Automania by Dr. Iain Corness

What did we learn from the Chinese Grand Prix?

Hamilton and Webber on the podium

(Sorry this is a little late, but because of the Songkran water festivities, I couldn’t make the deadline for last week’s Automania column.)

Well the first thing we learned was that the Vunderkind Vettel (Red Bull) can be beaten. Despite a heroic qualifying lap he ended up running out of fresh tyres and had to accept being passed by Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) in the final stages of the race. A good win for the UK’s white hope.

The other drive of the day came from Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber who was written off by everyone when he did not even manage to get into the second round of qualifying, ending up starting 18th and finished third, only a few seconds behind Vettel.

The way the different teams handle the qualifying sessions is certainly open to question in Red Bull’s pit. They did not leave themselves enough time to bring Webber in to change to fresh ‘sticky’ rubber, despite seeing that his times were not quick enough to get into Q2. In fact, this way of leaving everything to the last minutes with a one-shot do or die effort cannot give consistent results. Any problems on the track in the dying moments will inevitably mean the drivers will be unable to make up the time. “Time” for team managers to think ahead and get one ‘banker lap’ in first.

The Chump of China had to be Jenson Button (McLaren) who drove into the Red Bull pit instead of his own. Was he looking to get two fresh sets of tyres, I wonder?

We also saw that Alonso (Ferrari) and team mate Massa are having a change of fortunes, with Massa outdriving the Spanish two times world champion three out of three this year. And while talking of Ferrari, the car is definitely not in the same ball-park as Red Bull or McLaren. Heads will roll in the red factory, and the color won’t just be paint.

The other driver of the day is young di Resta in the Team Poppadum, again out-qualifying and out-driving his experienced team mate Adrian Sutil, a driver who was previously held up as a ‘coming man’. Unless he perks up, he will be a ‘going man’.

Mercedes are climbing back up again, with Rosberg actually leading the race in the middle section, before being told to conserve fuel. Schumacher had another poor qualifying, but managed to get into the points again. Write off Ross Brawn and Co. at your own risk. Podium finishes are coming for the Mercedes team (or zere vill be heads rolling in Stuttgart as well as in Maranello).

The (Lotus) Renaults did not do as well as previously, and are likely to slip back as the bigger teams move forward. They have had their podiums, I am afraid. The name “Lotus” refers to plants rather than car companies.

There are those who are criticizing the new Drag Reduction System (DRS) which allows a slipstreaming car a chance of passing the lead car. This has resulted in much more passing and repassing, but the critics say this is “artificial”. I’m sorry, it is the same for everyone, and the DRS cannot be activated if the second car is more than one second adrift. So stay ahead. The situation actually reminds me of Formula Ford tactics, where nobody wants to be the lead car entering the final lap as you will be slipstreamed and beaten every time. However, I would like to see a broad yellow line on the track to show us viewers just where the DRS can be activated. It is a bit confusing at present.

Again I have to congratulate the Beeb. Great coverage and commentary, head and shoulders above the others. The loss of Eddie Jordan was no loss. The next GP is in Turkey in a week’s time. Much work will have been done on the Red Bull’s KERS, Ferrari will have been trying to fix the whine from the driver’s seat and Button will be studying a map of the pit layout.

The new ‘male’ Beetle

A male Beetle?

Twelve years ago, VW brought out the ‘New Beetle’, which was more of a design/styling exercise, and really had no common DNA with the original ‘old’ Beetle. However, the public liked its retro looks and over one million have been produced, adding to the over 21 million units of the ‘old’ Beetle.

Sales have started to drop, so VW has produced what they have called the New Beetle Mk 2, which is touted by VW as being a much more masculine car. If they can sell that concept to the general public, then they should double the salaries of the ad-men. It looks so much like the last version it is difficult to spot them apart.

The testosterone is supposed to come from the larger tail lights and bi-xenon lights at the front. I am sure you are as underwhelmed as I am. Or perhaps we are all turning into lady-boys.
So if you can keep your excitement in your underpants, the New Beetle Mk 2 will be available late 2012 and prices will start at something below two million baht.

The Shanghai Auto Show in fortune cookies

The largest auto market in the world is now China, passing the USA. Established auto manufacturers are scrambling to get joint ventures ratified in China, and even GM who was trying to sue for the total knock-off of their small car has kissed and made up and now firmly into bed with SAIC.

Chery J3.

But whilst we have been rather scornful of the Chinese auto products (as we did with the Japanese a few decades ago and the Koreans two decades ago), ignore the signs at your own peril. The Chinese are now producing vehicles for every marketplace, at a price to sell, with a quality that is much improved. The Chinese auto industry has been looking at what sells in the world marketplace and is bringing forth alternatives to, for example, the Toyota Corolla and the Mazda3.

