Despite rumours that the Grand Prix teams might
boycott the Spanish GP because of the European Arrest Warrant
(basically doing away with the writ of Habeas Corpus), the GP will be
on this Sunday at the Barcelona venue.
Spain has a long history in GP racing, and Jerez
was used for many years. However, the Jerez circuit was blighted by
being too far from centres of population to attract crowds, so the
Catalunya circuit (aka Montmelo) was built just 12 miles from
Barcelona. It was actually the fourth circuit in, or near, Barcelona,
which has some claim to being Spain’s capital of motor racing.
The Circuit Catalunya was built on land owned by
the Real Automobil Club de Catalunya, and they took over the Spanish
GP. Opened in 1991, the 2.95 mile circuit was quick and had both a
wide range of corners and excellent facilities and viewing points. A
temporary chicane was built at ‘Nissan’ (a very shallow curve) in
1994, but for 1995, ‘Nissan’ was straightened, reducing the length
of a lap to 2.937 miles.
The main interest this weekend will be to see if
BAR can continue their amazing form. Jenson Button has now been on the
podium for a third in Malaysia and a second in San Marino, as well as
his pole position after Qualifying at San Marino. Is this the time
Button makes it to the top step? While Takumo Sato managed to explode
his Honda engine in the BAR, the team say that this was prompted by a
gearbox fault. This sounds to me like the ‘official’ reason for
retirement being noted as “electrical problems” when the conrod
knocked the top off the distributor cap!
Williams continues to be an unhappy team, though
some promising testing was done at Silverstone between San Marino two
weeks ago and this weekend. Ralf Schumacher is still in trouble as he
keeps on seeing dollar signs, instead of other drivers, and ended up
being punted off the road (yet again) this time by Alonso, while
Montoya is turning into a bit of a cry-baby when Michael Schumacher
isn’t overcome with fright when Juan Pablo tries a bit of muscling
on the first lap. It was also interesting that Montoya didn’t mind
putting Ralfie on the grass, but hated being put there by Ralfie’s
The race should begin at 7 p.m. Thai time, but check your TV
Toyota has been very successful at introducing a
new brand to the marketplace - that of Lexus. I was one of those who
thought it was just a bit of marketing smoke and mirrors, and that the
cars were really just tarted up Toyota’s - but I was wrong. Toyota
spawned a new brand and has kept it as an exclusive marque. It now has
a very strong band of faithful followers, and our Down-under
correspondent John Weinthal is one of those. Here is John’s take on
the new Lexus LS 430.
“The Lexus LS430 is a large and supremely
luxurious sedan. It can be yours for around AUD 175,000, plus the
usual on roads and (shudder) insurance. (In Thailand it will take
7.645 million baht out of your bank account - Dr. Iain.) It is also
the only car I can think of which has not a single option - with this
Lexus you get the works; even a 400 page handbook!
“This is in great contrast with other cars
costing upwards from AUD 180,000 like top drawer Jaguars, BMWs and
Mercedes where injudicious ticking of the options boxes can boost the
sticker cost by up to 25 per cent.
comprehensive package comprises a large four door sedan with a 207 kW
4.3 litre quad cam V8. It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed
automatic which offers effective manual over-ride when called for. The
LS430’s imposing looks are enhanced by low profile tyres on five
spoke 18 inch alloy rims.
“This is a fully loaded car; it has every
electronic gadget apart from TV and DVD it seems. There are automatic
wipers and headlamps of course, but still no rear window wiper. The
brilliant xenon headlamps swivel for better lighting through corners.
The satellite navigation is more user friendly than most.
“Radar cruise control can ensure you do not get
too close to the car in front by maintaining your chosen distance as
you approach a slower car. It will then accelerate this 1800 kg limo
back to your chosen speed when the road clears or you change lanes.
This is almost certainly the way forward and a potential accident
saver, but in this application I found it often led to a rather jerky
combination of slowing and accelerating. The radar over-ride can be
disabled leaving the car in normal cruise control mode. This was my
choice most of the time and certainly when there was reasonably heavy
“Lexus - any Lexus - is all about supreme quiet,
unrivalled build quality and owner satisfaction ratings to make other
opulent carriage makers wince. The LS430 is the flagship and thus the
standard setter. But this is really a car in which the reviewer should
take a rear seat. The driver’s lot is most agreeable but the
passenger is master.
“Two can laze in the sumptuous rear pews. Each
rear seat has power operation, with its own memory function.
Passengers enjoy fingertip control over their air con and seat
temperature and ventilation preferences. But the coup de grace is the
rear seat massage system. This gently soothes tired muscles and can be
adjusted up and down the back - pure sybaritic pleasure. Of course
this pampered pair enjoy their own sound system controls. There are
retractable shades for the side windows, plus an electronic one for
the rear window. These ensure peasant stares reveal nothing of the
occupants’ identity or their activities.
“Safety features big time in the Lexus armory.
Every electronic motion control device is present and ever ready to
correct virtually any pilot error. A wide angle rear vision camera
means the driver can see everything in his path when reversing. The
radar-activated cruise control is not exclusive to Lexus at the top
end of the market, but Lexus does claim to be the first with air bags
to protect the driver’s and front passenger’s knees. More airbags
provide protection from chest to hip in side impacts in addition to
full length curtain air bags to soften a blow to the head.
“The hush and ride comfort over all but the
harshest bitumen chips has to be experienced. The quality of the wood
and leather interior trims and all fittings is of the highest order,
but the test Lexus was not quite perfect with a couple of shut-lines
which were not quite spot on and one carpet piece not quite fitting
under a ventilation duct.
“Lexus makes no claim to sportiness for its
premium model, but in all respects it is well above the level of mere
competence. For pure driver involvement one would possibly still
choose the Audi A8 or Jaguar XJR in the full limo class, but they
still fall a mite shy of the Lexus in the areas where the Japanese
contender is standard bearer.
“But let the laddie do the driving. As master and
mistress of our realm we will choose to luxuriate unconcernedly in the
opulence of the rear compartment. Just wake us gently on arrival.”
Thank you John for your impressions of the latest Lexus. Like
others in that range, the Lexus is really for the rear seat owner.
After all, if you’re going to spend over 7 million baht for your
car, you can afford 100,000 baht a year for a chauffeur (I wouldn’t
be so crass as to just call him ‘the driver’).