Friday, 30 September 2016

LaFerrari Aperta Appears, Screams, Then Disappears

There will be a Paris Motor Show highlights post on here tomorrow, but for now let's segue from my previous post perving at a Ferrari into the motor show coverage...

Why wasn't LaFerrari called the Ferrari F70? Well, one reason would be that it was launched two or three years too soon for Ferrari's 70th anniversary - whether that was in response to the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 is up for debate - in which case the name would be a little farcical... but maybe still not as bad as using something that sounds like a bad advertising slogan for the actual name. Nevertheless, Ferrari's special-series cars tend to be a one-shot deal, with no variants to follow... except for this time, as Ferrari has decided to commemorate its real 70th anniversary next year with the first open-top special-series car since the controversial F50 of the mid 1990s.

Welcome, then, to LaFerrari Aperta.

"BWOAH" - Kimi Räikkönen
It's more than just a roof chop though, don't y'know. Cars like these demand perfectionism and that meant re-evaluating how things like the aerodynamics are affected. To that end, little strips in the corners of the windscreen divert hot air venting from the bonnet, while a glass screen between the headrests also works to separate heat and turbulence from the occupants. Even the underfloor aerodynamics have been redesigned to channel more of the air underneath the car rather than over the top of it, one external sign of which is a little black air vent behind the front wheels, visible in this video. A more upright front radiator design also helps with these issues... somehow.

Critically, the exhaust has been made a little bit louder, while the control system that manages how the 800PS 6.3 V12 and the 163PS electric motor interact with each other and the road has been revised using knowledge gained since finishing the original LaFerrari. So it'll sound even better now that you can hear it more clearly as well as function all the more seamlessly as a hybrid.

Performance? Well thanks in part to use of a carbon fibre tub - which has nevertheless been reinforced low down - it has the same torsional rigidity and beam strength as the hardtop as well as the same straight-line performance figures of 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, 0-124mph in 7.1s and 0-186mph in around 15 seconds. An optional removable carbon roof panel even facilitates exactly the same top speed of over 217mph, or if you left it at home there's a fabric emergency roof (for all your fabric emergencies!) rated to 130km/h (80mph), just in case you get caught out by the weather forecast.

Another concern with de-roofing a car is weight increase. To be honest, LaFerrari's weight has always been a little bit of a mystery, one that isn't helped by the fact that Ferrari had to (or perhaps chose to) homologate two different versions of the original car, one for European regulations and one for US regulations. What is clear is that the US-spec one is heavier - which would explain to me why they wanted a lighter Euro-spec one to satisfy themselves with marginally better performance figures - but by how much is a little bit unclear. Upon unveiling it in 2014, Ferrari begrudgingly quoted a dry weight of 1255kg, but nobody seems to still use this figure (that would be immensely impressive for a big car with a V12 hybrid and DCT). However, when Chris Harris reviewed the car at Fiorano, he said a day after a typically long presentation that "the dry weight is around 1300kg and wet with fluids it's 1414[kg]." This would square with info from a forum post I found that said a German weighed their car to find it weighed 1480kg with around 75% of a tank of fuel - the tank can apparently take 86L in total, three quarters of which is 64.5L, thus if we take fuel to weigh 1kg/L at delivery temperature (before it heats up during use and expands) the car would theoretically weigh 1415.5kg with an empty tank - but all other fluids - in the real world.
But that's the European-spec version. The US-spec version is officially quoted at 1585kg, which is a lot heavier! If we take away 86kg of a full fuel tank we get a figure of 1499kg wet-minus-fuel. Assuming the official kerbweight quote does include a tank of fuel, which it often can, the weight penalty of US safety regulations would in that case be around 85kg or so.

Why bog you down with all that educated guesswork? Because roadster versions of Ferraris generally add around 50kg of dry mass onto whatever the hardtop had and the Aperta is based only on the US-spec version. That would put the weight at approximately 1529kg plus 86kg of fuel (1635kg).

