Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

The Eagle has landed

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the fateful words “The Eagle has landed” when the lunar space craft touched down on the surface of the moon. However, before that, the name ‘eagle’ had been used many times and is very well remembered for Dan Gurney’s F1 Eagles beginning in 1966.

Lotus Eagle

In July 2008, the Eagle name has been resurrected for the new 2+2 sportscar from the Lotus group. It had its world debut at the British Motor show in London on July 22nd, the first all-new car from Lotus since the Lotus Elise in 1995, and will enter the sportscar market as the only mid-engined 2+2 in production.
In typical Lotus fashion, the new car employs lightweight materials, such as an aluminium chassis in the construction, giving much better than average performance from its Toyota-sourced V6 engine. Zero to 100 kph is reported as being under five seconds and top speed of over 250 kph.

Eagle’s tail feathers

It certainly is a dramatic looking vehicle, but when you read a little further through the specifications of the 2+2, you find that the rear seats of 2+2 are intended for children or smaller adults on short journeys. It’s back to two adults and two legless midgets, I’m afraid. The press release, which must have been written by a comedian, states “When unoccupied, the rear seats provide a convenient stowage area for briefcases and jackets, adding to Project Eagle’s appeal as an everyday car.” They have to be joking, store anything on the rear seat of a 2+2 and it is in the dashboard first time you apply the brakes while playing Lewis Hamiltons on your local street.
The interior is not as Spartan as previous Lotus models and boasts a ‘do everything other than make your breakfast’ SATNAV plus tricky audio system and on-board tyre pressure monitoring. A module in the headlining will accommodate automatic garage and gate opening remote controls. Bluetooth is mandatory these days, as is the iPod.
Deliveries of the Eagle will begin in Spring 2009, and with only 2000 of the hand crafted cars planned each year.

Autotrivia Quiz

Lotus Elite

Last week I asked you to take a good close look at this photograph. I asked what is this car, and why does it look so strange? Look carefully and you will see that the car has been built sideways across the chassis of a 1940’s Mercedes, so the wheels are pointing north-south while the body is pointing east-west. It is reminiscent of the drawings done by M.C. Escher. Many thanks to Jerry Coffey for sending this to me.

Quiz car
So to this week, and something more normal. I mentioned Lotus above, so let’s continue in that vein. The Lotus 14 was released at the London Motor Show in 1957 and was called the Lotus Elite. A beautifully smooth design, it was the world’s first fiberglass monocoque. Colin Chapman’s accountant was very much involved with this car. What was his name, and what part did he have to play?
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Motorcycles make a comeback
I recently attended a motorcycle racing meeting at the Bira International Circuit in Thailand, promoted by Grand Prix International (GPI), and I was immediately taken by the different classes racing that weekend. Everything from small step-throughs to 1000 cc big bikes. The riders also covered everyone from ultra-competitive eight year olds to semi-retired Americans racing 600’s for fun.

Kemin Kubo on the grid (Photo by Alan Coates)

This was also a very special meeting, according to Anothai Eamlumnow from Grand Prix International, as it has been 20 years since they last promoted the motorcycle racing. To mark the event, and its importance, the president of GPI Dr. Prachin Eamlumnow and the newly elected mayor of Pattaya Itthipol Khunplome were in attendance at the grand opening on the Sunday of the two day meeting.
Two riders stood out from the meeting as future champions. Kemin Kubo was eight years old and Kiettisak Chuaywiset was nine. Both were riding Honda Click Super Star step-throughs and both were very small. So small in fact that when lined up on the grid they could not remain seated on the saddle, but had to slip off and literally stand on one leg beside the motorcycle! But what is more, both of the boys rode like champions, hanging off the side of the bike like any Valentino Rossi would do.

