Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Porsche Cayman GT4 is Possibly the Perfect Sports Car

2015 Porsche Cayman GT4
Ah, the Porsche Cayman. The 911's mid-engined nephew. Since its inception, when the 2004/5 "987c" Cayman S sat precisely between the Boxster S and 911 Carrera, people have been saying that this car was being deliberately held back by Porsche so as not to cannibalise the 911. However, they've slowly been giving the Cayman more and more freedom, adding an LSD in 2009 and then bringing out the lighter, sharper Cayman R a year later. Then in 2012, they even let the design team do whatever they wanted with the next-gen Boxster, and by extension its coupé cousin. The resultant 981c Cayman was and is not only supercar-sexy, but more polished and refined as a driving machine... not that it wasn't the king of its class already. Now, after a 340bhp options-bundle GTS version, we finally have a properly hardcore version of the car many believe is secretly better than the big-daddy 911.

The normal Cayman - despite its slightly less feelsome electric power steering - has received universal praise and, by all accounts, seems to be pretty much perfect in every way as a two-seat sports car. How have Porsche Motorsport gone about making it into something... more?

Since the new 911 (991) GT3 was unveiled with rear-steer but without a manual gearbox, the internet has been trying to inflict vernichtungsschmerz upon Porsche for this heinous crime against old-school purity. It seems that some of the internet - astonishingly - even accounts for a portion of the GT3's customer base. In a 20-minute show-and-tell video evo did with Porsche Motorsport's head of road cars Andreas Preuninger (see below), he says that there has been a cry for a manual gearbox from those who bought GT3s not to decimate all others against the clock at a track day, but to revel in the exhilarating chassis balance and power delivery, and engage right back with the car, partially by changing gear themselves.

"Since the 991 GT3 came out there was a lot of clientele that wanted to shift manually, to get involved. They don’t care too much about the last tenth. We listened to them,’ begins Preuninger when explaining why the Cayman GT4 goes back to basics with a 6-speed manual ‘box. It’s about emotion, about being involved and having a car that talks to you and this is what we’ve combined with a very, very competent track capable car."

The video is below, but if you haven't got 20 minutes to learn everything about this hotly-anticipated sports car, then I'll throw some highlights and headline figures at you:

• The 3.4-litre flat-six from the Cayman S/GTS has been replaced with a modified version of the 911 Carrera S's 3.8-litre engine, in a move Preuninger calls "old-school hotrodding". The more aggressive motor revs to 7800rpm and produces 385bhp at 7400rpm, with peak torque being 310lb/ft at 4750-6000rpm. This being a Porsche, though, those figures are a minimum. I wouldn't be surprised if it was closer to 400 horsepower in very good weather conditions. Things are kept smooth by standard-fit "Porsche Dynamic Engine Mounts."

• In gloriously stark contrast to the GT3, this car is manual only, complete with a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD) with advanced torque vectoring. Apparently this is because the Motorsport division is a little one and can't be doing too much at once. A second gearbox requires different calibrations in a lot of areas and a second line of production for that segment. This is the reason we generally see fewer and fewer manual gearboxes as overall demand dwindles, so to see them justify exactly the opposite decision with this reasoning is deeply pleasing.

(However, significant demand would bring about a PDK option later. So there's that)

• The 6-speed gearbox has the same slightly shorter ratios as the GTS, but there is still a small suspicion that it could be geared shorter still without the 911 to worry about. Mind you, 0-60 in 4.4 seconds and a 183mph v-max ought to be fast enough for most. So will a Nürburgring lap time of somewhere around 7:40, level with the previous-generation "997" GT3...

• The weight is 1340kg, about the same as the GTS, but that's despite carbon fibre aero parts and a lighter construction method for the aluminium/steel chassis. What weight they've taken out has been put back on again by the meaty suspension and brake systems, which are essentially taken wholesale from the 911 GT3. In terms of the brakes, that includes both the 380mm steel discs and the optional 410mm carbon ceramic versions as well. Other GT3 carry-overs include the steering system, although it's worth pointing out that everything has been calibrated and in places tweaked a bit to fit and suit the Cayman GT4. The electric steering in particular has new software that apparently gives it better feel and feedback than the GT3. Reviews will tell us...

• The suitably unsubtle aero kit not only reduces lift to zero, but generates the same 100kg of downforce at over 180mph as the 911 GT3. The wheels, despite looking similar, aren't from a GT3 and aren't centre-lock wheels either. The 20" forged alloys are shod in 245-section Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres at the front, with 295-section tyres at the rear.

• Unlike the GT3, which has been a benchmark and/or target for other car manufacturers for at least a decade now, the GT4 doesn't have any perceived rivals, so while it's a highly competent track car - as any of the Motorsport division's products are - they have the freedom to concentrate on making it a fun and engaging driving experience, rather than chasing ultimate numbers like they have to with the GT3 to stay on top of the proverbial hill. Good!

