Automania

What did we learn from the Italian GP?

Robert Kubica

Well we (finally) got to hear (from the horse’s mouth) that Michael Schumacher is to retire at the end of the year, but we also learned that he is to go into (if it were Thailand) an “inactive post” with Ferrari. This is actually nothing new, think back to Rudi Caracciola (pre WWII) and Juan Manuel Fangio who both received a new Mercedes every year to be ‘ambassadors’ for Mercedes (Fangio also opened a Mercedes dealership). Consider this, a new ‘Michael Schumacher Ferrari’ dealership that could sell Ferraris with a special autographed ‘Michael Schumacher World Champion’ badge will make money before the doors even open, so register the business name now and sell out for a large profit January 1, 2007.
With all the brouhaha about Michael’s retirement and Kimi (laughing boy) Raikkonen going to Ferrari, it seems most people overlooked the fact that Robert Kubica (pronounced “Koobitsa” by the way) came third on his third GP, having held off some very experienced runners all the way, including current World Champion Alonso. Forget about the first Polish driver etc., etc., just concentrate on the fact that a novice from any country has come third on his third GP ever. He also scored the fourth fastest lap after Michael, Kimi and Massa (and that was faster than Alonso), and outdrove his much more experienced team mate Heidfeld. Kubica was chosen by BMW’s Dr. Mario Theissen, after I believe they managed to get the crowbar under Jacques Villeneuve. Kubica has a great future. BMW have now managed to claim two podiums this year, which is more than Williams F1, BMW’s previous bed partners.
Kimi signed the contract before the US GP it is now being said, so what will he do between now and the new 2007 season? I can understand his wishing to be seen to be able to challenge Schumacher on Ferrari’s home turf last weekend, but will he get in the way of the Alonso-Schumacher world title battle for the last three races? Kimi may have no personality, but he (or his manager) is not dumb. With his three year multi-million dollar Ferrari contract in his pocket, is Kimi going to upset the Ferrari party? What do you think?
What else did we learn from the Italian GP? Well, to me it looks as if David Coulthard has gone into a deep depression. From the start of the season when he was getting right into the top half of the field, he is now struggling to stay in front of the “B” team of Squadro Roro Tossa. Let us hope that the new Red Bull car, designed by Adrian Newey, will get DC fired up again. Perhaps his new 2007 team mate Mark Webber will also give him someone to catch.
Finally, does Bernie Ecclestone have a “Detonate” button that he can use to bring the results closer than otherwise? Ferrari could not have asked for more when Alonso’s engine went kaboom, bringing the difference in the points to two, and thank you Bernie. That is Alonso’s first kaboom in almost three years, by the way.
So now, roll on the Chinese GP on October 1. By the way, please note that the race will start at 1 p.m. Thai time, so check your local TV feed.


Chairman of Geely to speak at China conference

If you haven’t heard of Geely Automobile Holdings, then you haven’t been reading the right newspapers. Geely’s chairman, Li Shufu, the Chinese entrepreneur, will address the third annual China Conference hosted by Automotive News and Automotive News Europe.
The reason why Li is so important in the Chinese automotive scene (which will have taken over the world by 2015, according to my crystal ball) is that Li was China’s first private automaker. In the mid-1990s, when he decided to start an auto company, neither the government nor the country’s banks would help Li in his aim. He finally got a license in 1997 by acquiring a dying state-owned company.

Geely brochure

Now Geely is working with top overseas suppliers to develop cars for export, and is gearing up Geely Automobile Holdings Group to sell cars in the United States, as well as in Asia.
Another top speaker at the China Conference will be Phil Murtaugh, former head of General Motors’ China operations. Murtaugh was hired this summer as executive vice president of SAIC Motor Corp. to manage the Shanghai-based automaker’s overseas operations. SAIC bought MG, remember!
The November 15-18 conference takes place just before the Beijing auto show. Speakers will discuss issues facing domestic and international automakers and suppliers in the world’s fastest-growing major market. The world ignores China at its own peril.


Porsche makes the ultimate 911 Turbo?