Not that any of this matters to you and me beyond curiosity and Top Trumps matches; the 200 planned customer cars are all already sold at around a 50% premium over the hardtop, while Ferrari will also build nine cars to keep for themselves. Maybe they'll hand them out to management and/or F1 drivers and even have a car left over for road testers? Who knows. Maybe we'll find out as part of Ferrari's seemingly extensive 70th anniversary festivities next year.

For now, scroll back to the top and watch Sebastian Vettel reflect on some of what those 70 years of history contain.

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Take a Peek at a Ferrari 488 GTB's Gizzards

Last Saturday, I went to an event I've never been to before called Passione Ferrari. Despite the slightly clichéd Italian name, it takes place in the very British setting of Silverstone Circuit, site of the Scuderia's first Formula 1 victory back in 1951. It was £10 to get in and decent food could be had for under a fiver, so in the absence of market stalls it was astonishing value for money given the kind of access visitors got to what is still the holy grail of supercar brands.

Once you'd walked around the infield of the Grand Prix route to get to the paddock on the F1 pit straight, you were met with rows upon rows of people's Ferraris that they'd driven to the event. Pick a model from the 1970s onwards and there was probably one there... and in the image above you can even see a rare, obscenely valuable and drop-dead gorgeous 275 GTB/4 from 1967!! KOP 138E is probably worth the nearest ten of the other Ferraris in this image combined, at approximately £2-2.5million... and it was just sitting there! No rope fence, no security bouncers, just another one in the crowd. Amazing. I wasn't the only one that noticed!

However, this little "photoblog" is focusing on something bang up to date, the twin-turbocharged 488 GTB.

Pictured above is a completed 488 Spider which you were free to sit in and fiddle with while eager children waited their turn - or didn't, as it may have been - but I'm only showing you this one because I neglected to take a photo of another 488 elsewhere at the event. See, in a pair of pit garages accessible from behind, there were a selection of exhibits including services to maintain and repair your Italian stallion. There was a carbon fibre repair stand where you could pick up a scuffed aero whisker from inside the grille of a 458 Italia or watch someone cut through carbon fibre only to fail the same trick with a carbon-kevlar sample, while elsewhere I saw a naked 360 Modena on a chassis alignment rig... but more to the point there was also a partially-assembled (or partially disassembled) 488 GTB on jack stands.

So, I decided to get close up to parts of Ferrari's latest V8 sports car which would normally be kept firmly out of view...

I won't pretend to know what all the gizzards are, but this lot, located behind the left-side door and in front of the left-rear wheel, looks electrical. Feel free to add some knowledge in the comments! Normally this bit would be covered by the side skirt. I do know that.

The passenger-side door (it's right-hand-drive) with none of the trim attached. The window glass has been removed as well. The speaker looks like an alloy wheel from an F430! Sadly that gets covered up. The black shaft near the middle is, I reckon, the door handle mechanism. At the end of it (the end near the speaker), there's a zig-zag shape resembling the 'S' from the 'PS2' logo, roughly where I remember the interior door handle being in the Spider I sat in, which appears to pivot up and down to pull the rod that disappears into the door at the other end. I couldn't tell you much else about this stuff, though...

Here is the headlight, a more recognisable part. As is common, the shape you can see with the bonnet closed actually extends slightly underneath it. In this extra area you can see an 'R' denoting that it's the right-side headlight unit.

This is the front luggage area, minus floor and carpet. Jeremy Clarkson once likened what you could see of the Lotus Exige's engine bay from the seat to peering into your Nan's kitchen cabinet, with all the tin foil and tupperware. Such un-glamorous things are nestled under the windscreen here, including some kind of air inlet (or a windscreen heater?) and a fluid reservoir or two, plus other pipes and leads that do Many Important Things.

A closer look at some of the things under the base of the windscreen, on the would-be driver's right-hand side. Among other things, part of the windscreen wiper mechanism can be seen near the top, culminating in that gold-ish nipple.

Now let's get to the bits inside the wheel arches! As well as not having wheels, there were no plastic weather guards on this car either, so you can see right through...

