Aston Martin DBR9A Car That Looks Fast, Is FastAston Martin has unveiled the car that will take the famous marque back to Le Mans next year. The DBR9 is based on the DB9 coupe and was developed in conjunction with motorsport specialists Prodrive, who are best known for engineering the Subaru in which Petter Solberg won last year's World Rally Championship. It has already been tested in the UK and will make its race debut in the 12 hours of Sebring next March.
Just two Works cars will be entered in that first race and 2005 will be treated as a test-and-development year. By 2006, though, Aston expects to be fielding 12 Works entrants, with a further 20 cars being made available to privateers. Some of the latter may end up in car collections, but Aston is anxious to ensure that as many as possible are actually raced.
Each car will cost 475,000 ($880,000) plus local tax, although an upgrade kit that includes such niceties as carbon brakes will cost an extra 50,000 ($92,000). This princely sum supplies no more than the basic car, so the real cost of a season of GT racing is likely to be somewhere in the region of $4M. It's therefore far from cheap, but at the car's launch, Prodrive boss David Richards was adamant that "no part will be fitted to a Works car that cannot be specified by a customer."
Although Prodrive will operate the cars, Aston's CEO, Dr. Ulrich Bez, was quick to assert that he and his board of directors will make the headline decisions. Aston's in-house designers were also heavily responsible for the aesthetic modifications that have seen the elegant, understated DB9 coupe transformed into one of the most dramatic-looking sports cars in living memory. Although the basic silhouette is familiar, only the roof structure and the taillamps are carried over from the road car and the bodywork is now constructed from carbon fiber.
Arguably the most obvious modification is the introduction of a vast rear wing, which, according to the regulations, cannot protrude above the roof line, nor extend beyond the rear bumper. Dramatic wheelarch extensions, hood scoops, and front and rear diffusers are similarly designed to finesse the outer reaches of the newly drafted GT1 sports-car regulations. The green-and-yellow paint scheme of the first car, which looks much paler in the metal than it does in these photographs, has deliberately been designed to hark back to the Aston racers of yesteryear, including the 1959 Le Mans winning DBR1.
Some of the attention to detail is exquisite. Note for example, the fabulously delicate wing mirrors, or the slither of extruded aluminum that supports the steering column and is embossed with the Aston Martin logo. Richards expressed his confidence in the old motor-racing adage that "a car that looks fast, is fast."
To take a peek at the technical specification is to share some of Richard's confidence. The DB9's ultra-stiff, bonded aluminum chassis structure makes an ideal starting point for a racing car and its integrity has been further enhanced by the introduction of tubular steel roll cage, which wraps its way around the cabin. The latter is actually bonded to the chassis to maximize its rigidity.
The DBR9's 5935cc V12 engine is developed directly from the road car's lump. The rules forbid the use of exotic materials and introduce air restrictors to limit the power to around 600 bhp. The minimal weight for this class of car is 1,100kg so the power-to-weight ratio should be around 545kg/ton, more than twice that of the road car. A six speed Xtrac sequential gearbox is mounted near the rear axle and Prodrive's boffins estimate it will accelerate from 0 to100 mph in 6.5 sec.
Drivers and teams for the car have yet to be announced, but such is the allure of the Aston badge that many "big names" have already been associated with the project. Bobby Rahal has already expressed an interest in running a team, while British F1 veterans and former Le Mans winners Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell have expressed a desire to establish a "dream team" for 2006. Richards claimed nine teams have already shown a serious interest in running a car.
Dr. Bez explained that Aston rejected the idea of building a prototype Le Mans racer because the company wanted the racer to bear a close relationship to the road car. And with Lamborghini, Corvette and Maserati already committed to the GT class, his sentiments seem well founded. With a World GT Championship also on the horizon, possibly as early as 2006, we could be about to witness the start of another golden age for the formula that Richards describes as "the purest form of racing."
Track TimeA look at the best tracks in the worldCircuit Paul Ricard High Tech Test TrackThe town of Signes, located in the Provence area of southern France, is home to the Circuit Paul Ricard. Constructed in 1969 and funded entirely by the Ricard family (known for its aperitif), the circuit became a staple on the F1 calendar for the French Grand Prix until 1991. The circuit remains a favorite for teams and manufacturers alike. Porsche, in particular, has used the location (also known as Le Castellet), to develop nearly all of its race cars, from the RSR to the GT-1.
