The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Car and Driver Lightning Lap 2016 - A Closer Look

Where did the time go? I unfortunately missed last year's feature. I did intend to post about it this year but haven't had the chance and it's already time for this year's feature. I thought I'd get this one done first and then go back to last year's (hopefully). The full article for this year's LL is here: Car and Driver - Lightning Lap 2016. As always, my car picks aren't necessarily very quick or slow. They simply did much better or much worse than I excepted them to. 

The Highs



BMW M2 - 3:01.9: Last year, a BMW M4 did 3:00.7. 1.2 seconds is all that separate the iconic M4 (an M3 coupe, really.. doesn't that sound better?) from this M2. And that one had the dual clutch transmission and carbon ceramic brakes. Opt for the manual, and you could very well be neck and neck. But you save *ahem* about $30,000 in the process, a little more if you're in Canada. That's what you need to get an M4 with the competition package, dual clutch auto, and carbon ceramic brakes. The M2 is also lighter and seems to be hailed as the true spiritual successor to the BMW 2002. The lack of carbon ceramic brakes is not only impressive, but will also make it much cheaper to run at the track. If you want the best BMW M track car, this is the one to get, not the M4. 




Chevy Camaro LT 1LE - 3:04.0: I don't know if I should be surprised. Year after year, the GM team has been destroying expectations of how much track performance you can get for your money. Sure, the Corvette has always been a bargain for what it offered but that's a low, lightweight, two seater, purpose-built car. 

Both 1LE Camaros are knock outs in their own rights and class, but the V6 has more of a David-and-Goliath story to tell. Both cars are huge value and underpowered compared to most of the cars they beat or run with, but the other one has an SS badge and V8 noise and power. This is "just a V6 Camaro." And it is one tenth of a second behind a 2012 Porsche Cayman R. Think about that for a bit. It beats heavy hitters like an Audi RS5, BMW M5, last generation TT RS and, embarrassingly, a current Mustang GT PP. As Car and Driver has been saying for a while now about the 6th gen Camaro; there is no longer shame in buying the V6.




Chevy Camaro SS 1LE - 2:54.8: I'm looking at this a little differently. You want phenomenal value in a track car, you buy a Camaro 1LE. Chevy will generously let you choose two engine options, depending on your thirst for power and the level of car you want to embarrass, although it'll probably really depend on how deep your pockets are. Not a single car that beat either Camaro costs less. It's not possible to go faster for less (off the showroom floor). The SS? Well, that beat the R8 V10 Plus that ran with it this year and was less than a second behind a Cayman GT4.. the GT4. That's despite the Camaro having worse power to weight ratio, weighing around 700 lbs MORE, AND having less sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires vs Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2's. Swap the tires, and the Camaro is ahead, I have no doubt,  despite the weight and power to weight ratio. Unbelievable. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how GM works its track magic!



The Lows




Acura NSX -  2:50.2: Three electric motors, mid-engine layout, aluminum and carbon fibre space frame, twin turbo V6, Pirelli Trofeo R tires.. what am I missing? Oh yes, a nearly $200k price tag. The last NSX was well under $100k when it came out. After accounting for inflation, or if you compare to how much cheaper it was than other cars that are still in production (i.e. a 911 turbo, a comparable Ferrari, etc.) or more expensive (i.e. a Corvette or a Viper), this car should cost about $60k less. What do you get for the added money? It's certainly not performance. This car will get beat by a now out of production Ferrari 458 Italia. I remember reading somewhere that this was one of their benchmarks during development. I always assumed that they were referring to driving experience, not performance.. The 911 GT3 (non RS) is two tenths of a second slower. That's zero point two. And it is about $60k less. Since when does a special track edition Porsche qualify as good value? It now does, thanks to Acura.

I get this car, despite how harsh I am. It is a step in the direction of less reliance on gas. The way to look at it is that it is showing us the future can still be fast and fun, despite (some) electrification and hybridization. In day to day driving, it should be more efficient than a GT3 but you give up no performance at the track. But, because of the price, the target buyer isn't buying to save on fuel costs so you buy it because you want to make a statement or you truly care and think it will make a difference. If you are in that latter group, thank you for being the early tech adopter, even though it doesn't make sense on paper, to allow automakers to develop them. Otherwise, there are far more exciting cars for the money that give up nothing in performance, some of which also beat the Acura for far less.




BMW M4 GTS - 2:52.9: Unlike the Acura, this has no excuses. Why doesn't this match the GT350 or Z/28? Why is it over 1 second and 2 seconds slower than those cars? It has half a cage, power turned up to nearly 500 hp, big sticky Michelin Cup 2 tires, functional aero upgrades, and costs more than twice as much as a base M4. All of that adds up to the impression that BMW left no stone unturned. I'm left with only one conclusion; BMW cannot make it quicker. They either need wider tires and/or track but couldn't fit them in the fenders, more power but the transmission, axles, or diff couldn't take it, or stiffer suspension but it was determined to be too stiff for the street, or something else. I really don't like to judge a car by performance on only one track and I expected it to do better at Laguna Seca with Motor Trend, but *SPOILER ALERT* it was only slightly quicker on LS than a Z/28 (less than two tenths is the difference) but slower than a GT350R. Is this the best BMW can do?




