Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Spanish GP this Sunday May 13

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 centers 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.
With three drivers on equal points in the World Championship (Alonso, Raikkonen and Hamilton) this will be a hotly contested race. I will be watching in front of the big screen in Jameson’s Irish Pub (Soi AR, next to Nova Park). The race should start at 7 p.m. but I will get there early and have some dinner from the Jameson’s carvery. Why not join me for dinner and a chat before the race?


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned cars in movies. Everyone remembers The Saint and Roger Moore’s Volvo P 1800, and the string of Aston Martins run by a succession of James Bonds. However, Toyota also built a car for a James Bond movie released in 1967. I asked what was it? It was a Toyota 2000GT for the movie You Only Live Twice.
So to this week. What was the first racing car to have disc brakes? Clue: it also had 4WD.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]ail.com
Good luck!


DaimlerChrysler brings out a Big One
Mercedes-Benz has resurrected the name G-Wagen, even if the new one does not follow the metal box on off-road rims that the old one was famous for. The angular Austrian-built - and still-built - Benz 4WD was focused utilitarianism at its Germanic best and during the 1980s was a sort of cross between the basic simplicity of the Japanese 4WDs of the time and the upmarket Range Rover.

Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI

However, if sheer bulk and ability counts for anything, the new GL-class Mercedes is the reigning king of all that’s excessive in the over-populated 4WD world.
Measuring the same length as Audi’s gargantuan, bigger-than-LandCruiser Q7, but quite a bit higher, with a longer wheelbase and approaching 100 kg heavier, the GL-class – especially when pumped-up to its maximum suspension height – makes the iconic Toyota look puny.
Derived from the relatively new Mercedes ML-class, the GL comes at this stage in just two versions: the 3 liter turbo-diesel GL320 CDI and the V8 powered GL500.
The sheer size makes the GL the first Benz seven-seater as well, with a quite generously proportioned third-row seat optional. And both models come as standard with the Off-Road Pro Pack offered as an option on the ML. Among other things, this means the suspension height can be jacked up to as high as 300 mm, giving a fording depth of 600 mm (a tad shallower than the Range Rover Discovery’s 700 mm) and a roof height even a basketball player would have trouble reaching.

Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI

With just 3 liters of turbo-diesel V6, the base GL320 feels agile enough – it gets to 100 km/h in 9.5 seconds – and is satisfyingly easy on diesel too, with a combined figure of 9.7 L/100 km.
According to the Australian reports, the GL is quite an intimidator at first sight, especially when it’s jacked up to its full, indignant, over-the-head stance. One criticism, the behind-spokes buttons for the sequential selectors are all too easily activated when turning the wheel. A few times we found the GL spinning away merrily in a lower gear than necessary just because we had inadvertently instructed it to.
The 165 kW V6 is a jewel, still among the quietest, smoothest of turbo-diesels and gifted with enough torque to lift the nearly 2.4 tonne body easily out of harm’s way. Even for a diesel, it’s a low-revver, with maximum power developed at just 3800 rpm, but the torque, and the barely off-idle engine speed at which it reaches its maximum, is exceptional. 510 Nm at 1600rpm makes Toyota’s new LandCruiser turbo-diesel V8 look positively archaic.
Suspended on air springs provide not just extensive off-road capabilities but also a supple, controlled and load-compensating ride out on the tarmac.
If there’s any downside it’s that the big cabin tends to act as a sounding board for vibrations as the GL proceeds along the road. There’s a muted drumming that is not really intrusive but takes away some of its otherwise quiet on-road nature.
The GL makes a respectable fist of looking and feeling like a Mercedes-Benz inside. The seats are big and comfortable, power assisted at the front and use Mercedes faux leather in a way you’d never notice.
Controlling suspension height, or selecting the drive mode (2WD, auto 4WD or 4WD lock) is a matter of twirling serrated knobs in the center console area, while two clearly marked buttons between them activate or deactivate the GL’s adjustable hill-decent control or select low-range.
Even in the GL320 there’s sufficient standard equipment, including eight airbags, active front head restraints, front and rear parking sensors, power front seats, climate-control air-conditioning, a tyre pressure monitor (black mark for the GL’s compact space-saver spare) a rear – but fixed – sunroof and a nice eight-speaker sound system with a six-disc CD stacker.
This is such a big vehicle with such a wide range of possibilities that we really need to experience the GL in some of the other environments for which it’s designed. So far, the GL320 is a big, friendly, versatile 4WD that makes more sense than most.
When you combine excellent on-road manners with potentially formidable off-road capabilities, then offer performance and fuel consumption levels that are quite amazing for a vehicle of this weight and size, you can only walk away, wondering who could possibly better it.


