• Ferrari, cheating, and pop-off valves

    The September 2015 issue of Motorsport Magazine contains an interesting interview with erstwhile McLaren and Ferrari engineer, Gordon Kimball. Together with some revealing anecdotes about Senna and Berger, Kimball also concedes the following:

    “In 1988 I was engineering Gerhard Berger in the F187/88C. That was the year McLaren dominated with Honda and Bernie did all he could to help us. It was the era of turbos and pop-off valves and we had a low-pressure passage that went past the pop-off valve and would pull it open, so we could run more boost. We kept pushing that further and further, waiting to get caught, but we never were. I guess Bernie wanted somebody to try to beat McLaren, so he helped us.”

    FISA Pop-off valve (drawing by Bent Sorenson, reproduced from ‘The Anatomy and Development of the Formula One Racing Car from 1975’, Sal Incandels, p200)

    Now, the first point to make here is that it is actually fairly well-known that engine manufacturers were flouting the pop-off valve regulations in the late 1980s. The pop-off valve was first introduced in 1987, when it was intended to restrict turbo boost pressure to 4.0 bar. The valve was supplied by the governing body, FISA, and attached to the plenum chamber, upstream of the inlet runners to each cylinder. A new design pop-off valve was then introduced for 1988, which was intended to restrict boost pressure to 2.5 bar.

    Ian Bamsey noted the following in his monumental 1988 work, The 1000bhp Grand Prix cars, “In 1987 some engines were coaxed to run at more than 4.0 bar. With a carefully located single pop off valve merely an irritating leak in a heavily boosted system as much as 4.4 bar could be felt in the manifold. The key was in the location of the valve. It was possible to position it over a venturi in the charge plumbing system. Air gained speed through the venturi losing pressure. Either side of the venturi the flow was correct and the pressure was higher,” (p29).

    In fact, there appears to have been at least two distinct methods of flouting the 4.0 bar limit. If one attached the pop-off valve over a venturi, then one could keep the valve closed (contra Kimball’s explanation) even if the effective boost pressure was greater than 4.0 bar. A second method simply involved inducting compressed air into the plenum chamber at a greater mass-flow rate than the open pop-off valve could vent it:

    “Turbo boost was theoretically restricted to four bar via popoff valves, but there was a way around this on self-contained V6s like the Honda. They required just one pop-off valve (as opposed to those like the Porsche and Ford which effectively ran as two separate three-cylinder units and so needed two pop-off valves) by overboosting, forcing the pop-off to open and then controlling it against boost. It meant 900bhp in races, 1050bhp in qualifying,” (Mark Hughes, Motorsport Magazine, January 2007, page 92).

    Indeed, the general suggestion at the time is that it was Honda, rather than Ferrari, which first identified these loophole(s). Bamsey makes this point in his superb 1990 work, McLaren Honda Turbo – A Technical Appraisal: “By mid-season [1987]…Ferrari is believed to have achieved levels of 4.1/4.2 bar through careful location of the pop off valve, a technique Honda is alleged to have pioneered,” (p92).

    The next question, however, concerns what happened in 1988, when the more stringent 2.5 bar limit was imposed, and a new design of pop-off valve was supplied to the teams. This valve (perhaps by deliberate design), was somewhat tardy in closing once it has been opened:

    “The new pop off opened in a different manner and once opened pressure tumbled to 2.0 bar and still the valve didn’t close properly…on overrun the effect of a shut throttle and a still spinning compressor (the turbine not instantly stopping, of course) could cause pressure in the plenum to overshoot 2.5 bar. In blowing the pop off open, that adversely affected the next acceleration…The answer to the problem was in the form of the so called XE2 [specification engine]…run by all four Honda cars in the San Marino Grand Prix.

    “The XE2 changed the throttle position, removing the separate butterfly for each inlet tract and instead putting a butterfly in each bank’s charge plumbing just ahead of the plenum inlet and thus ahead of the pop off,” (ibid 1990, p91-92).