Lexus GS F - 3:05.9: This shouldn't really be listed because I (and you should've) more or less expected it to put a time right around what it did, basically tying the RC F from last year that has basically the same drivetrain, including torque vectoring diff, and weighs basically the same. I couldn't help but shake my head, though. Forget the heavy hitters like the CTS-V and E63 AMG S, with times of 2:56.8 and 3:00.1. Why couldn't this beat a humble 2015 Mustang GT that also has a naturally aspirated 5.0 litre V8 that so happens to be more than 30 hp down on power? 

I think Lexus is hoping people compare this car to the competition from Cadillac, Mercedes, and BMW much like comparing a Cayman to a Corvette. The Cayman is supposed to be more focused on driving while the Corvette is more focused on performance. Trouble is, while the Cayman can make a huge statement for itself due to lighter weight, mid engine layout, and more direct feel, this car offers nothing for a purist beyond a naturally aspirated engine. But even that, they took and dulled by a comfort-oriented transmission tuning. No manual, DCT, or at least a more crisp and quicker shift map for the transmission.

I think this car doesn't know what to be. Lexus probably couldn't afford to delay it until they develop a boosted unit so they gave it the older N/A one (albeit, with updates). That means they couldn't compete on raw numbers so had to make sure it's more comfort oriented in suspension and transmission tuning. That isn't a cool selling point in this segment, though, so they tried to sell it off as more of a "purist" choice because of the N/A engine. It's a half-hearted attempt that only exists because they needed a GS F, in my opinion. I'm typically a sucker for a good naturally aspirated V8. Here, though, I can't help but ignore it, because the looks say it's trying (far) too hard while the rest of the car says it's not trying hard enough and the price.. that is just screaming: there are far better options!




Tesla Model S P85D - 3:17.4: A humble FWD, 4 cylinder turbo Focus ST is but two tenths of a second behind this. The Focus is more or less 3 seconds slower to 60 mph and to cover a 1/4 mile, and it's also laughably traction limited, being FWD with an open differential (and only brake-based limited slip programming) vs this mighty multi-electric-motor AWD Tesla. I admit, it's very cool to keep giving this car more power and better launch programming to see how quick it can go from 0-60 mph but the fun AND shock of it is getting old. I hope Tesla starts putting some money and effort into developing a proper battery pack with cooling that can allow the battery to function at peak despite track abuse. This slow time was even despite having part of the lap (first 40 seconds) with full power before battery protection kicked in. Imagine a second, full lap, entirely with reduced power. Tesla gave us the first long range car, charging infrastructure, and good, desirable performance, but all is moot so far for the large (and growing) market of track-day enthusiasts around the world.



Where is my car??

You might be wondering where some cars are or why they didn't make the list. A couple were close calls for me so I thought I'd mention them.




Focus RS - 3:03.9: The RS put down a blistering time and most people probably were expecting to read it in the high list or were at least surprised by the time. I, too, was very surprised at first, then I saw it was done on the optional Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. It's hard to say what those are worth but 3-5 seconds seem reasonable to me on a track of this length. Half way in the middle, 4 seconds, would give this car a time of 3:07.9 about 2.5 seconds quicker than an STI. That's very good and, as a Ford fan, I couldn't be happier that it's the quickest car in the segment, and by a large margin, but we already knew it handles better, has more power, and better power distribution bias, so that's more or less where you'd expect it.




Shelby GT350R - 2:51.8: I was disappointed when I first read this, because it couldn't beat the last generation Z/28. I was planning to put it under The Lows. Then I started to read more. The Shelby and Corvette Grand Sport have the same model Michelin tires. However, they found those on the Grand Sport to be more peaky, with great grip for a few laps, and then grips falls off slightly as they get hotter. There is nothing wrong with that. Most tires are like that. You always expect to lose some grip when the tires get hot. In fact, the ones on the Vette were actually good because the tires were very consistent after giving up some edge. The interesting thing, though, is that the Shelby-specific tires were designed to have more longevity than ultimate grip, and the tires never seemed to lose any grip as the laps piled on. This is not only very useful, but also refreshing - to see an automaker committed to something you will probably see very little promotion on (besides Ford advertising they're Shelby-specific spec) but a serious driver will appreciate. And that something could hurt lap times, the one thing most people will remember and reiterate, for the sake of having a more consistent and confident inspiring car. Moreover, as I said under the M4 GTS, when cars are this close in performance, you can't judge based on lap times on only one track and, as you may have read, Motor Trend's Best Driver's Car results are published and *SPOILER ALERT* they're different and the 350R does beat the Z/28 by about a second and a half.




