Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

The Bira Four Hour

Endurance racing is quite different from the usual sprint racing seen in Thailand. This is much more than the competition between the drivers, but more of a ‘team effort’ than is seen with short distance racing.
The Four Hour for Under 1500 sedans was the inaugural endurance event for this group to be held at the Bira International Circuit at Pattaya, and as expected, was a race of attrition, with some good luck and some bad luck.
The field of around 25 cars was depleted by nightfall on the Friday evening after most teams had been practicing all week for the Saturday race. Some had damaged their cars beyond repair, whilst others had given up trying to come up with a reliable package to go the four hours. With endurance racing, replacing defective parts with secondhand items just does not work.
The Pizza Company Racing Team of three Toyota Vios was not without its dramas as well. Two drivers had to drop out and replacements drafted in at the last minute, with Hans Teitze walking around with a big smile and a borrowed race suit, having scored a last minute drive along with Dean Callister. This ‘sprint’ car normally driven by Thomas Raldorf was not without problems either. On the Friday evening, a mishap by a mechanic in sorting the car saw the Vios hit the pit wall, resulting in an ‘all-nighter’ to have it straight for the Saturday. Then a problem was discovered in the gearbox, necessitating a transmission change that Saturday morning before Qualifying.
The car I was down to drive was, by comparison, looking good. All known parts that can break on these long races had been replaced, even the wheel studs which can shear during four hours of pounding. With owner Paul Kenny doing the first 40 minute stint, followed by Aussie Mike Freeman who prepared the car, John Heinecke and myself, we were quietly confident. With a basically unmodified car we know we would not be the fastest, but like the hare and the tortoise, we knew we would be there at the end. To finish first, first you have to finish. Or that was the plan!
By the time the Qualifying was over, it was obvious that the Grant Suphapongs Honda Civic was the front runner, placing the car on pole by a considerable margin. However, this car/driver combination has always been fast, but has not had a so impressive finishing record. The other teams were silently hoping that this would be the same for a four hour race.
Right from the start, Grant Suphapongs consolidated his position at the head of the field, while every other team settled down into a race pace that they hoped could be maintained by their four drivers over four hours.
This slightly slower pace in the field was the stimulus the Pizza Company ‘sprint’ car needed, with the 2006 Vios champion Jack Lemvard grinding down the leaders for the first compulsory 40 minutes, followed by Thomas Raldorf, who was setting similar lap times, to get the car up to second by the end of the second hour.
The other two Pizza Company cars, carrying new sponsor AA Insurance Brokers, were also running well and pulling themselves up through the field with their reliability, and staying out of trouble. In a four hour race, you are competing against the clock, rather than fighting for position on the track like sprint racing. Or run the risk of being punted off the track and into a wall.
By the three hour mark the Lemvard/Raldorf/Martin Stuvik/Teitze/Callister car was firmly in second, with ourselves up to seventh (and hopeful of a podium) in front of the third Pizza Company car in eighth (Urs Schonenberger, Tony Percy, Ray MacDonald and Khun Ae).
Then with 20 minutes to go, we had our first drama after a perfect run so far. The car just ran out of fuel and coughed its way back into the pits. We believed that there was fuel in the tank but one churn was added, just in case. Still no joy, and eventually it was traced to a 100 baht relay to the fuel pump that had failed. Such cruel luck, though we had covered so many laps in the 3 hours 40 minutes that we were still classified as 15th at the end of four hours.
At the finish, the Suphapongs Honda Civic was the clear winner covering 178 laps in the four hours. Second was the Pizza Company ‘sprint’ car three laps down, and it was thought the third Pizza Company car was 7th - but once again, some cruel luck. The rear bumper bar had been knocked off by another car, and at the weigh-in, this made the car 5kg underweight. The subsequent penalty relegated the car to 17th position.
For many teams, and drivers, endurance racing provided a new experience. My personal thanks to Thomas Raldorf who invited me into the Pizza Company Racing Team for the event, and to my personal sponsors AA Insurance Brokers, who made it possible for me to get into the driving seat again.
There will be a 1,000 km race at Bira in December. I have my hand up for a drive already!

Hans Teitze, one of the drivers in car 18.

