Automania

Spanish GP

Spain has a long history in GP racing, and Jerez was used for many years. However, the Jerez circuit was blighted by being too far from centres of population to attract crowds, so the Catalunya circuit (aka Montmelo) was built just 20 km from Barcelona. It was actually the fourth circuit in, or near, Barcelona, which has some claim to being Spain’s capital of motor racing.
The Circuit Catalunya was built on land owned by the Real Automobil Club de Catalunya, and they took over the Spanish GP. Opened in 1991, the 5 km circuit was quick and had both a wide range of corners and excellent facilities and viewing points. A temporary chicane was built at ‘Nissan’ (a very shallow curve) in 1994, but for 1995, ‘Nissan’ was straightened reducing the length of a lap to the 5 km length.
Ferrari seem to be confident again, but the proof of the pudding is always in the eating!
I also received a fax from Mike Mayne regarding the Eurosports coverage, and this is available on several cable networks. StarSports are also televising qualifying, at 7 p.m. on the Saturday and the race at 7 p.m. on the Sunday. The South African feed I watch should then also be at those times. Thanks Mike.


Blinder at Bira

A couple of weeks ago we were treated to some of the best racing seen at Bira Circuit for some time. Promoted by Thailand SuperCars, it featured the two One-Make series – the Vios and the Yaris and a motorcycle race as well. The cars were well presented, with the bright red Pizza Company cars standing out well in the field of around 30 drivers.
The fact that Go-Karts are a stepping stone to other formulae was very evident, with the eventual Vios winner (Jack), also racing Go-Karts on the same day, and being a winner there too.
In the feature race, Grant Supaphongs in the Honda Civic managed to keep all the mechanicals going to stay in front of Natavude in the works Toyota Corolla despite much pushing and prodding by the Toyota driver. It was the best day’s racing at Bira that I have seen for some time.
The next two meetings at Bira will be in June. The RAAT promoted meeting will be on June 3-4 and the SuperCar meeting one week later June 10-11.


What did we learn from the European GP?

Well the first thing was that you never write off Mickey the Shoemaker. The mental powers of the elder Schumacher are prodigious, and it was obvious right from the start that MS was never going to settle for second place. When he took the lead after the second pit stop (by dint of lapping for three laps around half a second quicker than anything Alonso had recorded), plus a very quick pit stop, showed the combined talents of Schumacher and strategist Ross Brawn. A brilliant display from the red cars. The world’s press seems fixated on will he retire at the end of this season. Why should he?

Red Bulls charge each other

We also learned that perhaps Massa has matured. A great back-up effort and he deserved his third step on the podium (which was also his first).
Messrs Honda and Toyota left Germany licking a few wounds. Ralf and Jensen Button stopped out on track, as did Montagny in the Honda engined (still not very) Super Aguri. However, I was pleased to see (as did 21 other drivers) that Mr. Ide was told by the FIA to go back to school and learn how to drive.
Another sterling (or Aussie dollar) drive by Mark Webber, having come from 19th on the grid to 12, when yet again, the hydraulics let go in his WilliamsF1. Young Rosberg in the other WilliamsF1 also did well, but the strategy was hard to understand. He did 33 laps of the 60 lap race on his first tank of fuel, so why make him do another two stops? He sacrificed 5th place because of this.
Fisichella continues to have “bad luck” in the second Renault. It is time he realized he is not performing, when his team mate is always at the sharp end. Even if he doesn’t realize this, I am sure Flavio Briatore does. Do not expect Fisi at Renault next year.
McLaren-Mercedes are not having a happy year so far. Only Raikkonen is performing consistently in their driver line-up, and with Alonso moving to McLaren next year, and Michael Schumacher going to continue at Ferrari, could see Raikkonen stay put. I expect that the Colombian will be looking for a job next year. Renault perhaps?
Red Bull with four cars between their A and B teams must be heartily sick of their drivers running into each other.
It is time their management sat them down and gave them my first lesson for new race drivers: “You never win the race on the first corner. You can only lose the race at the first corner!”


Autotrivia Quiz
Last week I mentioned that the Model T Ford is usually thought of as the first mass-produced vehicle, but this is not strictly correct as many other manufacturers also did this (Leland, De Dion Bouton and Lanchester). Henry Ford is also credited as being the designer of the Model T, but this is not strictly correct either! Who did design the Model T?
The answer was James Couzens.