    No questions of dubious legality there. However, Bamsey also explains that an XE3 version of the engine was developed by Honda, purportedly for exclusive use in the high-altitude conditions of Mexico City: “The Mexican air is thin – the pressure is around a quarter bar – so the turbine has to work harder. Back pressure [in the exhaust manifold] becomes a potential problem, affecting volumetric efficiency and hence torque. Power is a function of torque and engine speed: Honda sought higher revs to compensate. Thus the XE3 employed an 82mm bore size and it was apparently tuned for a higher peak power speed. It was a complete success and on occasion was tried for qualifying elsewhere thereafter (in particular, at Monza),” (ibid. 1990, p92).

    What’s interesting here is that the XE3 seems to have caused some scrutineering difficulties at Mexico. Road and Track magazine reported that there was “a claim that Honda had built vortex generators into its system – which would allow it to use more than 2.5 bar – and FISA scrutineers spent an unusual amount of time examining the McLarens in Mexico,” (Road and Track, volume 40, p85).

    Generating a vortex would offer an alternative means of keeping the pop-off valve closed. Even with a constant diameter pipe, the pressure could be lowered by transforming some of the pressure energy into the rotational energy of a vortex. One would presumably need an expanding section downstream to burst the vortex in a controlled manner, but it does offer a method of reducing the pressure without using a venturi. It’s intriguing to read that an engine ostensibly developed for high-altitude conditions was used in qualifying for the rest of the season…

    So perhaps it would be wrong to cast Ferrari here in their stereotypical role as regulatory bandits. Although Kimball does also suggest that their fuel-tanks carried somewhat more than the mandatory 150 litres of fuel when they won the Italian Grand Prix that year!


  • 5 Best Sport Versions of Small Cars

    Small cars have always been dubbed as superior when it comes to sports cars, thanks to their compactness and lightness which helps them to be speedy and nimble, meaning they can work their way around the track with immeasurable precision and accuracy.

    Therefore it’s no surprise that so many car manufacturers create sports versions of their most dynamic and popular small cars, to bring the excitement and thrill of track driving into the mix of every day driving.

    We’ve taken a look at 5 of the best sport versions of small cars to show you that you don’t need a big garage space to have a thrilling ride, and you don’t always even need a big wallet to afford one, either!

    1. 2014 MINI Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works

    A pretty long winded name for such a compact car, the MINI Cooper Coupe John Cooper Works is so small it doesn’t even have a backseat. Though, owners tend not to find this such a problem, as it’s not a car that’s usually chosen for its practicality factors.

    According to the website, it ‘looks fast even when standing still, thanks to features including Cross Spoke Challenge allow wheels, black radiator grille and special aerodynamic kit.’

    2. Fiat 500 Sport

    The Fiat 500 is a car we’re starting to see more and more of on the road, and with the Fiat 500 sport now introduced, we’ll soon be seeing more of it in the fast lane too. The Abarth 500 Custom is a winning blend of style and performance, enhanced with new technology and customisation options.

    The satin steel rear exhaust trim adds impact and style to the car, with new colours offering an upgraded customisation experience, so you’ll have no trouble picking yours out from the crowd. You can also enjoy ‘New instrument panel with 7” digital display and TFT technology as standard’ and ‘a multipurpose backlit dual mode colour display that all Abarth enthusiasts will love.’

    3. Ford Focus ST

    Set to enhance the Ford Focus experience even further, the new Ford Focus ST ‘incorporates a new technology called Electronic Transitional Stability (part of the advanced three-stage ESP programme). By sensing vehicle stability and driver inputs, the system can react and respond to help you maintain precision and control when changing lanes, or overtaking.’ Therefore it’s not only efficient when driving on the track; it’s also efficient and practical enough for every day driving.

    4. 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

    Still my favourite small car (I used to have a MX5 Mark 1), no list of compact sports versions of small cars would be complete without the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and it has a staying power in this category that few of its rivals can match. It may be due to the intense attention to detail that goes into each and every vehicle – ‘Mazda engineers took into account every bolt, wire and upholstery stitch to achieve near-perfect front-to-rear weight distribution and handling that seems to anticipate the driver’s every move.’

    5. VW Golf R

    Renowned for making cars with an eye-catching design and quality that is hard to beat, the VW Golf R is no exception to the VW Golf’s before it. The levels of luxury just got turned up a notch with this model in particular, as it boasts a leather multi-functioning steering wheel and 18” ‘Cadiz’ alloy wheels.

