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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the European GP?

Well, we learned that it isn’t over until it’s over!  The podium with Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), followed by Raikkonen (“Lotus”) and Schumacher (Mercedes) was an incredible result that could not have been predicted, even at mid-distance.  It also showed the depth of the influence of Ferrari, with all three drivers world champions, one a current Ferrari driver and the other two ex-Ferrari champions.

Contrary to previous Grands Prix at the Valencia track, there was a feast of overtaking, with most of the overtaking moves not produced by the artificial DRS boost.  With the example being given by some of the younger drivers in the field who are not afraid to risk all in a passing maneuver, the drivers began to push and find their way around the cars in front.  However, not all moves were successful, and some were just hopelessly optimistic.  The aggressive nature of the racing in lower formulae such as GP2 (or Touring cars) is now the norm in F1 it seems.  Vergne (Toro Rosso) driving into Kovalainen (Caterham), Maldonado (Williams) into Hamilton (McLaren), Kobayashi (Sauber) into Senna (Williams) and again into Massa (Ferrari).  There were more, but that is enough to show just how F1 has changed from a competition between gentlemen drivers to a scrum of rugby league front rowers.

I have always considered car electrics (and now electronics) a black art, and undoubtedly both Vettel (Red Bull) and Grosjean (“Lotus”) would agree with me.  Both sailing along, well within themselves and their cars and suddenly the fire goes out and their race is over.  Up till that point, Vettel was getting his infamous finger ready and Grosjean was singing the Marsellaise.  It would have certainly been a podium for the Frenchman, who has shown an amazing improvement this year, despite his DNF’s earlier in the season.  At this stage their failures are being put down to alternator problems.  Are they both running Lucas, I wonder?

Returning to the winner Fernando Alonso, he has become today’s answer to ‘The Professor’ Alain Prost.  He has matured into a very clever and talented competitor and a long way from the sulky Spaniard of a few years ago.  While it is obvious that his win was assisted by Vettel’s electrical woes, nevertheless he deserved the win, having not let up for the entire race distance.

Michael Schumacher’s third place was an overdue podium. He has now become the second oldest driver to stand on the podium since Black Jack Brabham about 40 years ago.  While that may be so, let us not forget that Juan Manuel Fangio was 45 years old when he was winning world championships, driving very difficult race cars in Grands Prix lasting three hours.  And they didn’t spend their time hitting other drivers off the track.  Nor did they spend their time nursing tyres which only last 10 laps, but got on with the job of “racing”.

Mark Webber (Red Bull) had an amazing race after a diabolical qualifying which left him 19th on the grid, to eventually finish fourth.  The Aussie is now second in the world championship table after Alonso.

It was an exciting GP, even though part of the closeness in running has been produced by ‘artificial’ means such as degrading tyres, DRS and KERS.  However, as much as the enthusiasts yearn for the competitive driving of the days of yore, I think we have to accept that the new order is here and is not going to change in a hurry.

The Editor at Large looks at life

Marcos circa 1969.

Automania’s Editor at Large is John Weinthal who recently turned 72 (he’s always been older than me)!  As a celebration (?) he sent the following article in.  I believe that anyone older than 50 will agree with some/all of his points below:

I really quite enjoy being 72, but it pays for me not to pretend that I am somehow different ... Truth is I am just as crotchety as the next guy a lot of the time and while I certainly look to the future rather than the past - not all that is gone was wrong and not all that is new is an advance.

In the Automotive sphere.

I pine for round headlamps (and tail lights unless imaginative like first Murano and original Maserati 3200 GT).

I want key start.

I would like to see a modern interpretation of column auto-change allowing for three abreast front seating.

Oddly, some might say, I am happy with foot-operated 'handbrake' - emergency or parking brake if you get my drift.

I generally prefer minimum 50 profile tyres.

I still like manual gears - the more the merrier.

I hate touch screens - on phones and sat nav etc in cars.

I believe 'hands free' is every bit as dangerous as hand-held while driving - the distraction of chat with someone who is blind to the challenges you are facing on the road is the danger, not one-hand driving.

I do not want a reversing camera (I wrote this a long while ago before I bought Optima which has one - not essential but can be handy).

I believe all learner drivers should have minimum 30 minutes experience on skid pan.

I like rear opening doors - front and rear.

I dislike dark tinted windows, especially front and front side.

I have a general preference for British cars - most Bentley, pre-Phantom R-R, Jaguar, McLaren, Aston Martin etc will do ... and Marcos (John has a Marcos in Australia)!

I see no reason why I would thank you for any electric car, either production or concept.

I fail to be convinced that there is such a thing as man’s measurable impact on global climate.

I neither understand, nor wish to understand CO2 emission ... let the cows, and my car, fart without commentary.

No matter how much I read about it the (Australian) carbon tax justification does not justify it to me.

I believe that unleaded petrol and the whole catalyst introduction was a scam (powered I understand by GM) on par with such later events as the Millennium Bug (Y2K) and Climate Change - formerly Global Cooling and Global Warming, not to mention reports every decade or so of the imminent end of world oil supplies ... all classic BS and highly profitable for the scammers.

