What did we learn from the Malaysian Grand Prix?

Renault bagged their second win from two Grands Prix, with Fernando Alonso, the 23 year old Spaniard driving away from everyone, with a most impressive performance. Before the race I was informed that odds on Alonso to win the world championship were standing at 15:1. They will be shorter now.

Fernando Alonso

We also saw it might be time to trade in the Ferrari and buy a Toyota. If the race results at Sepang are anything to go by, then ditch the F50 and get a Toyota Vios! How the mighty have fallen. Michael Schumacher at one stage lapped by Trulli in the Toyota, who by coming in second gave Toyota their first podium. Who would ever have thought this could happen? There would have been a queue at the confessional at Maranello on Monday.

And while on the Japanese invasion, Honda had the weekend to forget, with both BAR Honda’s detonating on the second lap! Jenson Button complaining loudly, “Compared to last year, we’ve taken a huge step back in every area. It’s just not good enough. The annoying thing is that we are quick. Our pace was very good considering the amount of fuel we had on board. It’s got to change but I don’t think it’s going to change straightaway and that’s the only worry.” He then finished by saying, “I’m angry, I’m very angry.” I’m sure that will not endear him to his employers, Messrs. Honda at BAR! And perhaps it may also be a reflection on the fact that previous boss David Richards was shown the door at the end of last year.

Whilst Renault could smell victory all the way from the start to the finish with Alonso, their other driver Fisichella, the winner two weeks ago, did not have the best of weekends. With tyres that were obviously shot, he was hounded and then passed by the BMW Williams of Mark Webber and they then indulged in a pass and repass duel, ending up with the Renault sliding into the Williams, and both lost their chance at third step on the podium, handing it to Nick Heidfeld, who said “Danke” and smiled all the way to the finish.

The McLaren team were slowly pulling up through the order, with Raikkonen getting the better of Montoya, but then blew a tyre, which blew his chances of gaining any points.

While the first half of the race was quite frankly dull, in the second half we actually saw some racing drivers having a go at racing each other! Ralf Schumacher was involved in a few argy-bargys, while the other biff and bash merchant Jacques Villeneuve did not get close enough to the action to actually race anybody, and finished his day sliding into the kitty litter. It was no loss.

We also saw that David Coulthard seems to have been given a new lease of life at Red Bull. He actually looks like he is enjoying not having a Finn as the other driver in the team, and Klien even kept his nose clean and also finished in the points.

With the next race being in Bahrain next weekend, there will be much burning of the candles at Ferrari and BAR Honda. Do not be surprised if Ferrari bring the Pope to help in the pits, while the Japanese engineers at BAR will be bringing Hara-Kiri swords, for use in face saving emergencies.

Motor Show on now!

The Bangkok International Motor Show will run until April 23. This is the 26th annual holding of this event, and should not be confused with the smaller event held later in the year, which is run by the motor dealers as a way to get you into a car!

Lexus RX 330

The Bangkok International Motor Show is the one sanctioned by the world body, and so ‘our’ show rates alongside that of Detroit, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Paris. Consequently you will find the displays are run by the manufacturers, rather than the end sales point dealerships.

With the world gripped by the fear of running out of oil (or it becoming just too expensive), the theme for this year’s show in Bangkok is that geared towards energy-saving and fuel-efficient vehicles. “Thailand spends more than 200 billion baht for fuel every year, and we need to lower this figure as much as we can,” said Jaturont Komolmis, the vice-chairman of the motor show organizing committee.

With the yo-yo fuel prices and the relaxing of the diesel subsidy, this means we should be looking at economy running, not necessarily ‘economy’ cars. The concept now is fuel efficiency. It is for this reason that diesel passenger cars are so popular in Europe. The fuel is not much cheaper than gasoline, but diesel engines are much more fuel-efficient.

Hybrid vehicles will be prominent at the show, with Toyota currently the market leader with its Prius. Last year saw 120,000 Prius vehicles sold across the world, and Toyota has the Lexus RX330 hybrid coming as well.

Not far behind is Honda, which makes hybrid versions of the Civic and the Accord, as well as the hybrid-only Insight. GM has a couple on the way towards production, while Ford have already released the Escape hybrid.

The Thai government is also looking at promoting fuel efficiency and has reduced excise duties for environmentally friendly cars from around 48 percent to 10 percent. The consumer wins twice! Cheaper running and cheaper purchase.