Why was the ‘smart’ not too clever?

As a marketing exercise, the ‘smart’ (yes, it was decided that the name should be in small letters, with the idea being to reinforce the ‘small’’ size of the car), looked on paper to be a good idea. It was originally going to be called the MCC which stood for ‘micro compact car’.

‘smart’ microcar

The idea of a city car so short that it could be parked nose-in to the kerb looked like it would have universal appeal with city-goers, and the Swiss Watch Company (Swatch) got behind the idea. The original design had the length as 2.5 meters, which was the width of a regular parking slot in Europe.
The original design brief was also to have the ‘smart’ appealing to the hip young people with innovative features (such as a hybrid engine) and to be an affordable car. The concept was certainly smart, but the execution was not.
The first (of many) problems was that Swatch were good at making small watches, but totally inexperienced at making cars, no matter how small. They looked around for automotive partners and initially it looked as if VW might take it on, but that fell through and DaimlerChrysler stepped in and a factory was established in 1994 as a joint-venture between Daimler-Benz and Swatch.

‘smart’ gimmick.
By this stage the design was fixed, and ‘smart’ was turning out to be too smart for its own good. The hybrid idea was not looking too good, and it was decided there should be a diesel or a petrol version only. Beautifully engineered engines that cost far more than the normal European engines used in the mass produced small cars. The ‘smart’ was turning out to be very expensive, and far removed from the original fun micro compact that was going to be the young person’s run-about. Swatch decided it was not being smart to remain in the deal and pulled out before the losses got any higher.
So now DaimlerChrysler had the micro car and rather than returning to the original concept, continued on with its loss-making brand. In an attempt to contain the losses, all variants of the car were ditched, other than the ‘smart’ Fortwo. This saw the end of the hoped for line-up of micro cars, the Forfour supermini, the Formore and the Roadster. A brilliant idea that had to be slaughtered on the altar of financial sense. At one stage, DaimlerChrysler were even talking about a small SUV ‘smart’. Somewhat of a contradiction in terms, if ever I heard it. That idea has been left to wither away as well.
However, the board of DaimlerChrysler could not pull out of this mess without having several crates of eggs on its face, so they have continued in that dogged Teutonic fashion to press on with a re-designed Fortwo which will appear in March 2007. (This reminds me in many ways of BMWs refusal to accept the fact that the i-Drive controller system in its passenger cars is difficult, and unloved, but they continue. “You vill get to like it!” seems to be the idea.)
So will a new, luxurious, expensive ‘smart’ Fortwo catch on? Personally I doubt it very much. The public in Europe will buy BMW’s Mini Cooper instead and get performance and comfort much more cheaply. You would only buy a ‘smart’ as a gimmick. It certainly doesn’t make smart sense to me.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week (and above) I mentioned that the ‘smart’ car does not seem to have been such a smart move for DaimlerChrysler, who have taken it over. It has lost money ever since. I asked, who said that it will make a profit in 2007? It was none other than Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of DaimlerChrysler, who promised shareholders that the brand would not be a loss maker in 2007. I just hope he didn’t bet his shirt on it!
So to this week. What did the Taiwanese YLN and the Nissan Gloria have in common?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!

New Beemer M3 is coming

New BMW M3.

My spies, who are everywhere (thanks George), have told me that the new 3 series BMW in the “M” guise has been testing in the European winter at the Nurburgring circuit. This new M3 also comes as a four door sedan, coupe or cabrio variant.
The styling is in line with the BMW family trend, with M5 style twin-exit exhausts, front wing vents and discreet ‘M’ badges, while the look of the all-new 3-Series means an aggressive nose and deeply sculpted flanks. The bonnet’s ‘power bulge’ follows the cues of the Z4M with strong V-shaped crease lines.
This new M3 is also powered by a new V8 which will deliver more than 300 kW and this should produce acceleration times under 5 seconds for zero to 100 kmh. This engine has been derived from the M5 V10.
Preliminary information points to the usual rear wheel drive, with the power being fed through a six speed manual gearbox or the latest SMG sequential manual, possibly with seven ratios.
The M3 coupe is expected to debut in Europe in mid-2007 with the cabrio and sedan likely to follow six months later.