Corvette Grand Sport - 2:47.1: This is more or less the same story as the Focus RS. It seems like a surprising time at first, but then you think about it, and it makes perfect sense - much bigger and stickier tires, upgraded suspension, and more downforce. It sits between the Stingray Z51 and the Z06 in terms of lap times, although it's much closer to the Z06 - 6.7 seconds faster than the Z51 and only 2.5 seconds slower than the Z06 - while being much closer in price to the former - about $11,000 more expensive than the Z51 and $18,000 less than the Z06. But it is justified because, with the Grand Sport, you only get the track performance but not the power. With that said, with apologies to the overlords of automotive power, you don't want the extra power here.. If the Z06 were still naturally aspirated, sure, but I will always prefer a naturally aspirated engine on track than otherwise. And you'll give up very little comfort, thanks to the excellent magnetic shocks and dual mode exhaust, but gain so much in performance. This is basically tying a Porsche 911 GT3. The RS one - costing two and a half times as much, producing 35 more hp, and weighing about 350 lbs less. Both have sticky track-oriented tires and real aero-improving parts. The Corvette does more with (a lot) less. And it's a V8 with a manual..


Friday, 16 September 2016

2016 Camaro SS vs 2016 Mustang GT - Road Test



If you've come here for a new instrument head-to-head test, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. Although, for the sake of those who do want numbers, here they are from the most recent Car and Driver comparison test:

2016 Camaro SS 2016 Mustang GT
0-30 mph 1.6 s 1.7 s
0-60 mph 3.9 s 4.4 s
0-100 mph 8.9 s 10.5 s
1/4 mile 12.3 s @ 116 mph 13.0 s @ 112 mph
braking 70-0 mph 147 ft 157 ft
300-ft dia.skidpad 0.98 g 0.94 g
610-ft slalom 43.9 mph 43.3 mph

For some reason, Car and Driver tested an 8-speed auto Camaro and a 6-speed manual Mustang, so figure you'll lose a tenth or two with a manual; the gap is still clear. The new Camaro SS out accelerates, out brakes, and out grips the new (now almost two years old) Mustang. And I'm not here to tell you otherwise. If you're reading this, chances are, you've already read plenty of other reviews so I will try to give a different perspective. The perspective of a guy who owns this type of car, enjoys it the way it was intended to be enjoyed, but also daily drives it.

I had an opportunity to test drive a new +Chevrolet Camaro SS the other day as well as a new +Ford Mustang GT. Both cars were manual but, while the SS was a loaded 2SS model, the GT was a no-options base model. And by no options, I mean no options - not one. The Camaro, on the other hand, had plenty of options, including, crucially, the Magnetic shocks and dual-mode performance exhaust. I decided to take this opportunity to write my impressions of both cars. Don't consider this a foregone conclusion because of the disparity in options. 


Interior


 

Let's first address the elephant in the room; Camaro visibility. I came in expecting to hate it, especially after hearing that it's worse than the last generation, which I have driven a couple of times. To be honest, it wasn't that bad. I think it is very overblown. Sure, sight lines are tight and if you like a lot of space, you will probably feel claustrophobic because you can't see as much of outside as.. uh.. normal cars. But the parts that are blocked are not typically what you need to see to drive properly. Imagine having your sun visor down and then imagine stretching it across your windshield. Rotate it and put it against the side windows too. You now have a rough idea - the Camaro is a little bit better than that. You won't see as much of the sky, but unless you plan on taking off, that shouldn't be much of a concern.




As far as seeing what you need to see, it's mostly all there. The only bad blind spot is over the shoulder but if you have your mirrors setup properly, you shouldn't need to see much anyway and most people now get blind spot monitoring, cross traffic alert, etc. anyway, which is available (not that I like to rely on those features instead). The A pillar is thick but there are plenty of new cars like that now so it's no different. Point is, if you think you might get claustrophobic, it is bad. But don't dismiss it because you think you won't be able to see out of it. You can still see what you need to see. It isn't ideal but far from a deal breaker in my opinion.

With that said, the Mustang feels like a cathedral in comparison. I have never sat in a Mustang before and thought: "Look at all the space!" It feels very spacious relative to the Camaro, despite interior dimensions looking closer on paper. Although, like I said, it isn't a deal breaker for me, the Mustang interior is easily the better place to be. Interior design is nicer, too, and more cohesive. And inside and out, I feel like the Mustang manages to better capture retro design cues from classic Mustangs while looking more modern. Mustang +1.


Power

With that out of the way, the first thing you notice - assuming you're eager to start them car up like me instead of playing with gizmos - is the noise. Press the start button, and the Camaro roars into life in a way that belies a completely stock car. It's hard to miss when you startup. It's hard to miss when you get into it. It is very easy to miss, though, when you're just cruising under light load and the dual mode exhaust isn't shouting. The Mustang, on the other hand, doesn't have the same vocal range. It's more or less as quiet as the Camaro under light load so you aren't giving up much, if any, in that department but get into it, and there's a very noticeable difference. The beauty, here, is the dual mode exhaust, which means the noise will never get tiring because it quiets down when you're taking it easy. Not that V8 noise should ever get tiring...