Cheery Chery, whose initial toe in the marketplace was the Chery QQ, has brought out the Chery J3, which will be available in 2012, and several thousands of baht cheaper than the New Beetle Mk 2, or the Corolla or the Mazda3. Add to that vehicle, the Great Wall C50 and you are looking at the challengers to Toyota and Mazda from 2012.

The J3 will become Chery’s third passenger car in Australia and is called the J3 - to avoid upsetting Audi with its own A3. We are also very likely to get this model in Thailand to run alongside the QQ.
The J3 is available in both sedan and hatchback body styles, with the latter close in size to Volkswagen’s Golf. Both are powered by a 1.6 liter dual variable valve timing engine with 93 kW and 160 Nm of torque, connected with a CVT auto.

Great Wall C50.

Great Wall’s C50 is similar in size and obviously aimed at the Corolla market. This is a closely fought segment of the marketplace, but has the largest potential, and if the price is right… Have you had a look at the number of Tata dropside utes (pick-ups) around town these days? India will be the next to invade. You have been warned.

How is our auto industry doing?

According to the latest figures, it is doing very well, with sources quoting almost 14 percent year on year increase, with just over 172,000 units last month, and the Q1 figures are a staggering 22.5 percent. Vehicles for export were also up, other than to places in turmoil such as the Middle East.

The bulk of the increase in domestic consumption vehicles was for A segment cars with engines below 1,500 cc. Passenger car figures were up by 43 percent for Q1. Of course the Bangkok International Motor Show in March/April did assist, with manufacturers getting ready to capitalize on the added interest that the show brings to the industry.

Unfortunately, Q2 will show the knock-on effect caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March. Although the local content of Thai built vehicles is very high, there are still some parts that are imported from Japan, and with the projected hold-up from drops in Japanese manufacturing, stocks may be limited during the second quarter.

But if you really want some figures to sit you back on your heels, Ford reported a 257 percent increase in February year in year. Fiesta alone made up 1,270 units, with the outgoing Ranger pick-up improved 66 percent year on year. The Focus sales were also up 29 percent. As in the US, Ford seems to have lifted its game and the future should be a Fiesta. While the new Ranger shown at the Bangkok International Motor Show is awaited!

Who sold the most at the Bangkok International Motor Show?

Each year there is competition between the various manufacturers as to who can get the greatest number of cars out the door. Having a new model, such as the Honda Brio, does help generate interest and then sales. There are also many inducements offered by the manufacturers to stimulate purchases during the show.
The attendance figures for the show were 1.9 million people through the doors, and other interesting figures included 193 exhibitors and 34,369 booking sales.


The big mover, as usual, was Toyota and some of the figures quoted are very interesting, as can be seen by the table:
TOYOTA      8,487
HONDA        5,172
NISSAN       3,288
ISUZU          2,995
MAZDA        2,850
FORD            1,316
PROTON        1,162
M-BENZ         1,033
BMW             954
HYUNDAI       882
CHERY          613
SUZUKI         580
MINI              72
WULING        72
In the pick-up section, Isuzu is still top dog with almost 3,000 sales, with the other pick-up manufacturers such as Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet and Ford with sedans as well as pick-ups in their overall figures.

Proton outsold Mercedes-Benz, which is to be expected with the price differential, but Proton also outsold Hyundai, Chery and Suzuki, all with similar offerings.

Way down in the sales figures was Mini, selling as many as Wuling. There’s a message there somewhere, but BMW won’t get it.

Nissan 370Z wows the Down-Under market

Nissan 370Z

There are a few Nissan 370Zs floating around Thailand, but with our Draconian import duties, you would be lucky to see any. Down-Under they do not have such barriers to owning such vehicles and the 370Z comes in at around 2.4 million baht on a sheer currency exchange figure. For that sort of money you would be lucky to get a Mini in this country, I am afraid.

The new 370Z is claimed by Nissan to be Australia’s best-selling two-seater sports car, and it just got better with additional equipment alongside minor safety and cosmetic improvements.

These include Nissan’s “next generation” audio and navigation system, which the company claims has more functionality and features, including a touch screen display, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, 9.3GB hard drive and reversing camera.

The Coupe variant also gets a luggage-bay cargo blind for hiding valuables from prying eyes, while the Roadster gets climate controlled seats that cool or heat the cushions.

In March, the 370Z sold 140 units which represents a 22 percent market share. On annual figures from last year, the Z’s yearly sales of 264 units put it equal second alongside the Mercedes CLC-class, behind the fugly BMW 1 Series. (Have Australians no taste these days?)

