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Automania by Dr. Iain Corness
 

New Ford Ranger tops pick-up crash testing

New Ford Ranger.

The new Thai-built Ford Ranger pick-up just recorded the highest ever scores for a pick-up in the Euro NCAP safety ratings and the score of 89 percent even puts it right up amongst the safest sedans.  For adult occupant protection, the new Ranger scored 96 percent, putting it alongside the Mercedes-Benz M Class luxury SUV.  Even the pedestrian safety rating at 81 percent is one of the highest ever recorded.

The Australian arm of FoMoCo is delighted, as much of the design for this all-new pick-up was done in Australia, though it will be built here in Thailand at the Ford Plant on the Eastern Seaboard, and according to reliable sources, the vehicle was designed from the outset to be a five star performer.

Of course, the proof of the pudding in Thailand will be the safety statistics of Ranger pick-ups versus 125 cc motorcycles!


What did we learn from the Abu Dhabi GP?

Well, we learned that for the first time Lady Luck deserted Sebastian Vettel.  Has his charmed life in F1 come to an end?  Has Red Bull run out of red rags to spur its drivers to victory?  However, it was none of these, but Mr. Pirelli will be having a few questions to answer as to how one of its tyres suffered instant deflation.  However, it will take a forensic pathologist to take the scraps of rubber that were left to work out just what happened.  Michael Schumacher also had a puncture and was unable to complete the slowing down lap.  So all that we know from Abu Dhabi is that Pirelli make some tyres that are miles better than their other tyres and get punctures.

With this silly rule that all drivers must race on both the ‘fast’ tyre and the ‘slow’ tyre, this is like saying that at some stage in the race all drivers must race with one hand tied behind their backs.  This is not “motor racing”.  It is time that the FIA stipulated one tyre for the entire race for everyone.

After Vettel’s demise on the first lap, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren) seized the opportunity that Pirelli had given him and remained comfortably ahead of the chasing pack, led by Fernando Alonso (Ferrari).  Having been the quickest runner all weekend, it was a deserved victory for Hamilton.

Drive of the day, in my opinion, came from Alonso.  He did not have the fastest car, but by dint of a brilliant start, hauled himself (from fifth on the grid) up to second on the first lap, where he stayed for the entire race.  In the past I have been critical of Alonso, but his drives this year in the Ferrari have been exemplary.

Third was Mr. Consistency, Jenson Button (McLaren), who has matured so much in the past 12 months.  Button had his problems during the race.  “It was a difficult race for me, as I had a KERS Hybrid issue, which is admittedly very rare for us.  After about 15 laps it stopped working - and that doesn't just affect your power out of the corners, it affects engine braking too.  Fortunately, my engineer came over the radio and told me they'd found a way to make it work again - but it meant pushing lots of buttons on the steering wheel every couple of laps because it only returned intermittently.  So I'd arrive at a corner and not know whether I had any engine braking because I had no warning.  So selecting the right spot at which to brake was tough.”  Button and Mark Webber (Red Bull) had spirited dices and showed that clean wheel to wheel racing is possible, something that Felipe Massa (Ferrari) is yet to learn.

Having two DRS zones one after the other just makes for a pass, quickly followed by a repass.  Order unchanged.  The way F1 is going, with the totally inept decision-making, they may as well institute a compulsory Safety Car period every fifteen minutes, interspersed with watering the track.  Next step is to get rid of the bitumen and make the tracks on dirt, and then call it Speedway F1.  There’s far more action in speedway!


How did we go in the Nitto 3K Series at Bira?

Securitas Escort in close company.

The Nitto 3K Series promoted the fifth round at the Bira Circuit a couple of weeks ago.  Despite some Bangkok competitors being unable to come down because of the floods, there were still around 100 cars and trucks racing.

Close racing was evident in all categories, and these ‘club’ style meetings are providing good entertainment for the spectators and at B. 50 to enter represents the best value for money motor racing around.

We compete in the Retro series (pre 1985) and the usual trio of Henk Kiks (B-Quik Porsche 944 supercharged), Gavin Charlesworth (EBC Brakes V8 BMW E30) and Urs Schonenberger (Proton Trading BMW E36) all were very equal at the front, with one win each during the two day meeting.

Our Securitas Retro Escort Mk 1 had a high speed misfire that defied diagnosis all weekend, but despite this we still came home with a third and a fourth class place trophies, and enjoyed some very close racing.  Our weekend was made even more pleasurable with a sausage sizzle on the Sunday put on by the Sausage King people.  Thanks, Barry!

The next Nitto 3K meeting will be on December 10 and 11.  Mark it in your diaries!


