Vol. IV No. 20 - Saturday May 14 - May 20. 2005
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Automania

Monaco GP is next week!

Hot on the heels of the Spanish GP comes the Monaco ‘parade’ (I refuse to call it a race, as nobody can pass anywhere) and one week later it is the European GP at Nurburgring outside Koln in Germany. Both races are on the Sunday starting at 7 p.m. Thai time (but check your local TV feed.


Fearless journalism!

You have to give the Brits some credit as far as their newspapers and periodicals are concerned. Unlike Thailand with its ‘reputedly’ free press, the Brits are not afraid to let their pollies have it both barrels, and in the automotive area, the Brit testers are not gushing in their praise. I picked up the latest copy of Top Gear over there, and look at these classics in their New Car Guide, where they run a brief description and a final score out of 20.

BMW 5-Series

“The City Rover : Don’t be fooled by anyone who tells you it’s a Tata. It’s not. It’s a Tata with a Rover badge stuck on it. Score 3/20.”

“The Suzuki R+ : Mad-looking tall boxy thing that makes sense in Japan where length and width restrictions apply. Handy for hat wearers we suppose, or ugly people with no dress sense. Score 6/20.”

“New Beetle : Appealing retro styling atop common-or-garden Golf underpinnings. Convertible version terribly chic apparently. But only with people who have hair extensions. Score 8/20.”

“Morgan Aero 8 : A ‘modern’ Morgan with a fantastic BMW V8 engine but with all the looks of a melted Wellington boot. Score 8/20.”

“MG ZR : Old Rover 3 and 5 door models on life support with go-faster stripes. Engine needs thrashing but that won’t drown out the creaking interior. It’s mutton dressed as lamb. Score 9/20.”

Even BMW is not missed by the British poison pens. “BMW 5-Series : In years to come we may look back on this car as the point where BMW lost the plot. Don’t be fooled by i-Drive. It’s awful. Should be called i-Distract and i-Crash. Score 12/20.” (At least it scored more than half marks!)


More on renting cars in the UK

I have just returned from two weeks in the ‘old country’, and it is hoped my clothes will be dry soon (it rained continuously for 12 of the 14 days I was there) and my feet should have thawed out as well (it staggered up to 11 degrees Celsius on one day, hovering around 5 degrees for the rest of the time)!

Whilst the car rental companies will accept UK debit cards, they obviously don’t like them, and they point blank refused to even try my Thai one. It was all too difficult, even though I could use the card with abandon in supermarkets, petrol stations (fuel was around 60 baht per litre, so don’t complain at the Thai pumps any more) and the like.

It seems the car rental people want around 500 pounds Sterling deposit (which they can get with a credit card impression, but not use till needed). The answer was to take the optional insurance to make the maximum liability only 75 pounds, and leave the 75 pound contingency sum as a deposit, to be returned when you return the car. You also pay cash for the rental sum up front, which I was happy to do. You need to have something to show your Thai address and plane tickets.

I used the National-Alamo people again as they were the only ones to accept my Thai driver’s license last time. I must admit that the laminated cardboard effort does look a little sus, especially if you’ve never seen one before, as the nice young chap in Aberdeen told me. National-Alamo also allowed me to pick up and drop off in different areas, which fitted in very well with my plans in the UK, and were happy to honour the return of the 75 pound deposit.

Cars I used included a Vauxhall Zafira (same as our Chevrolet Zafira), which left me totally underwhelmed, I must say. One of those vehicle you sit ‘on’ rather than ‘in’. However, the Ford Focus Zetec was brilliant. One of those vehicles that felt ‘right’ from the moment you sat in it. If I owned one I would bring the accelerator pedal closer to the brake pedal, to facilitate heel-toeing, and that would be about it. The seats were good, superbly quiet and very economical - with the fuel costs in the UK, fuel economy suddenly becomes very important! Ford Thailand has promised that the Focus will be here this year. If you are in the market for a medium sized car, I would definitely suggest you wait and compare the Ford Focus with what is currently available.


So what did we learn from the Spanish GP?

