you fail - you don’t run, it’s as simple as that.” However, don’t despair, I used to be the Medical Officer for the Confederation of Australian Motor Sports in Oz, so I’m sure I can whizzle you through!

Now the best news is that you don’t have to be A-list, as they will also be letting some members of the F1 viewing public in behind the drivers, but they will still have to pass the medical. That will cost you a return ticket BKK-Melbourne-BKK for me, and my accommodation and pit passes for the GP. I will supply my own ECG equipment.

Whilst the above is a little ‘tongue in cheek’, the concept is real and very likely to happen. For me I couldn’t give a rat’s bottom as to whether the singing budgie Kylie Minogue or Arnie get a passenger run on Sunday morning. I am only interested in seeing the 20 best drivers in the world going head to head on Sunday afternoon. And I am damn sure that is not what I am going to get! F1 will return to its previously exalted status when that happens, not by having “races” in 2-seaters for rich and overindulged celebrities.

A future world champion?

For all those hopefuls who are now aged around 17 and looking at getting out of karts and into ‘proper’ racing cars, I have nothing but bad news. You have left your run a little late! 17? You’re over the hill. Forget about the fact that Kimi Raikkonen came second last year and Fernando Alonso in 2003 made history by becoming the youngest driver to win a round of the Formula One World Championship, and remains on track to become the sport’s youngest World Champion, as does Kimi Raikkonen. For the up and coming brigade, it’s too late.

John Edwards

Don’t believe me, meet John Edwards of the USA. This month, John Edwards, from Little Rock, Arkansas, won both rounds of the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Race Series, to become the youngest race winner in the history of the series and the youngest driver to win a single-seater race in the US, and possibly anywhere else. Wait for it - John is 12. He is the youngest driver ever to compete in the 28 year history of the Skip Barber Race Series; though a handful of 15 year olds have contested the series previously.

Having taken pole position in qualifying on Saturday morning, John led the 13 car field from flag to flag in the 30 minute race for his first car victory. He backed up his impressive and possibly record-setting Saturday win with another victory on Sunday, with a startling 25 second margin - in pouring rain - over second place finisher Atle (grandfather) Gulbrandsen, 25 years old from Norway.

According to reports, Edwards, a karter who stepped up into Formula Dodge in October 2003, has shown race craft and discipline that belies his age. The cars used in the series are identically prepared 2 litre, wings and slicks 220 kph open wheel, single seat Formula Dodges.

Could we see a world champ that doesn’t know how to shave?

Bangkok Motor Show looking better than ever

Here’s a date to remember, March 26-April 4. That is the Bangkok International Motor Show and this year has attracted even more international attention, with autoscribblers from all over the world flying in to Bangkok for the event. Our own down-under correspondent, John Weinthal will be there. I will keep you informed as to what we can expect to see, but at this stage I do know there will be a world release Benz from DaimlerChrysler. The show will be held at BITEC which is km 1 Bangna-Trad Road. It is right at the end of the elevated highway.

On the right tracks

One of the regular readers sent me an interesting snippet the other day. I have no idea if it is true, because I have not traveled on a train since 1955, but it reads well! See what you think.

Does the statement, “We’ve always done it that way” ring any bells? The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Now, that’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did “they” use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge matches the specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot. And, bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a spec and told we have always done it that way and wonder which horse’s ass came up with that, you may be exactly right, because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Now a little twist to the story. When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. These SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds. So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s ass.

And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important?

(Thank you Peter Cheshire!)

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I featured the Ford Mustang, so asked a Mustang question - what was the Mustang model driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt? It was a Mustang GT 390 that he used in the chase with the Dodge Charger. Despite all the car chase movies that have been done since, for sheer excitement and tension, I reckon Bullitt still tops them all. Does anyone have a copy on VCD? I was lucky enough to be invited to the premiere in Australia way back then and I’d love to see it again.

And so to this week. From the sublime to the ‘Gorblime’. What car was the little sister to the Zwickau P70 of 1955-59? Clue - some lucky people have actually seen one moving under its own power.

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

Good luck!