Saturday, 26 September 2015

IAA Frankfurt 2015 - More Mad Concept Cars!

2015 Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo - I did not realise it was finished in friggin 'BLUE CARBON FIBRE.
Wacky concept cars are great, really they are. So let's look at some! As important as the real cars for real people are, the fun of motor shows is just as much or more in seeing what undiluted visions car companies have, what their designers and engineers would or could do with freedom from regulations and production costs. We recently went through a couple of years where concept cars just seemed to be thinly veiled production cars with a bit of extra design spice thrown on the grab attention, at the expense of something truly interesting. Thankfully, Vision Gran Turismo has helped car companies see the point in doing something extreme to connect with potential future customers, and with that subsequent outburst of creativity has come the return of true concept cars to the fore. No, 're not heading to production. They're heading to your dreams. Here are five.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

IAA Frankfurt 2015 - Production Cars of Interest

2015/16 Ferrari 488 Spider being unveiled
Wacky concept cars are great, really they are, but the more serious part of an international motor show is the unveiling of cars you (or someone richer than you) can actually buy some time soon. We've seen topless version of the Ferrari 488 and Lamborghini Huracan, crossover versions of basically everything and the new Prius, which is the ugliest car ever designed, to such an extent that it makes a Ssangyong Rodius look bland and a Pontiac Aztek look innovative and stylish. I am not showing you the new Prius in this post. Either you will vomit and blame me or you will think it's actually not the worst after all, in which case I don't want to know your opinion. I hate it, and this is my blog, dammit.

So, instead, here are some real life cars for real life people with money that are actually interesting.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Just What Are Track Limits, Anyway?

Tyres tyres tyres tyres Lewis is blonde now tyres tyres tyres Pirelli Pirelli Pirelli Pirelli tyres. Does F1 ever talk about, y'know, not tyres? Occasionally they'll throw financial discomfort into the mix so we can watch every single person in a position of influence ignore the issue, or a team will complain that they're losing, or someone will mention the bloody noise again (I like it, honestly) or people will talk about how to improve the sport - a popular topic with pub bores, I gather - but ultimately the talk seems to come back to tyres more often than not, whether it's how long they last, how quickly they lose performance or who will supply F1 with rubbery black circles from 2017. This recently happened again in the midst of the Belgian Grand Prix, when Nico Rosberg had a slow-then-sudden puncture which started with a structural chord coming loose up Eau Rouge and ended in a 190mph blowout and spin approaching Blanchimont 3/4 of a lap later. This incident in Free Practice was then followed up by Sebastian Vettel's less dramatic puncture on the penultimate lap of the race itself, after which he had very strong words for F1's sole tyre supplier, Pirelli.

He called their explanation of a small cut on Rosberg's tyre "bullshit" and made clear that if his own puncture had happened just 200m or so earlier when he was charging up the famous Eau Rouge corner, he'd have been "fucked" as the car spat itself off the track and into the tyres at ~180mph. Thing is, tyres have always blown after taking too much punishment. The Ferrari pilot had gone much further than anyone else had all weekend on his last set of tyres, and once a tyre has worn through it's much more likely to fail in the way his did. Maybe it's just one of those things? At the time I did briefly - perhaps cynically - wonder if the proximity of this double-incident to Jules Bianchi's burial had put drivers on edge a little bit...

Either way, his little outburst has lead to a couple of things. First of all, C. Montgomery Bernie has gathered all the drivers together and told them not to air their grievances about Pirelli in public. Secondly, Pirelli's extensive investigation of the tyres on multiple cars after the Belgian GP has shown a number of microscopic cuts, both on tyres that failed and ones that didn't but might have. The track is always cleaned before the race, but only the tarmac and the kerbs. Any area beyond the kerbs is left alone, meaning small amounts of debris can still be found just off circuit. Can you see where this is going yet? The real problem here appears to be drivers abusing track limits, as shown in the image up top of Vettel short-cutting Radillon (the top part of Eau Rouge) just moments before his right-rear tyre burst.

