French GP this weekend

The Magny Cours Circuit has an interesting history. In the mid-eighties, an initiative by President Mitterand saw the Circuit Jean Behra near Nevers updated and modernised and renamed the Circuit Nevers Magny-Cours. The circuit had begun life as a small kart track, started by Magny-Cours’ mayor, Jean Bernigaud. The kart circuit grew into a proper track which was inaugurated on May 1, 1961; ten years later, it was lengthened from two kilometers to 3.85 kms.
In those ten years, Magny-Cours had become home to Tico Martini’s racing car company and France’s first race driving school. The decision in 1986 to upgrade the circuit to Grand Prix standards saw Guy Ligier move his Formula One team to the circuit and the new track was opened in 1989. Two years later, it hosted its first Grand Prix, and the French GP has remained there ever since.
The French GP starts at a sensible hour for us – 7 p.m. I will be watching from my roost at Jameson’s Irish Pub in Pattaya (next to the Nova Park serviced apartments) in Soi AR (also known as Soi Sukrudee). Join me at 6 p.m. for dinner and a natter before the red lights come on.
The points score at present is:
2006 Drivers Table
F. Alonso 88
M. Schumacher 69
G. Fisichella 43
K. Räikkönen 39
2006 Constructors Table
Renault 131
Ferrari 105
McLaren-Mercedes 65
Honda 32
There are eight Grands Prix to go, so there is a total of 80 maximum points up for grabs, so Schumi at 19 points behind Alonso is certainly in with a chance. All it needs is for Alonso to have a mechanical problem (although the Renault has been bullet-proof this year) or win a wall and the title race will be down to the wire.

What did we learn from the US GP?

Juan Pablo Montoya

Ignoring the fact that Ferrari came home with their first 1-2 for a couple of years, and that Michael Schumacher put on a sterling display, there were many things that came to light during the US GP at Indy.
The first was the fact that the Americans appeared to have forgiven F1 for last year’s fiasco of six race cars droning around for an hour and three quarters. As well as Michelin’s 20,000 free seats, there was a good crowd, with many holding up signs professing their enthusiasm for GP racing. I hope they were not too disappointed with what I consider to have been another fiasco with nine cars finishing this year. Ah well, I suppose it could be considered a 50 percent improvement.
Currently there are 22 drivers starting each race in the Grands Prix. In theory these are the best 22 drivers in the world. In actual fact, this is obviously not the case. Some of these 22 are obviously fast drivers, but just as obviously are not fast-thinking drivers. To lose so many cars on the first lap is just inexcusable in my book. The first rule that any race driver, at any level, has to learn is “You do not win the race on the first lap. You only lose the race on the first lap”. And that is precisely what happened, with the McLaren Mercedes team being the big losers, with both cars out after Montoya managed to stuff his nose into Raikkonen’s backside, and it all went pear-shaped from there, with Heidfeld leaving the race upside down.
The word at Indy was that Montoya’s manager was busy touting his man around the garages. I would suggest to his manager he try the Caltex on Sukhumvit Road, which appears to be in need of a pump attendant. I ask you, would you give Montoya a drive in your million dollar race car? I certainly would not. He is undoubtedly fast (when he feels like it), but he certainly does not think fast.
What else did we learn? Well the US driver Scott Speed was lucky he did not have to drive around for 70 odd laps in front of his countrymen. Other than his speedy motor-mouth, he has been outdriven by Liuzzi all year, and it would have been embarrassing to have finished behind his team mate. Liuzzi did a sterling job and outdrove young Rosberg in the WilliamsF1 quite categorically.

Thailand’s 24 hour race

We can forget Le Mans and its 24 hour race (won by an Audi diesel no less this year), as Thailand now has its own 24 hour race. Not quite the hype of the Le Mans in France which was first held in 1923, but you have to start somewhere, and it looks like 2006 for the Thailand 24 hour.

