Silly Season in Detroit brings out a monster!

The Chrysler arm of DaimlerChrysler is certainly making sure it throws off any stuffy images, with its latest offering seen at the Detroit Motor Show this month. The concept vehicle in question is an 11.4 litre V16 Jeep.

Mind you, this is not a new V16, as the Hurricane actually has two 5.7 litre V8’s, with one at each end! Featuring Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS), the Hurricane driver can select four, eight, 12 or 16 cylinders, depending on the mood of the moment. This is also a Jeep that can do the 0-100 clicks in under five seconds, when using all 16 of the cylinders. Power is delivered through a central transfer case and split axles via a mechanically controlled four-wheel torque distribution system.

Jeep Hurricane

To add to the unique nature it also has a steering rack at each end to give four wheel steering, and then some, with both front and rear axles capable of extremes of steering lock. Forget the four wheel steering brought out by Honda about 10 years back. This is real four wheel steer.

In addition to skid-steer capability and toe steer (the ability to turn both front and rear wheels inward), Hurricane features two modes of automated four-wheel steering: a traditional system in which front and rear wheels point in opposite directions to reduce the turning circle and an off-road crab-steer mode in which all four wheels turn in the same direction. Confused? You probably would be, trying to control this monster!

The suspension is totally independent, front and rear, with 50 cm of travel and the Hurricane has around 36 cm of ground clearance. (That’s around 14 inches in the old money.)

There is no chassis or floor pan, as the Hurricane’s one-piece carbon-fibre body is used as a one piece unitary construction, with suspension and powertrain(s) mounted directly to it, while an aluminium spine runs underneath as a skid plate.

“Jeep Hurricane is simply the most manoeuvrable, most capable and most powerful 4x4 ever built,” said Trevor Creed, senior vice-president - Chrysler Group Design.

“It pays homage to the extreme enthusiasts’ Jeep vehicles in form and off-road capability, but is a unique interpretation of Jeep design. Simply stated, it is the extreme example for the Jeep brand,” he said.

It certainly is, Trevor. It certainly is!

Here comes the car of the future

Ford Synus

If Ford has read the signals correctly, we are in for a fairly torrid future. The Ford Synus was released at the same Detroit Motor Show as Chrysler’s Hurricane. While the Hurricane lets you escape from pursuers, Ford’s attitude to terror on the roads is to tough it out.

Ford’s concept vehicle, called the Synus, resembles a miniature Brambles-Brinks van, the size of a Daihatsu Mira, complete with bullet-proof windows. Not only that, it has driver activated shutters that come down over the windscreen and sidescreens. The rear hatch can only be opened by a rotating dial, similar to a bank safe.

Synus, which stands for “synthesis urban sanctuary” is how Ford believes we will get around the suburbs in 2010, sheltering from dive-by shootings and car-jackings. Ford’s design chief, J Mays (and that’s all you get from FoMoCo, so I have no idea whether he’s John, Jack or Jonas) says, “Many people over the years have confused small with fragile, and I said there is a difference between a small poodle and a small bulldog. This (vehicle) certainly falls off the fence, clearly on the side of the bulldog.”

The Middle East - the new motorsport centre of the world?

While Europe, and in particular the UK, has long been thought of as the centre of ‘pukka’ motorsport, that is now all changing. Nothing emphasizes this as much as BMW, one of the great marques in sporting motoring for scores of years has now opened a BMW Performance Center in Bahrain.

Formula BMW

The BMW Performance Center Bahrain threw open its gates for the first time at the Bahrain International Circuit in January this year, with more than 40 junior racing drivers from all over Asia taking part in two three-day events at the Gulf region’s most modern circuit - running a license course and Scholarship Qualifying for aspiring Formula BMW Asia racers.

The aspiring drivers, some as young as 15, were first introduced to the theoretical foundations of the art of motor racing at the Formula BMW Racing Center Bahrain. They then had an opportunity to put their freshly acquired insights into practice in ten brand new FB02 BMW Formula cars churning out 140 bhp and a top speed of almost 230 kph.

The BMW Performance Center in Bahrain is a new home not only for Formula BMW but also for BMW Driver Training. Starting in spring of 2005, a variety of training courses will be on offer to all-comers. The range of cars involved extends from the BMW 1 Series to the BMW M3, and the safety training courses at varying levels of difficulty will be held within the Performance Center as well as on the race track.

