The Science of Automobile Performance

- April 25, 2017

We can all imagine speeding down a winding road on a lovely summer afternoon or burning up a race track: it’s an image that appeals to all of us, not only car lovers! Speed, control and freedom are concepts that trigger strong emotions, reminding of us of exhilarating times. This is why performance is one of the key factors in automobile technological development for many manufacturers. Years of meticulous work and close attention to detail are needed to attain the highest levels of performance provided by certain car models. Despite these developments, some thrill seekers are not satisfied with manufacturers’ suggestions and turn to high performance products available on the aftermarket. It’s not only pimply teenagers who tinker with cars in their parents’ garage!

For some, like Karim-Philip Antaki, SR&ED/Motorsport Performance Engineering Director at Lachute Performance, improving automobile performance is an actual science based on a precise engineering process. We spoke with him about this topic.

Q: Objectively (scientifically) speaking, how is the performance of a vehicle defined?

A: A vehicle’s performance is mainly measured by its physical ability to accelerate, brake and handle the road, but also by the level of comfort and pleasure at this same time. Vehicles are also qualified according to their position on the market or market segment where there are objectives to be attained compared to the competition.

Q: How can the performance of the original vehicle be improved?

A: After a technical evaluation of a vehicle’s current capabilities, we establish key performance indicators (KPI), such as gas consumption or motor efficiency in terms of pumping. A study on the capabilities and objectives is then undertaken and a technological exploration path is defined.

Q: What advantages are there to making such modifications?

A: Fuel economy thanks to increased cycle efficiency is on everyone’s lips these days. The motor’s performance at cruising or full speed will be influenced by the smoothness of transitioning power based on the motor’s improved thermal characteristics, but also on the balance of the proposed solution: power versus road handling and braking capacity.

Q: Are the solutions that you’re proposing reliable? What about safety?

A: There are no solutions without safety. Durability and reliability are criteria prioritized by our development philosophy, both on the race track and on the road. These objectives force us to find a balance when developing all of our projects.

Q: What do you think of the new hybrid and electric automobile technologies?

A: They are undeniably here. These new technologies represent an asset for automobile performance: instantaneous power and economy of non-renewable materials. In these cases, the search for performance is a real scientific and technological accelerator! We need to prepare to integrate these technologies and their capabilities on a greater scale. They provide unquestionable advantages in world competitions such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Formula E, which will take place in Montréal this summer, where all builders have designed a development and contribution platform.

Q: Hasn’t it all been invented? What’s in store for the future of automobile performance?

A: No! There’s no end to the quest. Hybrid and electric technologies are the best world platform for technological development, as well as the miniaturization of variable compression ratio engines and turbocompression, to produce power that meets demand while providing fuel economy. The goal will always be to increase cycle efficiency to reduce fuel consumption, even if this reduction will not always be achieved through the improvement of internal combustion engines, but rather by removing the pistons if we can manage to find a more efficient alternative.

Karim-Philip Antaki has been SR&ED/Motorsport Performance Engineering Director at Lachute Performance for more than seven years.

A recent graduate of the University of Cranfield, England, where he completed a Master of Advanced Motorsport Engineering, Karim-Philip is also a Performance Engineer for Nissan Motorsport (NISMO) and Race Engineer for the Pirelli World Challenge series in the United States.

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