Ferrari F458 GT in ExtremeSpeed Motorsports livery


Scott Sharp’s ExtremeSpeed Motorsports team was the first outfit to show off the all-new Ferrari F458 GT on the track back in January, but at that time it was only seen in basic black. Afterwards ESM took a pass on the American Le Mans Series winter test at Sebring while it prepared its new cars for the team’s second season of competition. The cars have now been revealed in a fresh variation of the usual black and green livery of the Patron distillery that looks stunning on the voluptuous Italian bodywork.

Nobody has any idea how fast the 458 GT will be, but ExtremeSpeed Motorsports will look damn good doing it. Only one 458 GT has been seen in public in the hands of the Risi team at Sebring. That car consistently ran mid-pack during the test, closing to within half a second of the leading Corvettes by the end of the fourth and final test session. We only have a few more days to wait until official practice opens for the 12 Hours of Sebring and all of our questions are answered.

Ferrari shows “High Emotion-Low Emissions” and novel 4-wheel torque vectoring in Geneva


At last week’s Geneva Motor Show, Ferrari announced that its two newest cars, the 458 Italia and the FF shooting brake, would be equipped with High Emotion Low Emissions (HELE) technology. Like every other automaker doing business in Europe, Ferrari will have to address pending CO2 emissions limits. Even though its fleet will be averaged with the much more efficient mainstream Fiat lineup, Ferrari still needs to slash its emissions.

To that end Ferrari is following a similar path to Porsche and adding automatic stop-start capability to both models, at least for Europe.  Unlike the current EPA tests, the European test cycle actually includes full stops and starts, thus showing the benefit of stop-start with a 15 percent reduction in CO2 emissions. The FF is rated at 360 g/km for CO2 while the 458 is down to a “mere” 275 g/km.

Of course, this technology only provides a benefit in urban driving. Take one of these Ferraris out on the open road and you can easily consume almost as much fuel as ever, especially in the 660 horsepower FF.

That’s not to say there aren’t any improvements elsewhere in the FF. Like the 458 and California, the 6.3-liter V12 is now equipped with direct fuel injection for both a power and efficiency boost. The charge cooling effect of spraying the fuel directly into the combustion chamber allows the FF’s engine to run reliably with a 12.3:1 compression ratio. The FF is also the first V12 Ferrari equipped with a dual clutch gearbox for very fast automatic shifts without the losses inherent in a torque converter automatic.

Ferrari has also concocted a rather novel four wheel drive system for the FF that is claimed to weigh only half as much as a typical system. Rather than a complex transfer case to split the torque between the front and rear axles, the 4RM system actually consists of two independent gearboxes. The 7-speed DCT transaxle is mounted at the rear axle to balance the mass.

A second two-speed gearbox hangs off the front end of the crankshaft exclusively to send up to 20 percent of the engine torque to the front wheels. The gearing of the two ratios spans the range of the four lower gears in the 7-speed. At higher speeds, the reduced mechanical advantage means that all of the torque can go to the rear wheels with ease.

Since the introduction of Acura’s Super Handling-All Wheel Drive several years back a number of automakers have incorporated torque vectoring to actively distribute the propulsive effort for better handling.  All of those systems only worked on the rear axles, typically sending more torque to the outside rear wheel, thus increasing the yaw moment and helping to counter understeer.  Another unique element of the 4RM system is a pair of electronically controlled multi-plate clutch units on the front gearbox which enables torque vectoring for all four wheels. All told, 4RM only adds 90 pounds to the FF which still leaves it at rather chunky 4,144 pounds.

Ferrari hasn’t yet given any indication when the HELE package will be offered on US market models but we wouldn’t be surprised if it happens sooner rather than later.


2011 Nissan Leaf outsold by Ferrari, Maserati and Bentley


2011 was supposed to be the year of the electric car. The Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf both went on sale in late 2010, but based on two months of sales, it ain’t anything worth getting excited about yet.

602 Chevrolet Volts were delivered by the end of February 2011. January sales, at 321 vehicles, were stronger than February’s 281 units. There aren’t as many days in February, of course, but there’s more to the Volt sales story than slackening demand. In fact there is no evidence of sales going flaccid as dealers continue to gouge well over the $41,000 sticker price. Even Consumer Reports, the magazine that buys all the cars they test had to pay $5,000 over sticker for its Volt.

In fact, General Motors built 624 Volts in February. Where are they? Many are apparently going to dealers as demo units which started to arrive last month for the first time.  Several hundred Volts are being kept in stock in the launch markets so that potential customers can actually drive the cars before signing their loan or lease papers.  In total, the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant has cranked out 2,423 Volts since production started in earnest sometime last year. Several hundred of those are part of GM’s captured test fleet being driven by GM employees to gather more real world data before ramping up production further for retail customers. Just shy of 1,000 had gone to customers by the end of February with the rest being demos, in transit or inventory. At the current pace, Chevrolet will have delivered more Volts to customers sometime in April than Tesla has delivered since it began production of the Roadster in 2008.

