Vol. III No. 22- Saturday May 29 - June4 2004
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Automania

European GP at Nurburgring this weekend

Yes, I know it is only one week since Monaco, but they have squeezed a few together so that they can have a three week break in August. This weekend it is the European GP.

The Nurburgring track used today is nowhere near the old Nordschleife (North Loop), with its 176 corners, other than being physically in the same area! The original first hosted the German GP in 1927 when the full 17.58-mile circuit was employed. From 1929 only the 14.17 mile Nordschleife (North Loop) was used for the German GP which the ‘Ring staged continuously save for 1959, when the race was run on the Avus track.

During the 1960s, the circuit received increasing criticism which resulted in an S-bend being built at the end of the long finishing straight to slow the cars as they passed the pits. By 1970, the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association had demanded a list of improvements which called for the ironing out of bumps, the felling of thousands of trees to create run-off areas, the installation of Armco barriers, a better surface and the re-profiling of some corners. As these changes had not been completed by 1971, the German GP switched to the bland Hockenheim circuit, but this only for one race.

Following Niki Lauda’s accident in 1976, the Nurburgring was deemed too dangerous to race on.

In 1984 the new 2.882 mile circuit, a modern autodrome with little character, was constructed close to the original track; however, the first thing that a new generation of drivers did on arrival was to shell out a few Deutschmarks to drive the Nordschleife!

Nobody could ever claim to be the absolute master of the Nordschleife, which is still used for Touring Cars categories. Any driver who has driven on the old circuit speaks in terms of awe of what is possibly the most demanding circuit ever constructed. I’ve done it! Believe!

The action starts at (I think) 7 p.m.


What did we learn from the Monaco GP?

The first thing we learned was that Renault (an English team with a French name, an Italian manager, an Italian driver and a Spanish driver) are finally right up there. Both Renaults ran strongly all day and Jarno Trulli deserved his maiden win.

The second thing we learned was that just because you are at the front, and being behind a Safety Car, is no guarantee that the guy behind isn’t going to belt you one. Especially if that guy is Juan Pablo Montoya, and your name is Michael Schumacher! After the race, Schumacher said, “Firstly I must congratulate Jarno. He did a fantastic job and I am very happy for him. Today, I don’t think I could have really challenged him, but nevertheless when the accident with Montoya happened I was leading the race. So the situation is that the race leader was knocked out of the race after being hit by a back marker. I am sure there was no deliberate intention on his part and I accept the Steward’s decision. I was accelerating and braking just as we do when we go to the grid and in the standard way when running behind the Safety Car. The tunnel was not even the first place I had done it as I had used the same procedure earlier in the lap. A bit of smoke off the wheels is quite normal in these situations as you try to get heat into the front tyres and the brakes. After not the most successful weekend for us, I am really looking forward to next weekend when we will already be at the Nurburgring for one of my home races.”

The other noteworthy crashers (and there were plenty of not so noteworthy ones) were Fernando Alonso, who also crashed in the tunnel with the younger Schumacher, who is averaging at least one assist into the shrubbery every meeting. Alonso said, “The reason for the crash is pretty simple. I was lapping Ralf, and he ignored the blue flags for the first seven corners. He slowed down to let me by at the entrance to the tunnel, then got back on the throttle and pushed me wide. There’s no grip on the outside there, and I lost control. It’s extremely frustrating, and cost us a one-two finish.”

The other spectacular crash was the ‘endo’ from Fisichella in the Sauber who crashed into an almost stationary David Coulthard, who was enveloped in the engine smoke from Sato’s expired BAR. Much mutterings in the pits that BAR knew from their telemetry that Sato’s engine was about to hand grenade and should have pulled him in. However, when Sato was successfully keeping everyone away from Jenson Button, the hesitation was understandable, but went spectacularly wrong.

There will now be several parties with a few scores to settle at Nurburgring!

