F1 talks Turkey this weekend

Istanbul circuit

“You can’t go back to Constantinople, ‘coz it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople” went the old song. So it’s the Istanbul GP, the very first, on a circuit designed by Hermann Tilke, who has publicly expressed fears about how it will go. However, Bernie Ecclestone says it is going to be the best circuit ever, David Coulthard says it looks nice, and Mark Weber walked the main straight while it was still dirt.

So you can see, not much hard facts in that lot! However, what I have gleaned is the following: it is about 80 km east of Istanbul, Turkey; the circuit is 5.3 km long and the theoretical top speed should be around 320 kph. Racing is counter-clockwise, and for much more than that you will have to watch the TV as I do. The GP should be at 7 p.m. Thai time, but as always, check your local feed to confirm this.

Supercars at Bira this weekend too

Another race-fest for the fans, as the Supercar series returns to the Bira circuit this weekend. No F1 cars, of course, but a spread of different classes, from modified production cars through Mini’s and even belching pick-ups.

Mini in a bra

If it rains there is more mayhem than any dodgem car circus, as the diesel fuel certainly makes the track very slippery.

The racing action starts around 10 a.m. on the Sunday, and it is very cheap to get in. Try getting on top of the hill to see them braking at the end of the straight, and then coming up to the next hairpin for some close racing. There is usually a ‘pit-walk’ as well, where you can cross the circuit at the start-finish over-bridge during the lunch break.

The United States Auto industry in deep diabolicals

Has the great US car economy ended up tripping over itself? It would appear so from the outside. Despite the much vaunted increase in sales in July, where the Big Three slashed prices to move the stock, there are still too many unanswered problems for the US auto industry.

In its lack of hurry to meet the Japanese invasion, the response was too little too late, closing the gate after the horse had well and truly bolted. Japan had arrived in America with better factories, leaner production methods, and quite frankly, better cars that they could sell for less than the US domestic products.

Model T and Henry Ford

However, the US auto industry had by the 1990’s dug itself a hole, out of which it will be lucky to emerge. With future debts, including employee retirement packages, about to ravage the coffers even further, and financial analysts re-classifying GM and Ford stock to “junk” bond levels, the US auto industry is in deep doggy doo.

Various attempts have been made to ‘scale down’ the respective auto manufacturing businesses, and make them leaner by selling off parts suppliers, which might give some respite. One of these was the huge Delphi Corporation, the auto parts maker spun off from GM in 1999, now in urgent talks to try and fend off Chapter 11 (bankruptcy) reorganization. This is a company ranked last year as number 1 on the Automotive News list of Top 150 original equipment North American suppliers with sales of USD 17.60 billion. It also has 24,000 employees, and also managed last year to rack up a USD 4.8 billion loss!

The problem for GM is that it cannot let Delphi go under, as it is the major parts maker for GM. On top of that, there are certain legalities in the US Labor laws that would see GM lumbered with Delphi’s 24,000 employees, and all the pension liabilities as well. So GM needs Delphi to become profitable again. But how?

Delphi is really stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. It has an agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) which sees it having to pay USD 27.50 per hour for the employees covered by the UAW, when it could hire non-UAW workers for USD 12 per hour. At USD 27.50 it makes a loss. Simplistically, at USD 12, it just might make a profit. There is the potential to save 14.8 million baht per week.

The UAW can also see that it is in trouble too. Dig in its heels and the house of cards could come tumbling down, but to publicly agree to its workers receiving less than the ‘award’ wages goes directly against everything the union has fought for.

For GM to continue to produce the cars, it needs Delphi. For Delphi to stay alive, it needs respite from the UAW. For the UAW to save face, it needs GM as the ‘white knight’.

Delphi Corp. is in bailout talks with General Motors and the UAW. Delphi President Rodney O’Neal confirmed the discussions, saying, “We do have to have the UAW and GM in cooperation with us to fix the situation because we need a complete solution and we can only have that with our two strategic partners being involved.”

GM is not the only one in trouble. There is Ford as well, the company which under Henry Ford I pioneered paying over the award rates to ramp up the production of its Model T Fords. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking has come back to bite them. The crisis facing Delphi comes less than three months after the UAW agreed to a restructuring at Visteon Corp., the former Ford Motor Co. parts-making unit. Visteon, too, faced a bankruptcy court filing, analysts said, until Ford agreed to take back control of 17,400 UAW workers and 24 Visteon plants and locations.

Delphi’s O’Neal said his Delphi bailout may or may not resemble the Visteon rescue. “It can come in all different forms and shapes. The key is that it gets fixed. How it comes about will take dialogue and creativity will dictate that. I’m not going to speculate on how the thing’s going to look.”

In the meantime, Delphi is racing against time to get rid of unprofitable plants and business lines with its “fix, close or sell” efforts. Whether there will be a satisfactory outcome to this will greatly affect American car manufacturing in the future.

Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia going (very) High-Tech

The 2005 series is not even over, with two rounds to go, and despite local Thai Nattavude clinging on to the top spot, the news is already slanted towards the 2006 season, which will see the debut of the new 997-based Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars.

The new Porsche race car will not be available to private purchasers until 2007, so the 18 earmarked for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia will be the only such cars in the region in 2006. In the meantime, the new GT3 show car made its debut at the Shanghai Motor show earlier this year, and is currently touring the region with a visit to Hong Kong this month followed by a stop in Beijing for the GP before travelling to Macau for the Macau GP meeting in November.

To show the degree of competitiveness in this class, several Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia Class A frontrunners have already secured the new car for next season, including reigning champions A-Ha Racing (Matthew Marsh), current series leader China’s SCC Racing Team (Nattavude), and strong 2005 title contender Team Jebsen of Hong Kong. In Class B, for non-professional racers, series leader Alain Li has booked his slot on the grid for next year, as have William “Chip” Connor and Philip Ma. Many others are putting the finishing touches to their 2006 campaign preparations and are in the process of confirming their orders. Hopefully one of these is our own fastest pizza delivery driver, Bill Heinecke.

The new features incorporated in the 997-based Cup car will mean even faster, closer racing than ever before. The six-speed sequential gearbox makes gear shifting quicker and more failsafe, while the ABS brakes are replaced in the new car by tandem racing master cylinders and an in-car brake bias adjustment control. This feature will enable racing drivers to brake later and gain maximum braking effect.

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. In the ultra-competitive world of the Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia, data logging is critical in determining where drivers can gain that crucial fraction of a second.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned that there was a tractor, built in the UK, which shared an engine with two of the popular sports cars of the day. I asked what were the names of the sports cars. The engine was the 2 litre four cylinder Standard engine used in Ferguson tractors, the much unloved Standard Vanguard, and the sports cars I wanted were the Triumph TR2 and the Morgan.

So to this week. Let’s get away from pedestrian motor cars such as the Standard Guardsvan and into the exotics. And Ferrari in particular. Incidentally I spent an hour with the Ferrari importers, and he assures me the 800 bhp Enzo Ferrari FXX is not coming to Thailand. Landed here, the price tag would be around 250 million baht, which means I’ll never be seeing one in my garage, more’s the pity! However, for this week’s question, and staying with Ferrari importers, who was the youngest Ferrari importer in the world, and where? Clue: he also made exotic cars under his own name.

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

Good luck!