Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

Bahrain GP cancelled

I began this item two weeks ago. The political situation then in Bahrain was decidedly fluctuant. For the motor racing fraternity the possible cancellation of the first GP of the year was not a question of political importance, but it should have been.

Bahrain grid.

With travel advisory warnings being given, this means that there is no travel insurance to cover foreign nationals visiting the Middle East. Would you jeopardize a complete race team in such dangerous situations?

No, the political situation is none of ‘our’ business, and not one that we can possibly understand totally. But ‘danger’ is one that the motor racing world understands, and we strive to lessen the dangers of our sport. There being nothing that ‘we’ can do to lessen the dangers in going to a country in turmoil, the simple answer is ‘we’ should stay away.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber stated, quite correctly, that “… as always you don’t really know the whole picture if you’re not there. So let’s see what happens. I’m sure the right decision will be made in terms of us. We know in terms of Formula 1 and priorities we’re not high on the list, they’ve got other things that clearly should come first.” Well said, Mark Webber.

So the opener for the 2011 season has been cancelled - or postponed - that is the question. Since there is big money hanging on the final decision, I predict that Bahrain will be sandwiched in between two other GPs towards the end of the year. No matter how boring it is as an event.

BMW going electric?

BMW i8

BMW have had hydrogen cars running for many years now, and fuel cells and now electric vehicles, but it looks as if BMW have decided that electric is the most practical.

They are so sure of the electric vehicle future that they have now announced their own line of battery powered cars to be known as BMW i, and made public a roll-out date of 2013 with two cars. The first is the four seat urban battery powered car to be called the BMW i3 and the second a hybrid sports car to be called the BMW i8.

The design team has been working on the BMW i range since 2007 and they will be plug-in electric vehicles. The cars will be lighter than the current crop of internal combustion BMW’s with use of carbon-fiber and aluminum and will be more aerodynamic making them energy efficient. This even extends to running taller and narrower wheels and tires with less rolling resistance.

Which car is the quickest around the Nordschleife?

Radical SR8 LM

Many manufacturers like to boast of the times recorded by their models around the famous Nurburgring Nordschleife (Northern Loop). Having driven round there myself I can tell you that it is the most exciting, the most dangerous and the most difficult race circuit in the world.
The following is the list of the top 10 cars around the Nordschleife, and it will hold some surprises.

1. Radical SR8LM      Time 6:48.00
2. Radical SR8                  6:55.00
3. Gumpert Apollo Speed  7:11.57
4. Donkervoort D8 RS       7:14.89
5. Porsche 997 GT2 RS   7:18.00
6. Radical SR3 Turbo       7:19.00
7. Dodge Viper SRT-10 ACR 7:22.10
8. Gumpert Apollo Sport    7:24.00
9. Nissan GT-R                7:24.22
10. Maserati MC12          7:24.29

So, what’s a “Radical”? I have to admit it was a new name for me. Those from the UK might know, the Radical SR8 LM, which in August 2009 became the king of street-legal sports cars, recorded the quickest time of 6 minutes 48 seconds, smashing all other previous attempts.

Despite what it looks like, the Radical is apparently street legal and to set the record, the driver drove the SR8 LM from the factory in Peterborough in UK, all the way to the ‘Ring’ just to prove that the car was in fact, road legal.

Even the Dunlop tires were road legal and only one set was used for the entire journey.
Powering the SR8 LM is a Powertec prepared 2.8 liter version of Suzuki’s Hayabusa motorcycle engine, which develops 460 bhp (340 kW) of power through a six-speed transaxle. Shifts are also F1 style fast, with a Powertec paddle shift system, which allows flat up shifts, auto-blipper and clutchless downshifts. All-up weight is 575 kg.

And never mind Nurburgring, the Radical SR8 can lap the Silverstone circuit in the same time as a Formula 3 single seater racecar, which is quite incredible.
I think I want one. In fact, I think I need one!

Pizza Company continues sponsorship of Sandy and Feem

The Pizza Company driver Sandy Nicholas Stuvik won the 2010 Asian Formula Renault Championship, becoming the first Thai driver to ever win that championship.
In 2011, Sandy is booked to compete in the European Formula Renault series, as part of the process of climbing the ladder to F1. Paul Kenny, CEO of Minor Food Group and himself an accomplished motor racer, stated that the young promising Thai driver, who The Pizza Company has been sponsoring since he was only six years old, will continue to have his career fostered by the Pizza Company.

