Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Chinese GP?

Well, we learned that you don’t need a double-decker diffuser to win Grands Prix, with young Sebastian Vettel taking a very well earned win at the rain soaked Chinese Grand Prix after making no errors at all. To really hammer the point home, team mate Mark Webber in the second of the two Red Bulls came in behind him to make it not only Red Bull’s first win, but also first 1-2. Webber could have won, if he had not made two mistakes, from which he did recover, but lost time. And remember that Red Bull has a single stage diffuser.
Much of the pre-race interest was with the antics in Paris as the hearing continued against the “diffuser three” by the other seven teams. The highlight was Ferrari’s Queen’s Counsel describing Ross Brawn as the most arrogant man on the planet for even daring to think that he was correct, against the design teams of Ferrari et al. With the Brawn diffusers being judged legal (again), who was arrogant and who were the dummies?
It was difficult conditions in Shanghai, but these are the best drivers in the world, or so the PR machine would have you believe. Don’t believe. Nelson Piquet should be dropped at Renault. His performances are woeful, and with Renault team boss Flavio Briatore describing championship leader Jenson Button as being as fast as a concrete traffic bollard, where does that place Piquet? If Piquet Senior were not funding his son’s drive at Renault … draw your own conclusions. Nakajima is also nowhere. Williams should drop him (if it weren’t for the fact that the Williams has a Japanese engine). Draw your own conclusions again.
Brawn GP had a good weekend and 3rd and 4th was as good as they were going to get. Button had a good scrap with Webber, but admitted that he couldn’t hold the Red Bull under the conditions. Not bad for a bollard. 4th for Barichello, the old age pensioner (thanks Flav), was also well deserved. Flavio should look at his own team before criticizing others.
Ferrari? The worst start to the season since Julius Caesar made the wrong decision to attend the Senate hearings. Massa had water in the electrics and following top level hand waving, both Ferraris will be fitted with on-board CRC de-watering fluid for the next race (in the desert). Raikkonen says the championship situation “looks difficult”. Great comedians, these Finns.
McLaren? The much vaunted rain driver Lewis Hamilton (after the wet Silverstone race last year), made mistake, after mistake, after mistake. However, he will probably deny it, on advice from the pit wall. Kovalainen did the slow but steady strategy and finished in front of his world champion running mate. A good effort in a slow but steady race car.
BMW? Kubica has become a WCW (world champion whinger) but did a magnificent job in mounting Trulli’s Toyota. What they will call the offspring, I am unsure, but perhaps just a BMTWAT?
The rest? Forget it, other than Sutil who did try hard to get a point for Team Poppadum, but lost his nose and front wheels six laps from home.
Bahrain this weekend. Don’t miss it.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked when were curved windscreens first used? The answer was 1914 on the Kissel.
So to this week. In the early days, the spare wheel was usually tacked on to the rear of the car. Which car, and when, did the spare wheel become enclosed in the tail?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

 


Most Practical / Useful
When you want to hop on a ‘bike which is more than a step-through, to go to the shops, visit someone or simply enjoy a bit of a ride out then most of the bigger machines including the middleweight sports are a pain.

Kawasaki ER-6n

Yamaha’s FZ6 doesn’t really comply since it is a big bike with high revving engine to extract maximum power to compete with Suzuki’s (SV650S) and Honda’s Hornet (not on show)
Kawasaki showed a naked middleweight, the ER-6n, which it has steadily developed over the last few years. It is a liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve 649 cm3 Parallel Twin with fuel injection. Apparently, the engine’s mid-range power characteristics make the bike especially fun to ride at medium speeds on city streets. Roll-on response is exceptional, offering impressive passing performance. ABS is an option in some markets. A modern Triumph Bonneville, 650 cc twin?
This got my vote because of its no nonsense build and lack of frills. A get on and go bike that doesn’t look difficult to run and maintain.
(Thank you Alan for a very detailed overview of the motorcycles at the 30th Bangkok International Motor Show.)


More on the Bangkok Motor Show bikes
Our roving motorcycle correspondent, Alan Coates, continues his review of the motorcycles displayed at the Bangkok International Motor Show.