Light weight technology

Much publicity has been given to the new engine technologies, with manufacturers offering hybrids and even pure electric cars to provide financial savings in running the family vehicles.

However, there are other ways to reduce running costs.  Reducing vehicle weight is one very important factor.  Traditionally, the automotive industry has reduced weight primarily only by downsizing, a strategy that has succeeded in cutting the weight of a typical car from 1700 kg to 1300 kg over the past 20 years.

Simple physics will tell you that a car with a lighter body can use a lighter engine, less massive suspension, and a less elaborate structure.  These secondary weight savings can roughly double the benefits: for every 5 kg saved by reducing the weight of the body, another 5 kg can be saved by downsizing other parts of the car.

That was also the principle Colin Chapman instilled into Lotus.  However, most auto engineering design centers of a few years ago, felt that to produce lightweight cars would require expensive lightweight materials.  Whilst this might be fine for low volume production (like Lotus), it was not a practical goal for the mass market.  It was easier to build more powerful engines than it was to reduce weight.  But that was before the world became the victim of escalating petro-mania.

In 1993, energy technologist Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute suggested that major automakers could use existing materials and technologies to produce an ultra-lightweight, highly fuel-efficient vehicle.  The ‘supercar’ he envisioned would incorporate lightweight plastics, computerized controls, and a hybrid powerplant.  It would weigh roughly 500 kg and achieve well over 150 miles per gallon.  Lovins felt it would, however, need a revolution in the industry to change the engineering concepts of ‘power’, rather than ‘weight’.

But as lightweight materials have become cheaper to manufacture and use, their adoption in production cars has become more widespread.  Magnesium and aluminium alloys created car parts that were cost-competitive with conventional components.  An example is that BMW with their Vision ED concept uses a magnesium block and they took 10 kg off the weight of the engine.

BMW are not alone in the weight loss department.  Bentley have produced the new Supersports, which boasts a zero to 100 km/h time of 3.9 seconds, despite its weight of 2240 kg.  However this all-up weight is over 110 kg lighter than the base model Bentley (if there ever is such a thing as a “base model” Bentley)!

The Bentley exercise shed weight by firstly tossing out the rear seats (26 kg saved), then another 45 kg was saved by replacing the sumptuous leather front seats with new carbon fiber bucket seats (sourced from the Bugatti Veyron).  Carbon fiber disc brakes saved another 39 kg.

The Supersports features the same twin turbo 6.0 liter W12 (ex-VW) engine to other Continental models, and covers zero to 100 kph in 3.9 seconds.

Amory Lovins’ concept was made public 17 years ago, but the technology direction he proposed has now been shown to be on the right track (and that’s not racing track, but the everyday highways).  Hybrids are definitely here, and Toyota and Honda are expanding this technology throughout the range of their vehicles (take a look at the tail end of the next Camry you see - it just might say “Hybrid”.)

Fuel economy is becoming increasingly important in a world that is afraid of crude oil shortages and increasing prices as the world’s economic crisis hopefully passes.  For example, BMW’s Vision ED will return 3.8 liters per 100 km.  The production BlueZero vehicles from Mercedes-Benz are also under 5 liters per 100 km, as are VW’s Blue Motion range.

The winds of change are upon us.  Stylists are less important.  Engineers are more important, and technology will reign supreme.


Falken sticks with Porsche

Falken well wet.

Tyre manufacturer Falken has announced it will return to the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) next year with a 2012 specification Porsche GT3 RSR run by Derrick Walker.  2011 drivers Wolf Henzler and Brian Sellers also are expected to return to the squad.  “The new chassis makes us one of the first teams in the world to have one of these incredibly sophisticated race cars,” explains Andrew Hoit, Falken’s vice president of marketing.

The ALMS Falken team secured two class victories in the 2011 series, winning at Baltimore and the very wet Mid-Ohio round.  The ALMS confirmation follows Falken Europe’s recent announcement to return to the Nürburgring 24 Hours and selected with VLN races with a Sven Schnabl-run Porsche 997 GT3 R in 2012.  “Motorsports takes on multiple meanings for Falken,” added Nick Fousekis, Falken’s director of motorsports.  “We use all forms of racing to help test, develop and market our products.  Obviously, winning is the ultimate goal, but it isn’t the only one.  What we learn at the track helps make Falken products that much better at the consumer level.  For this reason alone, Falken will remain deeply involved in motorsports and performance.”


Ferrari betting on its reliability

Ferrari 458 Italia

Ferrari is touting a seven year free servicing offer in Australia, following on six months after it became available in Europe.  However, before you rush to the local Ferrari agent with your 458 Italia, Thailand’s position in this scheme has not yet been announced.

