Italian GP at Monza this weekend

From the beginning, Monza was an important venue and, from 1922 has hosted the Italian GP almost every year. Indeed, its opening caused members of the Brescia Automobile Club to instigate the Mille Miglia. Brescia had lost its previous high status in Italian motor sport with the coming of Monza. There was also ancient rivalry in that Monza is in Piedmont and Brescia is in Lombardy.

This level of passion has long been a feature of Italian racing and is nowhere better experienced than at Monza when Ferrari is present. The word is ‘present’, not ‘racing’, the tifosi will turn out by the ten thousand just for testing.

Like many other circuits, Monza has not been a single layout, but a series of more than a dozen layouts which have ranged in length from 1.482 miles to 6.214 miles. The circuit was opened in the Monza Royal Park, near Milan, in 1922 and featured bankings, though these were demolished in 1939. The bankings which featured in some races, 1955-69, were new structures built on the format of the original. Bankings were used for the Italian GP in 1955, ’56, ’60 and ’61, and were last used for racing of any form in 1969 when the concrete became in need of substantial resurfacing and rebuilding.

From 1950 to 1954, the purely road circuit was 3.915 miles long, but the layout was eased, slightly shortened (to 3.571 miles) and made faster for 1957 and 1958. That is not a misprint, the track was made faster and easier to overtake on.

Between 1962 and 1971 this revised circuit provided an opportunity for high-speed racing with lots of slipstreaming and overtaking. The 1971 Italian GP holds the record for the fastest-ever Formula One race but, emphatically, that is not the same as saying the fastest race for Grand Prix cars. Though you would not know it to listen to some people, that honour remains in the possession of the 1937 Avusrennen.

After 1971, the circuit underwent some revisions to discourage slipstreaming and to lower the average lap speed. Chicanes were added in 1976 and, in 1994, the second Lesmo Bend was tightened and the Curve Grande was re-profiled.

Five GP’s to go, can Alonso hang on?


Currently, the McLaren Mercedes are the class act of the 2005 F1 circus, especially with Kimi Raikkonen in the driving seat. Forget Michael Schumacher, his name will not be on the trophy this year for the World Championship. It is going to be a showdown between Renault’s Alonso and Raikkonen, both young guns, and both talented young guns. Fisichella, the second driver in the Renault team knows what he is supposed to do, and just like in Turkey, will let Alonso pass very easily, but will attempt to block Raikkonen. McLaren’s second driver, Juan Pablo Montoya, who considers himself the lead driver (no matter how many championship points he doesn’t have), is not likely to do the same for Raikkonen, so young Kimi is on his own. It will be interesting.

I believe the GP will start at 7 p.m., but as always check your local TV feed.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week, I mentioned the fact that a very famous sports car began its life with a 34 year old six cylinder overhead camshaft engine. This was then replaced by another six cylinder engine having the same name as a British port. This in turn was replaced by a six cylinder engine from a model of a car named after a wind. Finally, someone threw in a large lump of American iron, and it became a motoring icon. I asked what was the name of the original car? It was the AC, which eventually turned into the AC Cobra, having had the AC engine, then a Bristol engine, a Ford Zephyr and then ever-increasing sizes of Ford V8’s.

So to this week. A very high performance American two door coupe featured a cartoon character and a crazy horn. It was capable of over 300 kph in the track versions, but even the road-going version was capable of 225 kph. What was the cartoon character’s name?

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

Good luck!

The PPV  Perpendicular People Mover

For the past few months, the Indonesian built Toyota Avanza has been arriving in Thailand, and whilst not as popular as some of the other Toyota people movers, sales have been quite strong, judging by the number of them on the roads.

Toyota Avanza

With Toyota having the Innova, the Wish, and the Foretuner, one wonders just why Toyota would have yet another people mover in its line-up. However, a look at the price sticker quickly shows why. Innova, Wish and Foretuner are all around 1.2 million baht, while the Avanza is around 650,000 baht. Half price. So do you only get half the features? Having now had the opportunity to study an Avanza close up for the past week, I can honestly say there are very few areas where the Avanza is lacking, compared to its more expensive brothers.

