Monday, May 11, 2009

F1: Jenson Button Reigns In Spain; Webber Third

Brawn GP’s Jenson Button at Spain.

Brawn GP’s Jenson Button has extended his lead in the driver’s championship to 14 points after profiting from a strategy change to win the Spanish Grand Prix.

Button was jumped at the start by team mate Rubens Barrichello, who immediately created a gap, setting a stunning pace throughout his first stint and leaving the Brit seemingly in a battle for second place.

But a mid-race switch from a three-stop to two-stop strategy paid dividends, allowing Button to significantly reduce the margin and assume the lead once Barrichello pitted for a second time.


After establishing himself at the front of the race Button was never headed, displaying solid speed on the harder tyres to extend the gap to Barrichello and cross the line for his fourth win in five races.

Despite boasting a commanding lead atop the driver’s standings, Button doesn’t believe he will be a runaway winner of the title, citing the form of Red Bull as a future challenge.

“This was an important victory for me, for sure, first victory back in Europe, five races in and a reasonably good lead now,” he said.

“It’s a good feeling but I’m not getting comfortable. Rubens is very quick and he’s proved that this weekend, and also the Red Bulls, when they get it together they’ve got good pace and obviously Mark and Sebastian are doing a great job.”


Australia’s Mark Webber secured his second podium of the season with a third place finish, capitalising on superior strategy and a barnstorming second stint to skip ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and fellow Red Bull star Sebastian Vettel.

Starting fifth on the grid, Webber was unable to make any headway early, finding himself trapped behind the duelling Vettel and Massa in the initial stages of the race before getting caught in traffic after his first pit stop.

That hold-up behind McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and the BMW of Nick Heidfeld cost Webber nine seconds, but the 32 year-old was able to compensate with a massive 31-lap second stint, allowing him to leap into third place.

Photo Of The Day: Hyundai Tiburon Police Car


Alas, this modified Hyundai Tiburon isn’t a genuine pursuit car, but that’s probably for the best: while a good looking unit and a great seller for the Korean carmaker, the Tiburon isn’t the most powerful coupe on the road and probably not the best suited to high-speed chases.

In this particular example, the modifications are simply aesthetic. That’s okay though, as its intended purpose doesn’t really call for much in the way of additional power.

Owned by Blue Line Racing, a group of five Canadian police officers, the purpose of this Tiburon is to help educate young drivers on the dangers of street racing.


One of the officers involved in the sponsored and donation-funded Street Legal program preaches the group’s cause on the strength of first-hand experience, having written off his own ride in an illegal street race in 1991.

Despite their day jobs, the Blue Line Racing guys are enthusiasts through and through, being avid racers themselves – legally, of course.

The Tiburon isn’t Blue Line’s only ride, though, with a 1972 Plymouth Duster and a 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 forming the remainder of the team.

Toyota Reports US$6.9 Billion First Quarter Loss


It’s been one hell of a ride for Toyota in the last couple of years. Prior to ‘the great economic unpleasantness’, the Japanese automaker had positioned itself securely as the number one car company in the world and the poster-child for profitability.

Toyota, however, hasn’t managed to avoid the global recession and massive shake-up in world financial markets and last year posted its first operational loss in over 70 years.

It has now announced a US$6.9 billion (AU$9 billion) loss for the January-March quarter and a forecast annual loss of US$8.6 billion (AU$11.2 billion).


While the industry is awash with red ink, few analysts expected such a dramatic turnaround of fortunes for Toyota. Prior to the company’s reported loss last year, Toyota was experiencing rapid growth.

As a result of the sharp downturn, sales are expected to be down 14 percent for the 2009/2010 financial year. Already one third of Toyota’s 74 global assembly lines have been cut back to working a single shift in an attempt to reduce costs and match production and inventories with sales. Expansion projects are also to be delayed until showroom demand recovers.

Along with Toyota’s losses, Fuji Heavy Industries, the company that builds Subaru of which Toyota owns a 16.5 percent stake, also reported a ¥5.8 billion (AU$76 million) loss for the quarter. Those losses are expected to reach around ¥35 billion (AU$461 million).

Toyota will have its hopes pinned on the new third-generation Prius to help spur sales along. While a single model isn’t enough to carry the company, it is hoped that the green image and sharpened pricing of the new Pruis will bring customers back to Toyota showrooms.

Ford Engineer Builds 2.7 l/100km ‘HyperRocket’


Being a fuel economy technical expert for Ford North America has given this engineer the chops needed to develop his own ultra-economical vehicle, which he has titled the ‘HyperRocket’.

Shaped like an old jet fuselage sans wings, the HyperRocket is powered by a 250cc four-stroke motorcycle engine and weighs in at 229kg – not much more than a road bike.


Combined with a 0.16 drag coefficient, the HyperRocket manages a 2.7 l/100km (105mpg) fuel economy at 105km/h, and 2.2 l/100km (125mpg) with the addition of narrower motorcycle tyres and a smaller rear sprocket.