There is now a widespread call for stricter enforcement of track limits, from drivers and pundits alike. Now that we've seen even small debris cause damage to the tyre surface that can lead to a puncture or delamination, we can even say it's on safety grounds, rather than just to satisfy the likes of Tiff Needell.

Up until now, you see, complaints about track limits abuse have largely been from those arguing about drivers not being punished for sloppy driving. "Back in my day, they'd have hit a barrier by doing that!" "Before they added all that tarmac run-off, he'd have been straight into the gravel and out of the race!" "Why can't it just be the 1980s again?!"

The other point of course is that, for example, if a driver runs wide because they carried more speed through the corner, doesn't go onto any grass and just carries on regardless, they've technically left the track and gained an advantage, which is against the rules in pretty much every circuit racing series. Y'know, because it's cheating. The same goes for short-cutting corners on the inside too, obviously.

The track limit is governed using the white lines that border the track. If all four wheels are beyond the white border line, you're off the track. The kerbs might be there to provide margin for error, but they don't count as being part of the actual track. Here's a demonstration from two Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3s racing in the Blancpain Endurance Series:

The difference between Pro and Pro-Am as well?
Basically, the white line is the law. In F1 and a few other series, the race stewards occasionally exercise lenience if they're reassured that there isn't a significant advantage to be gained, which seems a little too lenient given that a) F1 drivers are purported to be the best in the world and should be able to keep it between the lines, and b) if they didn't gain an advantage by running over the white line, they wouldn't do it. Give a racing driver an inch of wiggle room and they'll use 1.1 inches of it. There are some particularly tough customers that would rather see drivers punished for just two wheels over, but I wouldn't really want to see that. We want to see the drivers pushing themselves and their machinery right to their limits, but if they were penalised for putting a wheel's width on the kerb then they'd be slightly hesitant to do that. Let me put it this way: if he would've been given a time penalty for going two wheels over, would Max Verstappen have tried it on around the outside of Felipe Nasr at the flat-out 190mph Blanchimont corner? No. Not even Maximum Verstappen is that reckless. You can see that move at 1:35 in this video, by the way, just because it's cool:

So what can be done to enforce track limits? Well, you could hand out a penalty to anyone who repeatedly leaves the track to gain an advantage, but F1 already has a lot of penalties going around for cars who have gone over the maximum allowed four power units (or elements thereof) in a season, so it wouldn't be a good look for them to hand out even more. In qualifying, lap times set by breaching track limits get deleted, which is only right and fair, but doing so in the race is a bit meaningless unless you subtracted the lap(s) from their race distance, which would be much sillier than a 5-second pit/race time penalty.

Some fans are saying that the grass and gravel traps which used to line the corners should be put back again, but that's a tricky one, more so than penalties. On the one hand, there are some corners that have lost their challenge due to tarmac run-off areas letting drivers get away with taking them too fast, like Monza's Parabolica or indeed Blanchimont at Spa. On the other hand, those run-off areas are there to make crashing safer. Take Rosberg's blowout again - when he suddenly lost control at 190mph, he was able to slide onto a large expanse of extra tarmac, letting the surviving three tyres generate enough friction to stop the car hitting the tyre wall. Also, these circuits are used for motorcycle racing as well as cars, and riders falling off don't have to get launched back into the air like a rag doll if they can just slide to a halt on tarmac run-off instead. Paving Parabolica was done for that reason (there was initially hope that they'd only pave the first half of the gravel trap... but they ended up pulling the gravel back all the way around). So it would be difficult to convince circuits to spend the money to make their tracks arguably more dangerous. Instead, let's just hope that the decision makers are more selective about where they pave things over in future, lest every track become the same as the Sochi Autodrome...