And there is power everywhere in the rev range. In true Chevy V8 fashion, power comes on down low and stays, relentlessly, throughout the rev range. The Mustang never failed to please when you put your foot down, with plenty of power that is very linear and the noise is a little more hairy-chested-machine-gun (albeit, relatively quiet) than the Camaro, which is accompanied with a faint wail. Despite that, it doesn't quite have the same low end shove that you get at low engine speeds with the 2-valve, big displacement, Chevy small block. Camaro +1


The Drive


 

Surprisingly, driving the Camaro is where things actually disappointed. Before you curse or dismiss this review, hear me out. Based on what I've read, I feared (and was expecting) to leave feeling blown away, contemplating whether I should trade in. I had extremely high expectations. That was problem number one. Problem number two: I didn't get a chance to take the car out on a nice back road or, even better, the track, where I have no doubt the car would shine.

There was plenty to like. The noise is awesome like I said. You can't complain about the power. The car is stiff, but never punishing, and very composed. Body roll and movements in general are far better controlled compared to my '12 Boss 302, let alone the base GT I drove. It has great turn in and is very responsive. It seems to put power down really well. I tried a very aggressive throttle roll-in in 1st gear and the car executed beautifully. A lot of things seemed text book perfect during the drive. What went wrong, then?




It provided exactly no additional reward over driving the Mustang. In fact, it was a little less entertaining. The engine, for example, feels very lazy at street speeds, barely having to rev above idle to get you moving and never needing or, more importantly, feeling like it wants to. Don't get me wrong, I love a good ole' low-effort V8. But the eagerness of Ford's 5.0 litre Coyote is more fun, especially here on the street where four or four and a half seconds to 60 mph makes no difference. Both will take off with satisfying grunt, both will sound good, and both will have no trouble reaching any speed you demand with your right foot. And the Mustang isn't exactly light on mid-range power, either. The car could easily cruise around town in 5th gear at speeds of 40-50 km/h and never break a sweat (don't do it). The Camaro otherwise also feels extremely unstressed in day to day driving. You get very little sensation of speed. Body movements are extremely limited at a reasonable pace on the street. The compromised visibility doesn't help, as it dulls the sensation of speed even more by limiting feedback from outside.

On the other hand, the Mustang is noticeably more comfortable, a big advantage on the street. The engine is a lot more eager to rev, with much shorter gears. In fact, the Mustang only has one over drive gear, with 5th being 1:1, but the Camaro has two, with 4th being 1:1. The Mustang's soft suspension and airy cabin, both relative to the Camaro, make it feel quicker and, combined with the more eager engine, more entertaining. The trunk is also another huge advantage, where the Camaro has a narrow long space that's less than two thirds the size of the Mustang. Mustang +1


Conclusion

Does the Mustang win 2:1, then? Not exactly.. Although these cars have been competing for years, sell in comparable numbers, have the same number of doors, seats, engine cylinders, gears, and driven wheels, are close in performance and size, and even cost comparable amounts of money, they are very different in their current generations. The Camaro was optimized for the track. You can tell by the compromise in the trunk. The rear shock towers appear to be tilted further inward, to better transfer loads towards the centre of the car and less up/down. The battery is in the back. The engine is placed further back about 3/4 of the way behind the front axle, whereas the Mustang's engine is about 1/2 way - sitting basically on top of the axle. This is evident in the Mustang having shorter wheelbase but more interior room.

But, as a result, everything that I "complained" about would make sense on a track. The lazy engine means there is a lot of power regardless of rpm and gear. The long gears mean you don't have to shift as often. The stiffer and more buttoned down suspension means better tire wear, stability, and performance. The Mustang, on the other hand, would feel relatively heavy, low on grip, and sloppy. You may not notice if you drive the Mustang alone, as it is a very capable and composed car. But drive them back to back on a track, and I guarantee you, you will want out of the Mustang and into the Camaro. The Camaro also has coolers for all drivetrain components - engine oil, transmission, and differential. The Mustang only has an engine oil cooler.

The conclusion here is that the two cars serve very different purposes. If you just want a fun, V8 coupe for the street, storming a good back road, a nice Sunday drive, or even a couple High Performance Driving School (HPDS) or lapping days here and there, do NOT buy the test numbers (i.e. the Camaro). The airy, better looking, and more comfortable interior of the Mustang plus the relative practicality makes it a much better street car and, base cars or comparably equipped, it's cheaper to boot. Plus, the lower grip and body motions will provide a much better car to learn on. Cross country trip? I bet the Mustang would be sublime, equally comfortable cruising for hours or letting you enjoy all the back country and coastal roads you want. If you get the Camaro and you're planning to ever take a road trip in it with your better half, measure your suit cases and map out the trunk. You may be able to only fit a suitcase and a half back there..