Ferrari-branded Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes were fitted here, vented and drilled for greater cooling. The disc itself is 398mm at the front (360mm at the rear) and uses composite materials and technology derived from LaFerrari to get them up to temperature more quickly while also officially improving stopping distances by 9% compared to the 458 Italia this car replaces. Handy, given that the new engine produces 110 more horsepower! Weighing around half as much as an equivalent cast iron disc, each is squeezed by bespoke Brembo pads attached to a hollow monoblock aluminium caliper (6 pistons up front, 4 out back, each different sizes to make pad wear more even).

Behind that, you can see the front suspension, including spring, magnetorheological damper (inside the spring) and the upper wishbone mounted to what I think is the wheel hub - with a Ferrari horse embossed on it. Gotta represent! The black accordion-esque cylinder nearby is most likely the steering shaft that pushes the front wheel outwards (or pulls it inwards) to steer it. The wheel and brake assembly pivot around the circular spot you can see above the horse, all attached to the hub.

The front of the car is to the right of these images, by the way.

I can guarantee you that this fan ahead of the front wheel are is part of the cooling system, not some secret downforce cheat! It appears to be sitting on an intercooler or radiator, mounted up front to balance the weight and/or to free up space elsewhere.

Before we get to a rear corner, I'll break this up a bit with a photo of the central tunnel and "central bridge," onto which the transmission buttons are mounted, from the finished car we could sit in. It's all real carbon fibre.


We rejoin the action in the right-rear wheel arch area, looking at more fans and radiators as well as the bottom of the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 engine. The purple-ish pipes in the top left area are part of the exhuast system, and as such get extremely hot (sadly I can't put a number on how hot). The system on the right of this image appears to be the intercooler used to cool incoming air for the right-side turbocharger as well as feed air into it via the thick orange pipe.

Slightly further back, you can see the rear spring/damper combo close up, along with the exhaust pipe disappearing behind it to within the rear of the chassis in order to poke out almost centrally of the rear bumper.

With the tail of the car on the left, there are more electrical leads and plugs going on behind where the rear wheel (and a plastic shield) would be. Ferrari is an odd mix of traditionalist and technology-pushing, so despite electronic "Side Slip-angle Control" and an electronic parking brake and active aero flaps here and there, they still build road cars using aluminium chassis as is in keeping with their history, whereas the likes of McLaren use a carbon fibre central tub. The only exceptions are the "special series cars" such as the Enzo and LaFerrari, although the front/rear subframes and crash structures would likely be metallic on those cars anyway. You can bend metal back into shape, but when carbon fibre fails, it's failed for good.

Here we look upwards to the top of the rear wheel area, with the rear brake in view at the bottom.
In case you've forgotten, the shot of the engine is right back at the top of this page ;-)

Although, to save you scrolling I can post a different one from a finished 488:

Here's a quick and dirty photo of what you see when the floor and rear diffuser are removed. You can see the exhaust pipes exiting through their own little grilles, while the 7-speed twin-clutch gearbox hangs low just ahead of them. To the left of that, you can see the left-side rear suspension lower arm.

Finally, this is a peek up the little piece of aerodynamic trickery on the rear bumper. Air flowing down the roof gets channeled into a central slot just below the FERRARI script on the top side. That air then exits through the moustache-like slot just above the rear number plate, in order to reduce drag. Here we are looking up through the exit. It's difficult to get a good shot of these things but I thought I'd try it anyway!

One last close-up: this is an air outlet next to the left tail light. It would be easy to assume that it's just a heat vent with a carbon fibre surround instead of a grille, but air flows through the large intakes behind the doors and gets split, so some of it feeds the intercoolers and turbos we saw earlier, some of it blows cold air onto the engine and some of it flows straight through and out of here for lower drag. Although of course, heat might also exit here.

There's a better and more visual explanation in an official Ferrari video here:

So there we have it! I hope you learned something and that I didn't unhelpfully misidentify anything. There will be more activity on this blog tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Oh yeah, I totally sat in a 488 Spider. The carbon fibre paddles felt a bit plastic-y, so I'd stick with metal ones...