Local Motorsport Calendar
Many of you ask for the local motor sport calendar, and to be honest, it has always been very difficult to get this information. Many reasons, some tied up in language barriers, and others through a delightful penchant of the promoters for changing the dates at seemingly a moment’s notice!
I should also add that the Honda Racing Fest a couple of weeks ago was most entertaining, and the SuperCar meeting at the end of April was very good, and very well attended. The next round for this series at Bira will be in September. The next Bira event will be Saturday June 16, with the Honda Racing Fest.
Go-kart: Thai National Championship Race series
Round 1: Saraburi February 25 (already run, results can be found on www. kartthai.com)
Round 2: Korat April 1 (already run, results as above)
Round 3: Bira May 20
Round 4: Bira July 8
Round 5: Saraburi August 26
Round 6: Saraburi September 30
Round 7: Bira November 18
Go-kart: Superkart Thailand Race series (Club race series)
Round 1: Bira March 11 (already run)
Round 2: Bira April 29
Round 3: Bira June 3
Round 4: Bira August 5
Round 5: Bira October 28
Round 6: Saraburi December 9
Supercar Thailand Race Series
Rounds 1 and 2: Bira April 28 and 29 (already run)
Round 3: Squadron 206 Watthananakhon Srakaew July 8
Round 4: Bira September 16
Rounds 5 and 6: (Street Race, on provisional course) Bang Saen Beach, Chonburi November 10 and 11
Toyota Vios and Yaris One Make Race Series
Round 1: Chiang Mai (Provisional Track at “Sanam 700 Phi”) May 5/6 (already run)
Round 2: Ubonratchathani (Street race) June 23/24
Round 3: Phuket (Street Race) August 18/19
Round 4: Udonthani (Street Race) October 20/21
Round 5: Bang Saen Beach (Street Race) November 10/11
Honda Racing Festival (note these are all on Saturdays)
Round 1: Bira April 21 (already run)
Round 2: Bira June 16
Round 3: Bira August 11
Round 4: Bira October 13
Round 5: December 15


Turning a loss into a profit
The spin doctors at FoMoCo have been working hard over the past couple of weeks, turning a $282 million loss into a positive piece of information. Now while a thumping $282 million loss for you and me would be disaster, for poor old Ford this result is actually good. Ford, which is in the midst of a turnaround plan that includes closing 16 plants and cutting up to 45,000 jobs in North America, posted that “small” net loss, which compared to a loss of $1.4 billion a year earlier is almost champagne cork time.
The improved results are reportedly through cost-cutting and improved results from its European and luxury vehicle operations partially offsetting weaker sales and charges for restructuring. Ford also raised its second-quarter North American production forecast by 5 percent, to 810,000 vehicles. “Our first-quarter results came in somewhat stronger than expected, but there are many uncertainties going forward,” said CEO Alan Mulally (the man they lured from Boeing). First-quarter revenue totaled $43 billion, up from $40.8 billion a year earlier. Global auto revenue rose to $38.6 billion from $37 billion.
Despite these encouraging figures, Ford has forecast its core North American operations will not be profitable until 2009. Its margins have been squeezed by intense competition and shifting consumer tastes away from profitable (to the manufacturer) SUVs.
In North America, Ford lost $614 million during the quarter, before taxes and excluding special items. Those losses were partly offset by cost savings of $500 million, including $400 million in North America.
Ford said it had cut 18,000 jobs in North America, bringing cumulative cost savings under its turnaround plan to $1.9 billion. The automaker has set a goal of cutting $5 billion in recurring costs.
The European arm of FoMoCo had pretax profit of $219 million, while the Premier Auto Group posted record pretax profit of $402 million.
During the quarter, Ford reached an agreement to sell its British sports car unit, Aston Martin to the Middle East consortium, with the deal stitched together by Prodrive’s David Richards.