    It also has one of the best engines in terms of efficiency and performance, and you can read more about it on their official website here.

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  • Which are the most popular lease cars in the UK?

    If you’ve wondered why there are a slew of brand-new vehicles on your morning commute despite the economic downturn, then you might be interested to know that more than 25% of all new vehicles on Britain’s roads last year were not actually owned by their drivers – they were leased.

    Popularised in the US some decades ago, the phenomenon has spread to the UK and taken the new car market by storm. Recent statistics show that the percentage of leasing is up by about 30% on 2012 numbers, so it would appear leasing a vehicle is the new norm.

    Taking this into account, it’s not just the amount of cheap deals on offer, but a cultural mind-set. Although, with 3 or 4 year leases costing less than the VAT on a new vehicle purchase, it’s no wonder that leases have increased in popularity.

    It’s a cultural change too, not just economic. Consumer spending habits have evolved – ownership is seen as a burden, not an asset. Indeed, what good is an asset if it’s depreciating? With phone contracts, internet access, rent and holidays available on fixed term payment contracts, why wouldn’t you lease your vehicle?

    The demand for the latest technology is also driving motorists towards the world of leasing. With today’s must-have gizmo tomorrow’s trash, it can be daunting to think of owning a vehicle that will technologically be out of date in 10 years, not to mention the added hassle of resale, initial costs and financial deadweight owning a depreciating vehicle can cause.

    Typically, leases return their vehicle within 3 years and are able to upgrade their vehicle to the latest model on a similar rate to what they’ve paid with none of the problems associated with depreciate, maintenance or repairs as new vehicles are customized, factory fresh and come with manufacturer warranties.

    But, the scene in the UK changes when it comes to the luxury car market. Luxury cars have always been a greater percentage of the lease market than regular cars. The company Vertu Lease Cars had a look at some of the top lease car searches in the UK to determine who’s on top, and where the hotspots are. Check out their findings below:

    The most popular lease cars in the UK

    As mentioned, the standard lease car market is incredible affordable, often with many models coming in at less than £100 a month over the course of the lease contract. Mercedes Benz is the daddy of the UK market with almost a quarter (22%) of all lease car searches. They’re followed by BMW at 21% and chased finally by Audi with 18% of the market. Overall, these are the winners, but there are certain hotspots where different models are popularized. We’ve looked at the capital cities of the UK to see who’s leasing what.

    London – Range Rover Evoque

    Overall fourth in the UK lease searches, Range Rover’s most popular model and London’s favourite is the Evoque. Proving incredibly popular, the Evoque was pre-ordered by more than 18,000 drivers before it went into production, and they’re still on waiting lists today.

    Not surprisingly, the Evoque is one of the UKs most popular SUV’s too with its head-turning look, and customizability. Coming in both 3 and 5 door models, luxury inside is paramount. High quality materials and engineered components mean that it’s 2 L turbo engine lets the Evoque breakaway on the open road in comfort and style. As you might have seen, the “Chelsea tractor” is also capable off-road, but footballers and celebs joining in, you’re just likely to see the Evoque in a London borough as on a muddy back road.

    Edinburgh – Mercedes A Class

    The most popular searched for lease car in the UK, and Edinburgh is the Mercedes A Class. Now in its third generation, released in 2012, it’s a serious contender in the premium hatchback market. The new Mercedes A Class is better looking than any previous model but with surprising interior features to boot. It now includes a majorly improved plush interior, tons of the latest sound and entertainment technology with a competitive engine range for its category class.

    A secret to the popularity of the A Class may be due to the range of engines and specs on offer, with the lowest-price A180 SE starting off the model line-up and the super-fast A45 AMG hot hatch being at the top end of the market.

    Cardiff – BMW X5

    Number two as the most searched for lease car in the UK is the BMW X5, and number one in Cardiff. The X5 is also in its third generation and is one of the more comfortable SUVs to drive. Coming with a great dynamic ability both in urban and rural environments, it can handle anything that’ thrown at it – be it the muddy wild, or just your shopping. This luxury BMW model also gives more comfort and practicality than all previous models.

