Speaking of spring, let’s get things moving with talk of springs, or suspension to be more specific. Our partners Bilstein produce literally millions of shock absorbers and springs every year for production cars, they are very good at this. They are equally talented when it comes to performance suspension and have a large motor sport division based at their development HQ in Enepetal, Germany. In fact the motor sport division celebrate a 10th year racing in GT3 at the Nürburgring with Black Falcon by putting the famous blue and yellow livery on the awesome Mercedes-Benz AMG GT3, yes, awesome!
Word is that Bilstein are again #1, a coveted position in the market, well done Bilstein! We don’t make this stuff up either as they have recently swept the boards taking first prize for “Shock Absorbers” and for “Sport Suspension” in a survey by “Motorsport Aktuell”, in fact scoring almost 70% of the votes in each category. If that wasn’t definitive enough they then took “Best Brand 2016” from the famous “Auto Motor und Sport” for no less than the 11th year in succession, wow! And then to fill the trophy cabinet, they also scooped the similarly named “Top Brands of 2016” from the prestigious magazine “Auto Zeitung” for the 8th year in a row.
The cynics might throw in a few low punches about industry this and that but the description “Big enough to cope but small enough to care” strikes true in the case of Bilstein. The older or more learned motor enthusiast will know the Mercedes-Benz SL from the 60’s, the model code W113 or perhaps it’s nick name “Pagoda” derived from the concave hard top optionally available with the two seater sports car. Few will know however that the engineers at Mercedes-Benz used the super high tech suspension and steering from their premium limousine as a starting point for the W113. This was uber-refined in operation and very well received by the motoring public but slightly less than race track nimble in use. The car had a tendency to nose-dive under heavy braking which upset both the steering and the swing-axle rear suspension geometry. Skip forwards almost 50 years and the engineers from Ennepetal revisit the Pagoda with modern design philosophy and a dollop of 21st century technology and the old gem is transformed. This is the two-way relationship that Bilstein has with its customers that earns it these accolades year after year. Well done lads!
Our friends in ZF have been busy in motor sport development too with active programmes in Formula One and now Formula-E, Le Mans, the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), the World Rally Championship, and then of course the Porsche Cup and Super GT in Japan!
Yes ZF are corner-stone suppliers to the production automotive trade providing suspensions, transmissions, brakes, clutches and electronics to a vast array of manufacturers including VW, BMW and Porsche. They are also right up there at the cutting edge of electric and hybrid technologies and many other vehicle systems including the double clutch, now so popular and new technologies that have yet to see production. For you and me what we really ought to be watching is how they race develop their new technologies in regular race series’ such as VLN (A production based car race series held on the famous Nürburgring in Germany).
Last year saw BMW Motorsport using an auto, yes, an auto transmission in a race car and it worked very well. The guys in ZF knew that it would but just how successful this transmission was came as a surprise to many and already it looks like this technology will be heading the way of many other race cars!
This by the way is a derivative of the production 8HP type transmission so closer to home than one might think and found in many modern production cars. In fact if you own an 8 speed automatic BMW it probably uses this hardware as it is standard equipment from 1 Series through to the V12 760iL!
While all of these new development threads are great for automotive technology it is the total package resulting that wins the praise and publicity. The marathon effort of the motor sports division has paid off in World Rally Championship again for no less than the third year in succession with the VW Polo R WRC of Sébastien Ogier.
This really is the ultimate test of any car or technology, the gruelling terrain and wide range of environments from desert to ice added to the relentless forces at rally pace weed out the lesser contenders. Only the best make it to the finish and only the best of the best reign supreme. Well done all at ZF!