The circuit was designed by German architect Hermann Tilke. It took only 16 months from the official start of construction in December 2002 to the inaugural race on 3rd April 2004 when it hosted the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix, with the Formula BMW Asia being on the support programme.

“We are delighted to have won the Bahrain International Circuit as a partner of the BMW Performance Center,” said BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen. “The race track is brand-new and boasts first-rate safety standards. The Gulf region, moreover, offers good climatic conditions in winter as well.”

Formula BMW is the world’s leading entry-level class in single seater racing. In 2005 the series will be held in Germany, Britain, Asia and the USA. Up and coming drivers, as young as 15 years of age, are given the opportunity of entering motor racing with the high-tech, FB02 race car.

In 2005, Formula BMW will be staged five times as part of the Formula One support programme. Formula 1 drivers who have come through the ranks of Formula BMW include Ralf Schumacher, Christian Klien and Timo Glock.

BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen says, “Formula BMW offers talented young drivers more than just a car. In the Education and Coaching Programme we have designed specially for them, they learn everything they need to know to hold their own in the big wide world of motor racing. Formula BMW has shot out of the blocks to become the top entry-level class for Formula racing worldwide.”

The race car itself is a very safe, but high-tech race vehicle. It is a single-seater with a 140 bhp BMW motorcycle engine that can produce speeds up to 230 kph. It exceeds by far the safety requirements for its class. BMW Motorsport has developed the FORS Formula Rescue Seat especially for Formula BMW, and the HANS safety system is also mandatory.

We may have a young Thai based driver in one of these this year, and if so, we will be watching with great interest.

Qualifying format for 2005

Here we are. A few weeks only until the Australian F1 Grand Prix on March 6, and the final format for Qualifying will be decided upon by a meeting today (January 28). The multi-gazillion dollar F1 motor racing show has shown, yet again, that it is being run by self-serving businessmen with no regard for the paying public.

A couple of years back, 20 drivers would get out on the track on the Saturday and had 12 laps to set their best times. The fastest wins the coveted ‘pole’ position. Unfortunately the drivers would all hang about, waiting for the rubber to be built up on the track and there was nothing for the spectator to see for the first 30 minutes of the hour.

So the powers that be changed this into ‘shotgun’ qualifying on the Saturday, whereby it all hung on one quick lap, single car at a time, to find the starting order. It was hoped that this would mix up the grid somewhat, and it did to a small extent, but not by much, and was fairly boring from the spectator viewpoint.

So the same powers that be decided that to spice it all up even more, Qualifying should take place on Sunday morning, before the GP, and it would consist of two one lap blinders, with the fastest aggregate time giving the pole position. So now the spectators have nothing to see on Saturday and have to be mathematicians to add both laps together, to work out who is on pole.

For those of us not actually at the circuit, we have to rely on TV coverage. Will the TV channels devote an extra two hours to F1 on Sunday? I doubt it very much, and since there will be nothing important happening on Saturday, they will not be showing F1 then either. So we will get less than before. Brilliant!

The only decent rule changes so far has been the adoption of a one set of tyres rule for qualifying and the race, so perhaps there will be less of the pit “strategy” than was mind-numbingly done last year. Of course we may now get a series of very opportune ‘punctures’ around re-fuelling time, so that new tyres will have to go on.

It is as plain as the nose on Eddie Jordan’s face that the tyre rule should include carrying enough fuel to last the race, as well as enough rubber to go the distance. This way, anyone coming in to the pits will lose time, compared to the other cars in the race. But then, the F1 hierarchy has never consulted the ordinary spectator. More’s the pity!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked who “invented” pit signals and why? It was none other than the legendary pit manager for Mercedes, Alfred Neubauer. He introduced pit signals in 1926 after his star driver Rudi Caracciola had been driving the wheels off his Mercedes at the previous event, thinking he was behind the other drivers, when actually he was well in front.

So to this week. And let’s get right away from motor racing. Which motor car designer described his gearbox as follows, “C’est brutal mais ca marche!” Clue: he was French! Another clue: the car was made in Paris.

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

Good luck!