Sunday, December 28, 2014

Project Dragon (Drakan Spyder) Update #8: CFD, Tooling & More

We've kicked off production of Project Dragon - now officially named Drakan Spyder.  For 2015 we are accepting only 10 orders - 5 of which are sold as of Dec 15, 2014.  This Blog update will discuss the additional CFD work, body tooling, light housing concepts and interior switch details.  We have entered our commercialization phase so things are getting even more exciting!

Aerodynamic Characteristics: 
We asked Dennis Palatov to conduct a Computational Fluid Dynamics analysis on our completed Spyder body to determine lift/downforce, drag and radiator cooling flow.  Solidworks Flow Simulation 2012 was used using the solid models supplied by our partners Zukun.  The simulations were run with and without wings.  Test conditions were set at 100mph at sea level with a moving ground plane and rotating surface of the tires.  The Palatov D2 has undergone both simulation and observation so we have a good 'control' for comparison.
Test results:  Without wings the car creates about 138lbf of total lift and 295lbf of total drag.  This is very similar to the D2 numbers.  Radiator cooling flow also appears to behave similar to the D2.  This is especially critical as we want to ensure adequate cooling exists in hot conditions as we previously tested.  With wings the Spyder achieves 15lbf of downforce in the low rear wing position and with the rear wing raised 5" total downforce goes up to 122lbf.  Total drag is 307lbf (low) and 322 lbf (high), respectively.  The windshield clearly causes some reduction in overall effectiveness of the rear wing.  We'll eventually offer a race version of the car that would lack the windshield.    

Conclusion:  This analysis suggests that the Drakan Spyder design has benign aero characteristics in the base (no wings) configuration.  With wings, modest downforce can be achieved with enhanced high speed stability.  The drag numbers also suggests that top speed may be limited to ~155mph.  We think we may be able to achieve both downforce and reduce drag if we consider using a dual element rear wing as we had designed for the Atom2.  See it: HERE.  Because 155mph is not really enough...;^)

Bodywork: Lancair

We visited our body supplier Lancair in early Dec. to kick off the bodywork tooling.  Lancair are a composites manufacturer who specializes in carbon fiber airplanes.  They are located in beautiful Bend, OR.

We spent the day working with them to finalize our schedule.  Our plan suggests the first body will be ready in March for test fitment.  The first plugs are underway (as of this writing) and expected to be done in Jan2015.  The engine lid is shown below.

engine lid
Lancair produce their airplanes with prepreg carbonfiber.  They also use a product called e-glass that is a prepreg fiberglass that is strong and light.  We will use this material on the majority of our body.  There may be a couple applications like our windshield base that will be done in carbon.

Interior switch panel: Concepts

Our test mule had rudimentary switches that we used to run our car on the track.  Placement of the switches has been scrutinized and we've landed on a basic layout that we feel should work for the Drakan.  The switches will be very simple with back lighting.  
This switch panel will sit to the right of the steering wheel with the 'sector111' logo centered over the gear shifter.  All the switches are easily within reach of the driver.  Ergonomic considerations can be as challenging as performance targets when designing a car.  We've spent an inordinate amount of time sweating the details.  The final panel will be prototyped in January.  

We have spec'd in Hella DOT legal lights for all areas of the car.  LED lights have been used in all instances except the headlights which are Bi-Xenon.  We have developed a housing concept that took inspiration from tactical tools like flashlights, gun scopes, etc.  

We are getting these prototyped as well to see how they look and work.  Ultimately our goal is create lights that can be removed fairly easily for track use.  Overall, I'm very happy with our design and can't wait to get them.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Track Testing the Alfa Romeo 4C

We spent a couple of days at Spring Mountain running the new Alfa Romeo 4C. It is a fun car that offers real performance for a broad range of drivers.  These cars are designed to work in all kinds of weather conditions so naturally some weaknesses are found on the track.  Overall it is a fun car and I think that Alfa have hit a homerun.  In a nutshell: Good Handling, Good Brakes and Excellent Acceleration!

Two different tracks were run the 2.1 East and the 2.9 mile Stewart A.  We ran the 2.1 with the bowl in the morning and then as shown above in the afternoon.  The 2.9 mile course is a fast course - maybe not the best for this car but it did well.