    Belfast – Toyota Yaris

    Surprisingly, the Northern Irish have a popular lease model that’s not a luxury car with the Toyota Yaris winning as most searched for lease vehicle. The Yaris is nothing to be looked down at through, with a fantastic track record of reliability and a roomy interior, the funky city-car Yaris has all that Belfast could want.

    With the top trim level, Icon coming with a surprisingly spacious passenger and driver experience, the 1.33 L petrol engine packs enough punch for city slickers and country goes alike. Its sleek styling has the right curves, and new available projector-beam headlights and an oversize blacked-out grille adds attitude, no wonder it’s the number one lease car in Belfast.

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  • The Start Of The Zombie Apocalypse

    Hollywood has an incredible imagination when it comes to the end of the world. From asteroids to earthquakes, floods to solar flares, you can always trust the wild minds of LA LA Land’s script writers to find new and interesting ways of decimating the world’s population.

    Viral diseases are the big one though. They’ve been through a bit of a renaissance in recent years, triggering a surge of fascination in the Zombie Apocalypse that’s spread like the very same plague into TV, book and videogames.

    Zombie Horde By Joakim Olofsson

    This is what you get for putting car park tickets in your mouth!

    When it only takes a little scratch or nibble to turn even the most dedicated vegan into a sausage-munching undead monster, there’s plenty of scope for Hollywood to get carried away, the virus spreading from host to host like wildfire. But I think I’ve spotted an untapped delivery method, a device yet to be written into a Hollywood blockbuster – car park barrier tickets.

    You know the credit card sized pieces of plastic that you slip into the machine to raise the barrier? When you jump in your car where do you put it? Hold it in your hand while fumbling for your seatbelt? No, too fiddly. Pop it onto the dash where it could slide away and disappear beneath a pile of old CDs? Not likely. Do you pop it in your mouth? Hmmm, tasty.

    So just think for a minute what’s happened to that sliver of plastic before you clamped it between your teeth. Cue flashback graphics as we wind the clock back a few hours.

    Jim, the bus driver, has had a bit of a bad tummy, and just before he handed the card over to you he’d had to make an emergency dash to the toilet. Trouble is, his hygiene isn’t great so he forgot to wash his hands before he rushed back onto the bus. He might not be licking the ticket, but by God, you don’t want to know what he’s added to it’s shiny surface.

    Car Park Barrier Ticket

    Just think where this has been before you clamp it between your teeth!

    Now we go further back in time to see the previous user of the ticket. We’ll call him Bob. He’s a large, sweaty bloke, who keeps everything in his trouser pockets. That includes the car park ticket, which sat nestled against his moist gentleman’s area for several hours before he popped it into his own mouth during his dash for the barrier.

    Uh-oh, flashback again, and there’s Barbara. The day before Bob had the ticket she’d chucked it into the bottom of her handbag, where it mixed with manky old chocolates and other unmentionables that haven’t seen the light of day for years. Oh, and there she goes, gripping the card with her teeth and drooling a little as she struggles to fasten up her seatbelt.

    Flashback to an attractive blonde who still manages to look glamorous even when she has a plastic card poking out from between her pouting, red lips. Further back, through old lady, stressed businessman, mum with screaming kids. All so desperate to get out of the car park as quickly as possible that they didn’t think twice about what they were putting in their mouths.

    Somewhere at the start of all this is Patient X. He’s a part-time laboratory assistant who accidentally mixed two strange formulas into one petri-dish, before spilling some on a familiar piece of white rectangular plastic that he’d chucked onto his workbench. The rest, as they might say if they hadn’t all been turned into mindless zombies, is history. Wind the clock forward to the present day and Bob, Barbara and the others are now all flesh-eating undead, having transferred the vile virus to one another by licking contaminated saliva from that one piece of plastic.

    So what’s the best way to stop this zombie plague from spreading? Simple. Don’t put the damned tickets IN YOUR MOUTH. It’s a disgusting habit anyway.

    Picture credit – Zombie Horde by Joakim Olofsson

    The Start Of The Zombie Apocalypse is a post by Chris Auty and was published on Driving Spirit.

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  • Tesla Model S – Driven

    It’s fair to say our first drive of the Tesla Model S is not entirely going to plan. Fellow scribe Phil Huff is peering through the rear window with a slightly quizzical expression. “You’ve broken it,” he jokes.

