Monaco GP this weekend

This is the weekend that all the ‘beautiful people’ descend on the small principality of Monaco, for the most glamorous, and probably the worst GP, on the calendar.

I am not being unduly hard on Monaco, but it is an old venue that is now a total anachronism. If blind Freddie in a 2 CV Citroen gets in front of you, it is almost impossible to pass. Remember David Coulthard a couple of years back who couldn’t pass a Minardi! Mind you, DC’s not much chop at passing anything these days, other than wind!

Since 1929, the Monaco GP has always run through the streets of Monte Carlo. It is a slow circuit, demanding on both car and driver. The presence of kerbs and walls leaves little room for even small mistakes.

Multiple pile-up at Monaco in the 1950 GP

One of the men behind the original race was Louis Chiron, who last drove at Monaco in 1955, when he was placed sixth and, at 55 years and 276 days, was the oldest driver to start a World Championship Grand Prix (so there’s hope for me yet)! Chiron continued as clerk of the course up to his death in 1979.

There have been small changes to the circuit over the years, but it has retained its essence and frequently provides some of the more spectacular crashes in the calendar. Two drivers have managed to finish up in the Monte Carlo harbour. Alberto Ascari in 1955 and Paul Hawkins in 1965 - in neither case was the driver badly hurt. There was a third excursion in the harbour in the movie Grand Prix when Pete Aron (James Garner) dunked his Jordan-BRM.

So, will Michael Schumacher make it six in a row, having equalled Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record? (It is interesting to note that nobody was whinging in 1992 about F1 being ‘destroyed’ by one team’s dominance. Ascari’s six wins from six starts in 1952 were also not heralded as the end of F1.)

The result this weekend will depend upon qualifying. Whoever is on pole has the best chance, without a doubt. Schumacher is at a disadvantage with the new Qualifying format, as he has to go out first in the pre-qualifying session, when the track is at its most slippery. Montoya is then at an advantage, so would be my pick for pole. Action kicks off at 6 p.m.

Lekky Power - the way of the future?

Thailand is talking about the ‘clean and green’ revolution in vehicular transport. The government is all behind it, wanting to see Thailand become the ‘hub’ of small green fuel efficient vehicle manufacturing.

Whilst this is all very noble, and the fossil fuel subsidy costing the country squillions, one can see the need, even if you are not a ‘greenie’. The big guns in the automakers are all tripping over themselves, looking at hydrogen power and hybrids with electric motors and gasoline engines, but we already have a thriving ‘green’ transport industry in this country. Electric personal transport.

I had the opportunity to have a look at the latest electric two wheelers from Paul Markham’s EcoBrand Bangkok factory. Whilst we have seen the electric bicycle in the past, the move is now into scooters, with EcoBrand’s ‘Storm’ selling like hot cakes at the Pattaya Mini Motor Show. These just look like your ordinary two or four stroke smelly scooter, with shopping carriers as well, but are clean and green and electric.

Two stroke ATV

I was also taken by the ‘ag-bikes’ on display, complete with two (yes, one for each wheel) electric motors. These will take you anywhere off-road, and not a whiff of exhaust smoke anywhere. Paul also told me that he has designed an all-electric ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) which is being built for movie actor Steven Segal, who is shipping three to America and leaving another on his ‘ranch’ up North. These will be on general sale before the end of the year. There is also a children’s ATV now on the market at under B. 20,000.

Considering that the electric powered scooters, minibikes and ATV’s are under one third of the price of the petrol equivalents, electric power seems to make a lot of sense to me. You can contact Paul Markham yourself on 01 552 3966.

James Grunwell - the Schumacher challenger?

Motor racing is a fickle game. It is not so physically dangerous as it was, but it is a mine-field (it was Sir Stirling Moss who said that he remembered when motor racing was dangerous and sex was safe!). You can be the greatest talent in the world, but if you don’t get the breaks, you will never get close enough to F1 to even be seen. Today I am giving a kid a break - and so can you.

His name is James Grunwell and he is 15 years old. He impressed me from the first meeting - a well presented and polite young man, wearing a Williams F1 T-shirt. Proud of his achievements so far, but not big-headed either. The kind of kid that you would be proud to call your own son.

