The Great American Disaster

If I remember correctly, The Great American Disaster was the name of a restaurant, but the disaster I am referring to is the complete farce that was dished up to the US public as an F1 motor race last weekend. It was a wonderful example of how cynical the teams have become, how avaricious, how stupid, how cowardly and how they would attempt to make everyone else, especially the FIA and even Ferrari, into the scapegoats. No wonder they were having meetings while the “race” was going on, so they could put out a joint statement at the end. I was disgusted.

Here are the true facts. First off, the tyre rules. Teams are supposed to bring two different types of tyre to meetings, and then pick one, on which they qualify and race. Indianapolis is known to be hard on tyres, the left rear in particular, so one would imagine that the tyre companies would have a harder tyre as the back-up.

Now here is the lead-up. In practice, the two Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Ricardo Zonta blew the sidewalls of the left hand rear tyres. Toyota is one of the seven teams supplied by Michelin. The tyre company examined the failures, said they couldn’t guarantee the other Michelin teams would not have the same problem and admitted that they had not brought a harder sidewall tyre. They estimated that the tyres they had brought to America would be good for 10 laps. Their initial suggestion was that Michelin fly in suitable tyres from France overnight. However, here is the nub of the problem - the regulations plainly state that substitution of tyres is in violation of the rules, and anyone caught running the “wrong” tyres would be penalized.

To attempt not to be penalized, the next course of action that the seven Michelin shod teams and Michelin came up with, was for the FIA to reduce the speeds the cars would do through the high-speed Turn 13 right-hander, and they suggested a chicane be built on the morning of the race day! They then decided they would hold a gun at the organizers heads and say that if the chicane was not built, the Michelin tyred cars would not race.

Now what must also be remembered, is that the three Bridgestone tyred teams (Ferrari, Jordan and Minardi) were having no problems with their choice of (Bridgestone) tyres; however, Jordan and Minardi decided to go with the majority and said they wanted a chicane as well, or they wouldn’t race either. This only left Ferrari, but their take on it was that it was a problem between Michelin, Michelin teams and the FIA, which is correct.

Michelin sent their letters of demand to the FIA Race Director (Charlie Whiting) who replied as follows:

“We are very surprised that this difficulty has arisen. As you know, each team is allowed to bring two different types of tyre to an event so as to ensure that a back-up (usually of lower performance) is available should problems occur. It is hard to understand why you have not supplied your teams with such a tyre given your years of experience at Indianapolis.

“That the teams you supply are not in possession of such a tyre will also be a matter for the FIA to consider in due course under Article 151c of the International Sporting Code.

“No doubt you will inform your teams what is the maximum safe speed for their cars in Turn 13. We will remind them of the need to follow your advice for safety reasons. We will also ask them to ensure their cars do not obstruct other competitors.

“Some of the teams have raised with us the possibility of running a tyre which was not used in qualifying. We have told them this would be a breach of the rules to be considered by the stewards. We believe the penalty would not be exclusion but would have to be heavy enough to ensure that no team was tempted to use qualifying tyres in the future.

“Another possibility would be for the relevant teams repeatedly to change the affected tyre during the race (we understand you have told your teams the left rear is safe for a maximum of ten laps at full speed). If the technical delegate and the stewards were satisfied that each change was made because the tyre would otherwise fail (thus for genuine safety reasons) and that the relevant team were not gaining an advantage, there would be no penalty. If this meant using tyres additional to a teams’ allocation, the stewards would consider all the circumstances in deciding what penalty, if any, to apply.

“Finally, it has been suggested that a chicane should be laid out in Turn 13. I am sure you will appreciate that this is out of the question. To change the course in order to help some of the teams with a performance problem caused by their failure to bring suitable equipment to the race would be a breach of the rules and grossly unfair to those teams which have come to Indianapolis with the correct tyres.

Yours sincerely,
Charlie Whiting
FIA Formula One Race Director”

So in other words, the FIA said that Michelin knew the rules and they should stick by them. If their drivers need slow down for Turn 13, then this is under their control (the pedal is the one on the far right and the drivers are paid millions to know this!).

The Sunday was race day, and the seven Michelin teams formed up on the grid with the three Bridgestone ones, as if they were prepared to race, then did the warm-up, and giving the American public a total slap in the face with a wet haddock, the Michelin teams drove back into the pits and got out of their cars. What a farce! If they were not going to race, why did they line up in the first place?

In another display of gutlessness, Minardi’s Paul Stoddart, the spokesman for nine of the teams (not for Ferrari), fronted his team on to the grid for the race, along with Jordan. This he said was because Jordan backed out of the ‘solidarity’ deal and had decided to race! The fact that picking up points meant millions of dollars to Minardi had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.

