San Mario GP this weekend

The first Grand Prix back in Europe is this weekend - the GP at San Marino (Imola).

The circuit, which is located 20 miles south-east of Bolgna, is laid out in the Castellacio Park and was first used in 1950. Originally 3.118 miles long, it was used for the occasional non-championship race, but was very much a second-string circuit until 1973 when it was refurbished with the addition of Varianta Bassa and renamed Autodromo Enzo E Dino Ferrari. Variante Alta was added in 1974, when the length increased to 3.144 miles and a chicane was added at Aqua Minerale in time for the first championship race in 1981, when the length of a lap became 3.132 miles. It is a quick, undulating circuit with a series of demanding corners broken by chicanes. Popular with almost everyone, it was Imola’s misfortune to be the scene of the fatal accidents to Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994 and these tragedies have made Imola remembered by everyone. It will also probably be dropped next year, as F1 goes further into Asia.

But back to the 2004 season. So far Ferrari has managed three pole positions and three wins, plus a couple of 1-2 finishes and that’s from the first three GP’s. While it looks like total domination, it’s probably not as dominant as Ferrari themselves would like. There is no doubt that BMW Williams are close, and in fact the Qualifying at Bahrain could easily have gone to little Schumi or Montoya. BAR are also ‘up there’ and Sato’s high placing on the grid (and 5th at the end of the race) shows that there is nothing wrong with the 2004 BAR.

The fact that Button has got on the podium twice is also no fluke, though he was lucky in Bahrain that Montoya struck gearbox problems. Renault have also got the race pace, and it is only Alonso’s bad qualifying form that has meant he has had to fight from the back, instead of fighting at the front.

At this stage, that’s the front half of the grid, though you should never discount Mark Webber’s qualifying form. The front row position in Malaysia was something he pulled out of the proverbial hat (or some other part of his anatomy), but I fear that the Jaguar is not really quick enough. McLaren? Even more nights have been spent by the engine team, trying to work out what is going wrong, and believe me it’s not that easy. When you are left with something that hand-grenaded at 17,000 rpm, do you know which bit let go first? Ron Dennis and his drivers will be hoping for better results at Imola. Toyota? Still not quick enough, I’m afraid. Sauber and Jordan? Forget ‘em. Minardi? Well Zsolt Baumgartner has already snapped up 20th position on the grid.

By my reckoning, the race should start at 7 p.m., but as always, check the TV guide, as I would hate to see you miss the start. (Ed’s note: The UBC online guide has Race Day starting at 6 p.m. and race coverage beginning at 6:45 p.m. <18:45>).

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that the first car in which Henry Royce had no part in was the P-III built between 1936 and 1939. It had a V12 engine with hydraulic tappets that always gave trouble, but the front suspension was more interesting. The question was which company designed the independent front suspension? The answer was that the front suspension was made under license from General Motors. The designer was GM.

So to this week. We feature the Peugeot, so here’s a Pug question. Who imported a 3.5 horsepower in 1896 and won a gold medal with it in the Thousand Miles Trial?

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

Good luck!

Schumacher helps with European road safety

Safety on the track has been one of Michael Schumacher’s wheelbarrows that he has pushed for some years. He is now taking that to the roads as well, being in Dublin to launch Europe’s Road Safety Charter.

Our six times Formula One World Champion joined forces with the FIA Foundation and transport ministers from across the European Union (EU) at the initiative. Along with FIA President Max Mosley, Schumacher was a keynote speaker, calling on governments, companies and organizations across the EU to make a firm and measurable commitment to improve road safety. The EU has a target of reducing road deaths by 50 percent by 2010.

Michael Schumacher

Schumacher said, “As a racing driver I am extremely concerned about safety - not only on the race track, but also on the road. I would not dream of starting a race without my seat belt securely fastened, or of starting my car without checking first that everybody traveling with me was safe. It only takes a few conscious steps; a few seconds thought and action, to ensure the highest possible safety in a car.”

Max Mosley said, “At European level we do need more focus on road safety, with a dedicated road safety commissioner concentrating on road safety every hour of every day. In France road deaths have fallen by 20 percent in one year because President Chirac decided to take road safety seriously. Most road deaths are preventable. Thousands of people are being killed unnecessarily and we must have the political will to stop it.”