Designed to reduce the cost of Ferrari ownership and provide customers of the Prancing Horse brand with more peace of mind, the Ferrari Genuine Maintenance program applies to the new FF coupe, California convertible, 458 Italia coupe and upcoming 458 Spider - but not the recently discontinued 599 GTB flagship.  (Damn, I wonder if I can get a rebate on mine?)

Many other mainstream brands offer shorter term, fixed price routine service campaigns, but the Ferrari free-service deal covers all scheduled maintenance at standard service intervals (20,000 km, or once a year with no restriction on kays covered) and includes original spare parts, engine oil and brake fluid.

Ferrari claims the program, which was introduced in Italy in April 2011 and is fully transferable to subsequent owners, is the first of its type to be offered by any car-maker globally, demonstrating the attention it pays to its customers.

The Ferrari Genuine Maintenance plan is part of the after-sales services for Ferrari, which they say is unmatched by any other brand.  The services include the Ferrari Approved used-car program, the Ferrari Power Warranty that can cover a pre-owned Ferrari for up to nine years, Ferrari Pre-Owned Search, Ferrari Genuine spare parts, the Ferrari Classiche valuation and restoration service and Ferrari Pilota driving courses.

These services are actually quite astounding, but whether Thailand can afford, or even justify, them is another matter. 


Back to the Future?

EV DeLorean

Remember the DeLorean, the gull-winged star of the Back to the Future movie series?  Well, if the reports out of the US are to believed, the DeLorean is back, and “re-amped” to be an electric vehicle.

The original DeLorean was built in Ireland, and there were all kinds of innuendo and rumor-mongering surrounding the car and its maverick automaker John Zachary DeLorean, including his arrest for drug involvement.  This was a charge he successfully defended using particularly smart legal procedures.

Texas entrepreneur Stephen Wynne purchased the name and remaining parts inventory in 1995 and started the current “DeLorean Motor Company (DMC)”.  Since 2007, around 40 DeLoreans were produced from the spare parts.  With the car now a cult classic, DMC hopes to immortalize the company with an EV powered DeLorean.

The EV power comes from the Epic EV company, which has produced a 200 BHP electric motor which is being engineered to fit into new DeLoreans, and retro-fitted to existing vehicles.

DeLorean plans to market the new DMC EV in the US in 2013 after assessing the prototypes currently being manufactured.

The original DMC 12 sold for USD 12,000 in 1981, but the new DMC EV will have a USD 100,000 ticket.

You can contact DeLorean at www. delorean.com.


If you’ve got a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet

“If you’ve got a $10 head, wear a $10 helmet” was a very famous advertising catch phrase put forward by Bell Helmets in the 1960’s.  It really did get the message through, but it did not get through to SE Asia, unfortunately.

Over the years, I have had a series of helmets.  One was actually kept by the Confederation of Australian Motor Sports, the straps cut to ensure nobody tried to use it, and it was stored without any cleaning of the external surface.  Why?  Because this was the helmet I was wearing when I was caught in a fire.  The back of the helmet was melted and the rest of the helmet was blackened from the smoke.  I was quite happy to see that particular helmet being used to drive a point home to novice drivers.

However, it is interesting to look at the history surrounding the use of helmets, starting with motorcycle helmets.  The Motorcycle Rider's Association of Western Australia (MRAWA) researched this topic and went back as far as T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia, who died from brain injuries in 1935 following a motorcycle accident.

One of the neurosurgeons who attended Lawrence was Australian Dr. Hugh Cairns.  He was profoundly moved by the tragedy of this famous First World War hero dying at such a young age from severe head trauma.  Having been powerless to save Lawrence, Cairns set about identifying, studying, and solving the problem of head trauma prevention in motorcyclists.

In 1941, his first and most important article on the subject was published in the British Medical Journal.  He observed that 2279 motorcyclists and pillion passengers had been killed in road accidents during the first 21 months of the war, and head injuries were by far the most common cause of death.  Most significantly, however, Cairns had only observed seven cases of motorcyclists injured while wearing a crash helmet, all of which were nonfatal injuries.  His 1946 article on crash helmets charted the monthly totals of motorcyclist fatalities in the United Kingdom from 1939 to 1945. The obvious decline in the number of fatalities took place after November 1941, when crash helmets became compulsory for all army motorcyclists on duty. His article concluded: “From these experiences there can be little doubt that adoption of a crash helmet as standard wear by all civilian motorcyclists would result in considerable saving of life, working time, and the time of hospitals.”

