Automania

Schumacher the elder wins in Australia

The winningest team, six times world champion Michael Schumacher and Ferrari started the way they would have liked, with a resounding 1-2 demolition of the opposition, with the upcoming Renault team and Fernando Alonso, third after the 58 lap race in Melbourne Australia.

Schumacher in Melbourne

The race was a perfect example of Michael Schumacher at his best, leading from pole position and just driving away into the distance. There was nobody in the race who could come anywhere near him as far as a faultless performance was concerned. Within the first six laps, Schumacher had broken the lap record three times!

Perfect pit stops from the red team were the order of the day, while others made blunders.

The remaining point scorers were Ralf Schumacher (BMW Williams), Montoya (BMW Williams), Button (BAR), Trulli (Renault) and Coulthard (McLaren).


Stella Awards

These are given each year for the most frivolous but successful lawsuits in the USA. In case you missed them this year, the winner was an automotive one.

A gentleman of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma purchased a brand new 32-foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, having driven onto the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the R.V. left the freeway, crashed and overturned. He sued Winnebago for not advising him in the owner’s manual that he couldn’t actually do this.

The jury awarded him $1,750,000 plus a new motor home. The company actually changed their manuals on the basis of this suit, just in case there were any other complete morons buying recreation vehicles.

So what did we learn from the first GP in Australia?

Well first off, we learned that the feisty Colombian, Juan Pablo Montoya, the man who stormed out of his press conference when he was ragged by a couple of Aussie comedians, has not learned the very first lesson in competitive motor racing - You do not win the race at the first corner - you only lose the race at the first corner. After a strong showing in Qualifying, Montoya in the Williams had a poor start compared to the Renault of Alonso, so attempted an out-braking manoeuvre, and out-braked himself, running off the circuit and losing several places. These were places that he never made up.

Another fact we learned was that the BMW Williams team had more than one problem with their pit stops, with the Colombian losing around three seconds each time, compared to the dominant Ferraris.

Philippe Massa returned to Sauber after a year off as test driver for Ferrari. The commentators all made noises before the race that Massa had matured so much and the previously wild man was tamed. They were wrong. Massa appeared just as undisciplined as before, retaining his title as the ‘spin-meister’.

We also learned that we are lumbered yet again with the two inept telebletherers, including the incredibly annoying Steve Slater, whose vocabulary consists mainly of the word “absolutely”, which everyone now finds absolutely exasperating! We were also regaled with a new “expert” talking head - none other than F1 failure Alex Yoong. I am sure he is a lovely chap, who unfortunately was so slow that he failed to qualify several times and was even dropped by the Minardi team mid-season. To ask Alex (who bought his seat at Minardi), what he thinks about Michael Schumacher’s chances, is akin to asking me what I make of the Pattaya Panthers’ chances this season. I drink in the same pub as they do, and that’s about it. Of course, Alex may have bought his seat on TV as well!

The Ronster and the lads from Woking in the McLarens must be very worried as they head for the next round in Malaysia (March 21). Not only were the McLarens off the pace, but they experienced a major engine/transmission problem in Raikkonen’s car. Not an auspicious start to the new season.

Contrary to this, the BAR’s both finished, with Jenson Button driving sensibly, while Takumo Sato managed to miss all the fences and kitty litter catch areas (more by good luck than good management I reckon). The 6th place for Button would be a great stimulus for the team.

Jaguar? We didn’t learn anything we didn’t know before. Mark Webber drove well in 6th place until his Jaguar swallowed a fur ball, or some other excuse, and the new signing Klien, kept his nose clean, but finished nowhere. But it was an encouraging start to the new season.

Ah well, roll on Malaysia next week!


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about the movie “Get Carter” starring Michael Caine. His pursuer drove a red Jaguar Mk II. These cars came with 2.4 litre, 3.4 litre or 3.8 litre engines. However, funnily enough, the Jaguar Press Department never let a 2.4 out to be tested by the motor noters of the day. The question I asked was “why”? The answer was simply that the small engined version was, to put it mildly, underpowered, and Jaguar did not want this publicized!