Now is this thing ‘cool’ or not?

Martin Jetpack

“He’d fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
That daring young man on the flying trapeze.”
And that was written in 1867, but now we don’t even need the trapeze with a New Zealand company behind an ambitious aeronautical project called the Martin Jetpack, a strap-on personal flying machine, now in the final stages of development, with the first machines to be dispatched for solo flights by the end of the year.

Military agencies, border control and rescue organizations in the US will be the first to use the $75,000 personal flying device.
Inventor Glenn Martin predicts it will be just 18 months before other wealthy enthusiasts get their delivery.

The jetpack resembles two leaf blowers welded with a two liter, jet-powered engine that can reach 100 km/h at heights of up to 50 meters, and it carries enough fuel for 30 minutes of flight.

It is categorized as a microlight so it has many restrictions on its use and cannot be taken into the city centers; however, there are hopes that this classification this may change under US law.
Martin’s machine, lauded as Time magazine’s most anticipated invention last year, has been more than three decades in the making.

The Christchurch man began tinkering with the concept in the 1970s, inspired by the limited success of the US Bell Rocket Belt, which stayed airborne for just 26 seconds before crashing.
It was designed to be the “simplest aircraft in the world,” said inventor Martin, and “as Newton said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So when you shoot lots of air down very fast you go up and you’re flying.”

According to Martin, it is safe (or as safe as anything that flies can be, I suppose) and they look for safety in design, operations, through pilot training and have incorporated structural design and emergency systems that minimize the impact of an accident. The Martin Jetpack’s extensive safety features include a rapid deploying parachute, roll cage structure and shock absorbing undercarriage.
An unmanned remote-controlled (UAV) version is well advanced in its development with field trials expected to begin in the second quarter of 2011.

Sandy Stuvik’s 2011 calendar

The Royal Automobile Association of Thailand (RAAT) and Sport Authority of Thailand (SAT) have officially announced their support for 15 year old Sandy Stuvik as the Thai Athlete Representative for competing in Formula Renault Eurocup 2011.

Sandy Stuvik suited up and ready to represent Thailand

The young Thai racer, who last year became the youngest Asian Formula Renault Champion ever, was invited to race by many teams in Europe, but he has settled on the Danish team Keo Racing for the 2011 season. Sandy said, “Eurocup will be a tough challenge for me, considering all the young talented drivers from around the world competing in this series. I have so many things to learn for this year. Everything is quite new for me. It is my first time to experience all tracks. Even it is still formula Renault, but the engine and the gear are totally different. The engine and car body are bigger than last year and it is paddle shift gears, the same as in Formula 1, with electronically managed downshifts. I will do try my best to learn and adjust myself as quick as I can. I know I will likely start the season in the lower half of the grid, but are determined to get into the top half as soon as possible. I would like thank all my sponsors: Singha Corporation, The Pizza Company, Dacon Inspection Services, RAAT and SAT.”

Fortunately, Sandy has a few years up his sleeve to graduate through the ranks, so 2011 will not be a ‘make it or break it’ year.

The first race of the season was 16-17 April 2011 at the Motorland Circuit in Spain followed by Spa Francorchamps, then Nürburgring, Hungaroring, Silverstone, Paul Ricard, before ending back in Spain at Catalunya Circuit in October.

Racing drivers who have graduated from Formula Renault Eurocup and are now in Formula 1 include Pedro de la Rosa, Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi.

What did we learn from the Malaysian Grand Prix?

Well, we learned that the DRS (Drag Reduction System) did actually work with long straights. We also learned that the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) does work, and if you haven’t got it at the start, you are history - Webber (Red Bull) going from third to tenth by the first corner.

There was much more passing and repassing, in fact probably more than we saw in sum total last year, with good clean driving all round, other than Alonso (Ferrari) who managed to clout Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) when pulling out of the slipstream.

Driver of the day had to be young rookie Di Resta in the Force India, who scored another point, and beat his experienced team mate Sutil. This lad is one to watch.

‘Almost’ getting the driver of the day was Kobayashi (Sauber), who will attack and pass anybody, including seven times World Champions. He keeps everyone on their toes and puts a smile on every face.

Vettel (Red Bull) drove well again, and was in charge all the way, with Jenson Button (McLaren) deserving his second place; however, the upset was Heidfeld in the Renault (I refuse to call it a Lotus) who had a magnificent start slotting into second, and eventually finished in third. An excellent drive.

Against all expectations, the HRT team did qualify within the 107 percent rule, but Karthikeyan only lasted 14 laps in the race and Liuzzi 46. But it’s a start.