Natural gas is another alternative fuel, and DaimlerChrysler will have some natural gas powered vehicles on show, as well as their priceless vintage and veteran cars brought over from their museum in Germany.

Porsche GT3 Infineon Cup cars

The name Porsche is synonymous with some of the finest innovative auto engineering that the world has ever seen. Mention the electric hub motors in the Lunar Lander and you can also say Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. No, he did not design the craft sent into space to crawl over the surface of the moon, but he invented the electric hub motor system in around 1902 (the Lohner-Porsche).

Porsche GT3 race car

For me, nothing demonstrates more that racing improves the breed, than the 911 series Porsche vehicles. Released in 1968 as a two litre rear engined fast-back style two door sports car, the basic design has been steadily improved upon, drawing heavily upon racing experience to introduce the new engineering from the race cars into the road vehicles. Porsches are vehicles to ‘drive’ not just to be seen in, or park outside your favourite restaurant. Having owned one Porsche and raced another two, I can state from personal experience that these are vehicles like no other.

The Porsche Carrera Cup, a one make series, began in 1990 using Porsche Carrera vehicles. 14 years later the Porsche Carrera Cup has become not only world class, but is now one of the support races for the Formula 1 circus. In the last two years, the Porsche Carrera Cup has also come to Asia, with a travelling circus going to Malaysia, Korea, China, Macau and Thailand.

One of the newer 911 Carrera variants is called the GT3. Be prepared to dig deep for one of these, as with the governmental import (impost!) you will need more than 12 million baht in the piggy bank. I can assure you that these are fine motor cars – but there is another variant of the GT3. This is the GT3 Cup racecar. This is a fine example of taking something that was already superb and making it that much better.

Mind you, when you lay out your EUR 105,900 to buy your one, excluding tax and ex factory, you don’t even get a passenger seat. The Porsche Carrera Cup cars are designed to do one thing only. Win races.

The body shell for a Carrera Cup racer is designated as that, as it comes down the assembly line. Additional welding takes place to increase the stiffness even more, and a steel roll cage is incorporated at that stage. The wheels are 18 inches in diameter and are 9 inches wide at the front and 11 inches wide at the rear and shod with Michelin racing rubber.

The engines are all 3.6 litre water cooled boxer (horizontally opposed) six cylinders pumping out 390 BHP at 7,300 RPM. These are not, however, highly tuned ‘finicky’ engines, but ones that the Asian series vehicle maintenance manager Eddie Koay told me will run for two years before they are looked at, and only then as a preventive plan, not because they have reached the end of their life span. Racing certainly does improve the breed.

Much attention to detail is paid to the actual bodywork itself, with extensive use of carbon-fibre used for the rear engine cover and doors fitted with thin perspex windows. The very dominant rear wing has a seven position adjustment range so the teams can set up their cars to suit the characteristics of the circuits for high downforce or for high speed. The seat is a special race seat with fire retardant upholstery, though the car is also fitted with an on-board fire extinguishing system.

The mechanical specifications are such that all Porsche Cup GT3’s are identical. Not only is it a one-make series, but it is a very tightly controlled series where all vehicles have the same performance. At the rounds I attended, there were no mechanical maladies, but the mechanics were kept busy repairing some close encounters of the accidental kind! The racing is certainly close and cut-throat.

Thai racing drivers have embraced the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia, with Nattavude narrowly being beaten into second place last year in the series. The business world has also realized the benefits of racing, and the Thai entrepreneur Bill Heinecke (the fastest pizza delivery in the East) is now one of the regulars.

However, to show the importance of the GT3 and the Carrera Cup, one of the other drivers for the series this year is none other than H.E. Sontaya Khunplome, the advisor to the prime minister.

If you would like to join the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia you can contact Ian Geekie, email:[email protected] or you can contact the factory at Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche, Aktiengesellschaft, Sales – Special and Motorsport cars, Porschestrasse, 71287 Weissach, Germany. Oh yes, you will also need your deposit of EUR 15,000 due when the order is signed. If you are looking for the driver, I am available!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I wrote about the first international motor race in the UK which was won by a Mercedes. I asked who was driving it? The event was the 1903 Gordon Bennett Trophy race and it was won by Camille Jenatzy driving a Mercedes. The event was held in Ireland over 320 miles and Jenatzy won at an average speed of 49.2 miles per hour! Not bad for 1903!

So to this week. 100 mph (160 kph in the new money) for 24 hours is a fairly outstanding average. Which car was the first to do it, and when?

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

Good luck!