But if you are planning on frequent track events, walk away from the Ford dealer. Go to Chevy, they'll happily give you a Camaro SS in exchange for some of your money. It's a better track car. And forget about the Mustang performance pack. It isn't enough. If you don't believe me, ask yourself this: why did Ford stop calling it the Track Pack and switched to Performance Pack (PP)? I test drove a current Mustang with the Performance Pack and it is not enough (alone) for someone who does more than a couple track days a year. Sure, if you get the Camaro, I have no doubt you'll find weak points and start planning modifications. Every car has weaknesses, even race prepped cars. The difference is that you'll find weaknesses a lot sooner in the Mustang. The PP is very good if you go drive a GT without it and think: "it's a perfect car, I just wish it had a little more edge." Or, if you're like me - a Mustang guy who wants to track the car, as it provides a great upgrade or a much better starting point. Otherwise, save yourself the premium and leave the box unchecked as it will make the Mustang a better, more comfortable street car.




I am a Mustang guy. I would take the Mustang. I wish I could leave it at that, but objectively, it isn't as track ready out of the box as the Camaro. It has an excellent chassis and provides a great starting point towards a formidable track assault vehicle, with vast aftermarket support and even great factory-backed upgrades from Ford Racing (stay tuned for a post on how I'd spec a new Mustang GT with Ford upgrades!). But if you want minimal or no modifications, the Camaro SS is the one to get. Their trim names could not have been more spot-on than they are now; the Mustang GT is truly a world class Grand Tourer but the Camaro SS is the one for Super Sport .


Sunday, 4 September 2016

Mods and Update: Focus RS vs Golf R vs WRX STI vs Evo X




Earlier this month, I introduced the cars that we'll be testing in a comparison. The cars included a Focus RS, a Mk7 Golf R, a 4th gen WRX STI and an Evo X. Unfortunately, the Evo X will not be making it, but the other three are still in, so I thought I'd take some time to post the update and shed more light on the cars. I wanted to have a 100% stock car comparison. I really did. Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen. Well, for most of the cars anyway.

The Golf R and the STI are modified, whereas the RS is stock. If you're curious, the Evo X was also modified. All have very few modifications. The Golf R went the way that seems to be very popular - tune and exhaust. It also has an intake. I asked the owner to return the tune to stock, which he agreed to do, and said he might take the intake out too. Exhaust, though, is a lot tougher to get out. He has a full turbo back exhaust so he didn't want to take it out. I can't blame him. As a result, the car will be running with it. How much performance is it worth? I don't know. I'll do some research. I suspect it will be 10-15 whp, considering the aftermarket downpipe. I don't know how much time that will be worth on the track but will try to estimate somehow.

The STI, on the other hand, has no modifications under the hood. The engine is stock, exhaust is stock, intake is stock, and it is running the stock tune. The owner only made two modifications - camber bolts and tires. Tires are Bridgestone Potenza RE-71R. They are the hot tire right now. The one to have. They have a tread wear rating of 200, making them legal tires for plenty of competition classes, yet they seem to out grip and out class every other tire in its category. Think more of a Michelin Sport Cup tire competitor than Pilot Super Sport. Everyone I have talked to who has tried these tires said they are comparable to DOT legal track tires with a tread wear rating sub 100. Hard to say how much exactly they're worth, but I hear 2 seconds on our track is more or less how much you can cut out of a lap with them. As far as camber, it's much tougher to gauge. The owner is running -2.5 deg all around. I seem to be running about 1 second faster per lap at the same pace as before getting camber plates and I am at about -2.3 deg on the front, rears are obviously zero, being a solid axle. Is it fair to say the STI would be about 3 seconds slower, stock? Don't know if it's fair, but I don't think it's far fetched.

The RS, though, as mentioned is stock.. I know, I know, it's not fair but the alternative is to not run at all. Which would you rather? I'd rather get a time, at least as a baseline for the future if another one comes our way to test and gauge modifications. Plus, if you're an RS fan, imagine it winning, stock, vs modified cars! That would be a home run. And if it loses, you can always blame on the modifications. Win-win.

Tomorrow, I will be getting some (non-official) lap times and logs in the RS and getting to know it on the track. Then, the first weekend of October, we'll have all three cars at the track, and an Evo X if we can find another, to get official lap times and see how they stack up. Stay tuned!


Saturday, 27 August 2016

2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 - First Ride




I had an opportunity to take a track ride on the last lapping day I went to on Natal Day (lapping day post here) to ride in a +Porsche Cayman GT4. Needless to say, I took it. Although there is a lot you can't tell about a car from the passenger seat, you can still judge quite a few things. Plus, I have been a passenger in a lot of cars on the track, stock and modified, ranging from humble SRT4's and Evos to Corvettes and 911s, the highlight of all would probably be a 997 GT2 RS, so I learned to gather a lot of information about a car while acting as a ballast. The Cayman GT4 lands somewhere in the top-middle portion of that range in terms of pace. The way it manages that pace, though, is different. Very different.

Driving cars fast is similar to playing and composing music. You can't produce good music in all genres in the same way. You have to pay attention to scales, beats, appropriate tempo, chords, etc. In much the same way, different types of cars like to be driven differently to reward you. Depending on the handling balance of the car (understeer, neutral, or oversteer), weight distribution, polar moment, yaw axis location, driven wheels, etc.

