The Japanese art of turbocharging

Ferrari works with a Japanese master for its turbos

Ferrari was among the turbo pioneers back in the 1980s, culminating in the legendary Ferrari F40 of 1987. 30 years on, it is returning to turbocharging in order to boost both the power and efficiency of its engines – and has partnered up with a Japanese master in the art of turbocharging to supply its turbos.

Magome-Juku is an old post town near IHI's factory  Photo: James Whitlow Delano

IHI has an illustrious history dating back to 1853. Today, it works in aerospace, defence, energy and heavy machinery, and its automotive division is thriving too. Yoichi Satou manages the product engineering department and was the lucky person leading the Ferrari programme.


“While they didn’t quite tell us money was not an object, they told us they wanted a turbocharger with the highest performance possible,” he explained. “Naturally, we were inspired by their demand.”


A turbo works by using exhaust gas to spin a turbine, which delivers a higher volume of compressed air into the cylinders. More air means more power. If you want even more power, you use a larger turbo. The drawback is that responsiveness at low engine speeds, when there’s little exhaust gas, is poor – the notorious ‘turbo lag’.

The precision-made components within an IHI Ferrari turbo  Photo: James Whitlow Delano

Ferrari told IHI it wanted to avoid this, delivering a turbocharged engine both powerful but responsive. IHI responded by developing one of the most technologically advanced turbochargers available in a road car.


For example, instead of using Inconel nickel-chromium alloy for the turbine impeller, a titanium aluminide material called TiAL is used instead. Material costs are higher, explains Satou-san, but inertia is reduced by more than 30 percent. The impeller itself is also fully machined, rather than cast, and the turbine bearings are mounted on ball bearings instead of the usual floating metal.


Normal sports cars have just one or two technologies such as these. That Ferrari integrates them all shows how committed the company has been to achieving turbocharger perfection. It’s also why it chose IHI to develop the unit: it knew the firm would be up to the job.

Master craftsmen assemble IHI's Ferrari turbochargers  Photo: James Whitlow Delano

Michiya Yuge, manager of the overseas customer sales group, says the results are there for everyone to see. “The 488 GTB’s 3.9-litre V8 twin-turbo is a wonderful engine. It has overwhelming power, there is no loss of responsiveness in any rpm range, and, as we must never forget, it makes that beautiful Ferrari sound, like an exquisite soprano.”


And there’s plenty more in store, he added. “Our work with Ferrari has just begun. Turbochargers still have a great deal of potential.” For Ferrari and IHI, it’s a relationship all set to turbocharge.