Canadian GP this weekend

The ninth Grand Prix of the 2006 season crosses the Atlantic to be run in Montreal at the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit, constructed on a man-made island which had been used in the 1967 Expo. Originally named the Ile Notre Dame circuit, the circuit was renamed in Villeneuve’s memory after his death in 1982. The location is one of the loveliest in Formula One since the narrow track threads its way through lakes and parkland. It is a narrow, medium-fast, 2.75 mile circuit with 13 corners. Some corners were eased for 1979, a new corner before the pits was added in 1991 and a chicane was added in 1994.
Whilst Alonso appears to have a good lead in the championship, there are many rounds to come, and Ferrari and McLaren seem to be closing the gap. It could be an interesting race. By my reckoning it will be starting at midnight (Sunday night or Monday morning, take your pick).

The mystery of the musical chairs

Around this time of year the rumour-mongers start, with all kinds of speculation as to who will go where for 2007. I have to admit that I have been saying for some months that Renault will drop Fisichella, because he has been underperforming compared to Alonso – but with the latest news from the Renault group, I have been shown to be a lousy fortune teller! Fisi is going to stay at Renault for 2007.
So who will partner him? Much space in the print media has been dedicated to the concept that the key to it all is Michael Schumacher. If Schumi stays, then one plan of action will occur, but if he decides to retire, then we have a totally different scenario. This I believe is poppycock. Both Ferrari and Renault, as the two top teams, can select whomever they want. Both are cashed up enough to hold out a large enough financial carrot for any driver, so it really boils down to which driver can offer which team the greatest chance of success. It is that simple.
Now let’s take Raikkonen. McLaren-Mercedes has not given the Finn the vehicle to win a championship for the past two years, so why should he stay? Renault have a winning team with bulletproof cars, and it would make Raikkonen an obvious choice, surely. So, irrespective of what Michael Schumacher might do, Raikkonen to Renault would make the most powerful combination on the 2007 grid, despite the fact that world champion-elect Alonso will be with the McLaren team next year.
So who will partner Alonso at McLaren? Montoya has not really impressed this year, and his results are poor compared to Raikkonen, but if Montoya left, who would replace him? The answer could be the young Briton, Lewis Hamilton, who has been absolutely blitzing the GP2 support category, and who just happens to be a McLaren sponsored driver. You might normally expect such a newcomer to spend a year as an F1 test driver before moving up, but think back – did Raikkonen? No, he did not. So why should Hamilton? By giving Hamilton the race seat, McLaren would then have a proven world champion in Alonso, plus the quickest ‘new’ driver to the category on the 2007 grid.
If this is the case, then whither Montoya? He is still an A grade driver, even if A2, rather than the A1 of Schumacher, Alonso and Raikkonen. Honda (BAR) have made such a fuss over Jenson Button that they would lose too much Japanese face to let him go, even though Barichello is currently doing better than the British white hope. That leaves Red Bull or BMW, and the only chances Montoya has is to replace Klien at Red Bull or Villeneuve at BMW, in my opinion.
The next few months will be interesting as the seat contracts become finalized!