As opposed to the European version, which generally has a 50 percent attrition rate, the Thai 24 hours saw 23 vehicles out of 23 make it to the finish. That in itself must be a record.
However, rather than the diesel Audis, Porsches and the like, the Thai race cars were all new Formula RX3 go-karts. These featured 17 HP four stroke engines, and had adjustable seating to fit drivers between 1.50 m to 1.90 m in height.
There were between five and eight drivers in each team, and any driver could not remain in the kart for more than one hour at a stretch. Teams were competing for a first place purse of 12,000 USD, so there was an incentive for overseas drivers. In fact, around 50 percent of the drivers came from abroad, with the winners being the Random Racing team from Germany covering 801 laps in the race. Second was Speedzone from the Philippines two laps behind and Benifica Team Portugal third one further lap down.
The event was held at the newly renovated Bira Kart Circuit (named after Thailand’s famous motor racing Prince Bira, one of the few men to have won the BRDC Gold Star on three consecutive years, pre WW II) and this has to be one of the best set-ups in Asia. Two storey timing towers, stewards rooms, ablutions block, the works. There is also a large trailer park where many of the drivers slept while waiting for their turns. The circuit is also very tortuous, with the Random Racing Team recording the fastest lap of 68 seconds for the 1.2 km track.
The 24 hour race continued throughout the first 12 hours despite alternating periods of monsoon rain, and with the karts on slick tyres there was much action all over the track. However, in the early hours of the morning the next day the rain was so heavy the race had to be stopped for a few hours, which reduced the total racing time to something around 18 hours, which according to the regulations was still long enough to qualify as the endurance event.
The organizers and competitors were impressed by the event, and this 24 hour endurance race looks as if it will become a permanent fixture in the Thailand Kart calendar.

Is an S Class the vehicle for you?

The 2007 model year Mercedes S Class looks to be the most technologically advanced of the entire Mercedes line-up, but it may not suit all drivers, who might be a little wary of such electronic advancements. BMW have had nothing but complaints that its iDrive is too difficult for the average driver, but here we go again, with M-B presenting the S Class driver with a similar knob called the “Command” system.

Mercedes S Class

According to one influential American auto tester, Mercedes engineers said that, in focus group testing, Americans had a far lower aptitude for mastering complex control systems than European and Japanese testers. Even though the US is the S Class’s largest market, the new Comand system was designed primarily for German tastes. However, the Germans have simplified the system for the cars going to the US, and given the drivers what are referred to as “hard” buttons to facilitate ease of control.
However, testers Down-Under believe that it’s hardly surprising that Mercedes-Benz fills the flagship S Class with all the luxury, safety and performance technology at its disposal. When a customer forks out this sort of money, they expect the best.
Amongst these aspects are the dynamic contour seats with moving side bolsters for cornering, “Brake Assist” that optimizes braking function according to driving conditions and demands, “Pre-Safe” that optimizes various safety systems if a collision is imminent and an uprated active air suspension that adjusts according to the road, load and driving style. But the trump card is night view assist, an infrared camera ($4000) that gives the driver a clear night view beyond even the bi-xenon headlights on a monochromatic in-dash screen.
The new S Class is bigger in every dimension than the previous model and is available in short and long wheelbase with the latter being 130 mm longer at 5.2 meters. This all adds to passenger room, especially in the rear. The looks have been described as reminiscent of the gigantic Maybach (also built by Mercedes-Benz), and feature a large boot and wheel arch flares.
Power comes from a 5.5 liter petrol V8 kicking out an impressive 285 kW with 530 Nm of torque, with claimed accleration times of 5.4 seconds from rest to 100 kph. That is good sports car times, and this is a luxury sedan.
If fuel consumption means anything to the man who can afford several million baht for an S Class Benz, then unofficial tests returned as little as 10.5 liters of petrol per 100 km of mixed driving.
Drive is to the rear wheels via a seven speed auto with sequential shift on steering wheel mounted buttons, plus a stalk selector for auto or otherwise.
The new S Class does represent the next step forward, and hopefully M-B will have surmounted some of the reliability aspects that have plagued the factory in the not so distant past.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that exports are very important for the Thai auto industry. In the first quarter of this year, Thailand waved goodbye to 138,702 vehicles, an increase of almost 60 percent from the 2005 figures. Major market share went to Toyota (no prizes for guessing that), but who came second? Clue, they exported 30,531 units in the 2006 first quarter! Further clue – it isn’t Honda. The correct answer was Mitsubishi.
So to this week. When, and in which country,was the first Grand Prix run? And before you start saying Silverstone in 1950, that was the first Formula 1 GP. Think back a little before that!
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!