19 Mar 2013

In this time of Environmental Uncertainty – Has the Supercar Triumphed?

James Parker believes the new breed of supercars will have benefits for us all

Having a love of cars is something that runs greater than skin deep, it is not something which you simply flirt in and out of, it becomes a passion (a very expensive one at that) in various guises. To declare yourself a petrolhead is not an easy task, but once that affiliation with everything four wheeled has grown, it becomes an almost unbreakable tie, something that never leaves you for the rest of your life.

Over the years, certain car manufacturers have done their best to satisfy that passion, allowing car lovers to feed on an addiction of noise, speed and petrol. Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche and Lamborghini are names that, when mentioned to any car fanatic, creates an almost God like feeling inside, the ability to instantly increase a heart rate by a few beats. Of course when we mention these historic names you can only think about one thing – supercars.

These magnificent creations of the automotive world have given way to near obsessions with many car nuts the world over.  For years they have been tickling all the right senses, and have all taken pride of place on many children’s bedroom walls. Their ability to captivate imaginations of so many people is incredible, but you only have to experience one, just for a second, to know exactly why that is.

During the 80s the world hit what is now regarded as “Supercar Heaven”, a period in history where almost all the major players decided to hop on the supercar bandwagon and express exactly what they were capable of. Ferrari with the F40, Porsche with the 959, Jaguar with the XJ220, and Lamborghini with the ever updated Countach, customers were spoilt for choice and it led to a period of supercar domination which culminated into the now iconic, original, McLaren F1. During my childhood I experienced this addiction first hand.  To me the McLaren F1 was the car I always wanted. It captured my imagination in so many ways.  What would 627 rampaging horses really feel like? Is the noise really as God-like as it appears on my Le Mans highlights video? Since then I made a promise to myself that one day, I would drive the Gordon Murray designed legend for myself – a day that unfortunately has yet to happen.

Before I delve into a supercar history lesson (we would be here for hours) let’s fast forward to the present day, and how I feel the Supercar brand as a whole has weathered the economic storm gripping the world, and how it will emerge the other side, a stronger more experienced force. It would be fair to say the current world does not like Supercars. In a time when people are being encouraged to become more environmentally friendly, and the eco warriors protest in force for countries to stop destroying the ozone layer, blasting around in your hypercar is not the ideal scenario.

It is this environmental change being enforced by most governments around the globe that has essentially killed engines that we have come to know and love. The glorious wail of a Ferrari or Lamborghini V12 engine at full tilt may become a thing of the past in the next 2-3 years and, for me, that is very sad news indeed. Car manufacturers are forced to look to smaller capacity forced induction engines to meet new euro emissions rules and, given the current state of the worldwide economy, more efficient too, and produce a brand identity which doesn’t involve destroying the planet (much to my dismay).

However in the next 3 years, this does not mean wealthy people who have a fondness for the supercar brand will be forced to drive around in Prius’s for the rest of their life, as the big guns in the business have literally fought back – more eco friendly? We'll give you more eco friendly!

This is where things get really, really exciting for us petrolheads, as in the next couple of years we will have a titanic battle at the very top of the food chain between, Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche as all three look to combat the current environmentally challenging conditions, with meaner, faster, louder, yet most importantly more efficient hypercars. It was only last week that we started to uncover details surrounding the brand spanking new McLaren P1, which I am sure got a few people (including me) giddy at the knees - 903hp (engine and electric motor combined), 0-60 in under 3 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 217.5 mph are not a bad set of headline figures and it raises the bar in every aspect. Alongside the nuclear bomb of an engine (3.8 litre Twin Turbo V8), there lies a KERS/DRS system similar to that being run in Formula 1 and with 176 extra hp on tap from the electric motor too, even bikers will get a bit nervous when the chiselled headlights of the P1 get ever larger in their mirrors.

But if you are thinking that McLaren have got the market all to themselves now, sitting pretty at the top of the tree, hold that thought and then push it into the abyss, as two of the biggest players in the business; Porsche and Ferrari, will be there to make sure the P1 does not get things all its own way.

