French GP this weekend
The Magny Cours Circuit has an
interesting history. In the mid-eighties, an initiative by
President Mitterand saw the Circuit Jean Behra near Nevers
updated and modernised and renamed the Circuit Nevers
Magny-Cours. The circuit had begun life as a small kart
track, started by Magny-Cours’ mayor, Jean Bernigaud. The
kart circuit grew into a proper track which was inaugurated
on May 1, 1961; ten years later, it was lengthened from two
kilometers to 3.85 kms.
those ten years, Magny-Cours had become home to Tico
Martini’s racing car company and France’s first race driving
school. The decision in 1986 to upgrade the circuit to Grand
Prix standards saw Guy Ligier move his Formula One team to
the circuit and the new track was opened in 1989. Two years
later, it hosted its first Grand Prix, and the French GP has
remained there ever since.
The French GP starts at a sensible hour for us – 7 p.m. I
will be watching from my roost at Jameson’s Irish Pub in
Pattaya (next to the Nova Park serviced apartments) in Soi
AR (also known as Soi Sukrudee). Join me at 6 p.m. for
dinner and a natter before the red lights come on.
The points score at present is:
2006 Drivers Table
F. Alonso 88
M. Schumacher 69
G. Fisichella 43
K. Räikkönen 39
2006 Constructors Table
There are eight Grands Prix to go, so there is a total of 80
maximum points up for grabs, so Schumi at 19 points behind
Alonso is certainly in with a chance. All it needs is for
Alonso to have a mechanical problem (although the Renault
has been bullet-proof this year) or win a wall and the title
race will be down to the wire.
What did we
learn from the US GP?
Ignoring the fact that Ferrari came home
with their first 1-2 for a couple of years, and that Michael
Schumacher put on a sterling display, there were many things
that came to light during the US GP at Indy.
The first was the fact that the Americans appeared to have
forgiven F1 for last year’s fiasco of six race cars droning
around for an hour and three quarters. As well as Michelin’s
20,000 free seats, there was a good crowd, with many holding
up signs professing their enthusiasm for GP racing. I hope
they were not too disappointed with what I consider to have
been another fiasco with nine cars finishing this year. Ah
well, I suppose it could be considered a 50 percent
Currently there are 22 drivers starting each race in the
Grands Prix. In theory these are the best 22 drivers in the
world. In actual fact, this is obviously not the case. Some
of these 22 are obviously fast drivers, but just as
obviously are not fast-thinking drivers. To lose so many
cars on the first lap is just inexcusable in my book. The
first rule that any race driver, at any level, has to learn
is “You do not win the race on the first lap. You only lose
the race on the first lap”. And that is precisely what
happened, with the McLaren Mercedes team being the big
losers, with both cars out after Montoya managed to stuff
his nose into Raikkonen’s backside, and it all went
pear-shaped from there, with Heidfeld leaving the race
The word at Indy was that Montoya’s manager was busy touting
his man around the garages. I would suggest to his manager
he try the Caltex on Sukhumvit Road, which appears to be in
need of a pump attendant. I ask you, would you give Montoya
a drive in your million dollar race car? I certainly would
not. He is undoubtedly fast (when he feels like it), but he
certainly does not think fast.
What else did we learn? Well the US driver Scott Speed was
lucky he did not have to drive around for 70 odd laps in
front of his countrymen. Other than his speedy motor-mouth,
he has been outdriven by Liuzzi all year, and it would have
been embarrassing to have finished behind his team mate.
Liuzzi did a sterling job and outdrove young Rosberg in the
WilliamsF1 quite categorically.
Last week I mentioned that exports are very important for
the Thai auto industry. In the first quarter of this year,
Thailand waved goodbye to 138,702 vehicles, an increase of
almost 60 percent from the 2005 figures. Major market share
went to Toyota (no prizes for guessing that), but who came
second? Clue, they exported 30,531 units in the 2006 first
quarter! Further clue – it isn’t Honda. The correct answer
So to this week. When, and in which country,was the first
Grand Prix run? And before you start saying Silverstone in
1950, that was the first Formula 1 GP. Think back a little
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct
answer to email [email protected] Good luck!