The team bosses have now shown their hands. They could not care about race fans. They didn’t like playing to the rules and took their footballs and went home. Pathetic! And don’t be suckered in that it was for the “safety of the drivers”. That was just a smokescreen. Driver safety was covered by either lifting off and driving slower through Turn 13, or coming in for new left hand rear tyres every 10 laps.

Mind you, what I would have done is agreed that they could have a chicane down on the right side of the track, through which all the Michelin runners would have to go, but the Bridgestone teams could avoid it and go through Turn 13 flat out.

What do the Aussies think of “our” Toyota Vigo?

Many people who live in Thailand do not truly understand just how important this country has become as a world player in the automotive stakes. In the first quarter of this year, for example, did you know that Thailand exported over 35 billion baht of motor cars? That was almost 87,000 vehicles that were built here for export.

Individually, the AutoAlliance of Ford/Mazda shipped out the greatest numbers with almost 20,000 vehicles leaving Laem Chabang. Mitsubishi was second with a little over 18,000 units, closely followed by Toyota with 17.8 thousand units.

So where did all these vehicles go? Well, Asia took 11,274 units, Australia and NZ took 7,222 units, Europe (6,123), all the way down to Africa which took 837 vehicles.

I found the following review in an Australian newspaper website, so I clipped a bit, as I thought it interesting to see what the lads Down-under think of our Thai product. The vehicle was the new Toyota Vigo double cab, which is marketed in Australia as the Toyota Hilux SR5 Double-Cab. Remember when you read this, that the Aussies call pick-ups “Utes” (pick-ups are something you take out of bars!).

Aussie tester Bill McKinnon wrote on June 3, this year, “The 2005 Hilux is new from the wheels up. It’s a much bigger truck than its predecessors and comes in single cab chassis/pick-up, extended cab chassis/pick-up and double-cab pick-up body styles.”

Now this is where it gets difficult to compare. The Aussie Vigo gets a 2.7 litre four cylinder (which we don’t get), or a 4 litre V6 (which we also don’t get), as well as the 3 litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine, with the choice of five-speed manual or four-speed auto transmissions, that we do get here.

Going back to the review, “The SR5 gets the top-of-the-line standard equipment list, which includes two front airbags, front seat belt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes, MP3-compatible six-stack in-dash CD/cassette player, 15-inch alloy wheels, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer and permanently illuminated instruments.

“Well-fed blokes might find the driver’s seat a bit soft and underpadded. You sit quite close to the floor, with no reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Leg room is adequate.

“Double-cab utes are usually five-seaters in name only, with the back stalls being far too cramped for average-sized adults. Toyota has fixed that problem in the Hilux, with a 235mm longer wheelbase. The back seat is now comfortable and spacious, though the centre position still has only a lap belt.

“Off-road, the Hilux will go just about anywhere you point it. The 3.0 turbo diesel, with a canopy on the back to keep the dust out of your gear, would make a terrific outback touring vehicle but the petrol engine versions will stretch the range of the 76 litre fuel tank.

“The new Hilux still drives like an old truck - because, chassis-wise, that’s what it is - however, it is also less nervous and twitchy than its predecessors. The longer wheelbase and wider track are the basis for more reassuring, secure dynamics, assisted by an upgraded suspension, rack and pinion steering and more effective brakes. Stopping power, though, is still insufficient. Rear drums just aren’t adequate on a 1.8 tonne ute.”

So the Aussie tester basically said that this was the best yet from Toyota, but still hated the ride. However, you have to remember that in Oz, the usual “ute” is a Holden or Ford, based on the sedan platform, so rides much softer. But in 10 years time, I’d put my money on the Vigo still delivering the goods (literally and metaphorically), while the other two would have become land-fill after six years.

Autotrivia Quiz

Buckeye Bullet

Last week, I asked who holds the Land Speed Record for electric vehicles? And when? The answer is the Ohio State University’s electric vehicle the Buckeye Bullet, which on October 29, 2004, broke the electric vehicle land speed record, raising the bar to more than 300 miles per hour on the Bonneville Salt flat. Over several days the car set an official world record of 271.7 mph, an official US record of 314.95 mph (different rules), and became the fastest electric vehicle ever at 321.8 mph. By comparison, Camille Jenatzy set the first mark at 65.79 mph in 1899.

So to this week. What is the name of this vehicle? And what horsepower does it churn out?

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

No GP’s this weekend

The next GP will be the French on July 3, and if it is another disaster like the US GP, will mean the end of F1.