In one extreme, you have FWD, front end heavy, safely tuned (i.e. limit understeer) cars. You rely a lot on trail braking to rotate the car. You can't use power mid corner to help the car rotate. You have to be patient with the throttle on exit. Things like that. At the other end of the scale, you have 911's. Phenomenal braking balance due to the weight of the engine on the rear wheels. Phenomenal traction for exactly the same reason. But, once again due to that very same reason, you have very high rear polar moment. Man handle it (with the nannies turned off) and it'll bite. You can use the power to rotate the car. But you have to be careful; it'll first want to understeer as you take weight off the front wheels and the solid traction in the back lets you just put power down. You'll you give it more, but it'll just put that power to the ground. Then give it some more. Until you get to the point you want, where the rear wheels begin to slip and help you rotate. Remember all that weight in the back that was helping you brake and put power down? It now wants to swap ends with you. Good luck keeping it back there.




What, you might ask, is this guy blabbering on about and what is the point of all this? The point is that you need to remember all of it before you can appreciate the GT4. The GT4 takes all of those notions, all of those concerns, techniques, and (let's be kind), say, character attributes, and throws them all away.. You could just forget about all that when you get in. It doesn't matter. The GT4 is so stable and so forgiving that you feel like you can get away with everything.

Now, Caymans are known for being forgiving and stable. They're great cars to drive fast in. What's special here is the very high dose of grip and immediacy. The car responds so fast that you except it to bite if you take it by surprise but it just doesn't. That was the one thing that stuck with me most after the drive. The speed isn't impressive. There are plenty of cars that have the same pace. Ultimate grip? It has big, fat, sticky tires, what do you expect? The combination of high grip, stability, and immediacy was the most impressive. The owner was still learning the car as he bought it recently so not all inputs were smooth, yet the car just took it all. No oversteer, no understeer, no drifts, just goes where he pointed it. The very same moment he pointed, it seems.

He wasn't driving at the limit so I didn't see what it's like when the tires do let go (or approach that point) but, being mid engine and so stable, I suspect the balance would tilt a little towards understeer. With that said, I expect that to be remedied "with a boot full of power", to quote Jeremy Clarkson. A little throttle would probably rotate the car beautifully at the limit. I also can't comment on the steering since I didn't drive it, but I could tell a lot about what's happening at the contact patches and suspension loading through the chassis. The suspension is very stiff, although not punishing, and the chassis can talk a lot through the seat, especially (I suspect) when so equipped with the optional fixed-back buckets.




Power? Well, no one can call 385 hp low, especially in a car that basically weighs 3,000 lbs. In fact, this car has slightly better power to weight ratio than a Boss 302 like mine, with 444 hp and a curb weight of approximately 3,600 lbs. It's also still naturally aspirated and, of course, comes from a proper-sounding flat six, both are unlike the new turbo and 4 cylinder 718 Caymans. But.. the car could use more. A lot more. There is enough power for someone to put down a really good lap time but not enough for the chassis. It could use a lot more. It's begging for a lot more. Especially if that extra power still comes linearly, with no forced induction, and keeps on building with revs. A GT4 RS perhaps? 450 hp wouldn't hurt..

After the drive, Alan - the gentleman who owns the car - asked me what I think the car could do. I expect the car to be able to run 1:15's, easily and consistently, and maybe dip below 1:15 but I wouldn't be surprised if it were even a tick quicker. If I remember correctly, he seemed to be running between 1:23's to 1:24's when I was with him, with the occasional high 1:22 lap. In my experience, a passenger that shares my curb weight adds about a second a lap, so that would drop to a range of 1:21's to 1:23's. He was able to dip into the teens and got just under 1:20 on a lap in the morning in cooler temperatures, in what I have no doubt was the same pace as the afternoon. Despite that, the car didn't feel like the it was breaking a sweat.

Faults? Hmm.. It's only available as a manual. You can't have it as an AWD. It's a little loud. I don't think you can get some features like leather seats or sunroof and.. Oh wait, I'm supposed to be listing faults. I don't know. Let me know if you find them. 


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Porsche Cayman V8

Well, it looks like someone figured out how to improve a Porsche Cayman.. This could inflict some (very) serious damage. A buddy of mine said Porsche purists will begin to die (as a result). That's probably true, and for that, I do apologize. However, look at this way. Porsche took away the flat six out of the Cayman and stuffed a turbo 4 in its place in the new Caymans.. At least this is naturally aspirated and (I can say from experience) is beautifully linear, and of course powerful. What better way to stick it to Porsche than effectively removing the turbo and doubling the cylinder count?



Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Natal Day 2016 AFRA Lapping Day




I went back to the track earlier this week for a lapping day organized by the Atlantic Formula Racing Association (AFRA). Turnout was great and weather was nice. There were quite a few Mustangs, actually, something I haven't seen since the S197 Boss 302's were released.