Chrysler Crossfire

Another of those vehicles that are denied us ordinary mortals in this country, is the Chrysler Crossfire. This is one of the progeny of the Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler marriage, and although the marriage is probably a little shaky right now, the kid seems to be very strong. Our Down-Under correspondent John Weinthal has just spent a few days with the auto version of the Crossfire and describes it as a stunning looker, yet purposeful and practical. Here are the Words from Weinthal.

“The Chrysler Crossfire is no easy car to review. This is a car which has to be seen in the metal, for full appreciation. In my eyes it is one of the most intriguingly detailed, and ultimately attractive cars around. I could have enthused, no matter how it drove or rode, or even how it was put together. Every time I looked I wanted to take another photo. Somehow it all comes together for me from every angle, even from above.

“Enough of that; you will make up your own minds on its looks and not everyone will agree. This is a truly fascinating concoction of a car, quite beyond its styling.

“Despite its Yankee name and California design studio origins it is made in Germany by coachbuilder Karmann. It is powered by the same 3.2 litre V6 engine as the little Mercedes Benz SLK and it uses the Merc’s five-speed automatic transmission or six speed manual.

“The SLK scores by having a folding steel roof - and that big silver star! However, I have always seen the Merc as somehow missing out in the styling stakes and the Chrysler has the advantage of being quite a handy baggage hauler with its big lift up tailgate. But the best reason for running from the SLK to the Crossfire is the Merc’s AUD 112,000 price ticket over the AUD 70,000 Chrysler.

“Neither the Merc nor the Chrysler are balls out sports cars, but both will take the challenge when commanded. The Chrysler is not in quite the same mould as the similarly priced (in Australia) 176 kW Alfa Romeo GTV Coupe or the 205 kW Nissan 350Z. Like the Nissan, it is a strict two seater whereas the Alfa and Mazda’s less expensive Car of the Year RX-8 can carry four at a pinch.

“In pictures the Crossfire contrives to look much larger than it is. I love its on road size. Small external dimensions can be a big advantage especially in a sporting car, for rapid progress over challenging twisty roads or even for parking.

“The Crossfire sports an American-retro chrome bar grille. And it has wonderful seven spoke Panzer style alloy wheels - 18 inchers on the front and 19’s on the rear with rubber band like 40 profile tyres.

“The Chrysler proved to be purposeful and practical in many ways. It is a car one could easily live with day in and day out, then enjoy some fun on the right roads when the mood takes you.

“For me, roads and mood came together over some hilly, chunky dirt in coastal northern New South Wales. Here the Crossfire came into its own. Even the ride was fine, as it proved to be through our week on all but the roughest bitumen. Hustling over the twisty dirt - without getting too adventurous - the electronic traction control, ABS brakes and brake distribution gadgetry worked overtime. Only the occasional flash of the fascia lights made one aware of how much was going on to counter any excess exuberance on the driver’s part.

“Around town the Chrysler was as user friendly as one could wish. On the highway the story was the same until, after about 90 minutes, I learnt the hard way that the seat bases were none too friendly to my barely padded butt. The only other glitch was the rather tinny sound of the wide doors closing; most unGermanic!

“I was also unimpressed by the loss of some valuable rear vision when the automatic rear spoiler rises at well under our speed limit. But if it works this is a small penalty. At least it does not spoil the car’s looks when it is stationary like the quick fix Audi had to add to the TT Coupe to stop it flying off Autobahns.

“Overall this was a much better car than I had anticipated. It is well equipped, easy to live with at all times and as head-turning as anything on our roads. Not bad for AUD 70,000.”

(Thank you John, unfortunately we receive neither the Crossfire, nor the V6 version of the SLK. However, there is always the ‘grey market’! Dr. Iain.)


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what vehicle used a dung beetle as its insignia? The clue was that it had a Ford V8 in the tail. It was the 1936 Stout Scarab, which incorporated the dung beetle (scarab) in its grille ornamentation. They made only nine examples which were completed in 1936. According to my notes, it also had a card table inside, complete with wicker decor! It looked like the fore-runner of the VW Kombi.

And so to this week. Cogged belt drive for overhead camshafts is commonplace these days. When did it first come out, and on what car?

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email automania
@chiangmai-mail.com

Good luck!


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