The most obvious difference is in the engine. No three litre diesel or 2.4 litre gasoline engine, the Avanza has a 1.3 litre petrol power plant up front, which on paper sounds as if it will be dreadfully underpowered, but on the road turned out to be perfectly adequate to run with the daily city traffic. Even on the motorways, Avanza cruised at 120-140 kph, and with the overdrive function on the auto transmission, the engine was not too ‘busy’ at those speeds.

As regards transmissions, I firmly believe that auto is the only way to go in Thailand’s stop-start traffic. Who wants to be clutching and shifting every few seconds? As a bonus that many people do not realize, auto transmissions are also far easier on the total drive train, and you are not replacing clutches and drive shafts. One slight negative is the under-gearing of the standard auto transmission ratios in the Avanza. Use of the overdrive button brings the ratios in to a much better range, and after the first half hour was left continuously in overdrive mode, without any real downside in acceleration.

While on the drive train, Avanza is a return to the conventional front engine, rear wheel drive, with a ‘cart axle’ and coil spring rear end. Other than a transmission tunnel, which is not overly intrusive, the benefits of this layout include a much smaller turning circle, as front wheel drive CV joints end up giving other vehicles the turning circle of the Queen Mary. Avanza can U-turn in my street with ease, where others are still three point turning.

At the 650,000 baht price for the top of the line, I was not expecting much, but the package was much more than basic. Air-conditioning was effective in the front, with easily adjusted rotary dials, plus another control unit in the roof lining for the rear passengers, complete with fan speed and directional outlets.

The model as tested also had ABS and power steering. The latter was excellent, without being over-powered and still retained good feel at highway speeds. The ABS I did not test, but I am sure it was there!

Door pockets and knick-knack holes were plentiful, and the owner will quickly work out what should go where. The model as tested came with remote locking, plus automatic locking on take-off and unlocking on turning off the engine. For families this is an excellent feature.

Seating was comfortable, and when in the maxi-people mode, it is possible to transport seven in the Avanza. There was enough leg room for the second row passengers, even when the driving seat was fully back. The ‘occasional’ rear seats fold up and then sit flat very easily, and one does not have to carry out two unlockings at the one time. In the five person configuration, there is a very good load carrying capacity, and the rear door opens right up for easy access.

After one week, I had forgotten that there was only a 1.3 litre engine up front, but the excellent fuel consumption figures could remind me at the petrol pumps. By the way, it takes 91 octane, another small saving.

For me, the only downside to the Avanza was the styling (or lack of it). Where the Wish is very stylish and the Foretuner very macho, Avanza looks as if it were designed to carry giraffes down crowded narrow Japanese alleyways. The Perpendicular People Mover!

The vehicle tested was supplied by Thonburi Toyota, but I was so impressed I bought it! At 650,000 baht it is difficult to go past this vehicle, which despite its bargain basement price, has all the features one would want and expect on movers.

Racing like Rossi

Valentino Rossi is amazing. Anyone who has watched the spindly Italian, marvels at what he can do on two wheels. I have never seen anyone like him, and I’ve been following bike racing for a few years now, and even raced moto-X for four years (where I followed most of the field as well!).

Valentino Rossi

For those of you who would like tuition/experience on two wheels there are training courses run at the Bira Circuit outside Pattaya by Graham Knight of HighSideTours Co. You can contact him on +66 9119 0000, or fax +66 2256 6541, or email [email protected] There are regular track days, and if you’re good enough, you can even join in the odd race or two. There is also a lease plan so that you can have your own bike for competition purposes. Graham has even promised to throw a couple of trainer wheels on a bike for me and reckons he has a 57 year old Kiwi who would like to have a crack at me. All I have to do between now and then is to see if Rossi does courses by correspondence!