This Natal Day, there was a '13 or '14 Mustang V6, first time I had seen a V6 Mustang on the track. The V6 Mustang didn't sound bad at all and had quite a few modifications. Its pace was better than I had expected too. There were also two 2015 Mustang GT's, 3 Boss 302's (two 2012's and one 2013 - all white! The fastest colour, of course.), and there was one Shelby.. a GT350R. Beautiful car and it sounded awesome.  I (very unfortunately) did not get a chance to take a video to capture the noise since we typically were on the track at the same time (but different sections). I'll try to make sure to capture it next time. For now, here are a couple of pictures.








The day, unfortunately, did not go as smooth as I had hoped. To start, the track was greasy. Plenty of people mentioned the cars squirming around and I ran out of grip at slower speeds than I typically did. To make matters worse, the car didn't feel too happy. There was a vibration that wasn't there before and a slight steering shudder under braking in the quicker corners. I checked wheel lug nut torque, pressures, if anything was loose, etc. but found nothing. I started slowing down and it seemed to get better so I thought, what if the wheels are out of balance? Sure enough, my two front wheels lost two and three wheel weights, putting them out of balance and upsetting the car. On the plus side..

I got a new best time! Before I figured out what the problem was and started slowing down, I got lap time of 1:20.40. That's just over a second quicker than my last best of 1:21.46. Moreover, that was in spite of the above and on a lap where I had just passed someone on the front straight, reducing my speed in the first section (note the pass at the end of Lap 2/beginning of Lap 3 below). Account for all of that, and I believe I would break into the teens with a 1:19.xx time. Check the videos below for a couple of lapping sessions. All my sessions were short, as you can see from the videos of those sessions, due to the vibrations as I kept pitting to check things and try to figure out the problem. You can actually notice the vibrations in the video compared to my last time on the track with Porsche Club of America (PCA) HPDS - link here.




Lap 1 - Outlap
Lap 2 - 1:23.73 (traffic)
Lap 3 - 1:20.40
Lap 4 - 1:23.43 (traffic)
Lap 5 - 1:20.87
Lap 6 - 1:23.50 - I slowed down after turn 10. I had a good chase with the Cayman GT4 and didn't want to get caught up due to the vibrations so I decided to let off, take a cool down lap, and pit again to check on things.




Lap 1 - Outlap
Lap 2 - 1:22.23 (traffic)
Lap 3 - 1:21.30 - I had a close call in corner 8..
Lap 4 - 1:20.80
Lap 6 - 1:21.10

Keep in mind, I am still on street brake pads and street tires, something everyone I know to be running sub 1:20 lap times doesn't share. I'm confident that the car still has several seconds in it. I will post a list of local lap times with as much information as I can find on the cars to provide a gauge for my times. Also, stay tuned for a better time, hopefully before the end of this season, with better track conditions and balanced wheels.
 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Intro: Focus RS vs Golf R vs WRX STI vs Evo X




You read that right. We're going to put these cars to the test, including the highly anticipated 350 hp Focus RS, not just on the street, but also on our very own excellent local track - Atlantic Motorsport Park. We will hit the track first in September to learn two of the cars and then back in October to learn the other two cars and set lap times in all four. We will also take them on the street to see which one is more comfortable  (although we won't care as much about that portion because, well, we don't). But first, let's introduce the cars.

The WRX STI and Evo X are very well established. They're to AWD turbo compacts what Mustangs and Camaros are to muscle cars. They have huge followings and very loyal fans and, regardless of which is on top, they both are very capable and are the result of years of experience and continuous improvement. The Golf R isn't exactly new, now in its second generation, and it has been with us in one form or another for over a couple of decades, succeeding the R32, which was also an AWD Golf that slotted above the GTI. However, the Mk6 Golf R was a bit lackluster in performance and so was the R32, when compared to the class stalwarts. The Mk7 Golf R wants to be taken more seriously. The RS is the new kid on the block as an AWD turbocharged compact. On paper, it sounds like it means business. Whether you like the looks or not, it sure doesn't look like your ordinary Focus and Ford wants to make sure you don't mistake it for one. Despite that, it's got the most to prove. The RS is the first AWD hot Focus. Luckily, Ford didn't mess around and didn't care about Mustang hierarchy - this Focus has a starting price above that of a Mustang GT. So what does it bring to the table?




The RS makes the most power of this group, putting out 350 hp and 350 lb-ft torque. I've seen several dyno results for this car, one as low as 250 hp, but COBB Tuning claims that the low number are due to an error in how others dyno this car. That's because it's typically dyno'ed as an AWD dyno but it should be dyno'ed in FWD mode. The reason being is that the AWD system is designed to spin the rear wheels faster than the front to help with rotation which means that if you spin all wheels at the same speed, what an AWD dyno would do, the computer thinks the front wheels are spinning and cuts power. When dyno'ed in FWD mode, on 93 octane, COBB got 304 hp (Read more here: COBB Tuning Focus RS Power Gains and Development). That would put drivetrain losses at approximately 13% to have 350 hp at the crank, which seems very reasonable (remember, they disabled AWD and dyno'ed only at the front wheels, so 13% isn't unrealistic)

The real party piece to the RS, though, is its trick AWD system. Built by GKN, the Focus AWD system does away with traditional centre and rear differentials and brings a clutch pack to proportion power to the rear axle and two clutch packs on the rear axle, one for each half axle, to proportion power side to side. Tyrone Johnson - Ford Performance Vehicle Engineering Manager - said they've seen over 90% of the engine's power being sent to the rear axle at peak, but it sends 70% on average. The rear axle can then send all of that (100%) to one wheel or another. Although the front axle makes do with only brake based limited slip action, it can get as little as 10% of power at peak, and only 30% on average, making the handicap far less of a problem compared to a FWD car. In Canada, the RS comes standard with the winter package of wheels and tires. Because, it's Canada. This allows Ford to sell the car, standard, with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires on the 19" wheels. Did I mention that the RS means business?