On balance, then, perhaps penalties really are best. Punishment for going off the track is more understandable and credible than punishment for an engine needing replacement, at least for fans of the drivers. Maybe a cumulative system (5-second time penalty, then 10, then 20 or a drive-through) would be best, so repeat offenders get taught a lesson. Another suggestion I've seen online is to have sensors in the wheels or somewhere to detect a car off track. Things is, sometimes a driver goes off track because the car kicks sideways, they lock their brakes or they get pushed off, so a sensor system would have to just alert the stewards, rather than trigger an instant penalty.

Track limits are clearly defined, yet often abused. They matter because we want to see drivers exercising their skill and ability to stay right on the limit without going over, and because going off track increases the risk of a puncture - also true in the days of grass and gravel, of course. If you want to see people saving time by driving all over the place, I believe PS4 users can now "broadcast" their gaming shenanigans over the internet. Accuracy at speed is part of the art of track driving. It shouldn't be difficult for F1 drivers.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

IAA Frankfurt 2015 - The Germans Show Us The Future

2015 Porsche Mission E concept car
When it comes to automotive technology, the Germans are often in a class of one. Want to know what gadgetry normal cars will have in the next 5-10 years? Look at the new Mercedes S-Class. Want to know what hybrid cars are truly capable of? Look at the Porsche 918 Spyder. They're dominating top-level motorsport and they top pretty much every class of performance car. The Frankfurt Motor Show is just kicking off as we speak, and already a few crazy concepts from Der Vaterland are grabbing everyone's attention. Let's take a look:

Porsche Mission E concept

The very instant I saw this picture of Porsche's new electric super saloon study, I wanted it to be real but could barely believe it was. This decade has really seen the company let its designers off the leash - with the 918 Spyder, new Cayman and the Panamera Sport Turismo concept from a few years ago being particularly pretty highlights in my eyes - but this new concept car manages to be such a pure design expression while still being just as recognisably, functionally Porsche as anything else they've done. It has immediately generated quite vast quantities of want inside me, despite it being almost completely against everything Porsche originally stood for.

The Mission E is an all-electric four-door saloon which creates unavoidable comparisons with YouTube's favourite EV, the Tesla Model S, for being an immensely powerful four-wheel-drive four seater with its batteries stretching from axle to axle along the floor of the car. It also boasts the ability to update itself overnight for the latest tweaks to the infotainment and driving controls, like the Silicon Valley super sedan. However, while the Model S P85D boasts more power than the Mission E, the Porsche trumps it in an intangible yet highly credible way: racing pedigree. The permanent-magnet synchronous motors with regenerative braking are of the same type used in the 919 Hybrid LMP1 car that took victory at Le Mans this year (Porsche's record-breaking 17th win in its history) with a 1-2 finish. There is one on each axle and they produce a combined 600 horsepower to help propel that sexy shape from a standstill to 100km/h (62mph) in less than 3.5 seconds and past 200km/h (124mph) in under 12 seconds. Allegedly, it can even lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in under 8 minutes, although that could be a simulated time for all we know. Helping it do all that are active torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive, all-wheel steering, 50:50 weight distribution and a very low centre of gravity given by the floor-length battery. While the Tesla weighs over 2100kg, the Porsche should be lighter, with strategic use of carbon fibre (including the 21"/22" front and rear wheels), aluminium and steel.

There is one way in which the Mission E boasts record breaking speed of its own: a world-first 800V charging system - double the current standard and cunningly called Porsche Turbo Charging - means the lithium ion batteries can be charged to 80% capacity in just 15 minutes using lightweight small-gauge copper cables. The car can also be charged by more conventional means, along with wireless induction charging using a charge pad in your garage floor. With the charge at 100% the car can go as far as 508km (315 miles) before it runs out of juice.


I love the single-strip tail lights, à la classic 911. Complete with the traditional pop-up spoiler, the shape is of course very aerodynamic (and only 130cm/51" tall), but the sloping profile and supercar stance all scream Porsche in a strongly sci-fi way which hopefully gives us clear hints of how the next-generation Panamera will look. Wowzers.