Paul Kenny and Sandy Stuvik

In 2010, Sandy won the Asian Formula Renault Championship at China’s Zuhai International Circuit at the age of only 15 - being the youngest racer to ever win the championship, and the first Thai National to win the title. Sandy was last year coached by former F3 Champion Philippe Descombes, and this year Sandy is getting ready and gearing up to compete in 2011 Formula Renault Eurocup, in which he is also expected to have great results.

Another Thai sportsman to be assisted by the Pizza Company is Ratthapark (Feem) Wilairot who is another talent who will be supported in the World Motorcycle Grand Prix for the 600 cc Moto2 division.

Apart from his managerial responsibility, Paul Kenny is also competing as one of the drivers in the Race Team in the Honda Racing Festival 2011, alongside three other experienced racers; Thomas Raldorf, Tony Percy and new driver for the team, Akihiro Asai.

John Heinecke, Vice President Sizzler China and Thailand, and Burger King Thailand, will collaborate with Paul in the RAAT Thailand Endurance Championship 2011.

Eddie Jordan

Eddie Jordan

I was given Eddie Jordan’s autobiography by another Irish Eddie, Eddie Irvine, the father of Eddie Irvine, the ex-Jordan and ex-Ferrari driver. It is a hefty book and I am still plowing through it, but it is really a hoot.

Eddie Jordan is the ultimate entrepreneur, a chancer, a con, an opportunist and all with the Irish silver tongue. I think he even puts Bernie Ecclestone in the shade.

Jordan did everything to keep racing himself, including buying and selling cars and even flogging carpet off-cuts from the village green at the weekends.

He paints wonderful pictures of all the famous motor racing names including Colin Chapman, “ of the cleverest men ever to sit at a drawing board. Some said he was perhaps a bit too clever at times, but I wouldn’t know about that.”

The ISBN number is 978-0-7528-8950-4, Orion Books, 2007, and it should be available through Amazon dot com. Get hold of a copy. It is a great book.

“Hear” comes the e-cars!

The H&S wallahs are clambering on to the e-bandwagon already, claiming that the forthcoming electric vehicles will be dangerous, because pedestrians will not hear them approaching.

Getting ready for the legislation is Delphi who announced that they will start supplying low-cost “sound generators” to an unnamed European car maker - probably GM off-shoot Opel, which will soon start selling European market versions of the Chevrolet Volt electric car.

Delphi said the sound generators were “designed to comply with legislation expected to mandate minimal sound for both hybrid and electric vehicles. Industry analysts predict hybrid and electric vehicle warning sounds, already covered by guidelines in Japan, will be required in North America and Europe in the near future,” the company said in a press release.

According to Delphi, the system has enough flexibility in its frequency range to “reproduce melodies that represent the identity of individual vehicle manufacturers.” So I presume that a top of the line hybrid Mercedes will get a booming Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony - “Dit, Dit, Dit, Dah” and an electric Camaro will get the sound track from Bonnie and Clyde … the mind boggles.

Electric SLS Mercedes

Electric milk carts have been in use in the UK for decades. I wonder how many unsuspecting morning joggers have been mown down by the milk machines? I will take a guess at zero.

While automakers are trying to produce the quietest cars, here are the H&S lot trying to make them noisy again. Any vehicle, even rolling along with the engine turned off, makes an audible sound from the loaded tyre tread on the bitumen. Do we need more noise pollution?

A bad attack of wind?

Wind Explorer

The Wind Explorer has just set some sort of a record by crossing Australia in something akin to a kite-board on wheels.

A TV host and an engineer from Germany have completed an almost 5,000 km journey in their Wind Explorer, which is a lightweight electric vehicle powered by the wind - not only through electricity-generating wind turbines but also using kites.

The 18 day trip by Dirk Gion and Stefan Simmerer set three world records - the first time a continent has been crossed be a wind-powered vehicle, the longest overall distance covered by an exclusively wind-powered land vehicle, and the longest distance covered by such a vehicle in 36 hours.

Wind Explorer is a prototype electric vehicle, and the secret of its success is in the light weight. The entire vehicle, including the battery pack weighs only 200 kg.
The construction is of an aluminium frame covered by a carbon-fiber sandwich material and the vehicle runs on bicycle tyres.

The battery is an 8kWh lithium-ion pack that was recharged every night using a portable wind turbine on the top of a six meter high telescopic bamboo mast - but they did use the domestic electric grid on nights with no wind.
On January 26 of this year, Wind Explorer left Albany, on the southern coast of Western Australia. For the first 800 km, the vehicle was powered entirely by electric power.