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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Ariel's Thinking About a Vacuum Car

Ariel Atom AERO-P research car
It's not just large car companies that like to push the boundaries of automotive technology, you know. Small British sports car companies are doing things their own way and many of those things are of distinct intrigue. TVR is punching its way out of its coffin with an all-new car using Gordon Murray's ingenious new construction and manufacturing techniques dubbed "iStream." BAC, makers of the Mono one-seater, have successfully made body panels out of graphene, the upcoming wonder material that's just one atom thick (although they used more than one layer of course!). Oh, and speaking of atoms, let's look at Ariel's latest news...

Despite still looking oh-so cool after over a decade, the Ariel Atom isn't particularly aerodynamic. The nose cone and little plastic headlights may have a tiny frontal area but airflow needs to be smooth and an exposed tubular frame just isn't. Faster versions can be had with "F1-style" wings, but as Ariel themselves point out, "conventional aerofoils and aerodynamic devices give downforce at speed – the higher the speed, the higher the downforce.  However the negative aspect of this is that downforce is not required for most of the time, particularly for road based cars during normal driving, and is not available at slow speed or when stationary."

"The ensuing drag of fixed aerofoils also not only reduces a vehicle’s top speed but has a marked negative effect on its fuel consumption as well as emissions.  On the Atom drag can be increased by as much as 15% by adding conventional aerofoils with the resultant effect on fuel use and tailpipe emissions."

So you see, it's dirty downforce, only working at speed and holding back certain aspects of the car's potential, plus wings make you look like a bit of a chav sometimes.

The small Somerset-based company is thus on a quest for a better solution. The one it's testing now allegedly guarantees downforce from a standstill without any real drag penalty. I'll give you a hint: look at the picture above and atop this article. See how it looks like the car has a surfboard glued to the bottom? It's closely related to that, which isn't on normal Atoms.

The large flat floor conceals two fans which suck air up from underneath the car through two small tunnels, thus generating a low pressure area under the car. The reason this matters is that with low pressure below and high or unaffected pressure above the car, the air going underneath is accelerated as it tries to equalise the pressures. This causes the car to be sucked downwards. The effect can be guaranteed by sealing the floor and using a wing-shaped underside to generate "ground effect," but cars using fans to generate or greatly increase the effect are generally known as "sucker cars" or "fan cars." Ariel have nicknamed their prototype "The Vacuum Cleaner" for obvious reasons!

Of course, a vacuum car is nothing motorsport hasn't seen before, both in sports cars and single seaters. Naturally the F1 solution was more complicated, but the earlier American machine had a simpler setup; the 1970 Chaparral 2J featured a two-cylinder snowmobile engine running completely independently of the big-block 680hp Chevrolet V8 powering the wheels, instead running at a constant speed to spin the fans and generate a consistent aero platform. It looks a bit like someone plonked the air conditioning unit from a skyscraper on the back of a fairly basic Can-Am car - although its aluminium construction was itself actually quite advanced at the time - but combined with Lexan skirts connected to the suspension (thus creating a seal around the underbody) the 2J was as much as two seconds per lap faster than the opposition... when it wasn't suffering mechanical problems. Oh, and in case you were wondering it does have a pair of rear wheels under there! I imagine pit stops took a while...

In the 1978 Brabham BT46B Formula 1 car designed by Gordon Murray, the enormous central fan system was connected directly to the 520-horsepower, 3.0 flat-12 Alfa Romeo engine via "a series of clutches" and drew air from both underneath and partially through the top-mounted radiators, the latter so that Brabham could pass it off as a legal and innocuous engine cooling device (Spoiler Alert: this did not work). One giveaway was that this setup caused the car to squat down when the driver revved the engine, so strong was the suction! It required a different driving style involving hitting the throttle as early and as hard as possible, thus generating the downforce to carry major speed through a corner. It worked so well that the car was banned after a single dominant race at the Swedish Grand Prix, at which point Brabham had to revert to the previous, fan-less spec. Niki Lauda later said of the experience that it would become very tiring for the drivers to be subjected to cornering forces of that magnitude, which has a byproduct of making the steering heavier as well as throwing the driver around more.

