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Updated every Friday
by Boonsiri Suansuk

AUTO MANIA

by Dr. Iain Corness

Malaysian GP this weekend

So this week it is KL’s turn to host the second Grand Prix of the season. I doubt if it will have the sensational start of the first one in Melbourne, where Ralf Schumacher and Rubens Barichello managed to bring six more vehicles undone, as well as themselves. That being the case, it is highly unlikely that you will see a Jaguar at the sharp end, or a Minardi celebration, for that matter, even though Alex Yoong’s backers will have bought the entire field by this stage! Well, after all, this IS Asia!

Stodart and Webber celebrate Minardi’s 2 points

It would be difficult not to place Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari as favourite. In the first Grand Prix this season, in “last year’s” car he dominated all the practice sessions and only lost out on pole position when the rains came. For my money, for Barichello to be quicker than all the rest means that the revamp of last year’s car is one helluva weapon!

The Renaults, (ex-Benettons) could be interesting in Sepang, but I firmly expect to see the Saubers right up there again, along with the McLarens and Williams cars.

For all the action, join me in Shenanigans on Sunday in front of the new super BIG screen at (I think) 2 pm.

Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned Henry Leland of Cadillac and Lincoln fame who has been credited by many as being the first car manufacturer to insist on fully interchangeable parts, when he took three Cadillacs to England in 1908, fully dismantled them, jumbled up the parts and rebuilt them immediately. A great practical example of interchangeability. However, he was not the first, as another great engineer was making cars to this exacting standard seven years previously and the quiz question was who was this person? The answer was Fred Lanchester and not Henry Ford.

So to this week and something just a little different. Cars that fly, a common enough concept in science-fiction books and even featured in the cartoon TV series called “The Jetsons” in 1962. However, the auto bizz was already thinking about flying cars in 1935 when the U.S. Bureau of Commerce’s Experimental Division Section awarded a contract to a manufacturer to build one. The car had a single propeller and rotor blades for flight. The gear could be folded back over the fuselage to accommodate ground movement. Two passengers could sit side by side, and there was a small baggage storage area behind the seats. For road use, the 90 bhp engine was connected to the tail wheel by a shaft that was put in gear when the propeller was disengaged. Testing began in 1936 and continued until the company dissolved in the mid-1960s. The question is then, what was the name of this flying car?

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

Good luck!

Ryan Briscoe shows Toyota that he has the goods

Cleanevent Nations Cup at the AGP meeting in Melbourne

Ryan Briscoe is being touted as the next young Australian on track for Formula One, following Mark Webber’s signing with Minardi. He will be working this year as a test driver for the new Toyota team with principal drivers Salo and McNish. Briscoe showed the Japanese giant that he has the talent with a decisive win at the wheel of a Ferrari in race three of the Cleanevent Nations Cup at the AGP meeting in Melbourne.

Starting from 11th place in a field of 27 he confidently held off three-time Australian Gold Star champion Paul Stokell, in a Lamborghini, as the pair charged through to the front. Stokell failed in a late passing move at the end of the back straight and followed Briscoe home by 0.45 seconds, with Geoff Morgan taking the final podium spot in a Chrysler Viper.

Eff Wun season begins with controversy

The video replay buttons all over the world have been doing overtime with the opening seconds of last fortnight’s Australian GP in Melbourne being reviewed - endlessly. The protagonists, Ralf Schumacher in the Williams BMW and Rubens Barichello in the Ferrari have been reported by the media as blaming each other. How remarkable! Of course they’d blame each other. Two of the most highly paid parking valets in the world would not say “I did it wrong,” now would they?

In the blue corner was Schumi Junior who said, “Rubens changed direction twice too much. It is down to his decision where he brakes, but he weaved too much and that’s what caused the accident. He closed the door on me once and then he did it again and from the replay it looks very much as if he is braking. He tried to defend his position without thinking what he was doing and I tried to overtake him. It is another racing incident. He tried to defend his position and I tried to overtake. That’s racing.”

