Automania

What did we learn from the German and Hungarian GPs?

The German GP showed us that Ferrari is still in trouble with their Bridgestone tyres, and McLaren Mercedes is still in trouble with their engines. The interesting point is that it is Raikkonen who is having the engine problems, while Montoya just manufactures his own. Having said all that, his drive from 20th to second was brilliant. Raikkonen is seeing his chance of the world crown is slipping away, despite his undoubted ability and the speed of the McLarens at this point.

What else? Well Villeneuve showed that he is definitely ready for the Dodgem Car Circus, and should go there as soon as possible. If he is in the Sauber (to become BMW) team next year I will be very surprised, even though he is loudly saying he has a contract (with Sauber). Massa is streets ahead of him in all ways this year (other than being involved in crashes).

So what did we learn from the Hungarian GP? First off, as I have written before, never write off Michael Schumacher. Pole position and 0.8 seconds quicker than Montoya in second slot. He was also not running as light as Raikkonen, as could be seen by the fact that Raikkonen was the first one into the pits to refuel. Looking at the fastest race laps, Raikkonen was quickest at 1 min 21.2, followed by Montoya 1 min 21.3 and then Schumi 1 min 21.4, with Trulli and Ralf Schumacher almost half a second adrift behind him.

We also saw another very expensive list of retirements and delays after the first corner fracas. “Surprisingly”, Villeneuve was involved in an accident, launching Klien in the Red Bull, and then Coulthard in the other one lost his front wheel running over Alonso’s front wing, which put paid to the Spaniard’s hope of a podium. Interestingly, the Red Bull website claimed that Coulthard retired with a puncture and suspension damage. Since it was more than obvious from the TV that Coulthard’s front wheel was ripped off, “suspension damage” is like the old excuse for a DNF, which used to be called “electrical failure” (after the con-rod knocked the distributor out of the engine block)! Rooby baby also knocked his nose off on the first corner, but at least it is something that he seems good at!

Has Alonso’s run of luck come to an end? After a dream run so far, or up till Hungary, Alonso was nowhere in this GP. With 60 points up for grabs, the title is slipping away, provided that Raikkonen can keep his car together, but he does seem like a bit of a car breaker.

The next GP is in three weeks, at the new circuit in Turkey. If Schumi qualifies on pole again, it will pose an interesting scenario, which I will explain after that!


Mini convertible adds even more fun per kilometre

The Mini brand has really taken the world by storm. On my last trip to the UK, Minis were everywhere. Even my sister has a Mini Cooper convertible, but since she lives in Exeter in the UK, where it rains 110 percent of the time, the rag roof stayed up for 100 percent of the week I was there (which was eight days too long)!

GoAuto ran a full test on the convertible, as opposed to the tin-top, which I believe was a very fair assessment of the name of the game with Mini wind-in-the-hair variant, and I draw heavily from their report.

The original ADO15 Mini did come in many shapes and sizes, including a Traveller wagon with lumps of wood on the sides, a panel van, a longer-nose Clubman and the Wild Goose Camper Van conversion. And then there was the larger ADO16 1100 (the best selling car in Britain in the Swinging ’60s), an SUV before the term was even invented (Moke), and even an aftermarket short-roof coupe called the Monaco built by Sydney businessman Bill Buckle. However, the original did not have a convertible in the line-up, other than a very short-run Japanese export model in 1993, which was a total flop, engineered by Rover, purveyors of puppies, or perhaps it was lemons. It was described as looking like an over-sized pram!

The difference between the Mini convertible is that you can run it fully closed, half open (or half closed if you prefer) or fully open. The roof operation is electric and takes around 15 seconds, so you won’t get too wet erecting in a hurry in a downpour.

However, the usual open car problems are apparent at any speeds from 90 kph upwards where the buffeting is too much, even with the side windows up. This does not surprise me at all, the new Mini is still a ‘brick’ and in fact an even larger house brick!

GoAuto also complained about vision to the rear, saying it was poor, no matter what position the roof was in, thanks to the high resting position of the folding rag top.

Other than that one serious flaw (the tiny 165-litre boot can be excused because the very-retro exterior hinges that flip the lid down as per the original Mini forgive it; anyway folding rear seat rests balloon the boot’s figure to a handy 605 litres), the convertible is pretty much as per your usual Cooper S - with one exception. Weight.

It weighs 100kg more due to the extra chassis bracing and stiffening resulting from the open bathtub body. And that affects the performance, although it also virtually eliminates scuttle shake on rougher roads. The official 0-100 kph time is 7.4 seconds, 0.2 seconds slower than the tin top.

All Minis call for a sporting touch (‘thrash’ would be a better description), so it is no fuel miser. Expect around 9.5 L/100 km average.

BMW has also fitted the usual high standard of active and passive safety gear, including strong and effective anti-lock brakes, traction and stability controls, four airbags and two tacky fixed rollover hoops incorporating head restraints for the unfortunate adults sitting bolt upright with cramped legs in the rear.

You would have to be a Mini fan to go for the convertible, particularly as Thailand’s sun is too strong in the daytime to flip the lid back. At 3.1 million baht, you have to be a well-heeled Mini fan as well.


Are the energy crisis restrictions doing anything at all?

I think by now, most people have come to terms with the new prices at the pumps, all a reflection of the fact that crude oil barrel prices have jumped significantly. What is also significant, however, is how the price at the pumps has not fallen when crude prices go down! Funny that. There must be a reason for it, probably something to do with another commodity, called profit.

Probably the two doziest ideas, as part of the 12 point plan to reduce the use of fossil fuels, is the early closure of the petrol stations and disincentives for manufacturers to sell diesel engined cars in this country. Nobody in their right mind could possibly think that closing the pumps early will stop people using petrol! All it will do is create queues at the pumps as the same number of motorists have to buy their petrol in a shorter period of time.

The diesel situation is also crazy. A diesel engined car will go around twice as far as the petrol engined variant, litre for litre. So it actually represents a saving of 50 percent of fossil fuel. So why try and stop it? Rather it should be the reverse, surely!

Mind you, it seems the general public have voted with their wallets, as here are the official figures from PTT on the consumption of refined oil products. Diesel rose almost ten percent, while petrol went down eight percent (somebody did the sums!). LPG went up seven percent and Natural Gas by ten percent as well. There’s a message there for the legislators!


Is this the ultimate Toyota?

A friend in Oz sent me the following photos, and another sent me some words. Not that these need much in the way of captions. The front-on shot looks a little bizarre when you see the size of the wing, but the rear shot certainly shows why it might need it! Not one, but two jet engines in there, General Electric T-58-3s.

How they would get enough air into them I do not know, but the builder claims that he does get enough, and the internal details and plumbing would lead me to believe that this thing is a genuine runner. I reckon Bonneville Salt Flats would be the only place for this thing, as it has no reverse gear, being propelled by thrust only. So far it has been timed at 187 mph on the salt flats!


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I asked which F1 champion started work in a garage when he was 10, his father was a house painter, and did not start motor racing until he was 23? The answer was Juan Manuel Fangio, the man I consider to be the greatest driver of all time. He won 50 percent of all the F1 races he competed in, which was more than anyone before, or since, and stood on the podium for almost 90 percent of his GP starts.

So to this week. With an item this week on jet cars, what was the number plate of the Rover Jet car? Now that should be really easy!

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

Good luck!