Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Australian GP?

Well, we learned that out of the 22 best motor cars in the world, only six could finish the first Grand Prix of 2008. Some of the retirements were mechanical or electrical (Trulli’s battery failed in his Toyota, but he’ll get a new one under warranty), but the majority were through driver error. It appears that once more I have to tell the so-called best drivers in the world that you do not win the race on the first lap, you only lose the race on the first lap!
We also learned that Ferrari is not invincible and World Champion Kimi Raikkonen can kokk it up like an amateur, while Massa, the mauler, can still be relied upon to attempt to pull off impossible moves. For the manufacturer’s championship winners of 2007 to finish with two dead engines for the first race of 2008, is a very poor start to the season; however, Ferrari will bounce back.
Hamilton in the McLaren Mercedes was the star of the show all weekend. There was no way he was not going to get pole, and likewise no way he was going to lose the Melbourne race. It was a perfect performance. Kovalainen was unlucky to lose his secure second place with the safety car period, but the unexplained loss of speed on the straight after passing the sulky Spaniard was caused by his knocking the pit lane speed limiter button! He won’t do that again. He did set the fastest race lap, but that is small consolation.
The surprise of the weekend was Barichello in the Honda. This was a car that has run like a poisoned three legged temple dog with terminal mange during the lead up to the season and everyone was sure it was going to be a rear of grid race car. Barichello was the quicker of the two Honda drivers, outpacing Jenson Button in qualifying. However, despite all his years in F1 Barichello managed to leave the pits while the lights were red and got himself disqualified from what had been a well fought 6th place. Rooby, it is only in Thailand that you can ignore the red lights. Not in Australia!
BMW did well all weekend and although it was Heidfeld scoring second place, Kubica deserved better than he got, ending up with a DNF after Ralf Schumacher’s heir apparent Kamikaze Nakajima ran into him.
Apart from Nakajima running into several cars (but missed the crew this time), Williams had a good weekend, with Rosberg driving a carefully controlled race to finish third. This looks like a team with potential, even if it only has one driver in contention.
As for the rest? Bourdais in the Toro Rosso ‘almost’ finished, stopping three laps from the end and had done a good job up till then. His (much faster) running mate Sebastian Vettel went out on the first lap along with Webber, Button, Davidson and Fisichella.
Hopefully some of the drivers learned a lesson from the Australian GP which they can apply throughout the season.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked what year did the Corvette Stingray come out? Hint, think hard, it revolves around the name! OK, this was a bit of a trick question. The Chevrolet “Sting Ray” came out in 1962, and in 1969 the name was changed to “Stingray”. As I said, it all revolved around the name, so 1969 was the correct answer.
The Corvette story revolves around Zora Arkus-Duntov, a Belgian who grew up in Russia and studied in Germany before moving to the USA, where he designed the Ardun cylinder heads for Ford V8s. He then joined Chevrolet and began improving the basic design and ‘his’ first Stingray came out in 1969, with the body designed by Bill Mitchell, who succeeded Harley Earl as the GM stylist. The combination of Mitchell and Arkus-Duntov produced a stunning car, capable of over 150 mph (240 km/h) in a head-turning body. So even though many think that the Corvette is all-American, it also owes a fair bit to Europe.
So to this week. What was the only British GP to be abandoned because of the weather?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Some interesting drives
AA Insurance Brokers held their first advanced driver training day at the Bira Circuit on Highway 36 and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience (there is a separate article elsewhere in the newspaper).
For me, it was an opportunity to drive a different selection of vehicles and this included a BMW X3, the new Honda Accord, an AVO modified Ford pick-up, and the latest Toyota Yaris racer, brought up to the ‘Super 1500 class’ specifications.
The BMW was a real eye-opener. Much larger than I expected and with much more performance than I expected. It also had a radio whose volume you could turn down via a simple knob. Thank you Mr BMW for listening. Now please apply it to the ridiculous iDrive 5 Series models as well. The X3 was a sports car in every respect, other than it would carry an entire family and the kitchen sink. It stuck to the road, had great feel through the steering wheel, and amazed everyone who came round the circuit in it, seated front or back.
The new Accord is a smooth looking luxury car, and the styling is individual, with just a hint of Alfa-Romeo, especially the side fluting. It was the 2.4 liter model I drove and the straight line speed was breathtaking. The interior is most luxurious, and a very nice motor car. I did not like the lack of response or feel through the steering wheel, and it all felt a bit vague in that department, and the brakes felt just adequate to cope with the performance of this vehicle.
The AVO modified Ford pick-up was a bit of a fun drive, and it was exceptionally powerful - and quicker at the end of the straight than the X3, for example! The steering was very good and there was enough feel through the wheel to make it easy to point it where you wanted. Unfortunately, like all pick-ups, it suffered from axle tramp on severe acceleration out of the bends, but this was under conditions that would not happen on the roads. The pigs in the back tray just loved it!

Bangkok International Motor Show
Our Motor Show starts on the 28th of this month. Held in the large BITEC exposition halls (Km 1 Bangna-Trat highway), this is the world’s accredited motor show for this region. In fact, it is the largest motor show in SE Asia and is approved by the Organization Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles.

Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

For many people, there is great interest in the Europeans who are trying to gain footing in this country, such as Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Peugeot and Citroen, but I hope to see Alfa Romeo. The 8C Spider is sensational and I do want to see one in the flesh.
The Japanese invasion will continue with concept cars and luxury numbers from Toyota and Lexus as well as cheap and cheerful items as the new Toyota Vios and hopefully the tiny iQ concept car which the reports say can carry three adults and one child (and this would also mean a complete Thai family of six), plus some interesting models from Honda who will not be outdone by the Toyota people across the street! The new Honda Accord is a stunner and the variable cylinder technology in the V6 is amazing.

Toyota iQ

As well as all the cars, there will be many motorcycles on display in their own exposition hall, and after-market equipment in both go-faster items and sound systems.
Last year 1.5 million people went through the turnstiles for our Bangkok Motor Show. This year there will be more. There is parking in the BITEC grounds as well as parking areas on LaSalle Street for another 4,000 vehicles. If you are coming by public transport, then go to On Nut Skytrain terminal and catch one of the shuttle buses going to BITEC.
I will be there for the first two days, and will have my resident motorcycle scribe to review the two wheel offerings. More reports on the show over the next few weeks.

Are you worth a $2.2 million salary?
One of the world’s largest car manufacturers has increased their chief executive’s salary to $2.2 million, up from the paltry $1.65 million stipend he received in 2007. The increase was in view of his performance in 2007, a year for which the automaker reported a loss of $38.7 billion. Yes, you read that correctly - thirty eight billion dollars. By the way, he also received 1.68 million in stock entities, on top of the $2.2 million.
The salary increase was disclosed in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, so has become public knowledge, and is now being mulled over by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union President Ron Gettelfinger who has questioned the fairness of big payouts for executives coming after workers agreed to concessions. And can you blame them? The upgraded salary comes only six months after the UAW agreed to a new labor contract in which workers accepted substantial wage and benefit cuts for new workers, as well as buyouts and early retirement plans to further reduce employee numbers.
The salary increase, and its obscene amount, would have to be the PR blunder of the year. And the company? Well, it starts with the letter G.
Its shares were down 2.7 percent at $22.35 on the New York Stock Exchange, 48 percent down from its 52 week high of $43.20 set shortly after the UAW deal was completed. I wonder why?