Inspired by these two cars, Ariel's philosophy is somewhere between them. The fans run separately from the engine, like the 2J, but they don't run all the time and you can switch them on and off to make the car squat down only when it needs to, a bit like the 46B. There are two 100mm electric fans, one at each end, powered by a dedicated battery pack. In the photos of the prototype there is no clear exit point for the air - certainly no enormous turbine-looking thing like the '70s cars - but on this CFD simulation image of theirs, there appears to be an additional banana-shaped pipe between the rear wheel and the main body, just ahead of the suspension wishbones. Maybe it's that? They don't seem to say in their press release [EDIT: There's a Y-shaped one-into-two pipe between the seats/under the engine air intake - it's that]. In any case, the reason they've made the fan system switchable instead of running permanently is because when you're cruising on the motorway, you don't need the tyres to be forced so hard into the road. Turning the fans off would mean less force on the tyres, therefore less friction and rolling resistance and thus slightly better fuel economy than if the fans were on. Ariel say that this version 1.0 vacuum car is already making three times more downforce than a normal Atom with wings on while adding no drag, the benefit of which is much more grip and stability when stopping and steering, not to mention better traction under acceleration, without losing any top speed or significantly affecting economy.

But you may be wondering, if we came up with this stuff in the 1970s, why has it not been on road cars before? Not even Adrian Newey's crazy new Aston Martin does it. Well, there is some evidence to suggest the McLaren F1 road car had front and rear(?) fan systems with a switchable "high downforce mode" to help cancel out all the lift naturally generated by any car body shape, while also blowing cool air strategically onto the hot bits like the engine, ECU, brakes etc. However, McLaren themselves are very quiet about it, only saying in the original 1992 press release that "two powerful electric fans remove boundary layer air from the rolled S-wave of ‘reflex’ diffuser sections, helping to control movement of the Centre of Pressure" and never explaining further. It sounds like it's more for balancing the car's handling than for outright grip.

McLaren F1 road car
Red Bull X2010 Gran Turismo concept on its side, revealing where the air gets sucked in
At any rate, even if we put aside the added complexity of a fan car, there are a few practical issues with the concept. Some F1 teams claimed that Brabham's car was picking up dirt and stones from underneath it and chucking them out the back of the car along with the air, which wouldn't be ideal in any situation with multiple cars close together (or a bike following). While some speculate that this was merely an attempt to get the car banned on safety grounds, it would nevertheless be interesting to know what McLaren's solution to this problem was, if indeed it's a real problem. Would the suction effect be weakened if the intakes had grilles on them to filter out grit and leaves?

Secondly, the reason the Ariel Atom AERO-P research car has a big rubber platform on the underside is the same reason the Chaparral 2J had sliding skirts connected to the suspension; for the effect to be fully realised, you need to 'seal' the floor onto the road surface. This is fine on most race tracks, but if the car hits a big kerb or rises up as it drives over a big crest in the road, the seal is lost and so is the downforce. Suddenly you'd have significantly less grip to play with than you did a second ago - I read that the 2J could make a tonne (1000kg) of downforce just with the fans - which could easily lead a rather significant accident. Again, if McLaren or the F1's designer Gordon Murray opened up about their system we could find out what they did about this (maybe it was as simple as giving the driver a toggle switch like Ariel has done and then telling them to only use it on a track).

Ariel will find out all this and much more - including how to retract the rubber skirts when they aren't needed - as their research continues. The AERO-P will also be used to study other, passive aerodynamic concepts and to study "the particular requirements of new technology powertrains, not yet released and still under development."

If they keep us informed, it will be fascinating to follow the development of this notorious, immensely effective, yet scarcely utilised aero effect and find out whether it really is feasible for road cars on a more everyday basis... or whether drivers could handle an Atom track car making over a tonne of downforce!

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