Cars

Photo: Simon Davidson

A Ferrari flying on carbon fibre wheels

Carbon Revolution's wheels boost the 488 Pista's already enviable performance
Words

Words: Glenn Butler

For a supercar such as the Ferrari 488 Pista, power and weight are the yin and yang of performance. The Pista, Maranello's fastest-ever V8 road car, successfully balances both these factors, enabling it to achieve its maximum potential: the Pista is 50hp more powerful than the 488 GTB, yet is an astonishing 90kg lighter. Whilst this is an exceptional achievement, equally important is where that weight reduction came from. Reducing weight from the centre of mass is good. Reducing it from the extremities is even better. That is why carbon fibre is often used for body panels, and is one advantage of carbon ceramic brakes. But for the Pista, Ferrari engineers were looking for more - well, less, actually - and their search took them all the way to a town called Geelong, quite literally on the other side of the world. 

Geelong sits on a quiet bay one hour south of Melbourne, the southern-most metropolis in Australia. Just outside Geelong is Deakin University and on the campus backlot is Carbon Revolution, a business that grew out of a 2004 postgraduate project to build lightweight race cars. In 2007, Carbon Revolution evolved into a carbon-fibre wheel producer.

Various moments of the carbon fibre injection process Photo: Simon Davidson

The company - which today has some 170 employees - soon made a significant breakthrough: its engineers figured out how to make a one-piece carbon-fibre wheel rim and barrel, which reduced both production complexity and weight. Lighter wheels mean lightening the extremities, thus reducing the forces of both inertia and of rotating mass for the drivetrain to deal with. This means the car can accelerate faster, turn-in sharper, corner at higher speeds and brake more effectively. All this, of course, leads to greater driver enjoyment. "This is a step-change improvement in vehicle dynamics and greatly enhances vehicle performance," explains Jake Dingle, Carbon Revolution's chief executive. The process is highly complex and requires the use of advanced, aerospace-industry-grade machinery. 

For example, for one part of the hub-making process, the company uses a Tailored Fibre Placement (TFP) machine that sews a 'star' onto a stencil. It does so, using a one centimetre-wide tape of carbon fibre that is made up of 24,000 individual strands, each one-tenth the width of a human hair. Each 'star', along with other components, will later be moved into a dry-fibre layup process where it will be hand-fitted into a huge wheel-cast. Dingle says the TFP achieves reliability in one of the most important areas of wheel design. "A wheel has to be attached to a vehicle that weighs anything between one and two tonnes. The wheel hub must handle hundreds of horsepower from the drivetrain. It has to deal with fatigue during a life of over 300,000 kilometres.

To keep weight low, the Pista's wheels are not painted Photo: Simon Davidson

It has to deal with external factors, like impact from potholes. Inside the wheel sits a brake disc and callipers, which can reach temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, just a few centimetres from the wheel. So the hub must not fail... but bolting a fibre and polymer-based composite to a car is very challenging. This connection point takes the stresses from the road through the wheel into the car. This machine means we can place every fibre exactly where we need it, and in the direction we need it to go. "Carbon Revolution, which has been selected by Ferrari as a strategic partner on the 488 Pista programme, has produced carbon-fibre wheels for other original equipment manufacturers, but those for Ferrari are the first with a one-piece barrel.

This innovation reduces weight by a further one kilogramme per wheel - astonishing when you think that carbon-fibre wheels are already around 40 per cent lighter than the standard wheels mounted on the Ferrari 488 GTB. The wheel production process continues through other phases, ending at the paint shop, where a clear finishing coat is applied. The company can paint the wheels - another global competitive advantage - but Ferrari prefers to leave the wheels' advanced material on show: paint adds weight and, when you're counting every gramme, weight for vanity's sake is to be avoided.

Ferrari