US GP at Indy this weekend

The US GP is held at a special ‘stadium’ circuit built inside the famous ‘Brickyard’ Indy circuit and incorporates one straight and one corner of the American classic.

The ‘Indy’ circuit, more correctly known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (there is also a circuit called Indianapolis Raceway Park), opened in 1909 as a 2.5-mile track paved with bricks. Each of the long straights is 3,300 feet long, the short straights are 660 feet. Each turn is 1320 feet long and banked at 9 degrees and 12 minutes. The track is now surfaced with tarmac and there have been subtle changes made to the turns to slow down cars - or to speed them up when the Indy Racing League took over the Indianapolis 500. The ‘Brickyard’ held its first 500 mile race in 1911 and the Indianapolis 500 is now the world’s oldest continuously run motor race. It is also the richest motor race and the world’s largest single day sports spectacle.

Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing F1 racing back to the United States. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway had to be brought up to standard in order to host the United States Grand Prix, including a new Paddock area which would allow cars to exit from the garage directly onto Pit Lane. Also, in a major concession to the traditions of F1 racing, the 2000 USGP marked the very first time that a race had been run in reverse (clockwise) direction at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway!

The race starts at 1 a.m. local time.

So what did we learn from the Canadian GP?

Well we learned that the Gilles Villeneuve circuit still has magnetic walls, able to attract wayward F1 machines, claiming this year, World Champ hopeful Alonso in the Renault, World Champ wanna-be Jenson Button in the BAR and ‘hopeful of staying in F1’ Narain Karthikeyan in the Jordan.

Button’s mistake

It was also a race of attrition, with just over half the drivers actually seeing the chequered flag. First back to the showers was Sato in the BAR with gearbox problems after a shunt up the rear from famous barger Jacques Villeneuve, but he was to reappear 24 laps later, only to terminally seize the rear end on lap 41. Karthikeyan in the Jordan was in for good on lap 24, then Fisichella in the leading Renault ran out of hydraulic pressure and was unable to change gears on lap 33 out of 70. The Roman got out of his car mightily unimpressed; however, to compound Renault’s problems, golden-boy Alonso clouted the wall five laps later. Unnoticed by the TV cameras, Freisacher in the mobile chicane Minardi ran out of hydraulics as well and entered the pits, never to leave again on lap 39. Heidfeld in the BMW Williams cooked his engine and was out on lap 43, followed three laps later by Button’s barricade bashing. Montoya in the Mercedes McLaren got too excited on lap 52 and left the pits against a red light. There’s no disputing these crimes and he was black-flagged and promptly disqualified. The failures continued with Trulli in the Toyota exploding a right front brake disc and getting an early shower eight laps from the end.

The Ferrari boys back on the podium

The Canadian GP also showed that you ignore Ferrari at your own peril. Schumi and Rooby Baby both on the podium gives you something to think about. They’re still not dominant in any way, but they are climbing back up. Mark my words.

Raikkonen’s win was deserved. He never really put a wheel wrong, he was the quickest driver on the day, and deserved his 10 points.

The various championship tables, with 11 races to go (110 points for the wins) are:
1 F Alonso (Spa) 59
2 K Raikkonen (Fin) 37
3 J Trulli (Ita) 27
4 N Heidfeld (Ger) 25
5 M Schumacher (Ger) 24
6 M Webber (Aus) 22
7 R Barrichello (Bra) 21
8 R Schumacher (Ger) 20
9= G Fisichella (Ita) 17
9= D Coulthard (GB) 17
11 JP Montoya (Col) 16
12 F Massa (Bra) 7
13 A Wurz (Aut) 6
14= J Villeneuve (Can) 5
14= C Klien (Aut) 5
16 P de la Rosa (Spa) 4
17 V Liuzzi (Ita) 1
Constructor Standings
1 Renault 76
2 McLaren 63
3= Toyota 47
3= BMW-Williams 47
5 Ferrari 45
6 Red Bull 22
7 Sauber 12

The advantages in buying German technology and build quality

For many people, they have a pre-conceived idea of what they are buying in their motor car. Germany for example, is considered one of the best countries for automotive engineering, after all, look at Porsche, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen.

Unfortunately, in this age of globalization, buying a “German” car does not necessarily mean that you are buying a car built in Germany. In fact, it may not even have been designed in Germany!