Mel Kenyon
So to this week. Which car company called their first car the Model 92? Clue: It was produced in 1949 and was based on a German design, though the car company was not German.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!
By the way, a couple of weeks back I mentioned the great US speedcar driver Mel Kenyon. Reader John Stanley sent me a couple of photographs, and here is one, taken last year in Brisbane Australia of the man himself, about to go out and do some demonstration laps. He will be back there this year to do it again! What a man!


Are we ready for alternate fuels?

With all the general brou-ha-ha about the increasing oil prices per barrel and the police department owing money to gas stations, there appears to be a groundswell towards alternate fuels, including biodiesel, LPG and NGV, as well as hydrogen. But is this a realistic concept?
Have you ever stopped to think about all the advances that technology has brought us in the last 100 or so years? Telephones that are now so small they fit in your ear, TV coverage that is brought to us in real time via satellite, motor cars that can travel all over the world with multiple functions governed by an on-board computer, planes that can carry 500 people from capital cities, the list is endless. However, there is also a limiting factor for the wide-spread use of our technological creativity. Infrastructure!
Everyone understands that you cannot fly from Bangkok to Manila without an airport at each end, complete with refueling capacity. You likewise cannot drive all over the world unless there are some fuel pumps liberally dotted along your route.
The auto manufacturers have had alternative fuel vehicles running on the roads for years, be that EVs (Electric Vehicles), hydrogen cars and other sorts of fuel cells. We have the technology. These vehicles run and will carry people in a non-polluting manner and do not need gasoline. So why are we still dependant upon oil? At $75 a barrel of crude! The answer is simple – lack of infrastructure.
We have shown that the vehicles work, but how do you refuel? Take for example, the press release from Chevron in the US in the early part of this year. The headline was “First Chevron Hydrogen Energy Station Unveiled” and went on to say, “ChevronTexaco Technology Ventures LLC (CTTV), a subsidiary of ChevronTexaco Corp., unveiled its first Chevron Hydrogen energy station today at the Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center in California. The project is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Program.”
Wonderful! But one station is quite useless. You need another one to give you somewhere to go to! It reminds me of the (in)famous Bristol Brabazon plane, which when it was built in the immediate post WW II period, complete with eight engines (four pushing and four pulling), found that there was only one airport that was strong enough to support its weight. That was the airport it was built at! It flew, taking off and landing at the same location, and totally useless for the overall concept of transporting people from point A to point B.
So back to the hydrogen pump and the “Controlled Hydrogen Fleet and Infrastructure Demonstration and Validation Program.” Provided you live in California, within driving distance of the Hyundai-Kia Technical Center you might be right. But forget driving to Texas, or even the next big town. The infrastructure isn’t there to support your new technology vehicle.
Yes, I hear you say, but surely there are others? Yes there are, including the world’s largest hydrogen filling station which was formally opened in Berlin, last year. Hydro supplies the equipment for hydrogen gas production and has worked with eight other companies in the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP) project, which is supported by the Federal Government of Germany. The aim of the project is to demonstrate that hydrogen can function as an everyday fuel with a view to future sustainable mobility. Sure they can, but you need more than one large hydrogen filling station.
However, there are some more. There’s one in Toronto and another in Singapore, none of which are going to be much good for the hydrogen powered car owner in Manila, Beijing of Bangkok. We have the technology, but we do not have the infrastructure.
Mine is not the only voice in the wilderness. Yoshio Kimura, a senior official with Toyota’s fuel-cell systems group, expressed concerns that lagging infrastructure could slow hydrogen momentum. Kimura said in 2004, “We need a real breakthrough in hydrogen production and delivery systems. While the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Vehicle (FCHV) is a real-world working vehicle, we’re still far away from seeing this at your local Toyota dealer.” Toyota’s FCHV can travel less than 300 km on a single hydrogen fill-up. At today’s hydrogen rates, consumers would pay $1 for every 16 km traveled - in other words, nearly 30 percent more than what they would pay per km in a car with a moderately efficient gasoline engine.
Certainly there would be the usual economies of scale with multiple hydrogen refueling stations, but we do not have this infrastructure. So to purchase a hydrogen vehicle right now, you have to be a very strongly committed environmentalist, be prepared to pay for your beliefs, and not want to travel too far from home (which had better be close to a hydrogen station).
We already have the technology so we would not be dependent upon oil. Unfortunately we are then dependent on (non-existent) infrastructure!