The Ricard family sold the entire facility to Bernie Ecclestone in 1999, who immediately enlisted the services of Philippe Gurdjian to turn the outmoded circuit into a state-of-the-art test track. To say Gurdjian achieved that goal would be an understatement. Today's Circuit Paul Ricard is equipped with perhaps the most sophisticated data technology of any track in the world. There are more than 40 possible setups available to help automotive engineers map out exactly what they are looking for.
When fully utilized, the available road course totals 3.6 miles and the Grand Prix circuit is 2.3 miles. Wet-weather testing is a major attraction for many teams. The circuit can duplicate any condition, ranging from a light sprinkle to a flash flood. Of course, what Paul Ricard is really all about is speed. Officially the circuit is titled Circuit Paul Ricard HTTT. The letters stand for High Tech Test Track, and for good reason. Few places in the world are available to provide the feedback and data Paul Ricard can provide. In preparing for a race like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the importance of having a facility available that measures a car in so many ways cannot be underestimated.
Allan McNish has literally thousands of hours pounding around the Circuit Paul Ricard. From Formula One to Porsche to Audi to the forming of the Toyota F1 project, McNish has the experience and is superbly qualified to give a description of what it is like getting around the track at speed.
Allan McNish on Today's CircuitThe newly developed Paul Ricard Test Track is very much based on the 5.8 GP circuit of old, but is now on the cutting edge of European circuits in terms of facilities and safety. The pit complex has electronic-card security on each garage door, Internet access, a hospitality/meeting room, a viewing area, bathrooms and showers, making working conditions that much easier.
The circuit, the bit I am interested in, has the same basic layout but with some alternative options-I think about 21 in total. These combinations replicate the car requirements needed on other tracks, such as the last chicane in Montreal at the Circuit Gilles Villenueve and an undulating S bend for Monaco's contours. It has massive run-off areas with increasing levels of anti-skid surfaces the closer you get to the barriers to slow spinning cars down. It has not one gravel trap or any grass-all run-off areas are tarmac. These circuit characteristics can be achieved because this a test track only. As there are no races held here, there's no need for any spectator considerations in the layout.
Finding the limits is done in a different way here when compared to most other circuits, especially circuits like Road Atlanta or Sears Point in the USA. Because of the large, safety run-off tarmac areas and low curbs, Ricard allows you to instantly push beyond the limit, attacking 110%. If it is too much or you make a mistake, you can just run wide and come back on the track without penalty. You basically go over the limit and then come back to find out where it is exactly. On normal circuits there is a big curb, grass and a very solid and unforgiving barrier at the corner exits, which punish any overexuberance or mistakes without exception. On tracks such as these, I build up from 90% to 100% during a few laps.
Once you are up to speed, the Ricard circuit flows quite well; the corners appreciate you attacking them but there are some that need a gentle touch because of negative or varying track cambers. It still has the very fast Le Beausset corner, a long, double-apex right-hander that has a very open initial phase and then tightens on exit. It also has a little bump on the second apex just as the car goes through a compression for a bit of fun. You approach the fast Le Beausset flat in fifth, brake immediately as you turn in, using the positive camber to turn the car as you slow down to third gear. As the corner tightens you need to use the brake to help pivot the car to get rid of the increasing understeer as the left front starts to give up. However, at the same time you pick up the throttle (two-pedal car) to maintain momentum before squeezing on the gas on exit. That is a cool corner and one I am never actually sure I have mastered.
The Circuit Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track is unique today, but with new circuits springing up throughout the world in emerging countries, tomorrow it will most likely be the norm. Although the circuit is no longer being used for Grand Prix racing, it is open to the public and is worth the trip, if just to marvel at how far motorsports have come in the last few years. And, if for no other reason, to appreciate an electronic testbed nestled in one of the most beautiful areas of France.
Circuit Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track2760 Route des Hauts du Camp83330 Le Beausset, FrancePhone: 33-(0)494/983-666Fax: 33-(0)494/983-998www.circuitpaulricard.com
VIEWEDRead, Watched, Played"BMW Buyer's Guide"by Fred LarimerSoftbound, $24.95Published by MBI Publishing Company (800) 826-6600; www.motorbooks.com
While not touted as such, Fred Larimer's "BMW Buyer's Guide" is essentially an update/enhancement of the "Illustrated BMW Buyer's Guide" first and second editions published by MBI and written by Ken Gross. All three books were and are the quintessential BMW reference guides for Bimmerheads everywhere, as well as certain BMW niche writers. They are quite useful for anyone wishing to learn more about BMW models throughout the years, although the brunt of the information deals with models from the mid-1960s on.