Once they got to the Nullarbor (“no trees”) Plain the intrepid pair were able to take advantage of the strong winds to use kites to drag the vehicle along, as is done with kite-boarding. The passenger held on to the large steerable kite similar to a parasail. Apparently it was not easy, but they did manage to cover several hundreds of kilometers crossing the desert.

The trip took the Wind Explorer through the states of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on February 14. On the trip the vehicle reached speeds of 80 km/h. The best daily distance covered was 493 km.

The journey was not without drama and punctures, including blowing two motors, but I suppose, like climbing Mt. Everest, they can say they have done it. They believe that they have proved that the technology is already available to produce self-sufficient and environmentally sound transport; however, they did not prove whether it was at all practical.

What makes for a car nut?

My wife asked me the other day, “How long have you been crazy about cars?” I thought about it for a while and had to admit that I have been a car nut for my entire life. Well, as soon as I got out of the pram, if nothing else.

My first memories of my father were of him driving a Singer 9 Le Mans he had bought immediately after the war. Flat cap, pipe clenched between the teeth, looking like a poor relation of the pre-war Bentley Boys. The Singer had huge headlights with chrome wire stone guards. It was in British Racing Green, complete with twin spare wheels mounted on the rear slab petrol tank. Dad claimed it was one of the actual Le Mans team cars, but I doubt it. Dad was known to exaggerate a tad.

Singer 9 Le Mans

I loved that car, even though I was only five years old. It smelled like a racing car and made noises like a racing car and I was devastated when Dad sold it. However, looking back, it would be hard to imagine a car less practical for a family. It was also very difficult to get petrol of a reasonable octane in the north of Scotland at that time and keeping the twin carburetors in synch was beyond the Corness Senior’s back yard expertise. Looking back again, I am sure that all that was really wrong was worn butterfly spindles, but my father was not able to rise to the technical engineering level needed. And at five years of age, all I did was get in the way, but I did polish those monstrous headlights to perfection!

1933 Morris Minor

The next family car was a Morris Minor. No, not one of the Issigonis 1950’s Minors (Sir Alec Issigonis did design other cars before the Mini’s) but a 1933 Morris Minor, complete with one spare wheel on the tail and a central accelerator pedal. Yes, a trifle un-nerving for those used to having the brake pedal in the middle, but that was the car I started to learn to drive in at age 10. Surreptitiously, I might add. It was also the car I had my first accident in when my father lost it on the icy roads one night and we went through a hedge and I banged my head on the windscreen.
Seat belts? They had not been invented in 1933 and still were unthought-of of in 1951. Morris Minor used to suffer with clutch slip after oil would come through the leather rear oil seal on the crankshaft and contaminate the clutch lining. There was an inspection hole on the top of the bell housing and we used to pour petrol through it all over the clutch. It worked for a while, but eventually it needed a new clutch and my father sold it to a wreckers yard in Edinburgh. I wanted to keep the external radiator cap, but Dad would not allow me to do that, saying we had sold the entire car to the wrecking yard. I cried all the way home. Some parts of me never forgave him. Dad has been dead for over 30 years, but it still hurts.

Since then, I have personally owned over 100 cars. Many turned out to be collectors items - but never while I owned them. There’s no justice in this world, but I have to admit, I love my cars.

Thailand Auto Industry on a surge

The vehicle production figures for Thailand in 2010 showed a very strong growth of just under 40 percent, year on year, with total numbers of domestic sales over 750,000 units.

The export production figures were also very buoyant with the various Free Trade Agreements helping boost the export production close to 900,000 units for the year.

With Ford and GM both expanding their presence in Thailand, and new cars such as the Fords Focus and Fiesta and GM’s Cruze coming on stream, the local auto industry looks very strong. It seems that the domestic political upheaval had no apparent effects on the auto industry, and neither did some niggling union problems.

This all augurs well for the Bangkok International Motor Show, which will be held at the Impact Muang Thong Thani for the first time, having outgrown the available space at the BITEC venue.

The 32nd Bangkok International Motor Show will be held for 14 days from March 23 (Wednesday) to April 6 (Wednesday). Public days will be from Saturday, March 26 until April 6, and this year the Motor Show will be held at Challenger Hall (Impact Muang Thong Thani), Bangkok.

The show is more than just new cars, but is a comprehensive one that includes passenger cars, commercial vehicles, motorcycles, vehicle bodies, parts, machinery and tools.