Road car news

Newey plans hypercar

Road-going Aston designed ‘to be faster than F1’  | by Andrew Frankel

The established barriers of all-round road car performance are set to be smashed by a new hypercar conceived by Aston Martin, Red Bull Racing and Adrian Newey. The standout claim for the AM-RB 001 is that it will be ‘faster around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit than a current F1 car’, which presumably means it will better the 1min 32.2sec pole lap by Lewis Hamilton in last year’s British Grand Prix. Were it to do that, it would likely need to circulate more than 30sec per lap faster than the fastest road-legal production car today. Were all parties to the arrangement not such serious players with track records that speak for themselves, you might dismiss it as fantasy.

The AM-RB 001 will go on sale in 2018, priced above £2 million, and fewer than 100 units will be built. It is likely to be seen as the spiritual successor to the McLaren F1, which was also the work of one of the most successful F1 designers of the era, Gordon Murray. It brought F1 technology to the road car arena in the form of its full carbon construction, and obliterated every record for road car performance. However, while Murray’s vision for the F1 was that it would be a road car from end to end and was only later persuaded by customers to build a competition version, the AM-RB 001 has been conceived primarily as a track car, albeit with sufficient comfort and practicality for road use.

The AM-RB 001 will be designed by Newey in conjunction with Aston Martin design director Marek Reichman with full use of the know-how of Red Bull Advanced Technologies. The engineering and production, however, will be handled by Aston Martin’s Special Operations department. Prodrive, in the form of Aston Martin Racing, is not involved.

Little is known of specific engineering details, though the engine will not be sourced from Aston Martin but ‘inspired’ by F1 design. A small-capacity hybrid turbo is therefore most likely. Its power would likely need to be in excess of 1000bhp to meet its performance claims, coupled with an aerodynamic miracle of the kind only Newey – without the need to conform to a rulebook – could pull off. It also seems certain the car will have to be able to transform itself from road to track specification, where requirements, particularly in terms of ride height and tyre specification, are vastly different.

Newey has wanted to design a supercar since the age of six and describes the project as “tremendously exciting”. Both Red Bull RB12s will carry Aston Martin wings throughout the Formula 1 season in anticipation.

Geneva power explosion 

From the very start, this year’s Geneva Motor Show was different. Hacks are now very accustomed to the massive pre-show VW bash. As it wheels out almost all the important stuff that will be on its stands the next day, this has better than usual importance because journos live in a world where a story is barely a story at all unless it appears on line the very instant it breaks. And you really have to be there, because while BMW might be able also to show you a Mini or a Rolls, Volkswagen can show you the next VW, Porsche, Lamborghini, Audi, Bentley, Seat, Skoda and Bugatti… But this year the event was a shadow of its former mighty self, to which a few select journos were invited, your correspondent not included. It was almost as if there was some reason VW’s top brass felt that lauding itself over a thousand or more media no longer suited its PR agenda…

Not that this in any way interrupted its product flow and, as ever, it was the high-end stuff that dominated in Geneva. Indeed I think you can say the show had essentially three stars, all of them capable of more than 200mph. One of them – Aston’s electrifying DB11 – was described on these pages last month – but the other two belonged to VW.

I guess we should start with the Bugatti Chiron (right), a car named after one of Molsheim’s most prolifically successful sons. This is the car that replaces the long-serving Veyron and while Bugatti bosses insist it’s a new car, it is in far more than looks alone a clear evolution of the Veyron.

The biggest change is the way it’s built, with a new carbon-sandwich construction using technology from and resulting in similar stiffness to Porsche and Audi Le Mans cars. But the engine remains an 8-litre quad-turbo 16-cylinder monster that, lest we forget, can trace its origins back to a normally aspirated VW Passat with half the capacity and cylinder count. It still directs its power using a Haldex four-wheel-drive system and a Ricardo-built seven-speed DSG transmission. And while it is longer, still wider and higher, its wheelbase is the same as the Veyron’s to within a millimetre.