Road traffic deaths and injuries have fallen in all EU member states over recent years, but it is feared that the entry of 10 new countries could reverse the downward trend.

They should consider themselves fortunate that Thailand is not eligible to enter the EU, as that would certainly skyrocket the figures. We have one of the worst road tolls in the world. Songkran figures alone would topple governments in Europe. As Max Mosely said, “Most road deaths are preventable. Thousands of people are being killed unnecessarily and we must have the political will to stop it.” When will Thailand’s pollies learn this?

Peugeot 206CC

One of the cars at the Bangkok International MoShow that caught my fancy was the Peugeot 206CC. I have to admit that it also caught my eye the year before, but it is still a great funky little rocket, complete with one of those folding roofs. Our Down-under correspondent John Weinthal has sampled one a little while back and he described it as being fun, but void of traditional Peugeot virtues. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

Peugeot 206CC at MoShow

“For more than 40 years Peugeot has been noted for some outstanding qualities. Their reputation for strength and reliability was underlined when the 203 model won the first Redex Around Australia Trial in 1953. The Peugeot 403 of the late ’50s became the benchmark for quiet, supple, bump absorbent ride. Peugeots of their day rivalled Jaguars for quiet, refined ride, at least until the XJ6 arrived in 1978. These qualities of strength, reliability and a comfortable hushed ride remain as Peugeot virtues.

“This test car is the remarkably styled convertible version of Peugeot’s wonderful 206. Some loved the lines of the 206CC- others were simply bemused. (I love it. Dr. Iain.) The first thing to remark on is the folding steel roof. It takes just 20 seconds to open or close and has the simplest operation to date. It can in fact be opened or closed at up to 10kph. This roof is every bit the equal of that of the Mercedes SLK and the Lexus SC430.

“But, the Peugeot costs well under half the Merc’s ticket, and just under a quarter of the Lexus’ AUD 162,000 ask. Like the Lexus, there are four head restraints and if you peer deep enough behind the excellent front seats you will find a couple of pretend rear seats. Only two under 10s with very short parents up front could be squeezed back there. That space could be more valuably used for luggage because the boot, not unexpectedly, shrinks from 410 litres to just 175 when the roof goes into its hideaway.

“The 206CC is hugely distinctive. It has a wonderfully rapid and efficient power hood system. Hood up, two people are as snug as in any smart coupe, with plenty of head, leg and shoulder room. However, all is not well with the 206CC. Indeed only the badges really say Peugeot. Road noise intrudes as on no Peugeot before it. It is much worse than most current cars - specially ones costing AUD 40,000. Roof-down it feels no match in structural integrity for drop-tops like Mazda’s MX5, the Honda S2000 or even Peugeot’s own 306. Another first. After almost 40 years writing about cars this is the first one with sun visors which rattle!

“So far I have avoided the cute little Peugeot’s mechanical elements. It is available either as an auto with an 80 kW 1.6 litre engine, or a 100 kW 2 litre with manual gears. The 1.6 auto costs AUD 38,000 and the manual 2 litre is AUD 40,000, plus the usual drive-away costs in both cases. (In Thailand we only get the 1.6 lire auto which retails for a sniff under 2 million baht. Dr. Iain.)

“Performance from the test car’s 1.6 litre could best be described as adequate, but it was no fireball and it was noisy at almost all times. Worse than this, this engine is mis-matched to one of those awful so-called adaptive automatic gearboxes. In this case the engine and transmission barely acknowledge each other’s existence. The auto hunts and holds lower gears for far longer than necessary, while the engine revs up and down to a score of its own.

“I would love to try the 206CC with the 2 litre engine and manual gearbox because the car rides and handles well, and can occasionally be quite fun even with the test car’s extraordinary engine/transmission mix.

“The car grabs the eye; the hood is brilliant in its execution and operation and it is comprehensively equipped. Standard gear (in Australia) includes climate control air-conditioning, CD player, two air bags, ABS anti-lock brakes and remote locking and window operation - in fact just about everything except cruise control.

“However, if you expect all the traditional Peugeot values you will be disappointed. This was all the more disappointing because each of the regular 206’s I have driven has been marvellous in just about every way - true Peugeots, made the Peugeot way.”

(Thank you John, but I still like the funky looks! Dr. Iain.)