Monthly Archives: September 2014

Ferrari California Dreamin’

Ferrari California. Photo courtesy Ferrari

Ferrari California

Whether through foresight or serendipity, the introduction of the Ferrari California – the Prancing Horse’s least expensive model – at the 2008 Paris auto show coincided with the start of the Great Recession.

What better way for the exotic car maker to expand its business than to launch an entry level model when most people were losing (or worried about losing) their shirt? Actually, the target market was certainly more likely people who weren’t worried about said shirt loss, but perhaps may not have wanted to rub it (as much) into the faces of those who were.

So it was that more than 50 years after the original Italian sports car named after a U.S. state arrived on our shores, the 2009 model followed, value-priced and packed with Maranello’s latest technology. Whereas the Ferrari lineup had previously consisted of front engine V12 Gran Turismo (GT) and mid-engine V8 sports cars, with a flagship supercar thrown in every seven to 10 years (e.g. F40, F50, Enzo), the California was the first ever front engine V8 Ferrari.

Described as a retractable hardtop two seat GT with optional 2+2 seating – the rear two passengers usually preferring the seats of the front two – it became one of the company’s volume models.

V12 x 2/3 = Engine

At the heart of it lay a variant of the Ferrari F430 engine, an aluminum 4.3 liter V8. But this was the first Ferrari to have direct injection. Churning out 453 hp, it produced less power than the unit in the F430 but more torque on its way to a redline near 8,000 rpm.

Power was directed to a rear mounted dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission featuring seven speeds. This partly explains why only 46% of the car’s hefty 3,900 lb. mass rides on the front wheels. Later an optional six speed manual version became available. But rumor has it that pretty much none were sold, making it nearly as rare as unicorns.

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First Ever Formula E Race

Takuma Sato driving in Formula E

Takuma Sato at the wheel of the Amlin Aguri Formula E car

The inaugural Formula E race took place in Beijing this past weekend. A few short years ago it was just an idea. Now it has opened an exciting new chapter in the world of racing bringing a fresh approach and solid talent pool to the mix.

Electric Racing

The main idea behind Formula E is that of a global electric racing championship focused on high performance and energy efficiency, which are really two sides of the same coin (though performance is much more exciting to watch than efficiency). By using quiet electric race cars and packing all the sessions into one day, the organizers are able to bring the action and the glamour to the masses in ten urban centers around the world in this season’s championship.

While it is said to have cost $100m to launch the series, that’s comparatively inexpensive considering it costs more each year to run a mid-field Formula 1 (F1) team. Though racing is not inexpensive, this could well turn out to be a great investment for founder Alejandro Agag and his backers.

Cars By Consortium

The cars are all-electric and built by Spark Racing Technology, incorporating components and systems from big names such as Dallara, McLaren, Williams, Renault and Michelin. Powered by 150 kilowatt (kW) motors (201 hp), they can reach modest top speeds of about 140 mph.

While power is nominal, torque is undoubtedly prodigious and instantaneous. Acceleration is quick. Battery capacity is still very limited, so the races are a brief 45 minutes, with each driver using two cars. Even then getting to the finish is really tight; drivers eke across the finish line with barely any charge left.

The cars use fairly flat, low downforce front and rear wings because there isn’t enough energy available to overcome the extra aerodynamic drag of high downforce wings commonly seen on cars on street circuits.

Compared to F1 cars the relatively low speed and low drag/downforce design makes the Formula E cars less aerodynamically sensitive. Because of that they should be able to race much closer together.

The big concern about the lack of loud engine noise is, in my opinion, unfounded. While certainly less noisy, electric cars at speed are not silent simply because there are other sounds present such as tire and wind noise. At speed they emit a pleasant high-pitched whir. Somewhat surprisingly, the Formula E car uses treaded tires that are closer in size to those of street cars. This is likely to negate the need for rain tires.

Despite its modest performance and somewhat odd appearance, particularly due to the fairings in front of each tire, the Formula E car is a great platform from which to develop further technology. There is little doubt it will continue to improve in performance in the coming seasons.

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Porsche Cayman Wizardry and Lizardry

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My first step in publishing each post is to write utter garbage. Whatever you may think of the final product, I just spill all my words out into something tangible – enough so that I can show it to someone else and have them tell me it’s crap.

Then after inhaling the waft of my printer burning toner or whatever it does while coughing up multiple drafts and revisions, I’ll arrive at something I am only slightly discontented with and ready to post, though not without trepidation. Typing up a first draft that’s polished enough to call a final product is not how I roll.

Perhaps some car companies operate the same way. They throw something together based on a concept and keep refining it until it finds its niche in the world or the scrap pile.

The process of launching a car involves a lot of trial and error, prototypes and fixing myriad problems. Possibly all because a couple of engineers debated the merits of one way or another of doing something while chowing down burgers, schnitzel, sushi or pasta during their lunch hours.

Then someone, after perhaps many sips (or gulps) of some inebriating beverage says, “Hey, why don’t we try that?”, and the others at the table nod in agreement. Or seem to nod because they’re plastered.

I mean, how else do you explain putting six cylinders without a radiator on the backside of something akin to an upside down bathtub that shared a bunch of parts with a VW Beetle and calling it a sports car?  Then, many brew addled lunches later turbocharging some version of it, slapping a giant wing on it and pretty much kicking the entire world’s collective sports car racing ass?

Anyway, my point is that if you want to get started doing anything, just throw something together and see if it seems like a good direction. Then keep polishing. That’s my theory on how the Porsche 911 became one of the world’s most, if not the most, iconic sports cars.

But this piece isn’t actually about that car. It’s about something that happened a generation after its debut, where perhaps another group of engineers may have revisited the rear-engine vs. mid-engine debate. One thing led to another and, hopefully without fisticuffs in the biergarten, they wanted to put things to the test and came up with the Porsche Boxster.
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Anatomy of Great Races

BMW Z4 race car at Virginia International Raceway (VIR)

BMW Z4 racing in the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship

Many elements play a part in the making of a classic race. Since the beginning of auto racing, the great races tend to contain a number of common traits. First and foremost, racing is a battle of drivers. The cars, teams, series and tracks are there to provide the platform upon which drivers compete.

High tech for its own sake isn’t of much entertainment value. Racing is a human contest, not a science fair. So let’s not get all geeked out on technical minutia and rules that may or may not improve performance, probably won’t appreciably improve the show, will likely stir up controversies and penalties and definitely drive up costs.

A race can be viewed as the sum of three distinct phases. Similar to chess it can be viewed as having opening, middle and end stages – mixed in with a high rate of speed.

Most races have exciting opening phases. That’s often the best part of an event because all the cars are close together and anything can happen, good…

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