Check out the video:

I ran the car in Dynamic Mode for two sessions and then switched to Race Mode for the remainder of the testing - though I did forget on one session.  I wish it could be left on permanently!  Even a beginner will be able to drive this car well as it has approachable performance and electronic aids that will step in.  When I turned on Race Mode, traction control was disabled.  The car remained very benign at the limit and easy to control.  I have experience driving Atoms, Monos and our new Drakan Spyder so this car was a sweetheart in comparison.

We had two clients out having fun with us, one in a highly modified FRS and the other in his MP4-12C.  The FRS was quick with uprated everything so Jack was able to give me some heat under braking (he car was better) and with cornering speed.  Straight acceleration was no comparison though - even with his E85 tune.  The Mac was in another league.  I took a few laps in it and wow, it was awesome.  At least until the carbon brake rotors started to have problems.  This was the second time Chris brought out this car and the second time it failed.  He keeps his Elise with us as it is fun and more reliable - and clearly cheaper to maintain!

4C track parts are still in the works and this testing has revealed a few items that are needed. We have already begun working with Girodisc on lighter rotors - much like our well proven ULTRAdiscs. We have also started to look for more aggressive brake pads. Track wheels will also be welcome. The exhaust sounded good on track but the drone on the way to the track became overly tiring. Race seats and harnesses will be a welcome addition for any serious track work.

 We've begun offering some products for the 4C and have a few on our website now. We'll continue to follow the proven path we paved for the Lotus Elise. The 4C is a true alternative to the Lotus and we'll develop a pile of molto tasty bits.

MPG on the 4C was 27.5 up until I got to the track - it then plummeted to 7.5 MPG.  8^)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Alfa Romeo 4C - Introductory impressions of our newest car

We took delivery of a new Alfa Romeo 4C last week.  As many of you know, this car fits perfectly into our specialty - lightweight sportscars.  It is very much like the Lotus Elise/Exige so we have been anxious for its arrival for years.  Boutique sports cars tend to suffer from delayed introductions.  This one is no exception as it has been expected for 2+ years.  Early reports from some of my auto industry friends was that the 4C has the size/performance of the Elise but with the refinement of the Evora.  This blog will discuss the car and our initial impressions.  In a nutshell, the wait has been worth it!

We've partnered with Suspension Peformance in Mountain View, CA and purchased this car so we can jointly develop some molto tasty bits.  We've worked with them for years and know several great solutions will result.  We bought the car from Findlay Alfa in Henderson, NV as they were willing to sell us the car at sticker.  John and Greg at Findlay were great to work with.  I met some more of their staff and they truly made the delivery a great experience.  Give them a call if you are in the market (702)982-4888.

So what are the specs on this beauty?  It is expected to weigh approximately 2465lbs.  We will weigh on our scales soon and report in a future blog.  It has a 240 hp inline 4 - turbo with 6spd Auto/Man - twin clutch.  2 seats and mid engine.  The car is a Launch Edition (56/500) car so it was optioned to the hilt.  The Alfa Rosso color is a really rich red that dials up the sex appeal to 11.  

Our first stop with the 4C was to our local clear bra installer, ClearPro.  We had Lance and his team install some protection film to the front of the car and some other vulnerable areas including trunk and interior areas.  These type of cars see a fair amount of stone impingement so it is good to protect it sooner than later.

I took the 4C out for a full day of driving up to Los Angeles.  Obviously this is not the ideal first trip but I wanted to get some break-in miles on her and visit several of our vendors to get a start on product development.  Several products are in the pipeline as a result.  My driving consisted of mostly highway but I did manage to drive one canyon up in the Valley.

Driving impressions:

