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by Dr. Iain Corness

Asian Festival of Speed comes to Bira

Eddie Jordan, eat your heart out - pic courtesy Motorsport Asia

The travelling Asian motorsport circus comes to the Prince Bira Circuit just outside Pattaya on Highway 36 this weekend. Part of a series that takes them all over Asia, we will have the Asian Touring Car Championship vehicles and the AF 2000 open wheelers at the local round. Unfortunately, the Porsche Cup cars have decided to go to China, rather than Thailand, but having watched the Porsche cup chaps on TV, there’s a couple of triers and the rest are well-heeled also rans in my humble opinion. While the best drivers never win in the slowest cars, the worst drivers don’t win in the fastest ones either.

Qualifying is on Saturday 25th, with two sessions, one for round 9 and the other for round 10. AF 2000 is 11.20 a.m. and 2 p.m. while the touring cars are on 12.10 p.m. and 2.50 p.m.

Nattavud leads at Sepang - pic courtesy Motorsport Asia

Sunday 26th has the two rounds, with rounds 9 and 10 for the touring cars on 11.50 p.m. and 3.20 p.m., and the AF 2000 rounds on at 12.40 p.m. and 4.10 p.m. Lunch break is between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., so I would suggest a pile of sandwiches, some cold turkey and salad and a nice bottle of Hardy’s RF Chardonnay. Or two!

Local driver Nattavud in the Peugeot 306 is running equal points leader with Chen Jun San in the Toyota Altezza, both on 105 points.

To get to Bira, come from the ISR end of highway 36 and head towards Rayong. Before you come to the overpass carrying highway 331 you will see the Bira circuit on your right.

Daewoo heads down the gurgler?

After posting a massive 71% slide in half year profits from the same period last year, this looks to be the last gasp for the ailing Daewoo Company. The net profit was $11.15 million but sales fell to $1.28 billion from $2 billion a year ago. Operating profit fell to $12.49 million from $92.39 million over the same period.

General Motors and partner Fiat have submitted a proposal to buy Daewoo Motor, but a final agreement has not been reached and both sides have said little about the status of talks. Stalemate would probably cover it nicely, and I am sure the world’s biggest car maker is just in there to stop FoMoCo or others acquiring a new outlet.

Daewoo Motor went bankrupt in November last year and has been propped up by South Korean taxpayers’ money, but despite cutting about 7,000 jobs since last November, trimming its workforce to about 15,000, lowering commission fees and adopting an overall cost-cutting programme the sales have continued to decline as market confidence has fallen.

Daewoo Motor also acquired Ssangyong Motor in 1998, but it too has bombed, despite sticking Mercedes Benz three pointed stars on it. Ssangyong also sells jeeps, vans and sedans.

To show the real picture of financial woes at Daewoo, the car maker’s assets fell to $7 billion at the end of last year from $14 billion a year earlier, while liabilities increased by $3.6 billion to $17.3 billion. And you thought you had money worries!

Toyota looks like going down (under)

Toyota Motor is reported to be seriously considering building an R&D facility in Australia, which would cover Asia. Apparently the costs of running such an enterprise in Japan are astronomical compared to the costs in Australia. Add to that an inducement package with a five-year scheme, launched earlier this year by the Australian government subsidising up to 45 percent of costs associated with developing cars to be built overseas. They also cite the cheapness of land, building materials, and personnel compared with Japan. It is calculated that overall R & D costs are about half as much in Australia compared with Japan.

Toyota currently has design centres in the US and Europe geared towards creating models for their respective markets, but in the past cars for Asian markets have largely been developed in Japan.

Another factor is that nearly one third of Australia’s immigrants are now of Asian origin making it reasonably easy to hire personnel who are familiar with tastes and requirements in their Asian region.

There is also a precedent for this, set by Gee Emm who four years ago opened its Asia-Pacific regional design centre in Melbourne. The facility now employs 160 engineers and designers developing vehicles for production in China, Thailand and India. Australia doesn’t mind since the R&D centre brought in around AUD 80 million last year.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which car had the first fibreglass monocoque body. The key word was monocoque, and the answer was the Lotus Elite. These cars were simply stunning in their day and I remember trying to buy one in about 1964. Fortunately the car yard that had this example was owned by a mate, who worked out that after paying for the car and my flat I was going to have less than $2 a week to live on and refused to sell me the car! I begged! I was prepared to live on scraps from behind the bakery just to own that car.

So to this week. Tail fins. On a street car these are not really of much aerodynamic use, but they have been an important styling tool for some makes. Have a look at the photograph here and tell me the year and the model. These were the ultimate tail fins, 42 inches high. I want the year and the model, remember!

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to fax 427 596 or email [email protected]

“Them” versus “us”

When the police got hold of radar speed guns, we (the motorists) responded by grabbing technology with both hands, and the on-board radar detector was born. Police responded by saying that’s not fair, you can’t have one, so banned the radar detectors. In return, we (the good guys) became even more devious, hiding the detector behind the radiator grilles, or inside the sun visors.

In the face of such blatant defiance, the police brought out the radar-detector detector, so we (the devious guys) made the detectors so small you could slip them in your pocket before the police began to strip your vehicle looking for your expensive detectatoy!

Next round and we (the fast guys) have to really bring in the new technology - there is a group in the UK that has brought out a speed trap detector which is legal! This one relies on a Global Positioning System and a map of speed camera sites to let you know where the man with the van and his radar is working and lurking.

Don’t we get it easy in Thailand? We certainly do.

“Kimi” gets his first win!

“Kimi” Kaikkonen
Photo by Colin Ritchie

Local amateur racer Matti (“Kimi”) Kaikkonen had his first win the other week at the Bira Circuit. Matti was driving one of the AIM Racing Concept I cars - that fleet of rentaracers that gives everyone the opportunity to have a crack at circuit racing. Matti had always harboured the wish to have a go, but the usual things got in the way when he was younger - business, family etc., etc., etc. When I suggested to him that there was this opportunity available (despite his age - he’ll kill me for that!) he jumped at it. Well jumped into my race suit first to see if he liked driving. He did, and on his second meeting scored a well driven win, coming from behind from grid number 4 and doing it the hard way, passing the front runner two corners from home.

Concept cars ready to go at Bira

The races, by the way, were shown nationwide live on UBC cable.

If you too are interested, talk to me. I suggest that if you have zilch experience, then something like the Taki Racing School is a good way of coming up to speed quickly, but if you’ve had some sprint or rally experience then you can slide straight in to one of the school Concept I cars and see what it’s like in the half day “experience” course, or the one day high performance course.

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