What of Nissan and its vaunted Leaf?  Nissan is not being particularly clear what the issue is, but February sales dropped to just 67 units from 87 in January with no indications that dealers are getting demo units from the factory.  Apparently, there are supplying issues and also some reports that a number of people that made $99 reservations are walking away when the time comes to firm up their orders.  Whatever the case, only 154 Leafs had found American homes by February 28.

Let’s take a look at some other brands with comparable sales numbers.  In the first two months, such mainstream environmentally friendly and affordable brands as Maserati, Ferrari and Bentley have delivered 273, 262 and 183 units respectively. It doesn’t look like an auspicious start for the Leaf, but once the kinks are taken out of the supply hose, electric Datsuns will start flowing more freely.

Peugeot unveils 908 Hybrid4 Le Mans racer at Geneva


After revealing its completely redesigned 2011 908 Le Mans Prototype last month, Peugeot announced a hybrid version today at the Geneva Motor Show.  The Peugeot 908 Hybrid4 adds a hybrid component to the 3.7-liter diesel V8. Peugeot has been fiddling with this since late 2008, but the car that debuted at the Geneva Motor Show may actually see competition.

While Peugeot is using the same Hybrid4 branding as its production hybrids like the upcoming 3008 crossover, the system is completely different.  The road-going hybrids use a through the road configuration with the conventional powertrain driving the front wheels and an electric motor powering the rear axle.  Last year’s Porsche 911 GT3 hybrid (and the newer 918 RSR) use a similar setup with the electric drive on the front axle and engine on the rear.

The 908 Hybrid4 sends both the diesel and electric power to the rear wheels. The 60 kW motor/generator captures kinetic energy under braking and stores it in a lithium ion battery. The 0.139 kWh of stored energy is automatically released and blended with the engine power when accelerating with no push-to-pass button required.  The powertrain can also drive the 908 in pure electric mode along the pit-lane where speeds are limited.

Right now Peugeot hasn’t committed to racing the 908 Hybrid4. They’re French, remember. It will be track tested later this month alongside the conventional diesel 908. If everything goes well, Peugeot will bring the hybrid to the official Le Mans test day on April 24. What happens beyond that will depend on how both cars run against the new Audis and Aston Martins.  Because overall victory is Peugeot’s top priority, the conventional car will get most of the effort in order to make sure it is reliable and fast.  If the team is confident enough in the base car, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the hybrid run as a third (or fourth) entry.

Aston Martin AMR-One Le Mans Prototype flips its lid


Aston Martin’s new 2011 Le Mans Prototype flips the script on its predecessor. The LMP1 car fielded by Aston Martin Racing for the last two years was a modified Lola coupe powered by a competition version of the 6.0-liter V12 that propels most Aston road cars. Despite being the fastest non-diesel P1 of the past two seasons, it couldn’t compete with the Audi R15 and Peugeot 908.

While Audi has switched to a closed cockpit for its new R18, the AMR-One does away with its roof to make driver changes quicker. The aerodynamic hit is balanced by speed in the pits. The carbon-fiber chassis of the AMR-One has been developed in-house by Aston Martin rather than use off-the-shelf Lola parts. Like the new Audi and Peugeot racers, Aston Martin has opted for 18-inch wheels all around which is expected to provide better balance. Despite the rear-mid-engine layout and the now-mandatory shark fin on the back, the flat sides of the AMR-One mean that it most closely resembles the front-engine Panoz LMP1 Roadster of 1999.

2011 P1 rules  limit non-diesel normally aspirated engines to 3.4-liters  and boosted engines to 2.0-liters.  Aston engineers have created a brand-new 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-six-cylinder that cranks out an estimated 540 horsepower. Power is fed to the rear wheels via an Xtrac six-speed semi-automatic gearbox with a pneumatic shift mechanism.

Aston Martin is planning to build six examples of the AMR-One but they won’t be ready to race at the ALMS/Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season opener at Sebring this month. Aston hasn’t said if they will run a Lola at Sebring although the Cytosport team will be campaigning one of the Lolas in Florida and throughout the rest of the year. Aston does plan to run a car in the rest of the ILMC races and two cars at Le Mans in June.

Rolls-Royce 102EX in Geneva is electrified by Lotus


Rolls-Royce unwrapped its latest experimental concept this week at the Geneva Motor Show and rather than relying on its BMW colleagues in Munich, the team from Goodwood enlisted Lotus Engineering to electrify the massive Phantom limo.