Open up one of the suicide doors and you'll find a minimalist but no less advanced interior. Open all the doors and you won't find a B-pillar in the way as you get in. The lack of transmission tunnel helps create a greater feeling of space for the four occupants sat in their lightweight bucket seats. Cameras replace old-fashioned mirrors, as is fashionable, while an equally on-trend touchscreen centre console sits above the simple drive select lever. A skinny OLED 3D display behind the steering wheel displays five "dials" for the Connected Car, Performance, Drive, Energy and Sport Chrono functions, which can be adjusted just by looking at them; the car tracks your eye movements and knows which function you're after when you press the 'wheel-mounted button to navigate through each one's modes (using both eyes and buttons from there).

It also means that the display "follows" you like a creepy cartoon painting's eyes, in that moving your head causes the 3D display to auto-adjust to always be visible to the driver. It can even detect via your face whether you're enjoying yourself, and put together a story of your journey to share on social media, complete with route map and emoticons! How modern. Finally, a second display stretches across the passenger side using 3D-effect holograms. Occupants can use gesture controls to gain access to media, navigation, climate control, contacts and vehicle functions.

And yet, despite all the fast-charging, holographic connected-car wizardry, I just keep coming back to how good it looks. Those curves and that rear end had better make it onto the next Panamera...

Having said that, there's a chance the Mission E itself will become a production car by 2019 (probably with a different name). Don't assume anything, but we may live in hope...

See the full press release here

Mercedes-Benz IAA Concept

Meanwhile, on the other side of Stuttgart, the oldest car maker has also created a rather fine shape... but unlike the Porsche, this one transforms as it goes faster. For those who can't watch the video above, at 50mph the wheels change from concave to flat, the front corners have flaps that move about to redirect air over the front wheels, the carbon fibre front splitter can retract, and most obviously the rear end stretches out by 390mm. This is all done in order to improve efficiency, of course, as the "Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile" is a plug-in hybrid luxury limo from the future, not a race-bred super saloon from the future. With all those motorised flaps and wheel centres and what have you, it isn't going to be light either, while a length of 5040mm in "Design Mode" and a full 5430mm in "Aerodynamic Mode" make it much longer than a CLS or, fully extended, a long-wheelbase S-Class (their biggest production car). Sitting just 100mm off the ground, the end result of all this streamlining is an extremely low minimum coefficient of drag of 0.19Cd, For context, the current Toyota Prius's Cd is 0.25, which was considered very good when it came out in 2010. It's also pretty much the same as the 0.189Cd the tiny Volkswagen XL1 went to great lengths to achieve.

The immense 2975mm wheelbase also means there should be acres of space inside for four people to recline in a spaceship-like environment. The flush side windows can turn opaque to give you a bit more privacy from the outside world if you prefer, while also containing touch pads in the top corners for opening the doors. Unlike the Porsche, the Mercedes wants you to stroke it before it will do special things for you, with a variety of touch-based control interfaces for all the gadgets. There's a touchpad on the centre console, while the steering wheel has "optical finger navigation" buttons, which sound similar in function to the central button/scrolling thingy on my old HTC Desire. The actual interior design is essentially a development of what you'll find in the current S-Class with two 12.3" screen displaying all the info, sitting amongst a mix of white leather and grey - sorry, "anthracite" - brushed aluminium, with Swarovski glass airvents lit up in blue or red. Ooooh.

Unlike the previous Mercedes concept car, you're actually allowed to drive this one. It's powered by the same 208bhp 2.0-litre turbo four/80bhp electric motor combo, making a total output of 275bhp and 442lb/ft. Plenty to get you to the electronically limited 250km/h (155mph) top speed. You can drive on electricity alone for 62km (38 miles) in Design Mode or 66km (41 miles) in Aero Mode if you fancy.