    Tesla Model S85

    Tesla Model S85

    It later transpires this assessment might not be so far from the truth. Right now, however, we’re locked outside what could well be the future of motoring, stranded at our photo location just above the Milbrook Hill Route (famously the road on which 007 totalled his Aston Martin in Casino Royale). There are worse places to be marooned, admittedly, and it provides a good opportunity to reflect on what we have gleaned about the car so far.

    The Model S has been around for a couple of years now, but recent months have seen a growing number taking to our roads. It’s a discretely handsome sports saloon with a generous luggage capacity and enough room to seat five adults. There’s even the option of two additional rear-facing seats in the boot, should you need them. Outwardly, there are almost no clues to the fact that this is an all-electric vehicle, but as such it’s exempt from road tax and the Congestion Charge. Perhaps more importantly, it also falls into the lowest bracket for company car tax.

    Things are a little more radical on the inside. The massive 17-inch touch screen display is not only the largest, but also the cleverest that we’ve encountered, controlling everything from the sat nav to the sunroof. It’s like sitting inside Google.

    Tesla Model S85 Interior

    Tesla Model S85 Interior

    The dashboard itself is a strikingly simple design, clad – in the case of our test car – in Alcantara and carbon fibre. The quality of the materials is first rate and they lend the cabin a bespoke feel that distinguishes the Tesla from its more mainstream competitors.

    But enough of the pleasantries, what’s it like to drive? Really rather good, in short. You can feel the mass when pressing on – it weighs a not-inconsiderably 2.1 tons – but the combination of prodigious thrust and near-total silence from the electric powertrain is quite surreal.

    Right now the internet is awash with videos of this car’s twin-engined evil twin, the P85D, demolishing supercars from a standing start. Our test car is ‘only’ the single-engined rear-wheel drive S85 model, but even this comparatively mild example of the breed feels good for its claimed 5.4 second nought-to-sixty time.

    Where the Model S really scores, though, is response. With 440 Nm of torque available instantly, right from a standing start, overtaking urge is never more than a twitch of the toe away. There’s no shortage of grip either, with decent chassis balance and chunky, if somewhat lifeless, steering.

    A small confession here: in the brief time we had with the car, I didn’t think to check which of the two braking modes had been selected. As sampled, lifting off the accelerator resulted in something not unlike conventional engine braking, while the middle pedal had a pleasingly natural feel. It certainly wasn’t the alien experience you might expect from a regenerative braking system.

    Tesla Model S85

    All of this, of course, means little if you can’t get in to drive it. Having soaked up the Bedfordshire sunshine for 20 minutes a support car is dispatched to recover us and the stricken Tesla. The central locking issue is eventually traced to a slightly unlikely culprit, in the form of the dictaphone I’d brought along to record my notes. Apparently this had interfered with the keyless entry fob lying next to it in the centre cupholder. We’ll let you decide whether that constitutes a teething issue or (as one of Tesla’s European representatives insisted) user error.

    But the fact is, the fundamentals of this car are superb. The Model S is reassuringly conventional when you want it to be and yet a genuine game-changer in other respects. It’s more than capable of competing with its internal combustion powered competitors in terms of comfort and performance, with anecdotal evidence suggesting there’s enough real-world range to get you from, say, London to Birmingham.

    Throw in ultra-low running costs, plus more pioneering technology than you can shake a stick at, and it also starts to look like good value, starting at £59,380 on the road. This not a car reserved for hair shirt environmentalists, nor is it a low-volume concept like Volkswagen’s plug-in hybrid XL1. The electric car, it seems, is very much a reality.

    2015 Model S 85

    Performance & Economy 2015 Tesla Model S 85
    Engine 85 kWh Battery
    Transmission Automatic gearbox, rear electric-powered motor, all-wheel drive
    Power (PS / bhp) 366 / 362
    Torque (Nm / lb.ft) 440 / 324
    0 – 60 mph (seconds) 5.4
    Top Speed (mph) 140
    CO2 Emissions (g/km) 0
    VED Band A
    Combined Economy (mpg) n/a (310 mile range)
    Price (OTR) £54,000


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