The boffins at Hethel yanked the standard 453 hp 6.75-liter V12 engine and all of the associated drive and fuel system hardware and replaced it with a tailpipe-free battery electric system.  A pair of electric motors are mounted at the rear axle with a combined output of 290 kilowatts (389 horsepower) and 590 pound-feet of torque. The power electronics package sits on top of the drive unit, all of which goes where the gas tank normally resides.

The Phantom’s layout with a hood just slightly shorter than a typical aircraft carrier actually makes it ideal for packaging a battery when the V12 is absent. Thus the massive engine bay accommodates a 71 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery weighing in at a less than svelte 1411 pounds. This is believed to be the largest battery ever installed in an electric passenger car.

The pack is comprised of 96 cells arranged in five modules that roughly conform to the shape of the original engine and transmission. Although Rolls-Royce and Lotus have not announced who the cell supplier is, the cathode chemistry is claimed to be Lithium-Nickel-Cobalt-Manganese-Oxide which is said to have a very high energy density. The cells are most likely provided by SB LiMotive, the Samsung-Bosch joint venture that is also supplying the batteries for the BMW i3 EV and i8 PHEV.

Lotus has fitted a trio of 3 kW charging units for the battery which can be used for either single-phase 220 volt charging or three-phase 440 volt charging. The downside of such a huge battery is that no matter what kind of charging you do, the process will take a while. At 220V, it will take 20 hours to fully charge, while a three-phase charge can do the job in a mere eight hours.

Since the 102EX is an experimental vehicle, it has also been equipped with a fourth charging unit that is set up for inductive charging. This 7 kW charger requires no plug, but features a receiver pad on the bottom of the car. When the Phantom is parked over a transmitter pad, it can charge even over the six inch air gap with a claimed efficiency of 90 percent. Since inductive charging typically requires very close proximity we’d be shocked (no pun intended) if this system can actually exhibit that degree of efficiency over such a large span but hopefully Lotus and Rolls-Royce are right on this one.

With such a large battery, Rolls-Royce claims the Phantom has a range of about 120 miles but its not clear what the conditions are for that claim. Given the gentle way that Phantoms are typically driven their chauffeurs, 120 miles may not be a totally outlandish claim, at least in temperate climates. Heating or cooling the voluminous cabin of a Phantom could slash that range pretty dramatically.

For the next year, Rolls-Royce will be evaluating the electric Phantom, but we would not be at all surprised to see it offered as a factory option within a couple of years. The seamless power delivery of an electric drive system is ideally suited to such a vehicle with the $325,000+ starting price of a Phantom, the cost of even a 71 kWh battery should be fairly trivial to manage.


Volkswagen Bulli concept debuts in Geneva

Here’s a bad idea, a new Volkswagen Microbus that the company is calling the Bulli Concept. Oh, minivans are fine, and so is saying “we invented the Minivan,” but retro is outré, unless it’s exceptionally well done. This latest concept from Volkswagen, sucking up floor space at Geneva, is not well done, but a least it’s rare, so we don’t have to suffer from seeing this thing on the roads. It’s also not that new, when you consider that the “inspiration” for the Bulli is a ten-year-old concept that was snuffed out. That concept didn’t look appreciably different at first glance from the significantly smaller Bulli, which has more Scion xB or Kia Soul in its styling than it does Transporter.

Volkswagen is hoping that this concept will spark a new and beloved product line to complement the Caddy, Touran, Sharan and Caravelle. In North America, an in-house van would replace the Routan Volkswagen currently sells, which is a Dodge Grand Caravan with an English-to-German dictionary. If that’s what VW wants, then it shouldn’t even bother with this thing and just import one of its pre-existing people moving products.

There is an electric drivetrain that Volkswagen claims can go for up to 186.4 miles on a battery charge. The battery is lithium-ion, and VW envisions charging infrastructure along the lines of an “electric refuelling stations” that can replenish the battery’s energy in under an hour. Using the power is an electric motor noteable for its 199 lb-ft of torque and acceptably quick performance like 0-60 in 11.5 seconds. That’d be scorching performance for the original Bus. But wait, there’s more! Volkswagen says it can re-jigger the Bulli’s powertrain to incorporate a gasoline or diesel engine if that’s the propulsion system flavor of the month, too. It’s not that hard to promise this stuff when you’re selling vaporware, so yeeha.

Volkswagen’s press release goes on for paragraph upon paragraph about the styling of this thing, which means one thing. It’s crap. You don’t need to read it, just look at the pictures. Hey, they designed in an iPad dock, great! All those aging boomers that weren’t stupid enough to go spend three days in the mud at Woodstock can now try again to be cool with a large-print iPod. Wonderful. The only reason this thing exists is because Ferdinand Piech wants it.