(So that’s John Weinthal’s thoughts on modern motor cars, and a bit on pollution thrown in as well.  Many points to ponder.)



The marque SAAB which looked as if it had been consigned to history forever, may have become another Phoenix in more ways than one.  A Chinese-Japanese consortium has agreed to buy the bankrupt Swedish automaker and plans to specialize as an electric vehicle manufacturer.

SAAB stopped production last year and filed for bankruptcy in December after take-over talks failed when former SAAB owner and major stakeholder General Motors refused to permit the transfer of technical licenses to any restructured company involving Chinese manufacturers.

However, a consortium, known as National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), has paid an undisclosed sum to secure the main assets of Saab Automobile including its manufacturing facilities in Trollhattan, Sweden, and the rights to the current 9-3 and their new vehicle platform also known as Phoenix (coincidence?).

The NEVS consortium is 51 percent owned by Hong Kong-based National Modern Energy Holdings Ltd - a company that designs and builds biomass energy powerplants for China - and 49 percent owned by Japanese investment firm Sun Investment, which has a particular focus on hi-tech, eco-oriented projects.

An electric vehicle based on the 9-3 and built at Trollhattan will be the proposed first model produced and will be sold primarily in the fast-growing Chinese market from late next year or early in 2014.

However, NEVS has confirmed it has global sales and marketing aspirations, and that a second Phoenix-based model will follow using “additional cutting-edge technology” from Japan.  This certainly makes SAAB another Phoenix.

It is likely that a new EV from the new SAAB company would use the previous SAAB show-car technology with an 135 kW electric motor driving the front wheels through a single-speed transmission, with the SAAB ePower concept car claimed to offer 0-100 km/h acceleration in 8.5 seconds, a 150 km/h top speed and a driving range of up to 200 km.

SAAB also signed a deal with BMW a couple of years ago for use of its 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine (as seen in Mini models), which has the potential to turn up in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle built  China is the key destination for the new EVs, but the global nature of the SAAB brand meant its distribution should go well beyond China.

NEVS said in a statement that it aims to become a leading manufacturer of electric vehicles and is currently recruiting automotive engineers to work at the Trollhattan site to bring the ePower to market in collaboration with Japanese and Chinese engineers.

“We will match Swedish automobile design and manufacturing experience with Japanese EV technology and a strong presence in China,” said NEVS chairman Karl-Erling Trogen.

“Electric vehicles powered by clean electricity are the future, and the electric car of the future will be produced in Trollhattan.”

Founder of majority shareholder National Modern Energy Holdings, Kai Johan Jiang, said, “China is investing heavily in developing the EV market, which is a key driver for the ongoing technology shift to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.  The Chinese can increasingly afford cars; however, the global oil supply would not suffice if they all buy petroleum-fuelled vehicles.  Chinese customers demand a premium electric vehicle, which we will be able to offer by acquiring SAAB Automobile.”

More nostalgia!

caption What we did 50 years ago

One of my old flatmates of 50 years ago (time flies when you are in Thailand and having fun) sent the attached photo up to me.  The year is 1963, the remains of a car I am sitting on is a 1948 MG TC, and the tow car was my $50 1953 side valve V8 Ford Customline, driven by a mate, Roger Prior, who these days is a respected academic in Canada.  The location was suburban Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.  We towed the chassis home, with the partially operative handbrake being the only device for retardation.  You look at photos like that and you wonder just how did we get away with it.

Mistaken identity

Rover 825i

Remember the days before remote locking! You actually had to unlock the front doors individually, but these days you push the button as you approach the car, it responds with a beep-beep and unlocks everything!

It was 1987 and I was in the UK where I was given a new Rover 825i to test for the two week duration of my trip (motor manufacturers in Thailand who expect full road tests after one drive around the block, please take note).

The Rover 825i was the finest machine in the MG Rover stable. With mechanicals from the Honda Legend it had all the Japanese quality, with all the snob appeal of the ‘very British’ Rover badge, Westminster carpet on the floor and some polished English oak tree on the dashboard! It also came with remote locking, and the MG Rover chap showed me how it worked, and how the infra-red remote receiver was behind the internal rear vision mirror.

However, after a trip to the Nurburgring in Germany, on returning to the UK, I found a problem I never expected. The remote locking failed!

I had gone for lunch in one of those quaint English style pubs. After lunch I picked up the car keys and ventured outside into the crisp, cold British air and strolled down towards the Rover 825i in the car park. As I walked towards it, I pushed the unlock button, but nothing happened. No beep-beep and flashing lights. Obviously I was too far away, so I walked closer and pushed the magic button again. Still nothing!

It was then I remembered the MG Rover chappie telling me about the IR receiver behind the interior rear vision mirror. Looking through the windscreen I could even see it, a red bulb behind the mirror. I pointed the remote at the red bulb and expectantly pressed the button. Nothing!

I lay down on the bonnet of the car, so that I could get the remote on the windscreen, as close as possible to the red bulb receiver. With a determined thumb I pressed the button - and still nothing.

