Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Belgian GP?

What a difference a track makes! After boring Valencia came Spa, a track universally liked, and a track that delivered passing, intrigue, subterfuge, suspense, action and drama.
I will get straight to the point. I do not believe that Kimi Raikkonen won the Belgian GP fairly, and since I was not the only person to spot the first corner pass, I just wonder where the stewards were looking when Raikkonen went off whilst in fourth place, drove around with all four wheels on the run-off area, cut the corner and rejoined the race in third and had enough momentum to carry him through to second. At the last count, a pass has to be done on the racing surface, and the run-off area isn’t it. Oh, I forgot, he drives a Ferrari…
A wonderful result for Team Poppadum! “Veteran” Fisichella scores pole position and (really) won the Belgian GP. A magnificent effort. There is, however, no truth in the rumor that the Vindaloo curry he had at lunchtime made him go that little bit quicker. His team mate Sutil, by comparison, was nowhere. Perhaps he stuck with the samosas.
There is rumor that Fisi will be driving the second Ferrari at Monza in place of Badoer, who has proved he is most certainly out of his depth. If Fisi doesn’t take the seat there are several hundred drivers who would be ready, and quicker than luckless Luca. The Scuderia can get me on [email protected]
Renault had an interesting time in the pits. The chap who didn’t get the right front wheel on properly in Hungary was reprieved and switched to the left front wheel for Spa. Same result, ending with frantic calls to Alonso to come back in before another wheel fell off for another $50,000 fine. His team mate Grosjean tangled with the lack-luster Button (Brawn GP) with both blaming each other. It doesn’t really matter, neither was going to get into the points.
While still on Renault, the FIA are investigating whether Piquet Junior was told to crash at Singapore last year so that the safety car would be deployed to allow Alonso to be safe out front and enable the win. Has Junior been opening the Renault closet, I wonder?
Back to Spa, Button started on 14th while Barichello, the pensioner, was on fourth grid slot. What is wrong with Button? I think he has simply dropped his bundle as the thought of perhaps winning the driver’s title keeps him awake at night. Again a mighty drive by the Brazilian, though the starting problem must be fixed. This was not the first time this year.
Red Bull scored a third with Vunderkind Vettel, to bring himself back into contention, while Mark Webber joined the bundle droppers after scoring a drive-through penalty for a lapse by the lollipop man. Actually the situation is simply fixed by having a two lane pit exit.
BMW were up there, though not podium material. Are Kubica and Heidfeld trying to get brownie points before a new owner comes along for the team?
McLaren-Mercedes scored some points with Kovalainen, while Lewis Hamilton ended up in the wall with Button, Grosjean and Algy for company.
Rosberg scored another point for Williams, while Knuckles Nakajima and Luckless Luca provided good opportunities for the other drivers to practice passing.
Roll on Monza. Another good track.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I wrote about the 1936 Rolls-Royce Phantom III, a motoring legend in many ways. Wonderful engineering, silky smooth engine and a modern suspension - and I asked who developed its front suspension? It was General Motors!
So to this week. What RPM was the red line in an E-Type Jaguar?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Best Bargains
If you are looking for a bargain, forget all about new cars and discounts or better specs offered free by the sales people. Quite frankly, there is no such thing as a ‘cheaper’ new car. The price is fixed but you can get some minor price lowering with heavy bargaining, all of which isn’t worth it in the end.
No, the way to find bargains is to look at two to three year old secondhand vehicles. The initial depreciation is over and there are plenty of models in the second hand car lots for you to compare.
I came across the following figures in a UK source and there are some lessons to be learned, even though some of the vehicles listed are not available here - but the principles are the same.
The 10 models which retained the least of their original list price (as a percentage) after three years and 64,000 kays were as follows:
1. Alfa Romeo 166 - 14.4%
2. Rover 45 / MG ZS - 20.3%
3. Rover City Rover - 20.4%
4. Rover 75 / MG ZT - 21.3%
5. Proton Impian - 22.0%
6. Mitsubishi Space Star - 22.5%
7. Nissan Terrano - 22.9%
8. Alfa Romeo 156 - 24.2%
9. Renault Laguna - 24.3%
10. Cadillac CTS - 24.8%
Alfa Romeo’s 166 holds the dubious honor of being the worst depreciating car in the UK, retaining a mere 14.4 percent of its original price after three years. Rover and MG cars, such as the 45/ZS and 75/ZT, fare little better, just managing to hold on to 20 percent of their values over the same period. Models from a number of other manufacturers feature in the ‘bottom 10’ - including Proton, Mitsubishi and Nissan - and none of these achieves a residual value better than 25 percent.
The 10 worst-performing cars all shared one feature which has a negative impact on their low retained values: they were superceded models. But it’s not all bad news for the cars at the bottom of the depreciation pile. This is an area where bargains really do abound. Many of them are not “bad” cars, but tend to be semi-orphans, without service centers locally. For example, just where do you go to get your Alfa serviced here? Likewise, a Renault? These are not bad cars and at the lower end of the depreciation stakes make good bargains.
The above also holds true for popular makes/models. For example I saw a fully loaded three years old diesel Fortuner, for 500,000 baht less than its new price. Why? Because there was a model upgrade between then and now, and another upgrade planed in a couple of years time.
If you are in the car market, I suggest you spend a few weekends just finding the average prices of late model vehicles and contrasting the price with the price that was paid at the showroom. You will find a bargain.