So to this week. Jaguar didn’t do too well at the Oz GP, so I won’t pose another Jaguar question, but here is a motor racing one. Which race driver used to bring along a recording of his country’s national anthem, just in case the race organizers didn’t have one to play after he won the race?

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

Good luck!


‘New Generation’ Prius

The Toyota Prius has now been around for a couple of years, but is it the end-point? Apparently not, according to our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal, who after a week with Prius Mk II says, “The future comes nearer”. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

“Two years ago Toyota gave us a clear glimpse at motoring’s future. That was a car called Prius - a five seat family sedan with both petrol and electric powerplants. Now Prius Mk11 gives an even clearer look ahead.

“Even more technically advanced, new Prius is larger, more powerful and more economical and emits even fewer exhaust nasties. Now a conventional hatchback, notionally it costs less than before with an entry price of AUD 37,000. However, for the fully equipped model one pays just over AUD 45,000.

“New Prius takes the mass-production hybrid vehicle to a new level of performance but it remains far from being a today car for most of us. Undeniably clever, new Prius is a great technical achievement, a leap ahead of Prius Mk 1 - but it is expensive and more than a little compromised specially in its ride and handling.

“It is claimed to be the world’s most aerodynamic four door car. Advances include electronically controlled brakes, steering, throttle and shifting between forward and reverse. There is no conventional transmission - you just enjoy seamless, near silent, linear progress. The driver cannot discern the switch between electric and petrol power unless he is watching the clever on-screen graphic.

“New Prius even performs in a lively manner hitting 100kph in under 11 seconds while Toyota claims 4.4 litres per 100kph economy. In everyday city and highway use over nearly 1000 km we achieved what I consider a highly impressive 5.2 average in this Camry-size car.

“Toyota is claiming success with private, corporate and government buyers. They say government sales have increased by 374 percent over the superseded model and now average 36 sales a month to state governments. But I was left wondering if the boffins behind new generation Prius were concerned for its role in the real world - one is tempted even to ponder if they actually drove it.

“How else can one explain a touch screen information system covering everything from sound and climate control settings to fuel usage and powertrain graphics and sat nav which is anything but user-friendly. This screen is effectively invisible in many daylight situations! How come there is a green reflective line from the speedo housing directly into the driver’s nighttime sight line? Imagine 15 individual control buttons on the steering wheel none of them identifiable at night.

“But worst of all is what happens when you leave the bitumen. There emanates an immediate, seemingly calamitous cacophony of creaks, shakes, rattles and bangs on any corrugated dirt. It is no exaggeration to declare this the worst performance I can recall - even to the only instance of scuttle shake in a closed vehicle. But uncannily, this scare is followed by a return to that typical Toyota feel of total build quality and ruggedness when you get back on a smooth surface.

“Prius is no doubt a ‘good thing’. For now the bulk of sales will be to Pollies chasing Green votes and they will enthusiastically inflict them on unsuspecting civil servants. There will be a few private buyers and some companies which like to be seen to be ahead of the masses. When you see a Prius why not wave - chances are that as a taxpayer you are a co-owner.

“In spite of its giant techno leap very few people will choose Prius yet, assuming they give it a decent day and night, good roads and poor, test drive first. If not, they have nobody but themselves to blame. They deserve what they will get! Excellent fuel savings, a cleaner exhaust and unending conversation prompting features will barely compensate for the demerits compared with conventional cars, not to mention the extra outlay.”

(Thank you John, for that glimpse of what seems to be a flawed future. Dr. Iain.)


Thailand motor racing calendar

The motor racing season in Thailand is well underway and here is the ‘official’ calendar. These are motor racing events run on the FIA approved Bira Race Circuit, just outside Pattaya (km marker 14 on Highway 36). Unfortunately, if this year is anything like last year, the dates and events tend to be “subject to change without notice” like prices in the supermarket.

April 24/25 Supercar Thailand Championship Round 2

May 8/9 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Round 1

June 18/19/20 Asian Festival of Speed and Supercars Round 3

July 3/4 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Round 2

August 21/22 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Round 3

August 28/29 Supercar Thailand Championship Round 4

October 16/17 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Round 4

Nov 13/14 Supercar Thailand Championship Round 5

Nov 27/28 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Round 5

Dec 18/19 Thailand Grand Touring Cars Endurance Round