Last week I mentioned that Wayne Eckersley was a famous F1 engineer and one of
the drivers he fettled won the world championship. Eckersley also made a six
wheel F1 car. I asked what manufacturer did he make it for? A bit of a trick
question, as Wayne Eckersley was the chief engineer at Williams when Australian
Alan Jones won the world championship in 1980, but he built the six-wheeler for
March Engineering. Unlike the six wheel Tyrrell which had two extra front wheels,
the Eckersley concept was two extra rear wheels.
So to this week. In one family there was a very successful racing driver and his
sister was a very successful rally driver. Who were they?
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How did Toyota get in such a mess?
Toyota Motor has just gone through the worst year in the 70 year
history of the brand, losing billions of dollars (not yen). However, 2010 has
started to look just as bad, if not worse, with the recall of millions of their
vehicles world-wide with an accelerator problem.
What’s more, the part was not even made by Toyota, but by one of their suppliers,
though I would imagine to the Toyota design.
What must be taken into account is the fact that recalls and corrections cost
big money for major manufacturers like Toyota. Let’s, for the sake of the
exercise, imagine that it only costs $10 to fix the problem. That’s not much,
but now multiply that by one million vehicles. That $10 fix just cost the
company 10 million dollars! And since the estimated number of vehicles Toyota
has to fix is somewhere around eight million, that’s not small change. What’s
worse, that does not take into account the loss of the good name of the company,
especially Toyota who has worked hard for many years to give the impression of
being bullet-proof in the minds of the motoring public.
The chairman of Toyota, Mr Toyoda, has been criticized in some sections of the
media for not apologizing sooner. Poor bugger is in the situation of damned if
he does and damned if he doesn’t. And even if he committed hara-kiri kneeling on
the sacrificial mat on prime time television it doesn’t alter the fact that
there was a screw up affecting millions of their cars across several of their
What is also being conveniently forgotten is that the sticking throttle pedal
does not affect every Toyota. It is only a very, very few drivers in amongst the
millions of owners who have had this problem, but now every Toyota is looked
upon as if it is a mobile hand grenade, just waiting to go off - which is not
the real scenario.
No, I feel sorry for Mr. Toyoda, who has found himself in a lose-lose situation,
but he should take heart in the fact that within two model years the press and
the public will have forgotten about it all. In the meantime I am quite happy to
see my wife drive the children to school in our family Toyota. They have more
chance of being hit by a bus than they have of the accelerator sticking, and
even if it did, I am confident that my wife would apply the brakes and then turn
off the ignition.
F1 teams begin the annual bluffing
The F1 teams have shown their 2010 contenders to the press, and
are now involved in testing the new designs before the first Grand Prix (Bahrain
The major difference for this year is that refuelling is no longer allowed
during the race, so the fuel tanks have to be roughly twice the size. This
has meant that the cars are longer in the wheelbase to accommodate the
This is where the bluffing begins. There will be probably a one second
difference in lap times between full tanks and empty tanks, so when a team’s
driver sets a lap time, was the fuel tank full or was he running on a sniff?
If they want to impress a would-be sponsor, lap times at the top of the list
will look good, so low fuel is the answer. If the team is trying to sandbag, and
not show their real potential, then the driver will always be going out on full
tanks. So the new fuel tank size is even more important than ever.
Whilst we will all look at the Formula 1 websites to see if Button is quicker
than Hamilton or quicker than Schumacher or Rosberg, it really does not mean
much at this stage. The final qualifying session in Bahrain is when we will
really see just which team has the upper hand, and which driver in that team.
Asian Motor Sport becoming stronger?
Over the years, I have tended to watch ‘professional’ meetings,
but the professional meetings do not really show true, grass roots, motor
This was really hammered home the other day when I clicked on the website
for the Super Club race promoters and looked through the events which were
coming up for the meeting. On the Sunday there were a number of practice
sessions up till 10.30 and then the racing started with 16 races up till
around 5.30 p.m. The races were generally around six laps and there were 10
minutes between races. What a race feast!
Now there are those who say that we should be concentrating on Formula 1, and if
we don’t have a Formula 1 track then we aren’t a motor racing nation. I’m afraid
I don’t agree. Formula 1 is the tip of the pyramid, but if there isn’t a wide
base to support it, then it will all fall in a heap. Guaranteed! Take China, for
example. They have an F1 track, but no real grass roots base. Motor sport is
then not in the DNA of the community. The end result could be seen in Shanghai,
where the promoters were giving away tickets to try and make the stands look
less empty. This was also the case in Malaysia. Some sections might try and deny
it, but the TV camera doesn’t lie.
We are still suffering from what has been described as the Global Economic
Downturn, and high level motor sports require high level funding. In fact, the
funding levels in F1 have become so high that even manufacturers such as Honda,
BMW and now Toyota, have withdrawn from the top echelon. Having said that, what
corporations in Asia are prepared to put millions of dollars into a sport, where
there is no guarantee of a return? In fact, it is generally the opposite. It
should not be forgotten that there is only one race team still in F1, which has
been there since the 1950 Silverstone Grand Prix, without a break. Yes, that is
So back to the real base for motor sport in any country, not just Asia or ASEAN.
There needs to be affordable classes in which drivers can compete without it
costing an arm and a leg. Literally ‘Run what you brung’ categories.
Those initial and very inexpensive race categories will bring on another class
of racing, as those who get ‘hooked’ will want to move up. Not to a fully
sponsored top class drive, though it may be an ambition, but to one where the
cars are a little more modified, a little faster, and only (hopefully) a little
more expensive to run. These will still be essentially road cars. Race on Sunday
and drive to work Monday.
Did you know that Pattaya even had a two cars at a time ‘hill climb’ using the
public road at Pratamnak Hill? About 12 years ago, it was a great event - an
uphill drag race with one right and one left hand corner, with the cars staying
on either side of the white line. Sa Keow also has a temporary track and Chiang
Mai has a public road section it uses for the Honda and Toyota one make races.
This is good in many ways. It brings motor sport to the notice of the people in
the provinces, and allows local drivers to “have a go”. If there is no
opportunity to try motor sport, then once again, with no grass roots, there is
no base for faster (and more expensive) categories. I cannot emphasize enough
the importance of the ‘novice’ classes to the health of motor racing in all
countries as a whole.