Genuine Tourer
My definition of this category, based on considerable experience is as follows: It must be big enough, with weather protection, to carry two adults in comfort at high speed for 8 hours per day. It must have a three piece hard luggage system built in with room enough for a tank bag. It should be possible for a reasonably fit male to maneuver the machine while parking, turning around etc with a dead engine.

BMW K1300 GT

Honda’s Gold Wing falls out here because of the sheer physical size and weight, equipped as it is with an 1850 cc 6 cylinder engine plus all of its accoutrements. BMW no longer import their K1200LT into Thailand for a number of reasons which include servicing problems.
Yamaha’s FJR1300 has been around for some time and the latest version was on display, the FJR1300AS. This has the optional clutchless gear changing facility. This works either by foot as normal or via a thumb switch on the left hand ‘bar, without the need to operate the clutch lever. Such a system is highly beneficial in heavy traffic conditions but not necessary on open road touring.
New on the scene is the new BMW K1300GT. It looks a bit slab sided and dated but actually is high tech and high performance with an output of 160 hp (118 kW) and up to 135 Nm of torque at 8,000 rpm from its 1300 cc 4 cylinder engine. Equipped with a good range of standard and optional equipment, including ABS and the availability of a wide selection of accessories, this ‘bike is a modern Genuine Tourer.
While definitely not a fan of BMW, its Duolever front and optional ESA II rear suspension adjustment system combine to give a ride which should suit most riders/ passengers and load arrangements.
ESA II Electronic Suspension Adjustment is an optional system that allows you to modify the suspension set-up depending on the load you are carrying. It automatically sets the best possible combination of suspension height, spring rate and damping settings.
So, expensive it is, but in this case you get what you pay for with the BMW K1300GT.


Naked / Muscle (Retro)
There were plenty of contenders here; Suzuki’s 1250 Bandit which has been around for a long time but is very competitive pricewise. You get a big lump for little money but chassis and suspension are dated.

BMW K1300R

Kawasaki have gone the retro route with their Z1000 which harkens back to the late 70’s early 80’s. A modern powerplant in an uprated chassis / suspension set up but with too much plastic and a pair of silencers that would not look out of place on a double decker bus.
Yamaha offer the FZ1, essentially a stripped down, detuned R1. Not designed as a muscle bike, just a model created to fill the gap in their model range.
Triumph’s Speed Triple 1050 looked menacing, caged, as it was, on the Dirtshop stand. Now a major player globally; for 2009 Triumph produce a range of 16 ‘bikes to suit most tastes and are once again enjoying some success on the race circuits with the Daytona 675. However, the 1050 Speed Triple is billed as a street fighter and has proved to be a very successful seller. For 2009, the 3 cylinder engine delivers 130 bhp with unique evocative sound and character. The ‘bike comes with very little by way of extras or superfluous bits, it has iconic twin headlamps, tapered aluminium Magura bars, black multi spoke alloy wheels and twin short exhaust cans. The specification includes twin Brembo 4-piston 4-pad radial calipers mounted on fully adjustable black anodised Showa USD forks, fully adjustable Showa monoshock rear suspension and a single sided swing arm, all at a very competitive price.
Dirtshop again presented the Ducati Monster, this time the 1100S with an after market can fitted. The 1100S chassis is part tube and for 2009 part casting. The result is lightweight at 168 kg but the V-twin only puts out some 95 bhp so it is no arm wrenching Monster. Maintenance of the exposed drive belt under the engine is of concern in adverse operating conditions. The specification is high with Brembo brakes, Ohlins front and rear but then so is the price, it’s an exotic head turner but lacks the serious grunt of some of the others in this class.
Last and far from least is a new model from BMW, not previously known for naked / muscle ‘bikes. However, the all new K1300R is a revelation, not only for the specification but also for the simple fact that a vertically challenged rider with 29 inch inside leg can actually “flat foot” to maneuver the bike. With an engine output of 173 hp (127 kW) and 140 Nm of torque it is very impressive as is the technical specification. It has the BMW Duolever suspension for optimum handling, and options include ABS, TPC (Tyre Pressure Control) and ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) like the K1300GT tourer. Shaft drive is standard.
Another option available is gear shift assist, allowing riders to change up without declutching or taking their hand off the throttle. A useful aid in those drag starts from the traffic lights.
BMW won me over on the specification of the K1300R, its impressive powertrain and the fact that my feet touch the ground, a first for me with any BMW.