We also learned that Martin Brundle (BBC commentator) is a riot on his pit walks, brushing the Malaysian PM to one side to speak to everyone’s favourite dwarf, Bernie Ecclestone. The Beeb actually did a wonderful job of telecasting, one of the best we’ve seen in a long time.

And finally, the retrospective punishments for Hamilton (for weaving) and Alonso (for hitting) are ludicrous. Either penalize immediately at the time or forget it.

Anyone wanting a hot BMW 7-Series?

Cool heist of hot BMW

Brazen car thieves had a bonanza in Detroit when two car-jackers made off with a new US$94,000 BMW 750i xDrive sedan which had been left idling outside the Westin Book Cadillac, one of Detroit’s major hotels.

BMW had supplied a VIP fleet for high flyers at the Detroit show, and the 7-Series was one of the 12 BMW’s in the PR fleet.

At the end of the show, BMW had a transporter ready to ferry the cars back to BMW (America) headquarters in New Jersey and the 7-Series had been driven to the loading area, where after the valet had got out, two men jumped into the car and calmly drove away.

BMW have been quite calm about it all, on the surface, with spokeswoman Stacy Morris saying, “It’s just an unfortunate incident.” It was probably insured anyway, but the insurance company might want to ask a few more questions, I would imagine.

What ever happened to the Tiger Rally?

Tiger had more than a few problems this year, which is a shame, as the concept of having ‘classic’ cars on show, touring Thailand and SE Asia, is not something we get too often. The numbers were down this year, the global economics no doubt affecting this. But the world is on the way back up again, we are told. Well, new car sales if nothing else. Our own entry in a Mk1Escort Mexico also became a non-starter when the American owner changed his mind about the concept.
The hardy souls who decided on competing in the rally then found there was a total stuff-up getting the cars out of customs. This delay was about three days, so the Bangkok to Ayutthaya leg was done in minibuses, and then the entrants were bussed back to Bangkok to wait for the Customs (ir)regularities!

A classy Cabriolet.

With the delayed start, some of the legs within Thailand had to be shortened and ‘lay days’ were lost, trying to catch up the schedule. Both E-Type Jaguars had problems and had to be left in Korat, so it was an even further depleted field that crossed into Cambodia, then up into Laos and finally Vietnam.

Citroen puncture.

Hopefully they made it back to the UK and Europe. The four photos were taken on the Thailand leg, but as I said, it is just a shame that it ended up not as successful as it should have done.

Jaguar at rest.

There should be another Tiger Rally in a couple of years, and we will detune and enter the Securitas Mk 1 Escort. Will keep you informed.

Tiger Rally 2011.

The amazing Adrian Newey

Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey became the winner of the Segrave Trophy for 2010, for being the only Formula 1 designer to have designed championship-winning cars for three different teams - Williams F1, McLaren and, in 2010, Red Bull Racing.

Upon receiving the Segrave Trophy from Sir David Prosser, chairman of the Royal Automobile Club, Newey said: “This is a huge honor for me. To receive a trophy with such an impressive history is very special and the occasion has been even more memorable because so many past winners are guests here.”

F1 designer Adrian Newey

Adrian Newey gained a First Class honours degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Southampton and immediately moved into Formula 1 with the Fittipaldi team. A year later, in 1980, he joined March and went on to design the team’s GTP sports cars. A spell working with March in IndyCar followed before he returned to Formula 1 with the new Leyton House team as Technical Director.
Although recognized as a talented designer, his skills didn’t translate into results until he joined Williams F1 in 1990. Newey and Patrick Head at Williams F1 became the dominant design partnership winning four Formula One World Constructors’ Championships. More titles followed when Newey moved to McLaren in 1997. In 2006 he joined Red Bull Racing and by 2010 Newey's latest design (the RB6) was the class of the field, taking 15 pole positions and nine race wins to secure both drivers' and constructors' championships.

Outside the F1 arena, Newey collects sports cars and has competed in Le Mans Legend races as well as the Goodwood Revival meeting, winning the TT Race in 2009. In 2007, he and his co-drivers finished fourth in class in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Last year he took part in the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a Red Bull RB5.

The Segrave Trophy was created in 1930 to commemorate the life of Sir Henry Segrave who was the first British driver to win a Grand Prix in a British car, at the French Grand Prix at Tours in 1923, the first to hold both the land and water speed records simultaneously and the first person to travel at over 200mph (320km/h) in a land vehicle. On June 13, 1930 he broke the water speed record on Windermere in the Lake District. On the return run his boat capsized after hitting a log. He was rescued and taken unconscious to hospital. He briefly regained consciousness and asked, “Have I broken the record?” He was told of his achievement before dying moments later.