Thailand’s 24 hour race
We can forget Le Mans and its 24 hour
race (won by an Audi diesel no less this year), as Thailand
now has its own 24 hour race. Not quite the hype of the Le
Mans in France which was first held in 1923, but you have to
start somewhere, and it looks like 2006 for the Thailand 24
opposed to the European version, which generally has a 50
percent attrition rate, the Thai 24 hours saw 23 vehicles
out of 23 make it to the finish. That in itself must be a
However, rather than the diesel Audis, Porsches and the
like, the Thai race cars were all new Formula RX3 go-karts.
These featured 17 HP four stroke engines, and had adjustable
seating to fit drivers between 1.50 m to 1.90 m in height.
There were between five and eight drivers in each team, and
any driver could not remain in the kart for more than one
hour at a stretch. Teams were competing for a first place
purse of 12,000 USD, so there was an incentive for overseas
drivers. In fact, around 50 percent of the drivers came from
abroad, with the winners being the Random Racing team from
Germany covering 801 laps in the race. Second was Speedzone
from the Philippines two laps behind and Benifica Team
Portugal third one further lap down.
The event was held at the newly renovated Bira Kart Circuit
(named after Thailand’s famous motor racing Prince Bira, one
of the few men to have won the BRDC Gold Star on three
consecutive years, pre WW II) and this has to be one of the
best set-ups in Asia. Two storey timing towers, stewards
rooms, ablutions block, the works. There is also a large
trailer park where many of the drivers slept while waiting
for their turns. The circuit is also very tortuous, with the
Random Racing Team recording the fastest lap of 68 seconds
for the 1.2 km track.
The 24 hour race continued throughout the first 12 hours
despite alternating periods of monsoon rain, and with the
karts on slick tyres there was much action all over the
track. However, in the early hours of the morning the next
day the rain was so heavy the race had to be stopped for a
few hours, which reduced the total racing time to something
around 18 hours, which according to the regulations was
still long enough to qualify as the endurance event.
The organizers and competitors were impressed by the event,
and this 24 hour endurance race looks as if it will become a
permanent fixture in the Thailand Kart calendar.
Is an S Class the vehicle for you?
The 2007 model year Mercedes S Class looks to be
the most technologically advanced of the entire Mercedes
line-up, but it may not suit all drivers, who might be a
little wary of such electronic advancements. BMW have had
nothing but complaints that its iDrive is too difficult for
the average driver, but here we go again, with M-B
presenting the S Class driver with a similar knob called the
According to one influential American auto tester, Mercedes
engineers said that, in focus group testing, Americans had a
far lower aptitude for mastering complex control systems
than European and Japanese testers. Even though the US is
the S Class’s largest market, the new Comand system was
designed primarily for German tastes. However, the Germans
have simplified the system for the cars going to the US, and
given the drivers what are referred to as “hard” buttons to
facilitate ease of control.
However, testers Down-Under believe that it’s hardly
surprising that Mercedes-Benz fills the flagship S Class
with all the luxury, safety and performance technology at
its disposal. When a customer forks out this sort of money,
they expect the best.
Amongst these aspects are the dynamic contour seats with
moving side bolsters for cornering, “Brake Assist” that
optimizes braking function according to driving conditions
and demands, “Pre-Safe” that optimizes various safety
systems if a collision is imminent and an uprated active air
suspension that adjusts according to the road, load and
driving style. But the trump card is night view assist, an
infrared camera ($4000) that gives the driver a clear night
view beyond even the bi-xenon headlights on a monochromatic
The new S Class is bigger in every dimension than the
previous model and is available in short and long wheelbase
with the latter being 130 mm longer at 5.2 meters. This all
adds to passenger room, especially in the rear. The looks
have been described as reminiscent of the gigantic Maybach
(also built by Mercedes-Benz), and feature a large boot and
wheel arch flares.
Power comes from a 5.5 liter petrol V8 kicking out an
impressive 285 kW with 530 Nm of torque, with claimed
accleration times of 5.4 seconds from rest to 100 kph. That
is good sports car times, and this is a luxury sedan.
If fuel consumption means anything to the man who can afford
several million baht for an S Class Benz, then unofficial
tests returned as little as 10.5 liters of petrol per 100 km
of mixed driving.
Drive is to the rear wheels via a seven speed auto with
sequential shift on steering wheel mounted buttons, plus a
stalk selector for auto or otherwise.
The new S Class does represent the next step forward, and
hopefully M-B will have surmounted some of the reliability
aspects that have plagued the factory in the not so distant