The incestuous nature of the automobile industry

Mercedes NGT refuelling


There is much confusion in the local motoring scene, with articles seemingly weekly regarding LPG and Gasohol as alternatives to the current 95 and 91 octane petrols available. Another fuel is also touted and is being called NGV, which is totally incorrect, as NGV means Natural Gas Vehicle. The fuel is natural gas and comes in a compressed form, called CNG (Compressed Natural Gas).
CNG has been around for a while, and there are vehicles set up to use this fuel. An example of this is the Mercedes Benz E 200 NGT saloon. This car is a dual-fuel drive, using both CNG and gasoline fuels. In the boot area were four CNG bottles holding 107 litres, as well as the standard fuel tank, and amazingly there was still enough space for luggage. In CNG mode, the level of CO2 emissions is reduced by 20 percent over the gasoline values. It is also a most economical vehicle, taking 6.1 kg of CNG to travel 100 km (or in petrol mode 9 litres of 95 octane gasoline), and with the relative prices of the two fuels, the E 200 NGT will cost you around 48 baht per 100 km in CNG mode, compared to around 200 baht in gasoline mode. There are currently around 1000 CNG stations in Europe, but less than 50 in all Thailand, and there is the first problem with CNG – a lack of infrastructure.
However, in the USA, Honda Motor Corporation have come up with a way around this problem. Honda has taken a 20 percent share of the FuelMaker Corporation, which has a revolutionary refuelling device called Phill, a home-based refuelling rig. Suddenly the infrastructure doesn’t matter as much!
For the past seven years, American Honda has marketed the NGV Civic GX to fleet operators who have their own dedicated CNG fuelling stations. By offering the Civic GX along with the Phill home refuelling appliance, Honda is expanding the appeal of this ultra-clean and convenient alternative to gasoline-powered transportation. Honda is the only manufacturer currently offering a dedicated natural gas-powered passenger car to the general public in North America, though GM have a couple of pick-ups, and Mercedes have the dual fuel E 200 NGT.
The Honda NGV meets California’s Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV) standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has certified this vehicle as “the cleanest internal combustion engine-powered vehicle.” The GX was the first vehicle to earn AT-PZEV status in California and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently named the Civic GX as the “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” in overall environmental performance, ahead of even hybrid vehicles. That’s quite a rap for CNG and Honda.

Honda GX home refuelling

The cost of equipping a light-duty vehicle to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) can range from about US$2,000 up to about $6,000, depending on the vehicle and number of cylinders to store the fuel. Natural gas is less expensive than gasoline, and the relatively stable price of the fuel has made it attractive to fleets as well as private owners.
CNG makes much sense. The modifications to the engine are relatively slight, and taking the Benz E 200 NGT as the example, the supercharged ‘Twinpulse’ engine was modified by the addition of injector nozzles on the underside of the intake manifold. A pressure regulator with sensor and electromagnetic shut-off valve is fitted near the engine to regulate the supply of natural gas and maintain the required system pressure at a constant level.
The reprogrammed engine electronics ensure seamless operation in both drive modes. The E 200 NGT distinguishes itself from comparable models, which often deliver poorer performance in natural-gas mode, by matching the sophisticated four-cylinder power unit’s power and torque characteristics even when running on natural gas. This actually makes the E 200 NGT the most powerful saloon with a dual-fuel drive unit currently in production.
Honda, on the other hand, sells about 1,000 GXs a year, but sales growth has been hindered by limited places to fill up, says Gunnar Lindstrom, senior manager of alternative-fuel vehicle sales for American Honda Motor. With FuelMaker’s Phill device, motorists “can start every day with a full tank,” he says. Civic GX buyers can lease Phill through selected Honda dealers for approximately US$34 to US$79 per month (plus installation) depending on regional incentive programs.
“The combination of the Civic GX and the Phill home-refueling appliance provides consumers with an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles and represents the ultimate in environmentally friendly transportation currently available,” said American Honda’s Gunnar Lindstrom.
Phill can be mounted to a garage wall either indoors or outdoors and allow a natural gas-powered vehicle to be refuelled overnight directly from a homeowner’s existing natural gas supply line. Phill is designed to offer ease of operation with simple “start” and “stop” buttons and will automatically turn itself off when the tank is full.
Now while the fuel and oil companies have had the stranglehold on the retailing of petroleum, this new home refuelling device opens up an all-new ball game. Imagine that you are travelling for 1000 km and you are going to need two more tanks of CNG before you get to you location – it is not beyond the bounds of reason that you would be able to dial up the locations of ‘friendly’ home refuelers on your SatNav and pay per fill (or should that be Phill?) on your way. Suddenly, the power of the multinational oil companies just went out the window! People power is coming! And that power might just be CNG!

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned the famous Monza banked autodrome was rebuilt in 1955 for a special race. I asked what was it, and who won it? The answer was the American Challenge Race (also known as the Two Worlds Trophy 500 Mile Race) and it was won by Jim Bryan in a Dean Van Lines Special.
So to this week. Who was it that had the rear-mounted fuel tank on his Cadillac armour-plated?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!