Suddenly I heard this very British voice saying, “I say old chap, just what do you think you are doing?” I turned round and there was the archetypal Briton, cap and tweed jacket, and bristling with anger. “I am trying to open my car, but the remote unlocking device does not work,” I replied. “That’s because this is not your car, this is my car,” said the crusty and now angry Brit.

He then went on to say, “Your Rover is the one further down the car park, in the next line!” I looked at where he was pointing, and there it was. I pointed the remote, pushed and it beeped and flashed the lights. With burning shame, I could only apologize profusely and offer him a warm beer. He declined, muttering something about the fact that he was still sober and knew what he was doing!
I am sure I am not the only one to have had this embarrassment!

Honda celebrated success at 2012 Isle Of Man TT

John McGuinness, Honda at the IOM.

The 2012 Isle of Man TT came to a close and despite the Senior TT being cancelled for the first time in the event’s 105 year history, the TT was an unprecedented success for Honda, who took victory in three of the five solo motorcycle races contested and graced the podium 11 out of a possible 15 times.

Both the Superbike and the first Supersport race at the start of the week ended with a Honda 1-2-3; McGuinness taking victory in the first aboard his Honda TT Legends CBR1000RR Fireblade and in the latter, Padgetts Racing’s Bruce Anstey brought his Honda CBR600RR to the second closest TT victory in history, with a winning margin of just 0.77 seconds. McGuinness’ win in that followed in the Superstock class - also with Padgetts Racing - aboard the near stock Fireblade, taking the tally of Honda wins at the TT to 163.

The decision to cancel the Senior TT at the end of the week because of the rain, deprived McGuinness of the chance to challenge for his 20th Isle of Man TT victory, currently sitting on 19 TT wins. There appears to be no sign of him stopping anytime soon as he closes in on the late, great Joey Dunlop’s tally of 26 wins at the TT.

The dominant performance of Honda machines across all contested classes proved once again that the Honda was the bike to be on to challenge the 37.73 mile Isle of Man TT mountain course, one of the most demanding in all motorsport.

In the electric motorcycle TT Zero class Michael Rutter and Team Segway Racing MotoCzysz became the first team to record a 100 mph lap of the course in the SES TT Zero race in what is being hailed as one of the greatest achievements in the event’s one hundred and five year history.

John McGuinness (who rides anything) closely followed Rutter home on the Team Mugen Shinden machine with Michael Rutter’s MotoCzysz teammate Mark Miller taking the final podium position, with all three breaking the 100 mph mark (however, it should be remembered that the first 100 mph lap was recorded by Scotsman Bob McIntyre in 1957 on a conventional petrol-engined motorcycle).

In this year’s TT Zero, despite there being wet patches around the course, Michael Rutter quickly established a lead of over 30 seconds at the first checkpoint at Glen Helen from John McGuinness with Mark Miller a further 3 seconds back in third.

At the next checkpoint, Rutter continued to set the pace with an average speed of 118.730 mph and a lead of almost a minute from second placed John McGuinness.

The top speeds of the TT Zero electric motorcycles were also astounding. Miller was quickest through the speed trap at 132.6 mph with John McGuinness at 128.8 and Michael Rutter 126.6, down on the 152 mph he set in qualifying but Rutter continued to be on the pace for the 100 mph lap and reached Ramsey Hairpin in averaging 119.653 mph.

Rutter crossed the line in 21:45.33 for an average of 104.056 mph with both John McGuinness on the Team Mugen (102.215 mph) and Mark Miller (101.065 mph) all breaking the 100 mph barrier.

Australian Automotive Envoy visits Eastern Seaboard

John Conomos, the Australian Automotive Industry Envoy, came to Thailand for the Australian Auto Week, visiting many companies on the Eastern Seaboard, and addressing the Automotive Focus Group (AFG) on the Australian Automotive 2020 road map.

John Conomos, Australian Automotive Envoy.

John Conomos is unrivalled in his experience of the Australian auto industry, spanning 40 years beginning with British Leyland, and after BL folded in Australia John went on and established Daihatsu Distributors where he was responsible for the introduction of a range of small passenger cars.

From there he went to Toyota as Chief General Manager of Thiess Toyota in 1981. He then began climbing the corporate ladder within Toyota, becoming the Senior Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation Australia from 1993.

Following his retirement as Executive Chairman of Toyota Australia and Managing Officer of Toyota Motor Corporation of Australia, positions he held since 2004, he was appointed Chairman Emeritus and Principal Policy Adviser to Toyota Australia, the new position becoming effective 1 July 2006.

In July 2009, John was appointed the Australian Automotive Industry Envoy by Senator Kim Carr, the Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. He had already been given the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honors List in June 2005, one of the highest honors one can get in Australia.

The message he had for the AFG was “innovation”. It was no longer enough to produce a quality product - everyone today just naturally expects quality, but what will make a product successful is by offering quality with a new and better way of accomplishing results.

One example of this was displayed at the trade show held at the same venue and was the Davies Craig electric water pump. Not only cast in nylon with ceramic impeller, but driven by the car’s alternator and not a power-sapping belt driven pump from the crankshaft.
An interesting evening of value to the AFG members.