But of course, that’s not the way Rooby Baby saw it in the red corner. “I think it is a racing accident. If I wasn’t there he wouldn’t have made corner, it’s as simple as that. Even if he thinks that I moved too many times, I moved to the left only a centimetre or two. It is silly. We were going to be first and second. I would have kept my place and he would have gained a position. It’s silly.”

Since these two chaps are paid astronomical sums to drive in motorsport’s top category, you would have imagined that they would have realized by now that you don’t win races on the first corner - you only lose races on the first corner.

I agree with Ruben’s statement “It’s silly.” But I would say they were both as silly as each other. I believe that the Ferrari driver did move too much, “weaving and blocking” I would call it, and if Rubens thinks it was only “a centimetre or two,” then they must have very large centimetres in Brazil! And as for Ralfie, the red car in front of him must have produced the well known motor racing condition known as the “red mist”. When he hit the rear of the Ferrari, the Williams BMW was on full noise and there could have been doubt as to whether he would have made it around the first corner. Incident - or accident? Whatever, it was avoidable.

The end result, however, was to make a very interesting motor race, with Jaguar leap-frogging from the 10th row of the grid into 4th outright at the end and Minardi ending up in 5th with rookie Mark Webber at the wheel and Mika Salo in the Toyota also scoring a point in the Japanese manufacturer’s first ever Grand Prix race. Results that would never have occurred if the first corner hadn’t ended up with eight cars demolished, never mind the fact that both Arrows refused to leave the grid other than by push-power.

The other impressions brought from the F1 circus’ visit down under was just how good is Michael Schumacher? For all the Montoya fans, I’m sorry, but Mrs. Schumacher’s big boy isn’t ready to lie down yet. Schumi drove a near faultless race and deserved his win. What else? Well young Kimi Raikkonen did a sterling job and showed that he has inherited all of fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen’s joviality and wise-cracking wit and 17 million Australians have at long last got someone to barrack for in Mark Webber. The Malaysians have a long way to go with their boy, I fear, but maybe his wallet is so heavy that it is slowing him down. We shall see.

For those who missed it, the final results in Melbourne were 1. Michael Schumacher - Ferrari, 2. Juan Pablo Montoya - Williams BMW, 3. Kimi Raikkonen - McLaren Mercedes, 4. Eddie Irvine - Jaguar, 5. Mark Webber - Minardi-European, 6. Mika Salo - Toyota.

Hybrid gasoline/electric or Diesel?

A few weeks ago we ran the test piece on the Toyota Prius, the hybrid engine car from Toyota. It was reviewed by our correspondent John Weinthal in Australia and he was most enthusiastic about this “green” technology car. However, Richard Truett, the engineering editor for Automotive News puts forward a different case.

He maintains that rather than the hybrid technology, which he does say is an example of an engineering masterpiece, he would be looking at the European diesel technology instead.

He writes in Automotive News, “If European diesel cars such as the Ford Focus, Audi A2 and Mercedes-Benz A class were available in the U.S. market, hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius wouldn’t exist.”

Now those are fighting words, but he does show the basis of his claims. He says that the diesel engine has been transformed into a clean, smooth and quiet power plant. Turbo-chargers, high-pressure fuel injection systems and clean, low-sulphur fuel have made the diesel nearly as refined as a gasoline engine. He also claims that diesels are simpler, more efficient and less expensive to build than gasoline engines, never mind hybrid units.

So why are the US roads not chock-a-block with super-efficient, clean-running diesels? The answer, according to Truett is that the oil companies don’t want to remove the sulphur from the diesel fuel they refine and because the dual emissions regulations from the federal government and California have presented the auto industry with a set of obstacles that can not be scaled without currently strangling the efficiency out of the diesel.

But all is not lost, says Truett, “Automakers and suppliers, such as Siemens VDO, Robert Bosch Corp. and Delphi Automotive Systems Corp., are pouring huge resources into developing cleaner diesel engines that will be saleable in the United States, probably by around 2008. By that time, the first commercially viable fuel cell vehicles are expected to be on the road. None of that bodes well for gasoline-electric hybrid technology.”

However, it does bode well for you and me - the consumers.

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