The Brits finally blow the steam record
At a cost of several millions, the British Steam Car Challenge team has finally smashed the 100 year old steam land speed record. By a whole 26 km/h. The ghost of Fred Marriott, the driver who drove the Stanley Steamer to its record of 205.5 km/h in 1906, must still be laughing. After 103 years, is that the best that modern British technology can do? Apparently it is, as the new record holder is being retired to a museum.
British Steam Car Challenge confirmed that it had hit a peak speed of 219.04 km/h on its first attempt and 243.15 km/h on its second run along a dry lake bed at Edward’s Air Force Base in California.

New record holder (just).

These speeds, which are yet to be accepted by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) which oversees record attempts, betters the 205.5km/h record set in a Stanley Steamer in 1906. Once ratified, the record run will be an average of the British Steam Car’s two runs - 231.09 km/h.
So how did the much vaunted British technology beat the Stanley Steamer? The three-tonne, 7.6 meter streamlined ‘‘Inspiration’’, as the car is named, was made from a mixture of carbon fiber and a steel space frame chassis.
The steam came from purified water that was superheated to 400 degrees Celsius in 12 LPG-fuelled boilers filled with more than three kilometers of tubing, at the rate of 50 liters a minute. It was then fed into a turbine at twice the speed of sound, generating only a meager 268 kW of power at 12,000 rpm but an enormous amount of torque.
The car took about four kilometers to reach its peak speed, and another four kilometers to stop. To set the new record, the BSCC team had to turn the car around within an hour to make the second run. They made it with eight minutes to spare.
Driver Charles Burnett said the steam car handled beautifully, making it a “true testament to British engineering. All systems worked perfectly - it was a really good (first) run,” Burnett said. “The second run went even better and we clocked a speed in excess of 240 km/h.”
However, the record run was well short of the team’s ambitious 320 km/h speed target that it set before making the attempt.
Late news: I have just been given a very secret memo that a team from Thailand will attack this new record next year. The basis is a three wheeled noodle cart, using a gas ring and a kettle on top. The steam produced will be used to drive a turbine to assist the man on the pedals. The Thai engineers estimate that 240 km/h should be well within its sights, but are worried about the turnaround time of one hour, as the preparation for the lunchtime som tum will probably be the deciding factor.
The sad part about this new land speed steaming “record” is the fact that the Brits are shaking hands with themselves, having nudged the speed up by a whole 26 km/h. The entire effort is more like a Monty Python sketch, rather than a really great engineering achievement.

The old record holder.

Here comes the Mini Coupe
To be released at the Frankfurt show, BMW have sent the teaser shots of the new Mini Coupe. Now, who remembers the Mini Jem? It was built in 1968 and was also available as a kit car. There is a certain similarity here, in concept, if nothing else.

New Mini Coupe

While the new Mini concept car has a luxurious leather-lined interior, production versions of the Coupe will come with the same materials and trims as existing Mini models.
The Coupe uses the same front wheel drive platform as well as the aluminium intensive strut (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension and electro-hydraulic steering system from existing versions of the Mini -which means it should drive just like the ordinary Minis.

Old Mini Coupe

The engine in the Frankfurt concept is the same turbocharged 1.6 liter four cylinder engine used in the performance top of the range John Cooper S Works, which develops 155 kW of power and 280 Nm of torque.
Factory figures indicate 0-100 km/h inside 7.0 seconds and reach a top speed of around 240 km/h.
Production versions of the new car should also be available with the less powerful 128 kW turbocharged 1.6 liter four cylinder engine from the Cooper S.