The Evo X is the dark horse in this test. It is has been discontinued by Mitsubishi but, worse yet, it is based on a car that is one generation behind all the competitors here. Despite that, Car and Driver put down the same lap time at VIR (in *ahem* 2011) as the current WRX STI did. In 2015. Sure, it had dual auto and it was an SE so those would have been worth some time, but the point is that it is competitive.

The Evo X also has a trick AWD system, but it doesn't make too much noise about it because it's always had a good AWD system. It can send more power to the rear axle to help the car rotate, not just improve traction, and then split that power side-to-side. Better yet, it has a helical gear limited slip front differential, bettering both the Golf R and the Focus RS - which rely only on brake based limited slip action on the front axle. In the centre, the Evo uses a traditional differential with a clutch pack that can progressively lock in case of slip to send power to one axle or another. The rear axle uses a torque vectoring differential that can send power to either wheel to help the car rotate, like the RS. It isn't behind in a straight line either, putting down similar numbers to the RS and STI and bettering the R. So don't dismiss it just because it's old.




The STI, on the other hand, is the default challenger in this test - since it is the only well established name that is still in production. It gives you three diffs like the Evo but only one of them is electronically controlled - the centre one. You can manually adjust the centre diff's power distribution to adjust the car's attitude or leave it in auto. Like the Evo, it uses a helical limited slip differential on the front axle, bettering the RS and the R, but it loses to both the RS and the Evo in rear axle control.

It uses a mechanical Torsen limited slip differential on the rear axle, which is an excellent differential in my experience, but cannot be manipulated to change the car's attitude. That should make it feel more natural than the Evo and RS, something I'm a big fan of. However, that does mean it will be ultimately limited at the rear axle since a Torsen diff can only send to the outside wheel as much torque as what the inside wheel (unloaded and traction limited) can handle, times a multiple - typically in the 2 to 4 torque bias ratio (TBR) range, depending on design. In other words, if the inside wheel can only handle 10 lb-ft of torque, for example, due to being unloaded and TBR is 3, the diff can only send 30 lb-ft of torque to the outside wheel, whereas an electronically controlled clutch pack can lock and send as much as 100% of torque to that wheel, or as much as it can handle, whichever is higher. In the STI, it is slightly better because it can also use brake based limited slip action on the rear axle like the RS does on the front, to create artificial drag on the inside wheel and send more power to the outside, but it's not quite as effective. Still, having a Torsen diff means you need to apply a fraction of the drag (1/TBR) to the inside wheel that you would need to get the same effect in an open diff, and in a recent Car and Driver comparison, it had the best launch compared to a Focus RS and Mk7 Golf R, so it certainly can put power down. Saying the STI is handicapped is foolish.




The R is a bit of an underdog on paper. It has the least power and the least sophisticated AWD system, a Haldex type that you'd see on a nice SUV or crossover. It normally operates in FWD mode and only sends power to the back in case of slip. It's the only car that will not send power to the rear just to help the car rotate, based on literature I found, and only do so in response to slip. It's stable and secure but may not be the fastest way. Moreover, it can only proportion power side to side using the brakes, putting it at a double disadvantage to the other 3 when it comes to putting power down. With that said, it is the lightest car here, by a significant 260 lbs (approximately) than the heaviest car - the Evo X - and a still substantial 160 lbs (approximately) than the other cars. Our track is a short and technical track and it loves light cars. 3,292 (C&D tested) isn't exactly lightweight, but it's easily lighter than the other three. Plus, although it "only" has 292 hp where all the others make 300+ hp, let's not forget that those are German horses. The kind that always likes to be modest and forget about a few extra horses in the barn. In other words, don't count this one out just yet.

To recap, on paper, the Evo has the most capable AWD system but it is the oldest with the worst power to weight ratio. The RS and STI are closely matched, with the RS having slightly better rear axle control (more beneficial) while the STI has better front axle control. The RS has the best power-to-weight ratio in the group but the STI seems to have the best launch in historical tests. The Golf R ties the STI for power-to-weight ratio, but betters the entire group in weight anf by a good margin compared to the Evo.

Can't wait for the results? Neither can we! Stay tuned for preliminary results the first week of September and final results the first week of October - including lap times, hot lap videos, telemetry, and more! Make sure to like the blog page on Facebook (to the right of the page or click here!) or follow on Google+ and Blogger!