James Grunwell

Like many of our children, school did not hold him enthralled - in fact by the time he was 13 he was under achieving. To reverse this trend, his father, Joe Grunwell, promised him a go-kart if James were to improve his marks. What you have to also understand is that this kid had been watching F1 since he was five years old. This was an irresistible carrot. The deal was struck, and true to his word, the grades improved, and James got his backside in a go-kart.

The parental idea was that the go-kart would be a fun incentive, but for someone with the competitive urge this is not enough. “Racing” is the name of the game. James entered his first go-kart race in 2002 and the 13 year old came 4th in his first outing, in the closely fought Yamaha 100 class. In his second race in the 2002 season he came 3rd. He was also hooked. He is a ‘racer’.

In 2003 he continued with the Yamaha 100 class. The season covered seven meetings at tracks all over Thailand. In this rough and tumble class he crashed out while leading the final three times, but his four finishes were all on the podium. He has a raw talent.

This year he moved up to the top class in go-karts, the Intercontinental A. He has four more events in this class and I am sure he will do well, as he gains more experience against much more seasoned campaigners in this top class. He is also having a run in a 1,000 cc Morris Cooper in the support races at the Bira Circuit, including the main Asian Festival of Speed (AFOS) event. In his first Mini event this month, he came from the rear of the grid and hacked his way through to 2nd in eight laps. He has the much needed competitive urge. Let us also not forget he is still only 15 years old, an age where he cannot even hold a road license!

James knows that motor sport has a ladder you must climb. For a young fellow based here, it is AIM Racing’s Concept I single seaters and then perhaps the Asian Formula BMW. After that it is the European Formula BMW or Formula Renault. Be a top runner there and he can join the likes of Kimi Raikkonen who went from F. Renault into F1. It is not easy and it is a long road. It is also an expensive road. This is where you can help.

Even at this early stage, competitive motor sport costs money, but sponsorship has its benefits for the sponsors too. Messrs Marlboro and Vodaphone know this and this is why they plough millions of dollars into Michael Schumacher and his team, just to get their names in front of the viewing public.

Let’s look at the James Grunwell situation. Millions of dollars are not necessary to get a young driver started. He has got this far through Mum and Dad, and as James said, “I went round all my uncles and aunts begging for money.” However, he won’t get much further without outside help. Being a racer myself, I can recognize another one, and that is why I have decided to help this young driver. An important part of his racing CV is known as “column inches”. I will do that for James, mentioning his sponsors wherever possible, provided we can get him enough to keep going. One already there is Shenanigans in Pattaya (who I have just mentioned) and it was landlord Kim Fletcher who brought James to my notice.

He is British and his mum is Dutch. There are many businesses with Euro origins in this country and I am suggesting you look at how yours can help. The budget he needs for two years in Concept I is around one million baht. That is only 100,000 baht for each of ten sponsors, or 50,000 baht each for 20 companies. It is a gamble. You may not see our ‘hope of tomorrow’ make it to the top - but on the other hand, you just might. You could be hitching your wagon to a star. As a worst case scenario, you will have had fun being part of a racing team in Thailand. I can tell you from my own experience of motor racing, that all my sponsors during my motor racing career enjoyed it.

So can we give a really nice young man a leg-up the ladder? For any of you in a youth oriented business, he would be a natural, but for the rest of you entrepreneurs it is up to you to see how you can use the involvement - even such things as employee rewards to be able to be part of the team for one meeting. Or just come and have fun yourselves. Kim Fletcher came back from Bira so enthused he’s going again next month!

Acceptance of sponsorship has to be ethical too. James now has one Irish Pub (Shenanigans) assisting, so he cannot run another. If a real estate company comes on board, he cannot display the sign from another competing company. It is a case of ‘first in best dressed’. You can contact me through the Automania column in the newspaper for more details. I believe he is worthwhile.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote that a few engines were made with more than one piston per cylinder, working outwards from a central combustion chamber. These were made in Scotland and France. I asked what were the makes using this, and the clue was that the Scottish one with a two cylinder, four piston engine won a Tourist Trophy race! The answer was Gobron-Brillie (French 1898-1914) and Arrol-Johnston (Scotland 1898-1906). An Arrol-Johnston won the Tourist Trophy race in 1905!

So to this week, and absolutely nothing to do with racing. What vehicle used a dung beetle as its insignia? Here’s a clue. It had a Ford V8 in the tail. That’s enough hints. Go to it, web crawlers!

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

Good luck!