Best of all, it’s for sale on eBay Motors right now. But with less than half an hour left in the auction (at time of publishing) and zero bids, the US$15,600 opening price may need to be revisited.

F1: Red Bull Latest To Threaten Withdrawal; Brawn Denies Team Orders In Spain


Red Bull has become the latest team to threaten to pull out of Formula One unless the FIA revises its changes to the 2010 regulations.

Toyota’s John Howett dropped the first bombshell at Catalunya on Saturday, revealing his company was not prepared to commit next year under the proposed regulations, while it is believed Ferrari and BMW are seriously considering a future outside F1.

Following the lead of Howett, Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz has now expressed his dissatisfaction in Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper overnight.


Mateschitz warned that the FIA will need to eliminate the prospect of a ‘two-tier championship’ or face a severely reduced F1 grid.

“If the proposed rules for 2010 stay unchanged, we will not take part in the 2010 championship,” he said.

“Teams [backed by] manufacturers will no longer take part. Of the teams now, only two or three will remain.”

Heartened by the expressions of interest made by Prodrive, Lola, US Grand Prix Engineering and iSport, the FIA accelerated the introduction of the budget cap late last month, hoping to confirm a 13-team grid by the end of May.

But the hasty decision to do so appears to have back fired, with independent teams such as Williams and Brawn, who were expected to support the FIA, privately opposing the new regulations, allowing FOTA to present a united stance.

FIA boss Max Mosley.

FIA President Max Mosley believes a budget cap is essential to secure the future of Formula One, previously stating teams will leave the sport unless costs are reduced.

“People simply cannot in the current economic conditions get enough money to survive without it. I suspect that when they see the figures, everybody will want to come in under the cost cap,” he said.

Unfortunately for Mosley, teams appear set to withdraw now because of the budget cap, handing FOTA all the bargaining chips and likely to now force Mosley to back down.

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has organised a meeting with Mosley for next week, setting the stage for a showdown.

Meanwhile, Brawn GP has denied suggestions Rubens Barrichello was the victim of team orders at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Brawn team mates Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello at Spain this weekend.

Brawn GP Chief Executive Officer, Nick Fry, said the decision to switch Jenson Button’s pit strategy to two-stops was not deliberately designed to relegate Barrichello down the order and boost the Briton’s title aspirations.

“No. Both sides of the garage were racing,” he told Autosport.

“Listening to what was going on there was huge determination – firstly for Jenson to make the gap, and then on Rubens’ side of the garage with a bit of frustration at the end that they didn’t make it happen.”

Aussie David Brabham Finishes 13th In Peugeot 908 HDi Debut


Australian sportscar star David Brabham endured a disappointing start to his time with Peugeot Sport at the Spa-Francorchamps 1000km, finishing 13th.

Teamed alongside two fellow former Formula One drivers, Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz, Brabham’s chances of securing victory on debut for Peugeot were scuppered when he clipped a slower car while navigating heavy traffic on lap 53.

The incident forced Brabham to pit for repairs to his right hand lower wishbone, costing him five laps before he received a four minute stop-go penalty for his role in causing the accident, losing another two laps in the process.


The event was won by the other Peugeot 908 HDi FAP of Nicolas Minassian, Simon Pagenaud and Christian Klien, providing the French manufacturer with the perfect platform to mount a challenge for Le Mans glory.

“With Le Mans fast approaching, today’s win has done the team a great deal of good and I am very pleased with our overall performance here at Spa,” Peugeot Sport Director Olivier Quesnel said before the race.

“We came here to prepare for next month’s big race and everything went very smoothly.”

Spa’s 1000km event is the traditional lead-up event to the Le Mans 24 Hours, providing teams with an opportunity to test their machines in an environment similar to the lightning quick French circuit.

Although his weekend ended in frustration, the performance of the other Peugeot will instil confidence in Brabham, as he seeks to become the first Australian to win the event since his brother Geoff in 1993, coincidentally, also for Peugeot.

Chevy Destined For Competitive Top Quality Future, Says Henderson


New GM CEO Fritz Henderson has declared that Chevrolet, in the next two years, will have repositioned itself as a competitive, top-quality brand.

Speaking with US mag AutoWeek, Henderson said he believes fresh new Chevy models like the Cruze (to be sold locally as the Holden Cruze) and the Spark will help the brand grow its position in the market, should fuel prices rise again.

The Cruze and Spark, along with the seven-seat Orlando people mover, are due to hit the US market in the 2011 model year.


Henderson also believes the Camaro is the perfect halo model for the legendary Chevrolet brand, reinvigorating the enthusiast spirit that the Corvette has since kept alive.

“I think that in the case of Chevrolet, we have the chance in the next year or two to really put the stake into it, with Cruze, with the Spark and with the next-generation vehicles we’re working on,” Henderson told AutoWeek.

“I mean, we have a chance to fully flesh out the Chevrolet lineup.”

The almost make-or-break Chevrolet Volt is due for production in 2010 as well, and according to GM’s new Global Product Development boss Tom Stephens, the hybrid is on track to meet that deadline.

