VALIDATION DA ZE

2014 PROTO DRIVE VF II COMMODORE ENGINEERING

JAMES WHITBOURN

2 O 1 4 PROTO DRIVE VF II COMMODORE ENGINEERING

It’s part road-trip, part shake-down test as we join Holden’s VFII team in Victoria

PISTONS AND FISTS pump, as gratuitous bootfuls of bent-eight noise punch holes in the alpine air. No need to knock at the door – the Holden Engineering team has arrived at its quaint digs in the Victorian High Country to wrap the first of three days on the road.

We’re in the run up to Christmas 2014. The 80 percent engineering road-train for the VF Series II Commodore program has just pulled in, and it sure doesn’t look like work.

The V8 bellows might be all in the name of research; ensuring that they’ve got the bi-modal exhaust just right is one focus, says Chief Engineer Andrew Holmes. “One of the things we’re worried about is, ‘Are these cars too loud?’ We’re a little bit concerned we might be going just a whisker too far.”

But the broad grins, animated chat and camera-phone pics suggest Road Trip rather than rigorous analysis. In fact, a Holden ‘ride’ – that’s in-house speak for the trip – appears to be both. Maybe it’s because this Commodore is the final Aussie one, but I suspect it’s just how they roll. Either way, I’m lucky enough to be along for it.

So what is the team out to achieve? The term ‘validation’ is mentioned alot. “Coming out of 80 percent you should have clarity on the small number of areas that are still left that you want to keep developing, and you’ll finesse those from 80 to 99,” explains Director of Vehicle Performance, Ian Butler. “At 100 it should be identical to 99, but it’s just been through the verification process.”

So who are the blokes responsible? While you might expect to find a burly fella called Wayne behind the Commodore, it’s Lead Development Engineer Amelinda Watt who, with chief Holmes, heads up a 14-strong crew for the trip. Though there’s also a Rob, a Ben, and a Dan, they call Watt ‘Ammo’, so perhaps your mental picture of Holden Engineering isn’t too far off.

There’s no need to recall the LS3’s note as I sit down to write – my voice-recorded chats as I drove with the engineers come with a bent-eight backing track. But putting the barrel-chested grumble into words, ahh, you’ll have to drive one… The bi-modal exhaust tuning story paints the picture of how far the car has come. “The early cars at 65 percent you tended to notice the bi-modal switching open and shut,” says Butler. “[Now] when I step into it I’ve got this glorious V8 note, and then if I drive gently the car is very unobtrusive – that’s what you want.”

A Melbourne city road loop formed the first half of day one: “Some general traffic stuff to make sure our clutch take-up points, driveability and shift busyness are all good,” says Butler.

Tuning the entertaining end of the VFII’s dynamic spectrum took place elsewhere. “We hired a few racetracks,” adds Trubiani. “This old girl (an SS-V Redline) has had a pretty hard life.”

“Through the tuning work we needed to be able to get the car to be able to do a really nice four-wheel drift with the stability control switched on, and not hold a good driver back. [To] reward a good driver, but be the safety net if they needed it.”

Tuning the dynamics wasn’t all hanging the arse out, though.

“We’ve done a heap of work around on-centre refinement, just trying to get the car to move faster with small steering inputs and just blending the steering effort,” Trubiani says.

He’s deliberately avoided the path of sportier steering modes that merely add weight. “I’ve been very conscious of not doing that.

Personally I don’t like it. We wanted the feature for a purpose; give a driver that extra response and crispness and precision.”

The performance gearbox maps are designed to be equally helpful. “You lift off the throttle, it goes ‘Bang, okay, performance mode is activated’, explains Engineering Group Manager, Jeremy Tassone. “Then when you touch the brakes it’ll downshift, then it’s got timers for how long it holds that downshift for, and then if you’ve got lateral Gs on, it won’t upshift.”

It’s one of the few areas that needs finessing, explains Butler.

“With these roads there are almost no straight bits, so we reckon it’s sensing a bit of lateral G and we think we need to dial that threshold down a bit more, so when you’ve come out of a corner, but you’ve still got a very gentle lateral G, let it upshift in that situation. So that’s what we think we’ll have a play with next.”

There it is. ‘Play with’ rather than ‘Work on’. More proof that this is an adventure, not a day job. Most car people think I’ve got a great gig, but I reckon what these guys (and gals) do tops it.

In the spirit of validation, I put my theory to Holmes: ‘Does it ever feel like going to work, or is it more like having fun?’

“Never,” he grins. “I look forward to this months in advance.

Test trip – you beauty.”

“OUR TUNING WORK NEEDED TO GET THE CAR TO BE ABLE TO DO A REALLY NICE FOURWHEEL DRIFT WITH THE STABILITY CONTROL ON”

DYNAMICS ENGINEER ROB TRUBIANI

Flow rider

“All that crackle and pop on trailing throttle is tuned into the system,” says Vehicle Dynamics Specialist Engineer Rob Trubiani. “One side is straight through and the other side goes through the muffler. By opening [the flap, electronically], basically the rear muffler becomes straight-through.”