• In the UK, it costs a surprisingly low £64,451 before you load it up with optional extras. In the USA it's around $85,000 and in Germany the price starts at €85,779 including taxes. The Clubsport Package costs £2670 and adds the rear half of a roll cage (a full cage isn't road legal these days) among other track-serious bits. Considering it's got the engine from an £85k Carrera and chassis components from a £100k GT3, £65k is a downright bargain. Perfect!

OK, here's the video if you need more details about all that and quite a lot more:

If the weight was under 1300kg, I would consider this car perfect. The Cayman S and GTS* are already considered the best all-around sports car currently on sale in the world. In the UK you never really need more than 300-350 horsepower unless you're at Silverstone or an airfield, so 380bhp is plenty to have fun with on a B-road, even if it has sticky tyres and downforce you you to overcome. The large wing might put some people off, but it's their loss. This car is smaller, better balanced and probably more agile than a 911 Carrera, as well as 90kg lighter than a GT3. It's got a revvy, shouty six-cylinder naturally-aspirated engine, six manual gears, a mechanical LSD driving the rear wheels only and it looks awesome, like it wants to snap at the heels of much pricier track day toys. Plus it still has two decent luggage compartments! If I already had a comfy and sensible commuter, or didn't need to worry about any of that, this would be in my garage the very nanosecond that I had the money for one...... which will probably be never. Small wonder I daydream so much.

*Despite the similar name, GTS models aren't Porsche Motorsport products, only cars with 'GT' followed by a number, along with RS models and of course racing cars like the 911 RSR and 919 Hybrid LMP1 car. You're not a bad person if you didn't already know that, don't worry.



This article has been written for SmallBlog V8. Do not claim it as your own. It is not. I've had a blog taken down for that before...

Photos by Porsche

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

If It Wasn't For Audi, The New Focus RS Might Look Like This

If It Wasn't For Audi, The New Focus RS Might Look Like This
As we all know, big grilles are in. They have been for some time now, and I blame Audi. Ever since they joined the upper and lower grilles with a ring of chrome and black plastic inner bits, which I think happened when they facelifted the A3 in 2004/5, we've seen it in various forms in pretty much every market segment from pretty much every major manufacturer.
If It Wasn't For Audi, The New Focus RS Might Look Like This
As crowded markets try ever harder to stand out, these grilles have grown to such sizes that a good 50% of the total grille are is completely fake and blocked off with filled-in holes, or in the case of the new Ford Focus RS, a hideous grey bar of plastic that looks like a rugby player's mouth guard.
Ford recently globalised their design language, and part of that was taking the European "Kinetic Design" style - very much following Audi with its large grille and black plastic crash bar holding the licence plate inside it - and swapped the upper and lower grilles around (no, they didn't copy Aston Martin, you're not funny).
If It Wasn't For Audi, The New Focus RS Might Look Like This
If you've been without an internet connection all day and haven't seen the new Mk.3 Focus RS, here is a video of one of the designers talking to evo about it:

I like almost everything about the new Focus RS. I like that it has over 320 horsepower. I like that it has rear-biased all-wheel-drive with a torque-vectoring rear axle that can send all that grunt exactly where it's best sent. I like that it'll have a manual gearbox and optional track tyres for decimating Renaultsports at Cadwell Park or the Nürburgring. But I don't like two things about it: the lack of a 3-door model and that fussy, ugly nose design. It's almost like they gave it two nose designs at once, giving it enough of an opening for the visibly huge intercooler and then putting that big daft trapezoidal lip around it all so that it looks like an angry fish! They completed the now-fashionable look by, of course, making anything inside the fish mouth grey.
So I decided to take the fish mouth off and color the grey back in using Photoshop. I think it looks cleaner, and a bit old-school, which Fast Fords ought to be in my opinion. You don't have to prefer it, but I do. So there.
The top image is literally what I just described, with the fog light housings squared off a little to make them fit in better with the resultant lines. Below is a slightly refined version with a thicker horizontal element.
If It Wasn't For Audi, The New Focus RS Might Look Like This
This has been written for SmallBlog V8, but can also be found at Oppositelock. Do not claim this writing or these images as your own. They are not.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Nissan GT-R LM NISMO Finally Lands From Another Planet

Forget Formula 1. All the cars look 95% the same. Forget American Handegg or a bowl with a cape or whatever the crap Channel 4 is bothering with on the USA's behalf. That's just armoured rugby with forward passes and more breaks than a cricket match. Forget whatever you were just doing. It's not NEARLY as interesting as Nissan's newly-revealed LMP1 racing car, set to tackle the World Endurance Championship and by extension the Le Mans 24 Hours this year.