With GM retiring the Pontiac brand and off-loading Opel, Saturn, Hummer and Saab, the Chevrolet brand will need to perform if the troubled automaker is to trade its way out of trouble.

On the other side of the coin, a Chapter 11 bankruptcy appears more and more likely for the company with each passing day. How Henderson’s vision for Chevrolet will be affected by such an outcome remains to be seen.

2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 Released In Australia


Suzuki went back to the drawing board for its famous ‘Gixxer’ sports bike, and the 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 is the final result. And now, it’s available in Australia.

Featuring an improved power-to-weight ratio and end-to-end upgrades including a completely redesigned chassis and engine, as well as major development work for the suspension and brakes, Suzuki’s all-new litre-bike hero promises to be a whole new experience for sports riders.


The new ‘Gixxer’ packs a new 999cc four-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC engine, lighter and shorter than the previous generation and featuring the Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) fuel-injection system.

Suzuki says the new engine delivers improved performance and throttle response right through the rpm range, as well as reducing emissions.

“The reaction the new generation, 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 has received since it was launched last year has been incredible,” Perry Morison, General Manager Motorcycles, Suzuki Australia, said.

“It’s been getting rave reviews from enthusiasts, racers and motorcycling publications around the world, and the countdown has been on until its Australian arrival.


The new, smaller engine gave Suzuki’s engineers the ability to design a more compact chassis, featuring a new twin-spar cradle frame, 100mm-shorter wheelbase and a 33mm-longer swingarm for improved handling and acceleration.

“The GSX-R1000 has always been a class-defining superbike, and Suzuki engineers have made that package even better with the new 2009 model.

“With American and British Superbike wins on debut, the all-new GSX-R1000 has already demonstrated its pedigree on the racetrack.”


The six-speed transmission is built on a new layout, with ratios carefully selected for optimum racetrack performance. To help with this, the 2009 GSX-R1000 is fitted with a revised back-torque-limiting clutch for improved lever feel and feedback.

Developed with the racetrack in its sights, Suzuki’s new hero bike is fitted with two large-volume MotoGP-inspired titanium mufflers and a larger trapezoidal radiator for reduced drag.


The new Big Piston Frontfork (BPF) suspension was developed in cooperation between Suzuki and Showa, and uses a single 39.6mm upper piston riding against the inside wall of the inner fork tube, with fork springs relocated to the bottom of each fork leg for improved weight and greater feedback.

The back suspension has received as much attention, with a Showa rear shock absorber featuring adjustable rebound damping, spring preload, and high and low-speed compression daming. The GSX-R1000 is also fitted with an electronically-controlled automatic steering damper.


Riders can choose from three different engine maps to suit conditions and preferred style, using Suzuki’s Drive Model Select (S-DMS).

The 2009 Suzuki GSX-R1000 has undergone extensive wind tunnel development to back up the sharp, aggressive styling, and can be had in Blue/White, White/Silver, and Black/Mat Black liveries, for $18,990 RRP plus on-road costs.

VACC Opposed To Fuel Excise Hike


The Rudd Government is due to present its Federal budget tomorrow, and concern is already mounting over what ramifications it may have for petrol pricing.

The Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) has called on Treasurer Wayne Swan not to be tempted to lift the excise on fuel, saying such a change would hurt motorists in the hip pocket and have a negative effect on the auto industry as a whole.

“Fuel prices are perceived to be relatively low following last year’s record prices and as such, the Treasurer might feel tempted to target fuel excise as a way to raise revenue in tomorrow’s Budget,” VACC Executive Director, David Purchase, said.

“But the global economic slowdown has already forced motorists to budget for every cent so any increase will have an impact.

“VACC appeals to the Treasurer to leave fuel alone and not to increase excise. This includes LPG and diesel, as well as unleaded petrol.”

Wayne Swan, Treasurer

The treasurer is already under pressure to find new sources of revenue to fill a $200 billion shortfall in the budget, with an un-freezing of former Prime Minister John Howard’s fuel tax halt being an attractive target. Howard’s fuel excise freeze has cost the Australian government $12.6 billion since it was instigated in 2001, and is estimated to be worth another $20 billion over the next four years.

The VACC is worried that the government may also seek to increase the GST component of the fuel excise.

“People tend to forget they are already paying two types of tax on fuel. 38.14 cents per litre is excise while 3.8 cpl is the GST component of the excise,” said Mr Purchase.

“This is a blatant tax-on-the-tax and rather than be increased, it should be removed completely.

“VACC is hopeful Mr Swan recognises the importance of tomorrow’s Budget for the Australian Automotive Industry. The industry is doing it tough and the Treasurer has a responsibility to do all he can to stimulate the industry.”

While some commentators have labeled the halt on fuel excise rises as poor fiscal policy, to reverse it now would surely be a politically damaging move. But is there anything to be worried about?

Late last year Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a scheme that would drop the fuel excise cent-for-cent to match fuel price rises, thus stabilising petrol prices until 2013, when the excise would be reviewed. However that scheme is not due to kick in until 2010, so what happens in the interim is anyone’s guess.