The first thing we learned is that McLaren Mercedes is back! With a vengeance. A flag to flag victory for the Iceman who did not put a foot wrong all afternoon. Which is more than can be said about Juan-Pablo Montoya’s performance. Or lack of it. Being lapped by your own team mate is more than slightly degrading, despite setting the third fastest lap of the race (and quicker than Raikkonen). Ron Dennis at McLaren Mercedes is not one to mince words, so expect a fairly grumpy JPM at Monaco!

Alonso

Renault had no answer to Raikkonen’s pace, which will be worrying for them. If the Iceman can bag another pole position for Monaco, he will be home and hosed. I actually think the Renault domination has just ended. That said, both their drivers drove well, and Fisi was unlucky to have to come in for a new nose cone, as he could well have unsettled Alonso.

Ferrari are not enjoying their F1 racing at present. After being labelled as the cause for processions and lack of viewer interest with their domination over the past couple of seasons, the once mighty rampant horse has all the finishing power of a lame donkey with gout. When Michael Schumacher had a clear road, he did set the second fastest lap time (only narrowly shaved by Fisichella in the Renault), but it took him ages to get to that situation. A couple of punctures then put paid to any hopes of points from Barcelona. As for his team mate, Rooby Baby set the 12th fastest time, slower than Massa in the Sauber and Red Bull’s David Coulthard.

BMW Williams should shoot their strategist. There’s no point in running Webber light to get him on the front row, and then find that while you have your driver in for refueling, the others are running light and streaking away. Webber was 4th and when he came out of the pits was 10th, and after everyone had their later first stop, he had lost four places! Webber must also start looking ahead, rather than in the mirrors when dicing with cars from behind. Running off and making errors (and letting Fisi through) is something he would have learned a long time ago - but has apparently forgotten.

Toyota - please note I have written nothing bad about Ralf Schumacher - because he didn’t hit anybody this meeting! Trulli, with his third place showed that Toyota have arrived, and the others should stop making jokes about them. Toyota have the budget, the ‘need’ to win and the resources.


Is this the ultimate Honda Accord?

Modified Accord

Spotted this little gem at the Bangkok International Motor Show. Upswinging door, lowered, all the extras you could ever dream of, and the ultimate - a large blue bottle of Nitrous oxide between the seats, which unfortunately I was unable to show in the photographs!


The BAR fuel tank saga!

After BAR and its drivers Button and Sato were excluded from Imola and the next two races (Barcelona and Monaco), there has been much ducking and diving in the pits. Let me assure you that the scrutineers didn’t just decide to look inside the BAR fuel tank on a whim. Somebody tipped them off that there was another fuel tank, inside the fuel tank!

Button and Sato

Later reports from the UK, where the fuel tanks are manufactured, indicate that three other teams have hurriedly had their fuel tanks re-designed! I wonder which of the UK based teams that could have been? Toyota is based in Germany. Ferrari in Italy. Sauber in Switzerland. Minardi in Italy. The other six are UK based (even Renault) and it would be interesting to know which three!

If you are unsure of the circumstances, an F1 car has to be above a dry weight of 600 kg at all times, and they are very sensitive to weight. This is why they go quickest just before coming in for fuel, running close to the magic 600 kg.

When BAR had the car weighed, they were asked to drain the fuel tank and after the crew said, “That’s it!” the weight was recorded. I believe it was 600.1 kg. However, the ‘other’ tank was still full of fuel, which if it had been emptied, would have made the BAR underweight.

According to Max Mosley, the boss of the FIA, Mosley’s response was damning, and when asked if he felt BAR were cheating said, “Effectively, yes,” he replied. “In our view, they knew what they were doing, they knew the advantages they were gaining, and they did it notwithstanding that. It destroyed the whole basis of F1. I’m sure that the senior management at Honda had no idea this was going on, there’s no way they would let this carry on. This was done by engineers at a team level and kept very quiet.” Strong words, and it is also noteworthy that BAR have huffed and puffed, but have accepted the two race ban, and being put on “good behaviour” for the next six months.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked which racing driver used to take a record of his national anthem to race meetings, just in case he won and the organizers didn’t have the music? The answer was Tazio Nuvolari, the magic Mantuan! An easy one.

So to this week. I mentioned MG Rover elsewhere, so let’s have an MG question. The octagon with the letters MG inside have been part of the history of MG, but the first models did not have it. What year did MG’s first appear with the octagonal radiator badge?

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

Good luck!


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