domino effect

Until recently, sports cars were road cars with sporting aspirations, being built for the road first with high-performance parts added after the fact. BMW’s Motorsport or Porsche’s GT department are basically well-funded tuners, and better motors, suspension, and aero can only push the underlying package so far. This uprated road car philosophy has started to come under serious fire.

Ford wanted to win Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of their much-heralded string of wins over Ferrari with the original GT40. Initially, they tried to modify the Mustang, but it quickly became apparent that the Mustang platform wasn’t going to be competitive. So Ford decided to develop a race car to win Le Mans and sell enough road variants to satisfy the FIA rulebook. The result was the 2017 Ford GT.

2017-Ford-GT-front-three-quarters

Ford GT in “track mode” aka default

It’s a term that gets thrown around too often, but the Ford GT is legitimately a race car for the road. The suspension, aero, engine, and packaging are all designed for racing, and Ford subsequently crushed the competition. It was such a convincing win that Porsche’s 911 RSR, which competes in the Ford GT’s class, has gone mid-engined (sacrilege!) in an effort to remain competitive.

A similar phenomenon happened in the late 1990’s. McLaren’s F1 won LeMons outright with fewer modifications than you’ll find on a Miata at a local autocross. In response, Porsche and Mercedes produced the GT1 and CLK-GTR respectively. Similar to the Ford GT, these entries were designed as race cars first and road cars second. The difference between this instance and today’s is that the Ford GT’s class consists of conventional road cars (Corvette, 911, 488 and V8 Vantage) while the F1’s era was composed entirely of limited production multimillion-dollar race cars with license plates. The performance first mindset has trickled downmarket.

Screenshot 2017-09-24 at 10.55.15 AM

GT1 and CLK-GTR make the F1 look tame

And yet, the Ford GT feels almost tame compared to the upcoming crop of super/hyper/ultra-cars that are in the pipeline. If you can buy the car that won LeMans for only $500k from Ford, what do the premium brands have to offer?

Aston Martin is in the midst of preparing to release the Valkyrie. Like the Ford GT, it is built from the ground up for performance (read: high aero grip). Unlike the Ford GT, there is no racing series rulebook to direct or compromise its design. Adrian Newey, Red Bull F1’s head aerodynamicist, has been given free reign. The car promises near F1 levels of performance, and it looks to share more with an LMP1 prototype than a road car. It will be absurdly fast.

Valkyrie

The Valkyrie eschew’s heavy complex hybrid turbo power for a naturally aspirated V12

While the Valkyrie focuses on low weight and high aero performance, Mercedes has decided to build a car (the Project One) around their winning F1 engine. This is not the conventional approach where concepts are borrowed from F1. This engine is the same unit used in the race car: a hybrid split-turbo 1.6 V6. It will rev to only 11,000 rpm vs the race car’s 13,000 limit, but two electric motors have been added to power the front wheels for a total output in excess of 1,000 hp. Think Porsche 918 with more power, more aero grip, and less weight.

The downstream effects of these cars’ arrivals will play out over the coming years as other manufacturers design their next generation of cars with this competition in mind. I can’t wait to see what those engineers cook up.

PS. I imagine driving the Valkarie or Project One on public roads to be something similar to this.

 

Advertisements

in a perfect world

Riversimple has devised a completely different approach to nearly every aspect of automotive design and ownership. Whether or not it is a feasible business model is up for debate. Regardless, it’s definitely worth watching.

 

No love for the truly hardcore.

The automotive industry only seems to have appreciation for one kind of hardcore and that is track performance hardcore (think GT3 RS or M4). But what about a truly hardcore road car? One that is uncompromising in its approach to the realities of 99.9% of real world driving.

While Riversimple’s concept really nails the conceptual economics of driving, I don’t think it succeeds in the realities of driving. Storage and extra seating is non existent and while it’s not sexy, that’s a deal breaker. Who’s going to buy a car that blatantly ignores the fact that people own stuff, have families and friends, or buy more than two bags of groceries at a time?

Engineered obsolesce is the name of the game.

Cars are abhorrently expensive to maintain. If you were to buy all the individual parts necessary to build a car from scratch, it would cost you 10X the car’s MSRP. This creates a huge conflict of interests between the car’s owner and the manufacturer.

bentayga wiring

Bentley Bentayga’s electrical wiring minefield

Not to mention the fact that there seems to be no foresight during a car’s design for its inevitable future maintenance. What’s the usable lifespan for increasing complex and inaccessible system?  Your car is effectively”totaled” if a complex part breaks.

 

low friction

Having fallen in love the Ariel Nomad, the Atom with off road suspension and tires, Evo decided to assemble quite the collection of vehicles to give the whole rally thing a try.

 

Chasing the dragon.

Perfect is predictable. Perfect is boring. Sometimes the most bizarre and fundamentally ill-suited car can produce the most memorable driving experience. The 911’s rear engine layout may be the textbook example but the seemingly top-heavy chainsaw-loud Bowler Defender stole the show. Just absurd. I want one.

Less grip equals more fun.