Over the past couple of years, Porsche have been teasing us with the announcement of a new Carrera GT replacement and it appears, finally, towards the end of 2013 orders will start to be delivered. Of course everyone will know its name by now – the 918 Sypder and with over 830hp on tap it will be seriously fast. An RS Spyder derived (but enlarged) 4.6L V8 engine will be the main form of propulsion for the 918, producing over 572hp in standard form with an astonishing redline of close to 9000rpm. But an amazing 241hp will be on tap through the use of two electric motors (one connected to the front axle and one to the rear) which, when both are used, combined with the petrol V8 will see you very quickly enter into a new country let alone a new county. 0-60 is reported in 2.8 seconds with both electric motors engaged and it will quite happily top 200mph without breaking a sweat. With a KERS-like system which charges the batteries to the electric motors through the braking phase, it will see 16 miles on only electric power with, 93mpg returned.

Finally, how could we forget about the boys from Maranello? If the Enzo or 599 GTO wasn’t quite enough for you in terms of power, exclusivity and performance, have no fear as Ferrari have just released their next in the throne to the king of the supercars.... the LaFerrari. Yes it is not exactly the best thought out name, in fact I could have thought of that whilst sat at home in bed, perhaps Ferrari need to give me a job?

But do not think for one second the “LaFerrari” is anyway a clown car. It is supposed to be the pinnacle of what the famous Scuderia can make, the flagship model and with that comes a price. At around £900,000 they are no way what you would call cheap, but with a monumental 963 rampaging horses on tap, and a 0-60 time of just under 3 seconds, this is no ordinary car. Featuring the same next generation 6.3L V12 engine from both the FF and F12 Berlinetta, it has been tuned to produce a monumental 800hp at 9250rpm, which when connected to the two electric motors which together produce 163hp to hit that glorious 963hp target make a very tasty combination. Featuring a KERS-like system which contains two batteries that harvest energy in the braking phases to power the two electric motors, it can now claim to be a semi-hybrid, which means Ferrari are starting to think of the environment, whilst making a car that would scare the living daylights out of you. Making the most out of movable aerodynamic devices (as trialed with the 458 and present on the P1) it can lap the Fiorano test track 5 seconds faster than its predecessor.

I have chosen to ignore the “bonkers” Lambo, as with just 3 produced it simply does not fall into the same category as the other hypercars which, in contrast to the Venano are “mass made”. It means we have from later on this year a three way battle at the top of the automotive tree. Porsche, Ferrari and McLaren, the three greatest marques in Motorsport are now going to enter battle on the road as well.

But more importantly, this new era of hypercars shows that the performance car market does have a future amongst the strife it faces from eco-mentalists. These cars are set to set a new benchmark that has never previously been seen before, and for that, the entire car market benefits. The best in the business are listening, and then adapting to the conditions they find themselves under to produce yet more man-made marvels. For petrolheads worldwide, this blossoming rivalry is the sign we need to conclude performance car makers are not going to compromise their reputation by building cars that no longer tickle all the right bits on your body. They are going to continue the fantastic philosophy of producing cars for people that enjoy driving and that is the key here.

If the hypercar market is set to hit a brand new high in these tough times, with McLaren, Ferrari and Porsche joining the likes of Pagani, it almost secures the future of the performance car for the coming years. In many ways you could say this tasty combination could be classed as a triumph amongst the world of Prius’s and G-Wiz’s – who said environmental concerns would destroy the supercar market?!?!

Here’s to burning rubber for many years to come.....

About James Parker - Hardcore Petrolhead having had a long passion for cars and Motorsport which stretches back some 15 years ago when I first started watching BTCC and Formula 1. Currently a proud Alfa Romeo owner, who is Head of Business Development at Motorsport Merchandise website www.grandprixmerchandise.co.uk I also am senior editor of theGPM blog dedicated to big Motorsport talking points.