The book looks at each body type in a chapter-by-chapter format, beginning with the Type 114 and concluding with the X5, followed by a chapter on "Rare and Unusual BMWs 1950s-80s."
One omission glares large: Larimer fails to list differential gear ratios on the specifications pages. This nagged me to the point where I penciled in the gear ratios on each model's specification page. But then, one person's attention to detail is another's OCD.
While the Garage Watch pages provide useful information regarding the problem areas of each model, some of it is opinion, and the section could have been far more useful if more technical information had been supplied.
Other discrepancies, such as referring to the E34 525i as being equipped with a Getrag Type C gearbox, are most likely due to inaccuracies in BMW factory press information-go ahead, ask me how I know! For the record, the M20-powered 525i has a Getrag 260 five-speed overdrive, whereas the M50-powered 525i has a ZF S5d 250G five-speed with 1:1 fifth gear.
While we're picking nits, the book would have been far more valuable as a BMW owner's resource if BMW part numbers and certain money-saving tricks and problem-solving parts alternatives had been incorporated. Still, when he tells you to check something carefully or be wary of a certain system, the advice is spot-on.
This book represents a significant body of work, and Larimer's first effort. It is worth every penny of the price, and I fully expect the second printing or edition will address whatever discrepancies exist in the first. Overall, "The BMW Buyer's Guide" continues to be the single best reference resource for basic information on each modern BMW model. Larimer has augmented the basic information with more, and filled many gaps in Gross's work. I use mine all the time, and I keep the old editions in the passenger side door pockets of my Bimmers. This way my passenger can read about BMWs on road trips when she tires of listening to me talk-about BMWs.-Mike Miller
"Porsche 911 (964),Enthusiast's Companion: Carrera 2 Carrera 4 and Turbo 1989-1994"by Adrian StreatherSoftbound, $69.95Published by Bentley Publishers (800) 423-4595www.bentleypublishers.com
At first glance, the sheer size of Adrian Streather's leviathan suggests the author has compiled the definitive account of the renowned Porsche 911 and all its renderings. Alas, "Porsche 911, Enthusiast's Companion"covers only one model, the 964, produced from 1989-1994. But cover it, it does.
Subtitled "Auftragsnummer 964" (Deutsche for "project number 964"), the book gives an excellent overview of the model, including a variety of lesser-known derivatives. It then moves on to the particulars, from potential purchase and care to performance enhancements and the racing of this distinctive 911.
Residing in Switzerland, Streather added a rarely discussed topic-proper winter storage. From removal of the battery to using an old blanket under the car as a moisture barrier, this section is invaluable to any Porsche owner living in a wet and chilly climate zone.
Following chapters give information about the 964's engine and engine management systems, normally aspirated versus Turbo, maintenance aspects and performance expectations. The author discusses the characteristics of the 964 Carrera 4's awd system. Through exploded drawings and photographs, Streather weathers the inner workings of the mystery Tiptronic transmission. Not an easy feat.
Beyond the chapters describing the car's components, there is a troubleshooting segment covering a variety of basic problems. These cars, however, are such complicated creatures; no book can be expected to hold the answer to every failure. Streather, at least, presents enough on potential troubles that a 964 owner can communicate his sorrows to his professional Porsche mechanic.
If the book shines in any particular place it is with the last chapters"Performance" and "On the Racetrack." Throughout these pages it is clear Streather is not simply regurgitating stats and data, but actually submitting trial and error information from club racers and 964 enthusiasts. Here we learn of high-speed tricks proven to be valuable and a number that fall short of expectations.
While one assumes a book of this size must be incredibly complete, this 600-plus page tome is not packed with as much detailed information as expected. Much of the material is taken from factory manuals. This isn't particularly bad as most workshop books could benefit from Streather's additional notes, warnings and highlights.
The book relies heavily on photos. Sadly, they are not very good photographs and the publisher decreed a vast majority of them had to be exactly the same size and reproduced in dreary gray-tones. Still, if all the publications with 911 in their title came as close to complete as Adrian Streather's "Porsche 911," I could certainly do without the innumerable volumes on the subject that fill my cubbyhole office.
