Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What is it like to race a really fast car?

In a motor racing career which began in 1965, and is still going (just), I have had the opportunity to drive some of the fastest cars, both road and race. And some not so fast also!

Sideways in this at 300 kph

The slowest race car I ever had was a stock standard Isuzu Gemini (sold in Australia as a Holden Gemini, and in Thailand badged as an Opel, I believe). This car would get breathless at 160 kph, but when raced against a complete field of 30 other breathless Gemini’s was in its own way, quite a buzz. Imagine racing down the straight and knocking the rear vision mirrors out of alignment on the Gemini next to you, as you went through the kink at the end, at 160 kph. Or traveling so close to the tail of the car in front, while going down the straight at the 160 kph, that you could bang open his boot lid! And put a small dent on the front of the bonnet of your own car.
I also raced many other cars, but the ones that stay most in the memory were those that always wanted to travel sideways, at a great rate of speed, and much faster than 160 kph. One of these memorable motor cars was a yellow Porsche Carrera.
This car did not belong to me, but was owned by the president of the Porsche Club in Queensland, Australia. As I had raced his previous Carrera with some success, he asked me to drive this new one as well. For various reasons (and there’s always lots of reasons, or excuses, in motor sport) the car was not finished until Qualifying was almost finished. I had no chance to try it previously. The first time it turned a wheel in anger was for a position on the grid, and there was less than 10 minutes left in which to qualify.
On the first lap, it felt a little “nervous” and twitchy, but time was running out. On the first full bore run down the straight, on the second lap, it clocked over 210 kph as I entered the braking area. The first quick firm stab on the middle pedal brought about an instant sideways movement, followed by another sideways moment in the other direction. I was driving a pendulum! I was hauling on the steering wheel from lock to lock, trying to catch the swinging rear end of the Porsche, while still trying to get the speed down. Fortunately I had it under control before running out of road, and returned to the pits, muttering dire threats and suggesting the mechanic’s parents were not married!

Sideways in one of these at 200 kph

Wheel alignment measurement at the garage that evening revealed that the rear suspension was going into a “toe-out” situation as the nose dipped under braking, raising the rear. Possibly the most unstable situation you can ever produce in a rear engined Porsche - and at 200 kph going sideways a Porsche is certainly exciting!
But if you think that is exciting, try 300 kph! One of the other race cars I have driven was a Team VDS Lola T 430. One of the fearsome Formula 5000, five liter rear engined V8 single seater race cars. These were the F1 cars of around 25 years ago, and 300 kph was easily attainable down the straight. The owner of this vehicle described driving it as trying to throw a 2 kg hammer - but handle first. All the weight was in the tail.
This was another race car that wanted to see how quick your reactions were at 300 kph, as you could not let the tail move out of line too far, or otherwise it would change ends so fast you didn’t even have time to say “Oh sh*t!”
With cars like those, there is no time to relax at any stage during the lap, as you are constantly aware of the fact that there is an inherent instability. If you don’t remember, you crash!

Autotrivia Quiz

 Lolita Mk 1

Last week I mentioned that Eric Broadley, a British architect, built himself a club-special racing car. I asked what was it called? And before you get excited, it wasn’t called a Lola. It was actually called the Lolita. And there was also another car called Lolita, and here is the proof.
So to this week. What Guinness Book of Records entry was beaten in the James Bond film Casino Royale? Clue: It was set by an Aston Martin DB9, dressed up as an Aston Martin DBS.
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] Good luck!


What to do if you are a trapped driver
After the pedestrian toll, more than 43,000 people died in car accidents in the US during 2005 - 500 of whom died as a result of being trapped in their vehicle before rescue teams could extricate them.
In case of a collision, many busses and trains are equipped with emergency hammers, but the average trapped automobile driver has to wait for the Jaws of Life to arrive with emergency services - leaving them vulnerable to further injury from leaking batteries or fuels, fires, unexploded airbags, drowning or debris whilst still trapped in the vehicle.
LifeHammer and ResQMe are personal devices to cut through seat belts and punch out windows that are designed to form an effective first line of defense in case the unthinkable, but statistically likely, happens.
Much like the emergency hammers in buses, LifeHammer is fixed to the inside of a car, usually on its dashboard. This, combined with its luminescent covering, makes it constantly visible and accessible, even when the car is plunged in water or darkness. Its precision steel point shatters side windows with one strike, and its well-protected, razor-sharp blade cuts easily through jammed seatbelts. The LifeHammer shatters all non-laminated windows, making it effective against the side windows of most automobiles. It also takes a mere six kg of force to break windows with LifeHammer, meaning it could be used by most members of the family.
Unlike LifeHammer, the ResQMe can be attached to a key-chain, making it useful when a person either cannot reach LifeHammer, or is in a vehicle without it. Despite measuring only three inches and weighing less than half a kilogram, ResQMe has the same capabilities as LifeHammer - breaking windows and severing seatbelts with ease.

You’re safer behind the wheel
Every year an estimated 780,000 pedestrians die worldwide in automobile accidents - that’s 65 percent of total automobile related fatalities. This tragic level of pedestrian injuries affects the GDP of countries by 1-3 percent and exceeds malnutrition, war, and stomach cancer as an international cause of death.

Pop-up bonnet

With a forecast of 60 million further injuries and six million deaths over the next decade in developing countries, car manufacturers like Nissan are investing in ways to curb this trend such as the “pop-up bonnet” (hood) - a safety measure to be introduced for the first time in the Skyline coupe scheduled for release in Japan this year.
Eighty percent of serious pedestrian injuries caused by automobile collisions are head injuries. Of these head injuries, almost all are caused by the pedestrian’s initial impact with the bonnet of the car. The concept of the pop-up bonnet is to create a buffer space between the bonnet and the engine, thereby decreasing the impact of the most drastic, and most common, cause of pedestrian injury and death. The British Medical Journal found that a 10 cm gap greatly decelerates the pedestrian - and predicts that when combined with other safety measures and restrictions, this could help to decrease the fatality rate by 20 percent.
The pop-up bonnet includes sensors mounted in the bumper which, upon impact with a pedestrian, activate the pop-up control-unit to trigger an explosive actuator that rapidly lifts the bonnet. With regulations aimed at improving pedestrian safety expected in Europe in the future, Nissan is not the only car manufacturer to experiment with this design. The CitroŽn C6 and Jaguar XK also include pop-up bonnet technology. Nissan is incorporating the pop-up bonnet as part of a wider “Safety Shield” initiative - it hopes to halve the number of traffic fatalities or serious injuries involving Nissan vehicles by 2015.