Stewart and Hamilton to swap seats for a day

Tony Stewart

Lewis Hamilton

NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton are going to swap race cars later this year for an exhibition at Watkins Glen, barring scheduling conflicts.  The swap comes courtesy of Mobil One, a mutual sponsor for the drivers.  “Smoke” will pilot Hamilton’s 2010 McLaren, while “The Billion Dollar Man” will drive the number 14 Office Depot Chevrolet Impala.

Recall that Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya swapped rides back in 2003, causing JPM to join the dark side in 2006.

Maybe, Hamilton will enjoy hooning around in the stock car so much that he’ll stick around and join fellow open-wheeled-racers Juan Pablo Montoya and Danica Patrick.

Let’s hope not.

[Source: ESPN]

Lotus and Mansory to announce partnership at Geneva Motor Show

The end may truly be nigh for Lotus. The dimunitive roadster pictured above is likely the last “true” Lotus. New Group Lotus CEO Danny Bahar has the troops in Hethel working away on a lineup of at least five high-end sports cars and GTs that will start rolling out in 2012. Bahar wants a cross between Ferrari and Porsche instead of purist kit cars, and at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, which starts March 1st, Lotus and Mansory will announce a partnership.  While the five concepts that Lotus showed last fall are certainly striking, what they most certainly are not are Lotuses – at least not as envisioned by founder Colin Chapman. Having the Swiss twits add their “tuner” touch is certainly a song from a different hymnal.

The Elise has remained remarkably true to Chapman’s vision through its 15-year run. Despite having to deal with modern crash and emissions regulations, the Elise and its hard-top counterpart the Exige were the cars that Chapman would be building were he alive today. The success of the Elise and its various derivatives undoubtedly saved Lotus from extinction following the debacles that were the Elan and then the aborted M200.

“Add lightness and simplicate” may or may not have ever been uttered by Chapman, and the man was certainly not averse to technology. There was a turbine powered all-wheel-drive car that nearly won at Indy in 1968 and he created the ground-effects race car starting with the 1977 Lotus 78. But his most successful creations were always the fundamentally correct examples like the 7 and the original Elan.

The new lineup is larger, heavier, more luxurious and nothing like the Elise we know and love today. The Club Racer that will debut in Geneva is a parting shot at what was Lotus. The engineers stripped it down even further by deleting noise insulation – who knew the Elise ever had noise insulation? – and substituting a lightweight battery, thus cutting the already svelte mass by another 24 kg. This is the way it should be done at Hethel and it doesn’t look like it will ever happen again.

Instead, alongside the Club Racer, Lotus will also announce the a new partnership with Mansory. For those that don’t recall, Mansory is the outfit behind some of the most godawful customizations of recent years, replete with big wheels, gawdy paint schemes and wildly overwrought body kits. We’ll spare you the gory details but the future is not bright for Lotus if this is the direction they are taking. With a lineup that is expanding far too rapidly and “design help” from an outfit with absolutely no sense of where to stop, I fear that Lotus may soon be buried for good.  Don’t look Colin, they know not what they do.

Thankfully there are enough Elises and Exiges on the road that we will have something to remember the company by for some time to come.

2011 Daytona 500 Shocker – The Next Generation Rises

One of the most notable NASCAR showdowns in the last decade, the 2011 Daytona 500 had many on the edge of their seat.  The 1-on-1 drafting technique on the freshly paved surface (at a cost of $20M) made for a very action-packed racing Sunday.

This was the ten-year anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death at this very race.  The crowd observed a lap of silence during lap 3  in remembrance of the tragedy.  After a relatively quiet first few laps, the action didn’t stop. Fans and experts alike had favorited the usual suspects in taking the checkered flag in the February 20, 2011 duel: ’04 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr.; ’06 winner, Jimmie Johnson; even 3-time winner, Jeff Gordon were all names that everyone was looking to be sitting in the winner’s circle after the checkered flag. That’s not how it turned out, as the veterans dropped out one by one, culminating with Dale Earnhardt Jr’s crash with 4 laps to go.

The lead changed hands a record 74 times, and after all those laps, it came down to .118 seconds between winner and second place. That winner was newcomer Trevor Bayne, who’s now suddenly a star. In addition to taking the checkered flag, Bayne set a couple other records. He’s the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500, just 20 years old.  Not including the inaugural race in 1959, Bayne is also the first driver to win his first attempt at the race.

Not a bad birthday weekend for Trevor Bayne, who turned 20 the day before the race.

If the Daytona 500 is any indication, the 2011 chase for the cup will certainly be exciting; but most of all, anyone’s for the taking.