Most are of the mindset that you can never have enough grip (or horsepower) but too much grip robs the driver of involvement. If you have more grip than skill, it masks bad driving techniques by asking little of the driver. MotoGP and F1 drivers are known to participate a variety of dirt races during the off season to sharpen their skills. Having to finesse a car around a corner is coincidentally the most rewarding part of driving. Evo’s tagline is “the thrill of driving”. They just get it.

 

NASCAR knows best

NASCAR gets a bad rap. Is it the pinnacle of automotive technology? Hardly, but that’s besides the point. NASCAR is all about putting on a good show. There is genuine competition among the field (if you drive a Chevy, sorry Ford). 10 different drivers have won races this season. F1 and WEC have elected to focus on outright performance as opposed to viewer enjoyment and both series are dominated by single teams.

That being said, NASCAR isn’t for me. My new favorite form of 4 wheel racing is Stadium Super Trucks (SST). It’s essentially trophy trucks racing on paved road courses with jumps added to the straightaways. Off-road tires coupled with the huge suspension travel gives these cars poor on-road performance but makes things terribly entertaining. The trucks are either on three wheels in the turns, launching 20 feet in the air or crashing. This might be the best form of motor racing I’ve ever seen.

short slow mo

onboard

accomodations

How much of your city’s layout is compromised to accommodate the car? Probably more than you realize. Consider a stationary car’s footprint on the road in the image below.

footprint of 60 people when commuting by bicycle, car and bus

click to expand – footprint of 60 people when commuting by bicycle, car and bus

Now consider how much additional space each car requires when moving. The higher the speed traveled, the more space that’s required between cars. A car traveling 25 mph on the road probably needs around to 1-2 car lengths between it and the car ahead, and that figure doubles for every ~25 mph increase in speed.

Even still, it is pretty shocking to learn that the total percentage of land dedicated solely to the automobile can exceed 50% in some cities. Beyond that terrifying land usage statistic, consider how much of the remaining land’s development is influenced by the automobile’s close proximity or the preference for people for traveling by car. In short, cities are built around the car, and cars are a huge waste of space.

So why does no one seem to care about this backwards set of priorities? Why isn’t there an aspirational city car to match every enthusiasts aspirational sports car? Gordon Murray, the man behind the McLaren F1, has turned his attention to the city car, but it has attracted minimal attention. Part of the problem stems from the ridiculous correlation between vehicle size and perceived luxury.

Mini Rolls anyone?

Mini Rolls needs more grill

Small cars are always a brand’s entry level model. You simply can’t buy a truly luxurious small car. It’s almost an oxymoron. The rational for this is that automakers build cars based on consumer demand, and most cities do little to incentives people to drive smaller cars. If anything, consumer preference has favored increasingly large cars. The current 3 series is now as large as the 5 series from two generation ago.

We already incentive people to drive fuel efficient cars through taxation. Why not place the same emphasis on vehicle size or correspondingly weight? I can’t wait for the Mini Rolls or maybe just smaller (and lighter) cars in general.

almost perfect

The perfect car doesn’t exist. There is not a single car that is perfectly suited to every situation: road trips, windy back roads, track days, and everything in between. Each scenario has its own unique set of demands. With that being said, if you want to explore the possibility of the perfect car for a particular scenario, there are definitely some cars that get pretty damn close to perfection.

If you’re looking for a sports car from the early 1960’s to do some vintage racing, I would have a hard time passing on the Low Drag Jaguar E-Type. Sorry but the Ferrari 250 GTO is the obvious and uninspired choice for this category. Effectively an all aluminum E-Type with a roof, the Low Drag is gorgeous. Like the Singer 911, it feels like a piece of art but for very different reasons. While the Singer is a testament to attention to detail and luxury, the Low Drag is stripped to the bare essentials, which amounts to little beyond an engine block, carbs and a steering wheel. It’s exercise in aluminum craftsmanship.

unconventional

If you were asked to start from scratch and design a purpose-built race car, chances are it wouldn’t be front-wheel drive or a front-engine layout. But Nissan has done just that with their front-engine front-wheel drive LMP1 GT-R LM prototype that will compete in the World Endurance Championship (and Le Mans) against Porsche, Audi and Toyota’s trio of mid-engine rear-wheel drive bias prototypes, and I’m hoping that Nissan destroys the competition.

This isn’t because I’m partial to Nissan or FWD, but because it challenges the status quo. Nissan has been on a bit of a roll with unconventional setups, first with the Delta Wing/ZEOD but that was more of a proof of concept than competitive challenger like the GT-R LM. Manufacturers understandably don’t take risks on this scale very often. It’s horrifically expensive to develop and race a competitive hybrid prototype in WEC’s LMP1 class, and Nissan’s gamble could totally backfire. Bottom line, you have to respect Nissan for the effort.

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton's batmobile

The ZEOD always reminded me of Tim Burton’s batmobile

It also doesn’t hurt that the GT-R LM looks absolutely insane. While its styling and packaging is all in the name of airflow and performance, it still ends up looking more hot rod than endurance car with the driver positioned low behind the long hood and the exhaust spouting flames in the driver’s field of view. Just completely ridiculous. FWD FTW?