If you are a 911 fanatic, this book is a good addition to your bookshelf. If you own, or plan to own a 964, then "Porsche 911" is a must-have. I can only hope Mr. Streather has gotten the 964 out of his system and is focusing his energies on another 911 model. If he has, I will be the first to clear another spot on my bookshelf.-Frank Macomber
Life At The LimitThe Most Vicious Of CirclesNews has reached my desk that the first Bugatti Veyron will finally be delivered in "mid '05." The monstrous hypercar, which is already at least 2 years late, has become such an embarrassment to the VAG cause that even company insiders now greet the latest proclamations with a grin and an enigmatic shrug. One suspects that even if it proves to be the greatest feat of engineering since the lunar landing, history will still come to regard the Veyron as a badly conceived white elephant.
The project has been dogged from day one by PR waffle. In order to justify its mighty pricetag, the world's muttering rotters were told that it would boast 1,000 bhp and a 250-mph top speed. This was no more than glorified bar-speak, but its effect was to overcomplicate an already ambitious project. It wasn't long before rumors about cooling problems began to circulate and the company's fierce denials were belied by the introduction of new ducts behind the front wheels. One CEO later, the company may yet be forced to launch the car with readjusted targets.
The Veyron debacle is not just bad news for the once-hallowed Bugatti name, it also raises serious questions about the direction and motivations of contemporary manufacturers. In recent years, the apparently endless quest for headline grabbing outputs has run counter to the interests of enthusiasts.
Take the Volkswagen Golf, for example. The 1976 genre-defining original was 19.7 in. shorter and 1,100 lb lighter than the new model. It was therefore only 1.1 sec. slower from 0 to 60 mph, despite giving away 88 bhp to the new model. And because it's lighter and smaller, it's still more agile than its great-great-grandson.
Some of this increase in girth is due to (welcome) improvements in safety provisions and consumer demands for more space and toys, but blame must also be placed on the manufacturers. In almost every instance, adding power means adding weight, which means adding yet more power in the future. We end up in the most vicious circle that serves no one bar the OPEC countries who feed these machines.
To make matters worse, the dramatic increase in power has also led to a greater reliance on electronic gizmos. Conventional wisdom dictates that Joe Average is incapable of handling more than 150 bhp, so Europe's performance cars are now saddled with traction and stability programs, adding yet greater complexity and undermining driver enjoyment. A measured right foot used to be a perquisite of successful progress-now all you need is a decent ECU.
Audi has traditionally been one of the worst perpetrators. In recent years, the company has been publicly committed to developing RS models with more power than the equivalent car from BMW M Power. This commitment dictated that if the new M5 has 500 bhp, then the next RS6 must have at least 501 bhp. For a company that is still playing brand catch-up, it was an understandable policy, but there are signs that it is about to be abandoned.
At this year's Paris motor show, I fell into discussion with Stephan Reil, who's in charge of product development at Quattro Gmbh, Audi's equivalent of M Power. Reil is masterminding the next generation of RS models and his thoughts on the power struggle between Audi, Mercedes (AMG) and BMW (M Power) were fascinating.
"Continuing to increase the power outputs is not the right way forward," he said. "With more power you increase the weight and we think that is silly. If things continue as they are, you'll end up with a 1,000-bhp A4." Blunt and engaging, Reil was happy to take a sideswipe at some of his rivals. "With a rear-wheel-drive car, all you succeed in doing is lighting up the yellow ASR [traction control] sign," he explained, making a thinly veiled criticism of AMG, which now markets a 603-bhp limousine.
The Quattro chief was not only trying to make a case for the benefits of four-wheel drive; he was also urging a change of focus. According to Reil, the Quattro Gmbh brand will "continue to support the exclusive and sporty image of Audi by developing cars that combine high-power outputs with outstanding driving dynamics and road handling. You have to change the emphasis to suspension and tires," he said.
It's an eminently sensible strategy that applies equally to independent tuners, but Reil will need to convince more than his Ingolstadt bosses. If the strategy is to work, then there must also be a change in attitudes among both the press and the buying public. Lightweight and bump-absorption characteristics needs to become sexy again.
Reil will have an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of this change of focus when the new RS4 is introduced later this year (2005). It should make its debut at roughly the same time as VW-owned Bugatti finally delivers its first production car. Perhaps we'll end 2005 talking about their wonderful chassis dynamics, rather than headlining the RS4's 420 bhp or the fact that the Veyron doesn't quite have 1,000 bhp. But somehow I doubt it.
CorrectionIn the "E30 M3SIGFest" article in our December 2004 issue (page 14), we inadvertently listed an old area code for S14 guru Don Field's ////MrMCar Shop. The correct phone number for the Farmingdale, N.J.-located facility is (732) 919-2299. european car regrets the error.