Evo test

Reproduced with the kind permission of Track & Race Cars magazine – February 2008

No country for old men? We put an old man into new technology, but will he like it? Andy Dawson drives the quickest Evo we’ve timed around the TRC test track.

Before I go too much into detail about my drive in Turbo Technics (TT) version of the FQ320 first let’s get the boring bit out of the way. How did Turbo Technics manage to make an Evo 320 better than an Evo 360 or FQ390 without making it undriveable? Or more driveable? Do you remember Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, testing an Evo against a Vectra Diesel – the turbo pick-up on the Evo was so bad that the Vectra won the drag race. I was helping Geoff Kershaw, the owner of TT, with his Sierra sprint car and told him about Top Gear – three years later we have the answer – so I guess that I have an involvement with this car, you could almost call it my fault?

All the go faster Evos have bigger turbos made by Mitsubishi, they rotate in the opposite direction to all other turbos to enable the packaging. Geoff has been in the turbo business since he left uni, and he is older than me, so he has more experience than anybody at Mitsubishi. We saw the need for a proper turbo for the Evo, not a modified something else. Pete, Alan, Dean and Dave – the real turbo people at TT were stripping Evo turbos and saw the problem, they told Geoff and he went to his CAD station for a few days. The problem was the way Mitsubishi are pulsing the exhaust gasses onto the exhaust turbine wheel.

Turbo Technics Evo S209 hybrid turboAs new, the Mitsubishi turbo can be improved by using later turbine and compressor blade technology. Geoff started by designing better turbine and compressor wheels, both slightly bigger than the originals, for the standard turbo. He then looked at the exhaust gas pulses. The firing order is 1,3,4,2 so Mitsubishi join 1 and 4 and 2 and 3, they keep the exhaust tracts separate right to the outside of the turbine wheel. Perfect whilst the turbo is new, the problem is that the separator is a thin strip of very expensive high temperature steel that is cast in the turbine scroll – as soon as it gets super hot it distorts and disrupts the airflow.

Geoff K redesigned the scroll, bringing the exhaust pulses together much earlier and through a pair of venturis, which then come onto the turbine blades. He goes off onto one of his planets at this point, and us mere mortals ask for another cup of coffee. It works.

What we are about to test here is essentially a standard Evo 9 FQ320 with a Turbo Technics version of the standard turbo and some ECU remapping to allow more boost. The change in the way the pulses come onto the turbine wheel mean that there is actually much less turbo lag and the turbo comes in earlier than with the standard unit. The redesign means that the turbo also flows more air, enough for 405bhp from calculations, but they are clearly wrong as our Race Technology data logger shows about that at the wheels!

The shame is that this conversion has taken three years to appear. Perhaps Geoff just spent too long in front of his VDU getting it right… I’m only joking, he was actually drinking too much coffee and playing too much tennis.

There was a stage 1 with just a bigger exhaust turbine wheel, but the stage 2 was so much better in every way that it was forgotten. Next is the stage 3 – another turbo that spins in the wrong direction but that has been designed for 500 to 550bhp – I hear stories from a well known dyno of more than that with no internal engine modifications, there are bigger air hoses and a 3” drainpipe exhaust – but 550 ‘genuine’ bhp for not a lot of money will be awesome. Geoff has even put the same internals in a Subaru case…

Until then however let’s get back to the Evo, and our test. I drove the Evo from Northampton to Bruntingthorpe, it was nervous, just like a production FQ360, but there was no turbo lag, little road noise, just a pleasant car. Geoff Kershaw and Pete Bland arrived in the TT van – they had taken the short route to Bruntingthorpe and we were still taking photos when they arrived. I talked geometry with Pete, he made some simple changes and adjusted the tyre pressures, we were ready to start.

Gone was the nervous front end, the Evo went where I asked. Geoff, the TT patron was sitting beside me for the first couple of exploratory laps, we went into the wiggle waggle at the top of the circuit, I touched a kerb and was broadside. How was that? OK, the tyres were cold, but not a half turn of opposite type sideways. I had been taught my first Evo computer lesson – the computer had seen the inside rear wheel start to speed up on the kerb and had locked the rear diff, sending us broadside across the track, I held it and presumably the computer helped me do that – bloody things, too clever by half.

I asked Geoff how he could have produced a turbo that gave more power and yet less lag than the standard unit; Oh dear, why did I ask? I just want to drive the car. Pete made a couple more front-end adjustments and it was time for me to enjoy myself.

This Evo was very new, with less than 2,000 miles on the clock. It was a rocket ship, but the superb seat and driving position made me very much at home. There was some heat in the tyres, but a hard out lap made them start to work, the second lap felt fantastic and then the front tyres really kicked in. I began to understand why people love Evos, the back was loose but the computer kept it all under control. Brake, turn-in, back end coming round rally style, ease the throttle to settle the back down and then floor it, a gorgeous long easy drift.

I realised that I was going very fast, the brakes weren’t bedded or faded and began to go away quite early in the lap, but I kept going, who needs brakes with a car that works this well! I guess I do. Woody 2 needed a feather of the throttle – Woody himself uses more track going in, I try to keep to the right of the runway centreline – but out onto the straight and the Evo was flying, 150mph indicated into the braking area for Woody 3, worrying about the brake fade, I braked too early, or was it, neat and tidy through the left and hard into the right over the drain, back on the brakes, into the tight right and it just shot out onto the start-finish straight ignoring the bump on the apex thanks to the relatively soft and sorted suspension.

I knew it was quick, but the brakes had had enough, a slow lap was in order to cool the pads and condition them so that they would work properly for a number of laps. Back on it again and something had changed, suddenly I had mid-corner understeer, the nice lairy turn-in oversteer was gone. The rear tyres had warmed up to join the fronts in giving incredible grip and/or the edges had come off them to bring the back end grip level up. I will always be a rally driver at heart and enjoy having the back of a car coming into sight before the front, and I know that a bit of oversteer with a car with drive in the front wheels will be fast, here the computer had taken over – I presumed that the computer would also make it faster.

The brakes were sorted, mega high speed stopping, this was high-speed fun spelt FUN. Not as lairy as the second flying lap, more controlled and yet more aggressive. I did eight fast laps with a big grin on my face. There was more time to come with some suspension tweaks, but this was essentially to test a turbo on a standard car – I was fascinated as to what the computer was going to say.

A best sectors time of 1.20.48 was sensational – it felt that way driving it. The best single lap was the third lap, before the back tyres came in, a 1.21.49 – still a sensational time for a perfectly normal road saloon. The sector analysis was fascinating, with the oversteer I was quick through the long right hander in sector 2 but slow through Woody 2 due to having to lift and therefore slower down the long straight, Woody 3 was much the same, but again I made time in the tight right onto the start finish straight with the oversteering car. The difference between lap three and lap six was nine-hundredths of a second – I knew the difference and the data logger showed me where I had lost, gained and then lost again – bloody technology!

I stopped before I ruined a perfectly good set of tyres, and let Geoff go and play with his toy – I hadn’t told him that it was also nearly out of fuel!!

Now I know why people enjoy Evos, but I also know that the TT stage 2 conversion is something special – when can I try the 500bhp version, please, please, please…. Oh yes, on the way back to Northampton down the country lanes the nervousness was gone, it was purely a need for a different toe setting and tyre pressures. This beast of a car was a little pussycat purring – granny would have been quite happy in the back! Would she have been happy on the rev limiter in 6th, at 156 mph? Yes, it felt very safe!

Track & Race Cars magazine – February 2008