I spent last Friday driving the new Jaguar F-Type (pictures and video here) at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows California. The car’s technology made the experience much closer to playing a game on an Xbox or PlayStation than I would have imagined thanks to the technology built into the car. I was able to drive well above my skill level and even spank a relatively new 911, one of the best track cars you can buy, as a result. We are increasingly getting this technology in cars like the Jaguar but it is wasted unless you actually take the time to enjoy the car on the track. The technology is getting better suggesting that the commercials that show street cars passing race cars on a race track may eventually be accurate.
Seat of the Pants
The way you used to drive a car on the track was by the seat of your pants and experience. From long practice you knew just what gear you needed to apply, how much throttle to use, and just when and by how much to brake. This was skill but even experienced drivers would fatigue or just get it wrong leaving the car wrecked, spun out, or off the road in the dirt someplace.
It could take years to develop the skills needed and the amount of strength and endurance required wasn’t trivial either. A novice driver basically is a speed bump hazard for the others because they won’t do what is expected and you generally need a ton of experience before anyone will even let you in a professional race.
But much of this has changed. The Jaguar F-Type, which was developed to let an average driver take on cars driven by more experienced people, has computers monitoring the transmission to assure you are in the proper gear, slip and approach angles to make sure you don’t crash, and even the rear axle to make sure that every driven wheel is getting the optimum grip now power is lost. The only thing missing is something to help you get the ideal angle and that is coming.
The experience in the car is amazing. You have a switch that was copied out of a fighter jet you pull to put the car in dynamic mode. This shifts the gauge color to red (which would be more impressive if I wasn’t red/green colorblind), and sets the car up for the track telling the computers to get aggressive. You flip the gear shift lever to the left to engage Sport Mode and then hit the track. You don’t need to touch the flappy paddles at all as the car will likely shift better than you will from here on and I found it was always in the ideal gear.
You can push the car up to the edge and it mostly keeps you from going over. I was able to chase down and pass a new 911 with a more experienced driver through a combination of this technology and a significant amount of additional horsepower. I was driving the 500 HP V8 which allowed me to play with much better driven Aston Martin and dust a Ferrari during the drive.
But I was struck by how similar this was to driving on the Xbox or PS4. The car was incredibly forgiving and all I was doing was trying to pick the best line (I had a coach with me helping me do this).
But with a combination of heads up display and an App that could take the place of my coach, both possible with current technology, you could eventually go the rest of the way. There are Smartphone apps that will record and report your performance after the fact in the market today and it really wouldn’t take much to create an app and integrate it with a heads up function. There is even an app for a new driver virtual coach. In fact if you think about it, a coach only gives verbal direction today and any good navigation product does that when you are on the road. Though rather than “turn here” you’d get “turn in and aim for the Ferrari bridge” or some such depending on the track.
Wrapping Up: Blending Real and Virtual
It’s not just that driving cars like the Jaguar F-Type are becoming more like video games, video games are increasingly becoming more like driving with better simulators being created all the time. And they are getting more and more affordable as well. One of the recent technologies puts pressure on your head which, apparently, makes the experience far more real than the vastly more expensive simulators that professional drivers use (and the new way doesn’t make you motion sick). The sad thing is that with all this amazing technology few people actually try their car on a track and, if you buy one, I think you should rethink that. The experience is simply amazing.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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