This car has been the source of rampant speculation for months now, with signs pointing towards it being something radical, perhaps an evolution of the DeltaWing and subsequent Nissan ZEOD RC to suit top-flight LMP1 regulations, or something using a GT-R road car engine, or maybe even something with an engine in the front. Will it run Le Mans without a rear wing? Is it true that total power output will be 2000+ horsepower? Will it be front-wheel-drive? Will the wheels be different sizes?

So, let's get some headline stats and specs laid down:

> This is only the second-ever modern front-engined LMP car, following a mildly successful Panoz.

> Said front-mounted engine is a new "very modern but conventional" direct-injection 3.0 Twin-Turbo V6, connected to a 5-speed sequential gearbox. It powers the front wheels only. The exhaust pipes exit upwards, just in front of the windscreen!

> There is, of course, a significant hybrid system in the form of a mechanical flywheel ERS. It harvests energy from the front axle, possibly both, and the energy it generates then powers all four wheels, biased towards the front.

> The rear wheels are four inches narrower than the front ones, at 9", partly as an advantage of front-wheel-drive (less tyre = lower drag) and also to widen the air channels at the back of the car. The diameter of all the wheels is just 16" - the same as my parents' Ford Galaxy people carrier.

> The engine's power output is a seemingly unspectacular 550 horsepower. However, when the dual-axle ERS boost is running at full power, it adds 8MJ of energy into the mix, which translates to an added 700bhp or more, making a total maximum power output of around 1250 horsepower! Weight will be no lower than 880kg, giving a power/weight ratio that rivals a Moto GP bike.

> Some of the technology in this car (including perhaps the engine?) will appear in the R36-generation Nissan GT-R road car - set to appear in 2018 - in some form or another.

Basically, this scarlet Batmobile is batshit insane on every level. If your brain hasn't melted yet, keep reading.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Red Bull RB11 Thinks It's Invisible, Isn't

2015 Red Bull-Renault RB11 Test Car
Red Bull Racing hate his time of year. In recent years, pre-season testing at Jerez has seem them desperate to hide their new car from view whenever possible. If they could have people driving Infiniti QX70s alongside it at all times to hide it when it's actually on track, they would. But seeing as road cars aren't fast enough, they've taken a different idea from the world of production cars and "unveiled" their 2015 RB11 with a dazzling camouflage livery this morning, as it heads out for the first pre-season test in the happy hands of Daniel Ricciardo.

However, they can't hide anything from SmallBlog V8! No sir! The most obvious change in 2015 is in the nose designs - as is traditional these days - so let's enhance a spy photo or two of it on track and see what shape it is:

The overall nose shape is very similar to that of last year's much-maligned Ferrari F14-T, which is an interesting decision. Meanwhile, there is a small protruding tip similar to this year's Force India or Williams cars, perhaps to suit regulations about how far forwards the tip is or to act as an air guide, so the air flows the right way underneath the car. Maybe it's even a crash structure. Today's test car also has a five-element front wing with some curvy winglets at each end. Mind you, it'll probably look different come Melbourne...

As for the rest of the car, well, it's very similar to the RB10 of last season. Perhaps a lot of it in fact is the RB10, which would perhaps be as good a reason as any to hide the shape of it with cubist camo. We know Toro Rosso are taking a gradual approach towards completing their new car, so parent team Red Bull following suit wouldn't be the most unusual thing I suppose. No doubt the car we see at the first Grand Prix in six weeks' time - maybe even in the second and third test weeks at Cataluña - will be more different to the 2014 car. And blue. With purple bits. And some stripes.

Image from F1Technical
Taking the helm now that Sebastian Vettel has left his team for pastures new at Ferrari, will be Daniil Kvyat. Despite being outscored by his Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne last year, the unpronounceable Russian put in some strong performances through the season and demonstrated some fine car control whenever it all started to go awry. He will be partnering Daniel Ricciardo*, who also exceeded expectations last year by thoroughly outperforming four-time champ Vettel in the same car. You have to assume it'll be the Australian leading the team this year, but Kvyat could give us some surprises in his second F1 season.

*Whilst we're on pronunciations, his last name is Italian, so is pronounced "Ri-char-doe," but he prefers a more English-sounding "Rick-car-doe" and that's what the commentators use. They's still deciding how to pronounce Kvyat. Apparently it's a "soft K," whatever that sounds like...

There's not an awful lot else to say, really, other than reminding you that chief technical man and aerodynamics wizard Adrian Newey is now semi-retired from Red Bull Racing, meaning the technical team have been rearranged to compensate for his relative lack of involvement. Will they still manage the same aero performance? Will they still have the same kind of innovative ideas like rubber noses and flexing wings and blown diffusers? Apparently blown front axles are coming back, so while I go and find out exactly what that is, enjoy some more pictures of a car that thinks it's invisible... but isn't.

Written for SmallBlog V8. Do not copy without permission. Most images from F1 Fanatic.