Porsche Turbo

Do you remember the first Porsche Turbo of 1974? Perhaps I am showing my age, but I certainly do. This version of the 911 came 10 years after the debut of the 911 in September 1964, so the new Turbo, which retains the same basic shape, is now 42 years old!
In 1974, Porsche had successfully developed the KKK turbochargers for use in competition and when they applied this technology to the 911, the end result was simply staggering. The top 911 Carrera had been developing 210 bhp at 6,300 rpm, and in came the new Turbo which delivered 260 bhp at 5,500 rpm. The torque figures were even more spectacular, going from 188 ft/lb at 5,100 rpm to 253 ft/lb at 4,000 rpm. To keep this projectile on the ground, Porsche also introduced the huge ‘whale tail’ rear engine cover spoiler, which made the Turbo even more exciting in its appearance.
Now 32 years later, Porsche has unveiled the latest reincarnation of the 911 Turbo, and if you thought the old one was staggering, try this new one for size! In this sixth-generation 911 Turbo, the power plant is a 3.6 liter flat 6 cylinder engine equipped with two turbochargers. Power has been increased to 480 bhp, with peak torque 460 lb/ft, which is available from 1,950 rpm and continuing through 5,000 rpm. If that is not enough, you can order the Sports Chrono option which allows you to have over 500 lb/ft of torque at your disposal. That is twice the power of the original version!
This increase in power can be attributed to the newly designed turbocharger that feature Variable Turbine Geometry (VTG). The VTG technology adjusts the angle of each turbine blade within the charger so it remains at top efficiency no matter what the speed, which basically combines the attributes of a large and small turbocharger into one. This was not possible previously because of the high levels of heat generated by exhaust gasses; however, Porsche has developed a special material resistant to the temperatures which reach 1000 degrees C.
The 2007 911 Turbo has two transmission options - a 6 speed manual or Porsche’s advanced 5 speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission, which returns quicker acceleration times than the manual box.
The Tiptronic S transmission brings the 0-60 mph time (0-100 kmh) down to a mere 3.4 seconds, with 99 mph (160 kmh) showing up in 7.8 seconds. Top speed with either transmission is 193 mph (around 320 kmh).
While the original Turbo was rear wheel drive, this new model is all wheel drive. Previously I have been disappointed with the Porsche 4WD 911’s, with chronic understeer occurring as the better biting rear pushed the front outwards, but the new system has apparently fixed all that. Controlled by Porsche Traction Management (PTM), the system can direct as much as 100 percent of available power to front or rear wheels via an electromagnetically controlled multiple-plate clutch. The PTM can respond to changes in power, steering input and road conditions in less than 100 milliseconds, adjusting power to the front or rear axle so quickly that the driver is barely aware of the changes.
The 911 Turbo also has Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM) producing continuous damper adjustments allow the driver to choose Normal mode for a more comfortable ride or Sport mode which provides a firm, sporting ride.
Porsche has not been sitting on its hands over the past 32 years, and the new Turbo deserves its position as the top of the line 911. Unfortunately, the price tag is also top of the line. In the US it sells for around USD 130,000, but here, if they ever bring one in, I imagine it would cost around 30 million baht. Out of my price range, I’m afraid.


Fancy a Jag, Land Rover or an Aston Martin?

Aston Martin

Fancy a Jag, Land Rover or an Aston Martin? Why bother going down to the dealers, when you can buy the whole shooting match, lock, stock and barrel. With FoMoCo trying to extricate itself from the doggy doo that it is in, just about everything seems to be ‘For Sale’, and that includes some (or all) of the once proudly vaunted Premier Automotive Group.
Aston definitely is on the block, according to Ford chairman, Bill Ford, and I am sure the others could be too, if someone were to offer the right money (or any money) for some of the loss making brands.
Make no mistake, Ford has its back to the wall (as does GM, by the way), but to its credit, FoMoCo does seem to be reacting in a positive way, with a paring down of the workforce in the domestic manufacturing plants, including some closures, and hiring the ex-Boeing executive, charged with turning around the company.
Now all they will have to do is produce some well built cars that the buying public wants. Even in America, the Japanese manufacturers are showing positive gains with their small, fuel efficient vehicles, while the domestic gas guzzlers are really going down the gurgler, and yet the Big 3 continue to place the emphasis on these vehicles. Yet Ford has some good small to medium sized cars, in the Focus in particular. A strongly marketed Euro-diesel Focus could turn around the fortunes at Ford. Let’s see what happens in 2007.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which British car company began as a piston manufacturer? The answer was Alvis which started life as Alloy Pistons Limited, a fact that was brought to my attention by George Comino, lately of Pattaya, but now back in Australia. Never mind George, they’ll let you come back for good behavior! Poor Alvis got swallowed up by Rover in 1965 and was killed by them two years later!
So to this week. There is a hill climb course in England whose name was incorporated into a car company. By reversing the names of the founder and the hill climb, you get the name of the car make, which is still going today (and in fact, if you have deep enough pockets, you can buy it). What is the name of the hill climb? Clue, the founder sold the company to two gentlemen called Renwick and Bertelli in 1926.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!