It was not until 1973, 32 years after his first scientific article on the subject, were crash helmets made compulsory for all motorcycle riders and pillion passengers in the United Kingdom.  And many years after that for the use of crash helmets to be legislated in Thailand, and some SE Asian nations are yet to follow.

However, legislation alone is not enough.  Helmets have to be of a sufficient standard to give the protection needed.  The plastic bucket favored by some motorcycle taxi passengers is worth very little as far as saving lives is concerned.  There needs to be a standard, and the US Snell Foundation is one such organization.

For us ordinary mortals, selection of a good helmet is a matter of first checking to see if it is certified by Snell, or British Standard, or DOT.  After that, select the one that fits your head, we are not all of the same size!  The helmet should be a bit snug when brand new, as it will pack down a little bit to fit your head.

And by the way, be careful if you are going to have your helmet painted, some external shells do not like the thinners in some paints.  For this reason, I use stickers on my helmets, rather than paint.

We have come a long way since the leather helmets worn by drivers such as Prince Bira and Juan Manuel Fangio in their heyday, and it has been the advances in technology that have made today’s helmets as good as they are.


Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend

Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi Yas Marina grand prix circuit hosts the second last GP of 2011 this weekend.  Abu Dhabi is the most oil-rich in the region and ‘home’ to some well-heeled ‘visitors’ from Thailand.

The 5.55 kilometer Yas Marina Circuit was constructed using the motorists’ money, extracted at the petrol pumps.  Roll on electric power!  It was also one of the most boring race tracks in living memory at its debut and last year was no better, universally christened ‘Yawn’ Marina.  My report in 2010 contained the phrase: “The race was processional and quite frankly, another bore-fest.”  Despite the advent of the overtaking aids KERS and DRS, I cannot see KERS and DRS producing the excitement required by the spectators, as after all, neither of these aids did anything to assist the Indian GP.

Located on Yas Island, the PR blurb said the track was set to revolutionize the design of future Formula One circuits.  Boasting top speeds of 320 km/h and average speeds of 198 km/h, it features nine right turns and 11 left turns and is one of the few venues on the calendar to run in an anti-clockwise direction.

It was designed by circuit architect Hermann Tilke (so need I say more), and Yas Marina has a waterfront setting scenic enough to rival the likes of Monaco and Valencia, complete with a hotel that changes color, but was just as boring as that former pair of venues.

All of the grandstands, including the massive hairpin seating area, are covered to protect spectators from the desert sun, whilst the state-of-the-art pit building boasts 40 garages.

As well as the waterside marina area, there are high-speed sections, tight corners for overtaking (or so they tell us), and even a twisty street circuit-style sector.  However, none of this prevents Yas (Yawn) Marina from being boring if the F1 cars cannot pass each other.  However, always the optimist, I shall be there glued to the screen in hopeful anticipation.

The race will start at 8 p.m. our time Sunday. Qualifying is also 8 p.m. on the Saturday.


What did we learn from the Indian Grand Prix?

Well we learned that Vettel in his Red Bull truly is a prodigious talent, and currently there is no-one to touch him.  Another pole position, another led all the way and another fastest lap.  What more can you ask for?

Jenson Button in the McLaren showed he is a class act, but not near enough to challenge Vettel.  However, he has again shown he is the team leader at McLaren, as Hamilton, yet again, runs into Massa and ends in seventh.  This time the drive-through penalty was given to Massa (Ferrari), a decision which is unfathomable.  Hamilton’s front wheel hits Massa’s rear wheel - so who was in front?  Personally I think the stewards were just afraid of it looking as if they were picking on the poor boy, whose career seems to be going the way of Tiger Woods…

Third was Fernando Alonso in another sterling (peseta) drive to come in third with the Ferrari.  He kept it between the kerbs, away from other cars and a deserved podium.  Alonso has been very impressive this year, even more than during his world championship years.

There has been, and will be, much hype about this, the first GP in India.  From my side of the viewing screen it was unfortunately a boring race with very little of the wheel-to-wheel action touted beforehand.  The surface of the track was the Sahara desert, even worse than Abu Dhabi, and the haze was such that I began to think they would need running lights down the sides of the straight.

Mark Webber (4th), in the second Red Bull, has dropped his bundle again, just as he did last year.  Shame, as he used to be a very good driver, but now I think age has caught up with him, being 10 years older than his team mate Vettel.  Number 2 again for 2012, and that will be the end of his career.

After a poor qualifying session, which saw him 12th on the grid, Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) came 5th and once more out-drove the young pretender Nico Rosberg who ended 6th.  Those results look encouraging until you look at the fact that Schumacher was over one minute behind Vettel at the finish.  Ross Brawn and his new team of designers will have to start with a fresh piece of paper if they are going to seriously challenge Red Bull and its designer Adrian Newey.