  • Handling
    • The car handles well.  The ride is very firm - much like a Sport Pack equipped Elise/Exige.  The suspension coupled with big wheels/low profile tires resulted in a stiff ride that I would not choose for a daily commute on rough roads.  This car was tuned for performance driving and I will take her to the track and canyons this coming week.  I suspect the standard wheels/suspension may be the better choice for cars that see more use on rough streets.
  • Brakes
    • The brake pedal felt firm and works well.  I did not attempt any panic stops but pushed hard in the canyon and they felt fine. 
  • Ergonomics
    • The seats were supportive.  The switches are all good.  The stereo has Bluetooth so it added some convenience.  I made a few calls and the performance was OK.  I was able to stream music from my phone so that made the traffic a bit more bearable.  The dead pedal is excellent. Visibility is poor to the sides and rear as expected. The dash works fine.  I still prefer old school gauges with needles.  This modern dash was good and the display changes based on the driving mode selected.
  • Shifting
    • Auto mode shifting was not very smooth.  Not sure if this ECU is learning my driving style and then will get better?  Switching into the Manual mode was far better.  Shifts were fast and smooth.  Though I did appreciate Auto while stuck in LA traffic jams.  
  • Acceleration
    • The car is fast!  Mid-range torque seems excellent as the car is always willing to accelerate like a scalded cat.  It feels as fast as any stock Elise/Exige.
  • Comfort
    • Seats are comfortable.  The car is loud inside.  It is not as quiet as the Lotus Evora - much more like an Elise.  Tire noise and frankly exhaust drone was the biggest contributor.  I think that 6th gear cruising on the freeway with this exhaust was not great.  Lack of interior storage is a clear issue with the car.  This car is really focused on being a fun to drive toy than a daily driver - no surprise.
  • Fit & Finish
    • The 4C has a very nice interior.  This is the Launch Edition so it has several carbon parts that really make it look great.  The interior carbon tub was much better finished than an early model I had seen.  The quality of the interior materials is good.  Panel gaps are OK.  The wheels look good to me though it seems the younger crowd does not like them as much as older guys like me - they remind me of older wheels found on other cool sportscars.
  • Sound
    • The exhaust sound good at idle.  After that it is not really that exciting.  Wastegate and turbo noises emanate from the rear of the car.  I think folks who like these sounds will be happy - I'm less enthusiastic. 
We placed the 4C on the lift and began discovering other things that will get covered in future blogs.  I plan to take her to Spring Mtn next weekend and run on track.  I expect it to be plenty of fun!  

Overall I am pleased with this car.  Alfa have struck a good balance.  Yes, it is heavier than the Elise/Exige but it still feels much lighter than an Evora.  The car feels small and nimble and performs like a true Elise alternative.  The lack of a manual is a drag but the future is paddle shift and frankly, it helps broaden the market appeal for a car as narrowly focused as the 4C.  Good job Alfa - thank you for bringing a light sportscar to the US!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tech Tip: Suspension Setup

We strongly believe that setting up your car is one of the most important improvements you can make to the performance of your vehicle. Light weight sports cars are very sensitive and respond well to changes in suspension setup. Ride heights, camber, and toe settings are all things that you can change for little to no cost (if you do the work yourself) that can lower lap times and make your car more enjoyable to drive. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive setup guide nor a claim that the setup we recommend is the best for every situation. What our setup will do, is make sure that you start out with a car that handles in a way that is considered good by the vast majority of drivers.  

The first step to getting your suspension setup is to make sure that everything you currently have on the car is in good working order. Inspect all your suspension pivot points, making sure nothing is worn or loose. Replace anything that is questionable. We recommend torqueing all bolts to spec then marking them with a paint marker. This will allow you to check the torques in the future with a quick visual inspection.  See our Sector111 60pt Prep.

Now you can setup your car following these steps:

1.      Set the ride height.  
2.      Set camber.
3.      Set toe.

Recommended settings for a Elsie/Exige street/track car with R-compound tires.

Ride height
125 +/- 3mm
130 +/- 3mm
-2.4° to -2.7°
Toe (total)
3mm total toe in

Recommended settings for a track Elise/Exige car with slick tires.

Ride height
120 +/- 3mm
125 +/- 3mm
Toe (total)
0 - 1mm toe out
3mm total toe in
  •  To set the camber, remove all your stock shims as well as the ABS shim. You may need to install V2 Arms or machine your stock steering arms to obtain optimal camber
  • While a lower ride height is possible, we find the suspension works best at these recommended heights and the chance of scraping the bottom of your car is less.  If you want to go lower, we suggest our raceUPRIGHTs.


Write it down!
It is always a good idea to write down your alignment settings and then note how the car performs. Write down any changes you make and record the results. This is the best way to get the car dialed in exactly how you like it. 

How many turns?
If you are going to be adjusting your suspension or doing much tuning, it is a good idea to figure out how much toe changes with each ¼ turn of your tie rods, how much camber changes by adding or removing a shim, and how much ride height changes with each half turn of the spring perch. If you write this information down you can now make minor adjustments to your car without needing to measure anything. Of course once you are done tweaking, it would be a good idea to measure where everything is at.

Play with it.
We encourage you to play with suspension settings on your own and deviate from the recommended setup

There are many levels to setting up a car and the difficulties, as well as results, depend on how precise you want to get and the tools you have available.
For a more in depth explanation of the topic of alignment and setup, see the videos from our alignment seminar HERE