The Ram's Eye - A Driver's Blog: August 2016


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!