Talk in the paddock of Kimi Raikkonen returning to F1 to drive for Williams.  Somebody must be smoking funny tomato plants.  Why would an ex-F1 champion return to the most under-performing team in the F1 circus?

The only Indian driver on the grid, Narain Karthikeyan (HRT), finished 17th and third last of the runners.  I hope the sponsors who put up the cash for his drive think they got their money’s worth.

Personally I feel that we will see a second Indian GP, but after that there will be much Indian tailor shop bartering with Bernie with offers of a free suit, silk shirt and tie if he will lower the price.  With two American Grands Prix coming into the calendar, India has no hope for a reduction, and they will end up like Istanbul.  Despite the hoo-hah after this one.


New BMW M3 in testing

New BMW M3

The rumors are flying about the new BMW M3, the performance version of the new 3 Series.  The engine for the new car is most likely a six cylinder and may even have triple turbochargers for aspiration.  This is understandable with other marques such as Lexus and Audi upping the performance stakes with every new model.

It is also suggested that the new M3 will not be in a two door body shell, but will be offered as a four door only.  If this is the case, the mooted M4 will be the model with the two door shell.

The uncertainty also goes with the specification of the engine.  Most informed sources state it will be a six cylinder, but BMW is being coy about whether this is an in-line 6 or a V 6.

There is already a new tri-turbo which produces 444 bhp is the leading contender to power the new M3 (or could it be M4) which will appear after the new 2012 3 Series due for launch later this year.

The BMW community is throwing its collective hands in the air because they see downsizing as raking the soul out of the M Series, a six does not sound as good as a V8, and turbocharging is not universally popular.  And to really upset the breed, there is talk of a three-turbo diesel engine.  An oil-burner in an M Series.  Gott in Himmel!

The new 3.0 liter diesel unit develops 395 bhp and even more torque, will first appear in the X6 xDrive 50d which debuts in March 2012.  This engine will also be found in the facelifted 2012 7 Series 750d and possibly the 550dx with M-Sport package.

However, BMW is keeping its cards close to its chest, and after the fact that there will be a new engine for the M Series, the rest is pure conjecture.


What to do with F1

I came across an interesting article the other day which had been printed in the British Times newspaper.  There were around 10 suggestions to make F1 less processional, and I present some of these for your opinions as well.

The first suggestion was a Handicap System to add weight to the cars according to finishing places.  This would mean that consistent front runners would have to carry more weight, which would then slow them down.  This has been used in other formulae, and even in horseracing.  Has some merits.

The second suggestion was to ban in-car technology, including reducing the size of front and rear wings, have metal brakes and not carbon fiber, ban “ship to shore” communications and bring back manual gearboxes.  Turning the clock back a bit, but would undoubtedly help, in my opinion.

Another suggestion involved not only just one tank of fuel, but also just one set of tyres.  There is much merit in this.  Obviously a punctured tyre could be replaced, but not all four.  With the official tyre suppliers providing tyres that can only run for 10 laps this is truly silly, as well as being a poor advert for their product.

Another suggestion was that all drivers should be prepared to fight all through the race, and not expect that back markers have to move over when being lapped.  The concept being if the driver was that good to get a lap in front, he’s good enough to show us how he can pass slower cars.

What about reverse grids?  One reader suggested that the results of this week’s GP are reversed for the next one.  I like the basic idea, but it is not workable in that format.  What would be better, I believe, is to give points for qualifying, but the grid positions of the top 10 are then reversed.  This way there would be no ‘sand-bagging’ as points would be at stake.

Other ideas included limiting the number of engines and gearboxes per season, restricting the final qualifying run to one flying lap only and drivers ballot for whatever car they get.  The last one interesting, but hardly practical, I feel.

And did you know when these suggestions were sent in?  2002, almost ten years ago.  The problem with lack of excitement and passing action is not new.  Shame that the FIA still hasn’t worked out how to overcome the deficiencies - and KERS and DRS certainly isn’t the answer.


The VW battalions marching onwards

Far from being a conglomerate that Porsche had its eyes on taking over, before itself was swallowed by it, VW is coming out as the strongest brand saleswise in the world.

According to the research group JD Power and Associates, Volkswagen AG will probably become the world’s biggest carmaker this year, outselling Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors via its gains in emerging markets.

It is expected that VW sales in China may rise almost 20 percent in 2011 and more than double in India, according to estimates from J.D. Power and Associates.  Compare that to the plight of Toyota, which has had to scale back its production, following the Japan earthquake and the floods here in Thailand.

It is also predicted that GM will strengthen its position as number two globally, pushing Toyota back to third.