Stability. It’s a precious commodity, never more so than in 2012. Historians will no doubt look back on this era as one of the most turbulent in human history, both politically and economically. We can only hope that something – or someone – strong and equable emerges to end the uncertainty. Stability in a high performance car is equally desirable. Anyone lucky enough to drive a truly powerful car on a racing circuit will understand this implicitly. Even the casual viewer of Formula One can grasp the importance of commodities like “downforce”; the drivers whose cars are rich in it are far more likely to end up dousing each other in Champagne on the podium at the end of the race. (It helps if your car goes where you want it to go, and does so consistently, combining mechanical grip with highly evolved aero.) Now take a look at the rear wing on the car in the image above.
This is what you call “state of the art”. The car in question is the Ferrari 599XX Evolution, and it’s no exaggeration to say that, when it comes to the creation and manipulation of air flow and “downforce” on a conventionally shaped car, this is as good as it gets. As you let your eye run over the 599 XX Evo’s astonishing form, you get the feeling that this thing sits squarely in the nexus between science and art. It’s a rolling sculpture. It's a good spot for a Ferrari to occupy, isn't it?
The 599XX Evolution is the latest manifestation of the Company’s XX programme. Established in 2005 as perhaps the ultimate outpost of Ferrari ownership, the original Enzo-derived FXX was effectively a mobile laboratory. Twenty-nine very, very lucky Ferraristi became central components in an active development programme, evaluating new technical ideas on their cars at up to seven specially arranged annual events at tracks like Suzuka, Spa, Silverstone and Laguna Seca. ‘Such a programme simply didn’t exist before we came up with it,’ says Antonello Coletta, head of Ferrari’s Corse Clienti division, with understandable pride. ‘This is a very special club, we have a very special car, so they deserve the most special circuits.’ The 599XX arrived in 2009 with a slightly different remit, based as it was on the 599 GTB Fiorano. All cars, be they road or racing models, have to conform to a web of rules. However, engineers working on the 599XX could let their imaginations wander, knowing they didn’t have to worry about “homologating” any of their ideas for full production, or bother with the legalities of a race series. An amazing privilege.
‘We were exploring a new way of developing a car,’ says Matteo Lanzavecchia, Head of Vehicle Testing at Ferrari. ‘It has been an extremely liberating experience.’ To understand properly the Evolution, it’s worth remembering the thinking that underpinned the original car. Most modern high performance cars rely on an armoury of chassis electronics, and as a Grand Turismo Berlinetta, the Ferrari 599 has a number of jobs to do, primarily combining awesome V12 performance and handling in a package accessible to the widest possible range of drivers. Finessing the balance between knife-edge handling and safety is one of the main responsibilities of Ferrari’s engineers and test drivers.
The 599XX takes the integration of its various control systems to the ultimate conclusion, and the very fact that it uses a road car (with its higher than optimal centre of gravity and relatively high weight) makes its achievements all the more stunning. ‘We wanted to integrate the car’s control systems with its mechanical design,’ says Lanzavecchia. ‘With the 599XX we wanted to create a very extreme car, one that generated no understeer [when the nose of the car pushes wide in a corner] and offered maximum lateral and longitudinal acceleration. We wanted to optimise the centre of gravity, and increase vertical stiffness front-to-rear. We would introduce understeer using the electronic systems only when required, depending on speed, the nature of the corner and the manoeuvre the driver was attempting. We wanted to reduce what we call the “static margin”.’
In other words, this car pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, in terms of its electronic architecture (the way its VDA traction and stability systems work together), its suspension and damping (which uses magneto-rheological technology), and its tyres (at 305 section, much wider at the front than normal, and using a special compound). Frankly, it teases physics. With nine settings on the 599XX’s steering wheel manettino governing the VDC, and a further three for damping, the driver can tailor his car according to preference or ability. Be in no doubt, though: this thing is a devastating weapon whatever the configuration. Now for the Evolution.
Lanzavecchia and his team discovered that in their pursuit of a reduced “static margin”, there was an area of what he calls ‘wasted performance’. He became convinced they could reclaim this, which is where the Evolution’s major innovation comes into play: active erodynamics. Ferrari has been developing these principles since a fully flat under-floor and rear Venturi first appeared in 1994’s wonderful F355. Under load in high-speed corners or under hard braking, various kinetic energies are constantly conspiring to destabilise a car. Equalising these forces is the high performance Holy Grail. The 599XX Evolution gets achingly close. Its twodeck rear wing optimises aero distribution in relation to steering wheel angle and lateral acceleration, and adjusts the level of downforce between the front and rear axles. With the wings fully closed, there is maximum downforce acting on the rear end for astonishing straight-line stability; with the wings open, there is more downforce on the front, improving the car’s behaviour at lower speed. ‘Basically,’ says Lanzavecchia, aerodynamic balance remains consistent between 150km/h and 250km/h, and we can manage the car’s stability between these increments perfectly.’ A few other numbers to ponder: the original 599XX generates 145kg of downforce at the rear, which jumps to 245kg on the Evo. It will lap Fiorano a second faster than the FXX (one minute 16 seconds), an astounding result for a car that is based on a front-engined GT and weighs 1,400kg (down from the standard 599’s 1,700kg).
There are other advancements. The Evolution gets a power increase to 740bhp, thanks to sideexit exhausts, there’s more torque (700Nm, 400 of which is on tap from just 1,000rpm), a new front splitter and rear diffuser, new Pirelli tyres, a tweaked final drive ratio, and overall it’s 35kg lighter. There’s a new racing steering wheel (1.5kg lighter than the previous one), and a rear view reversing camera. Well, you wouldn’t want any harm coming to that rear wing…
Of course, Ferrari isn’t interested in technology for technology’s sake. Raffaele De Simone, one of Ferrari’s chief test drivers, charged with developing the 599XX Evolution, is unequivocal about this: ‘We have incredible technology, but the key is the correct application. For example, pure electronics applied without thinking about the soul of the car is not an advantage for Ferrari. We want to improve the “emotion” of driving, too. The 599XX helps drivers experience performance levels that were the preserve of F1 until a decade ago.’ De Simone piloted a 599XX to a mind blowing six minute-58 second lap of the Nürburgring in 2010, testament both to his talent and the fact that this is technology with a direct application. ‘Few words can describe the experience,’ he smiles, ‘but trying to find the last 10 seconds on a lap round there is like entering a different dimension. It was like Nirvana. You know what the Nordschleife is like, right? Now multiply that by a factor of four…’ A return is on the cards, too. According to Lanzavecchia’s simulations, the 599XX Evolution should lap the ’Ring in six minutes 45 seconds, a remarkable 13 seconds faster than its current time. Nine seconds of that is attributable to the Evo’s revised aero package alone, Lanzavecchia says. As the Evolution keeps evolving, it might be 10 seconds by the time De Simone returns to the scene of his triumph. We’ll be there to record it.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 16, March 2012