What has changed is the power, because however outrageous 1001hp (986bhp) seemed when the Veyron came out in 2005, and despite the fact that none of the recent clutch of hybrid hypercars from Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren has eclipsed it, Bugatti still felt the need to move the game on. A lot. By reducing back pressure, increasing the turbo size, doubling the number of injectors and designing new exhausts, Bugatti was able to stroll right on by the 1200hp offered by the ultimate Super Sport version of the Veyron and park it at a nice, round 1500hp – or if you absolutely must, 1479 British brake horsepower.

As a figure to understand, it’s up there with time and distance in space. What I can tell you is that when I started in this business in 1988, no standard production car had ever been offered for sale with 500bhp. What’s more, while the Chiron remains a two-tonne car it still provides 750bhp for each one of them, a number of which a LaFerrari, P1 or 918 could only dream. In race car terms it’s rather easier to comprehend: it’s probably about where a 3-litre F1 was 50 years ago. That’s still enough get up and go for it to reach 124mph in less than 6.5sec, and back in 1988 you’d need at least a Porsche 911 to reach half that speed in so little time. Its top speed is capped at 261mph, which is such an absurdly random number I suspect it’s to address a specific issue that in real life could never occur, such as what would happen to the tyres if someone tried to do a whole tank at its genuine maximum speed, which I think would be somewhere near 285mph.

Anyway, Bugatti’s positioning as the creator of the world’s fastest, most luxurious and expensive hypercars has not been set in stone so much as sealed within an underground blastproof concrete bunker. The Chiron costs £1.9 million before taxes, just 500 will be built and a third are already sold. Rumour has it that one presumably quite valued customer has ordered four.

Porsche back-pedals

Porsche shouldn’t have set the show on fire with yet another version of a pre-existing car whose greatest distinguishing feature is another pedal in its footwell, but you can’t expect a normal reaction when a name like ‘911R’ comes back from the dead. This is only the second 911R Porsche has built: it was the name given to the first 911 specifically built for racing. The 911R appeared in 1967 and remains to date the lightest 911 ever created. Four prototypes (one with aluminium body, three in glass fibre) and just 20 steel production cars were built, the aluminium car winning the 1967 Marathon de la Route, an 84-hour race around the Nürburgring in which Vic Elford did four seven-hour night stints.

By stark contrast the entire point of the new 911R is not to be a race or even track car, but one optimised purely for road use. Which is why having dismissed manual ’boxes as no longer appropriate for Porsche’s GT-series 911s, the 911R has, indeed, six forward gears and a clutch pedal. More significantly, Porsche admits three-pedal transmission will become an option on the next generation of ‘normal’ 911 GT3s, as tacit an admission as you’ll find that its decision to go with paddles alone was a mistake. Porsche lovers should note, too, that the transmission has six gears, rather than the seven in every other 911, manual or not. The official line is that ‘six is enough’ for the car, the less publicly quoted truth being that, though improved, Porsche’s seven-speed manual cannot touch the shift quality of the six.

The gearbox is lighter, too, which with the carbon bonnet and magnesium roof of the GT3RS and also (unlike the RS) ceramic brakes as standard, drives the kerb weight down to just 1370kg and its dry weight to about 1275kg. Power comes from the same 4-litre, normally aspirated, 493bhp motor used by the GT3RS. Despite this, its top speed is 201mph, compared to the RS’s 193mph, because it has been relieved of the latter’s high-downforce, high-drag aerodynamics. 

Quite rightly Porsche is refusing to quote a lap time for the car, saying it’s not why the car has been designed. Instead we are told it has been tuned to provide maximum steering feel, progressive on-limit handling, the right kind of noise and just enough civility to make it viable for long trips.

So while the sports car world in general moves inexorably towards its forced-induction, double-clutch, four-wheel-drive future, Porsche’s Motorsport department is pedalling as fast as it can in the other direction. For those who love to drive, as opposed to those who merely love to be seen driving, this will be music to the ears.