Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Spa is a real driver’s circuit

The almost 14 km Spa-Francorchamps circuit was the quickest of all the classic road circuits and many would say, the greatest. It used public roads through the mountains of the Ardennes in Southern Belgium and even in the dry was a circuit for which you needed a good set of cojones. In the wet it was only for heroes and as the region is known as ‘The Pisspot of Europe’, races have frequently been held in the wet.
Spa was first used for racing in 1924 and the first Belgian GP was run in 1925, won by Antonio Ascari, father of the double World Champion, Alberto Ascari.
Serious discontent with Spa began after a downpour in the 1966 race which caused several crashes, most significantly one involving Jackie Stewart which led to his campaign for improved circuit safety.
In 1983 a new 7.3 km circuit was built incorporating some of the original track, but with an improved surface and run-off areas. The new Spa, which still includes some public roads, is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar and, many believe, the most challenging.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked where did the Sex-Auto come from? Hint: It was not Patpong Road. It was the Reeves car which had six wheels. They also brought out an Octo-Auto in 1911 and that spelled the end for the entire company.
So to this week. Raymond Sommer, Pierre Levegh and Briggs Cunningham have something in common in the Le Mans 24 hour race. What was it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Unexciting - but makes sense
Motoring columns such as this one tend to have road tests on super-fast, super-expensive vehicles that none of us could possibly afford, including the tester. This week, it is the opposite. Here is a long-term test on a car that cost around 650,000 baht, carries seven easily (or 10 Thais) and is an absolute fuel miser. May I present the family Toyota Avanza.

Toyota Avanza

This vehicle was purchased in August 2005, with great reluctance on my part, I have to say. It was certainly no looker, being tall and narrow. It was also not going to be a performance car with seven seats and 1.3 liters up front. However, it was to be a family transport, to be mainly driven by my wife, ferrying the two children around. We ordered the automatic transmission and power steering. And the price was right.
We did look at the Toyota Fortuner and the Wish, but both were twice the price. Ditto for Honda people movers. The only one that made financial sense was the Avanza.
I did not even drive it before delivery. Two reasons. One, the dealership did not have a demonstrator, and even if they had, I was so sure I would hate it that I would cancel the order if I drove it.
So what has it been like since then? We have done over 50,000 km, and nothing major has gone wrong. The driver’s side rear door squeaks, no matter how much CRC I spray at the hinges, and the door at the back rattles. The self-locking mechanism unlocks itself and relocks itself some days, and that’s annoying. The fabric covered seats was a mistake. They get dirty very quickly with children, milk bottles, etc.; we should have ordered leather. The front and rear plastic bumpers spring loose when the holding bolts undo themselves and disappear somewhere, never to be seen again. The auto transmission does have a standard and overdrive setting, but the standard is far too low geared, so it gets left in overdrive all the time. And that is about it for the whinges.
On the plus side, it is a very economical vehicle. The 1.3 liter does the job amazingly well for a seven seater. It can keep up with the traffic, even if it isn’t the leader at the traffic light grand prix. It is no Ferrari, but it wasn’t supposed to be. As it is rear wheel drive, the turning circle is very small, since the front wheel movement is not limited by drive shafts and CV joint angles, so it’s a breeze in shopping centers. It is comfortable enough, even for seats number six and seven when unfolded at the back. It also has a fan set into the roof between the first and second row of seats, sucking cold air from the front and sending it into the second row. Not quite as good as two separate air-conditioners, but a very neat way of inexpensively getting around the problem.
Would I buy another? If my requirements were the same, I certainly would.

AFOS introduces category racing public can relate to
The AFOS head, David Sonenscher, believes that this time he has the category which the racing public can relate to, and be such that it does not cost an arm and three legs if you want to compete at that level.

ATCS 1500Max Challenge

The newly introduced Asian Touring Car Super 1500Max Challenge began this year with a 12 round calendar for its first season, visiting four countries around Asia. The new championship, aimed at attracting a bigger and younger crowd of touring car enthusiasts, will be running as part of the Asian Festival Of Speed season.
David Sonenscher said, “ATCS 1500Max provides an international platform for drivers who have previously been competing in National One make races or local Touring Car Championships.”
Emphasizing his belief in this new category, Sonenscher also told me that he already had seven manufacturers lined up to compete in the series next year (2009). These included Toyota, Honda and Proton, three manufacturers that are already committed to 1500 cc sedan motor racing in the different countries, and already have national championships, such as the Vios, Yaris and Jazz one-make races, and incidentally, these groups are very close to each other in lap times. This new championship then gives competitors the opportunity to race in other countries in Asia and will also mean that there will be full fields in each country.

Thailand GM looks to diesel engine production
General Motors has started building a new engine plant and commenced an upgrade of an existing vehicle assembly operation in the ‘Detroit of Asia’ (Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate).
The 14,492 square-meter facility is costing GM $US445 million and the engine plant will produce more than 100,000 engines per year when operations commence in 2010.
This is GM’s first four cylinder diesel engine facility in SE Asia, and will employ around 340 people.
This was announced by GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner, who said the Thai facility would be a key player in the company’s engineering development of the next generation Colorado, which will be built there.
The Thai engines are a co-development with Italian diesel specialists VM Motori, which GM acquired in 2007 as a 50 percent equity stake to form a joint-venture with the Penske Corporation.
These new engines will be initially available in 2.5 and 2.8 liter capacities, the engine will power a number of other future light commercial vehicles as well as SUVs derived from them, spread over a variety of brands in the GM network, including Australia’s Holden and Chevrolet.
CEO Wagoner described the Thai facility as “an example of how we are proactively pursuing two key aspects of GM’s global strategy … the first (is) the accelerated application of alternative fuels and propulsion systems to reduce global dependency on fossil fuels. The second is growth in the emerging markets, including the ASEAN region, as a key factor in our continued global leadership.”
GM calls the upcoming facility “a state-of-the-art, highly flexible and people-focused production complex that incorporates GM’s leading manufacturing strategies.” These include the production of a variety of alternative fuel engine derivatives, namely Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), cellulose derived ethanol, bio-diesel and petrol. However, there was no mention of plug-in propulsion as in the much heralded Chevrolet Volt, due in 2010.
GM currently sells over one million diesel engines annually, in 36 different vehicle lines, and in sizes ranging from the 1.3 liter four cylinder in Europe’s Opel Agila and Corsa, to the 6.6 liter Duramax V8 powering a variety of US trucks and vans.
The market for such 6.6 liter behemoths has absolutely crashed in the US, and it is good to see GM investing in Asia, a region of the world that is still delivering profits for them.