Take VW as an example. They produce many models, and it is of interest to see just where the following 15 VW’s come from:

Fox: Brazil
Polo Hatch: South Africa
Polo Classic: China
Golf: South Africa
Bora: Germany (at last!)
Bora 2006: Mexico
Passat: Germany (hooray again!)
Touareg: Slovak Republic
New Beetle: Mexico
Phaeton: Germany (hooray, hooray)
Caddy: Poland
Kombi: Poland
Transporter: Germany (three hurrahs!)
Transporter CC: Poland
Multivan: Germany

So out of 15 VW’s, five were made in der Faderland. Makes you think?

However, you should also remember that when the first BMW’s began rolling off the line here in Thailand, the boss of the plant reminded everyone that these were not “Thai BMW’s”, but were “BMW’s made in Thailand”. Internationals such as BMW have corporate standards, against which all assembly plants and product is evaluated, and the local (Thai) BMW plant has consistently scored higher than the majority of BMW plants world-wide. I have seen a vehicle rejected for paint faults that I could not see! They are that stringent.

GM to cut 25,000 jobs in US over three years

It has been well reported in the financial pages of newspapers that GM, the world’s number 1 automaker, is having to take some drastic measures to try and get itself back on track financially.

It is only a few weeks ago that the world press had a field day with the fact that both Ford and GM had their financial credibility severely dented, both being reduced to ‘junk bond’ status.

This was followed up by GM Chairman Rick Wagoner having to tell shareholders at GM’s annual meeting that jobs must go, and plants will most certainly have to close. Cost reduction and capacity utilization is essential for GM to turn around its North American operation, said Wagoner.

“In order to achieve full capacity utilization based on conservative volume planning scenarios, we expect to close additional assembly and component plants over the next few years,” Wagoner said, “and to reduce our manufacturing employment levels in the US by 25,000 or more people, in the 2005 to 2008 period.”

Wagoner said that this unpopular move would, however, generate annual savings of approximately USD 2.5 billion. He also said that GM was in talks with the United Auto Workers (UAW), the union representing the workers, and was honest enough to say, “We have not reached an agreement at this time, and to be honest, I’m not certain we will.”

This year, GM investors have seen their shares fall to their lowest level in more than a decade as the GM’s market share has inexorably slipped and GM’s bond rating has been cut to junk, or non-investment grade, status by two ratings firms. Losses topped USD 1 billion in the first quarter, and sales for the profitable, high-margin SUVs have slumped.

However, this should not be taken as GM being on the way out, or that GM is building ‘bad’ cars. Quite the contrary, as GM in some areas of the world are going ahead in leaps and bounds, with Thailand being one of them. The Thailand GM plant on the Eastern Seaboard is on target with its development and in Q1 this year had snared almost 13 percent of the export market, for example. This is a company that did not really exist in Thailand less than ten years ago.

Discussion is around as to whether GM will assemble an ‘eco’ car here, as the Zafira line is stopping. Personally I hope they will, as the world in general needs smaller eco-cars, and Thailand in particular certainly does if we are to reduce petrol consumption and traffic jams.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned the YCC Volvo, the concept car designed by women for women which has what was described as a unique feature. This was the ability to park itself, and you can just picture the lady driver telling her car to “go park yourself” can’t you! However, there was a vehicle produced around 20 years previously, that did just that, wriggling itself into parking spaces, complete with four-wheel steer. I asked what was this car? It was the VW Futura, designed by Professor Ulrich Sieffert. This car had gull-wing doors and a supercharged 1.7 litre engine as well.

So to this week. Who holds the Land Speed Record for electric vehicles? And when?

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

Good luck!

New Porsche Cup race car for 2006

Porsche have been trotting the new GT3 Porsche Cup race cars around the world for enthusiasts to drool over. Last week we had the “old” (current) GT3’s performing at the Bira circuit, and let me tell you that the 2005 GT3 is certainly no slouch, but the 2006 model certainly has some more features.

c-automania pic 4

According to the pundits, the six-speed sequential gearbox makes gear shifting faster, while the 2005 ABS brakes are replaced in the new car by tandem racing master cylinders and an in-car brake bias adjustment control. If the driver knows what he is about, this could mean even shorter braking distances, and more opportunities to pass for the bold ones!

The revised front-end aerodynamics will further improve handling, and the full digital readout data logging dash (MOTEC) will assist drivers and engineers by providing more data.

The Carrera Cup series around the world have long been recognized as the pinnacle of ‘one make’ sportscar racing, with the concept for drivers to compete in identical racing Porsche machines with only minimal modifications permitted.

“The famous reliability of Porsche technology ensures that it is driver and team skill which dictates success on the race track, resulting in the thrilling racing for which the series has become so well known,” said Porsche Cars Australia Managing Director Michael Winkler.