Kemin at speed (Photo by Alan Coates)

The other item which stood out in my mind was the fact that there were complete grids made up of small Yamahas and small Hondas. Ideal one-make one-model categories that look affordable, present ideal training grounds for future champions, and results will soon show those who have the talent to make it further up the tree towards Moto-GP.
Another thought to ponder is the fact that in two wheeled racing, you can buy performance, but you cannot buy results. You could put me on a 125 Moto-GP Repsol Honda and I would come last. And so would you! However, I am confident that I could run a Formula BMW race car and still be mid-field, even at my age. Motorcycles are great levellers.

AFOS at Bira in August
Advance notice: the Asian Festival of Speed will be running at Bira International circuit on August 16/17. This is our opportunity to see cars and drivers from other Asian countries and see how our local drivers compare. The AFOS program will also have the Thailand Supercar events, so it should be a very full weekend of motorsport. More information closer to the event.

What did we learn from the German GP?
Well, we learned that Lewis Hamilton has a vacuum cleaner in the nose of his McLaren Mercedes that sucks up the “dirty air” so well that he doesn’t notice it when passing other cars. It is time the commentators and the other drivers stopped using the so-called “dirty air” as an excuse. Hamilton drove superbly and was head and shoulders above all the other drivers and won despite the safety car and a rather strange strategy from the McLaren pit wall experts.
In case you have been similarly sucked in that Hamilton won because his car was faster than the others, here is the table of fastest laps:
1 N. Heidfeld (BMW) 1:15.987
2 L. Hamilton (McLaren) 1:16.039
3 K. Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:16.342
4 H. Kovalainen (McLaren) 1:16.495
5 F. Massa (Ferrari) 1:16.502
6 R. Kubica (BMW) 1:16.610
7 T. Glock (Toyota) 1:16.712
8 S. Vettel (Toro Rosso) 1:16.772
9 N. Piquet (Renault) 1:16.910
10 S. Bourdais (Toro Rosso) 1:16.969
Hamilton’s car was not appreciably faster than the others, it was simply the fact that Hamilton could keep up the lap times for 67 laps that brought him the victory.
We also learned that the use of safety cars can certainly produce some strange results, such as Piquet (Renault) coming second. A clear case of being in the right place at the right time. “I got quite lucky, but I was on the perfect strategy and the team called me in at the right time,” he said. Piquet has been under pressure to perform, but the second place at Hockenheim has not changed anything. Piquet fell in a sewer and came up covered in jam. Let us see if he is just as lucky in Hungary. His team mate, the sulky Spaniard, gets more and more ragged when placed in pressure situations. He is not worth the money.
Ferrari? Looks like they should be preparing for Alonso to come and take Raikkonen’s seat in 2009. Kimi had no fire, no interest and no performance. I think he has mentally retired already (as he has been threatening to do). Massa was (almost) as lack-luster but scraped in for third.
After Hamilton, the other star of the meeting was Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso. Driving way above the performance of his car all weekend and deserved the eighth place. In a Red Bull next year he will be even better. His team mate Bourdais in his Roaring Tosser was as usual nowhere, which is where the Frenchman will be next year. Nowhere.
BMW was something of a damp squib all weekend. Kubica was far from being the driver he was in Montreal for his maiden win, whilst Heidfeld was another of the ‘lucky’ drivers after the safety car lottery, ending up finishing in front of his team mate.
Glock had another monumental crash after the right rear suspension failure as he half lost it driving over the kerb. However, by the time he finally stopped there was little of his Toyota left. Disappointing for the Japanese giant as they were starting to show some results this year.
Red Bull’s MD claimed that “Webber picked up some debris which damaged the oil cooler!” From where I was sitting in Jameson’s Irish Pub, watching the smoke coming from the right hand bank of the V8, it was a bit more than a debris-damaged oil cooler. Perhaps the conrod hit it? With Coulthard retiring at the end of the year we will no longer be able to run bets on whom he will hit at the next meeting. I think he has lost all lateral vision.
My Earth Dream continues to be My Earth Nightmare and both the Honda drivers seem to have mentally given up with this year’s car, just as they did with last year’s car. Perhaps they could buy Glock’s wreck and see if they can build a better one.
At this stage in the championship it looks as if Lewis Hamilton can win it, provided McLaren doesn’t lose it for him!