All of this is intended to make suggestions about future Mercedes-Benz products. The next S-Class or CLS could end up having a three-metre wheelbase, shapeshifting abilities and this kind of "teardrop" side profile. On the latter point, Mercedes will point to the 540K Streamliner as inspiration, along with other aero concepts from their immense history... but all anyone has been reminded of by that sloping tail section is the Audi A7, which is a bit of a shame - although that's with the air guides retracted. I also would've expected Audi to be the first ones to make the grille stretch across the entire nose to swallow up the headlights. Like the Porsche though, I love the way this car sits on its wheels, with organically curved flares around the 20+ inch rims/tyres as you can see in the top-down image above. The simple, clean surfacing is refreshing after all the swooshes on current Benzes as well.

This car will never be put into production as-is, but expect the broader aesthetic to appear on cars with three-pointed stars over the next 5-10 years.

Bugatti Vision Gran Turismo Concept

After a ten-year reign over the world of supercars, the mighty Bugatti Veyron died this year. But don't worry, because they're going to make a replacement! It could be a 1500-horsepower hybrid and it could be closer to 300mph than 250 at top speed, but all of that remains to be seen. For now, they're giving us hints of their updated aesthetic with this, their bonkers Vision Gran Turismo concept. There's no mention of any performance figures, but it is clear that the V-GT features some version of the colossal 8.0 quad-turbo W16 engine that gained notoriety in the Veyron, probably with more than the SuperSport's 1200 horsepower and officially connected to all-wheel-drive. Because it's designed for a video game, it can be as extreme as they want it to be, hence the significantly more aggressive aerodynamics seemingly inspired by Le Mans prototypes. The overall look is clearly an evolution of the outgoing car, but it also takes alleged inspiration from the Bugattis that won Le Mans back in the 1930s, especially the Type 57 "Tank" that won in '37 and '39.

The result of an intensive six-month project, the Bugatti Vision GT is meant as the most extreme car it's realistically possible for the VW-owned company to make, developed using simulations far more advanced than a console game to hone the aero and get an idea of its capabilities. They suggest that at Circuit de la Sarthe, where Le Mans is held, it can top 250mph (400+km/h) at four different sections of the 8.48 mile track. It may look like an Art Deco LMP1, but it goes like a Group C car! Having played with a lot of these made-for-GT6 concepts, I think this ought to be the right balance of extreme and believable. The SRT Tomahawk that does 400mph or something daft is frankly a step too far, along with the laser pulse-drive Chaparral 2X (although that's still an awesome design). You don't want it to be a missed opportunity, but you don't want it to be in a barely-drivable class of one, either. You should be able to race it against other cars in the game and not be on another planet of pace, otherwise it's a lonely world of setting preposterous lap times and top speeds by yourself. Or a one-make race, I suppose...

How much of this will point to the next Veyron? Well, don't expect quite the same level of aggression - wings and canards generate grip in the corners, but the resultant drag compromises top speed. I would imagine the production Chiron or whatever it will be called will change shape at speed in some way, with a huge active wing that rises/lowers and probably some flaps in the floor and diffuser like the P1 or LaFerrari. If it had this car's nose design, with the angry headlights floating inside air inlets and more sculpted cheek bones than the jellymould Veyron, then we'd be off to a good start. The curved side intake should carry over too, as a reference to seemingly every noteworthy Bugatti ever made. The rear strip light and four meaty exhausts would be cool, but I wouldn't count on it. If it is a hybrid, though, it may well need all that ventilation at the tail end if they're cooling batteries and that leviathan of an internal combustion engine.

Official sketch overlaid with proposed powertrain
OK, to be honest, there's almost nothing on this thing that will point to the future of motor cars at large, but damn if it isn't cool as hell anyway. I just wish my PS3 wasn't broken......

Oh, and unlike most Vision Gran Turismo cars, it even has an interior! Fancy that.

Stay tuned for more Frankfurt news!

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