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How Weather Affects Your Porsche

By Jordan Cameron Remeljej, Owner, Modern Aircooled

How high, how wet, how cold, and why it matters.

This is the first of a two-part TalkingTech. This first write-up introduces the principles on how weather affects oxygen potential for your engine. In next month’s article I’ll examine three different Porsche engines and how they compensate for those conditions to make more or less power.

More unique to the automobile as a product is the prevalence of old wives tales. When it comes to our vehicles we tend to have a much stronger interest in the inner working than we do with most of our other equally utilitarian possessions. It’s this difference in interest levels that has spawned hundreds of car clubs, but far fewer dishwasher appreciation societies.

What is wonderful about this broader interest is a higher level of knowledge (or in some cases conjecture) that allows a much better discourse in discussing the different elements of automobile function. I’m sure we can all recall a particular heated discussion between friends, family, or colleagues about whether turbochargers or superchargers are better (turbos every day!), or whether pushrods have a place in the modern engine (they don’t!) for example.

1988 Porsche 911 Carrera. By It Here Today!

Cold Weather Equals Power?

In this month’s column I’m going to weigh in on one of the more settled (as far as the engineers are concerned) topics that comes into contention with an almost seasonal regularity. Does my engine make more power when it’s cold outside? The answer, yes, yes it does, but not always! I will now try and explain why.

The internal combustion engine is commonly referred to, and understood to be an air pump. It can extract the chemical potential energy from a number of different fuels (petrol, diesel, vegetable oil, natural gas, e.g.) but the unifier in all designs is that power output is measured by how much oxygen, and how efficiently that oxygen, can pass from intake to exhaust. More oxygen allows more fuel to be burnt for a given period of time, which means more power.

Not All Air is Created Equal

Aside from pollutants, other environmental concerns etc., the air we breathe at sea level is generally only about 20% oxygen. The rest being mostly nitrogen (78%), with a couple of percentage points being argon, carbon dioxide and other gases. If we take a theoretical cubic foot of this air we can change the total amount of oxygen that can exist within that space my adjusting a number of environmental factors. These factors are: altitude, humidity, and temperature.

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The Elevation Factor

Air has a mass, and is therefore subject to gravity, the weight of the air above, squishes down upon the air below causing it to compress slightly. The general rule here is we lose half a percentage point of oxygen content for every thousand feet of elevation we climb. Starting at sea level (20%) and driving ten thousand feet up a mountain we would be able to see a drop to approximately 14.3% oxygen. This means we would see 5.7% less oxygen in our cubic foot.

The Humidity Factor

Here in Houston we know all about humidity. Half an hour after a light shower we all feel the soupy air in our lungs. That water vapor in the air displaces other gases. This leads to a reduction in usable oxygen in our cubic foot of air. There are multiple standards in determining the amount of measurable moisture content in air, but the principle remains, the more water vapor that exists in our cubic foot, the less oxygen we have to work with.

The Temperature Factor

The last and most easily noticeable effect on the oxygen content available to us is temperature. It is not common for us to quickly scale or descend 10,000 feet, or drive a vehicle between 0% and 100% humidity. We do however often wake up to find a morning up to 40-50 degrees cooler than when we were driving the day before. Temperature affects the density of the air in our cubic foot.

The colder the air the less energy its molecules conserve, the slower they move, the closer spaced they can be in our container. Closer spacing allows for more molecules to exist in the same defined space, leading to more potential oxygen in our container. It is a hard and fast rule for a material to contract when cooled and expand when heated (assuming no change of state is observed, looking at your water with your magic expanding ice cubes).

Horsepower Potential

While the math of this density change is more difficult to follow, here is where we can start talking horsepower. On a typical naturally aspirated motor you can see a potential horsepower shift of 1% per every 10’ degrees observed change. Higher temperatures mean less power, lower temperatures mean more. Directly linked to the available oxygen that can be delivered to the combustion chamber per combustion event.

While these scientific principles and environmental conditions well deliver more or less horsepower on paper, in real life they exist as horsepower potential. What your engine is able to make of these conditions is what takes the statement about cooler weather making more power and shifts it into a ‘yes, but maybe not’ discussion.

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Next Time

In the next segment I will extrapolate this topic to how these conditions actually affect the running of three different engine types. How these engines respond, and which, if any, bragging rights you might have as far as power on these colder winter mornings. I will discuss a carbureted engine, as those found in a 356 or early 911, a modern naturally aspirated engine with port fuel injection and a computer controlling individual ignition events such as out 996, 997, and 991.1 motors. Then finally how forced induction engines try to work around these principles but ultimately cannot defy physics, the 991.2’s for example.

A heat camera on a Porsche 997 Turbo's intake
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Performance Winter Tires

Performance winter tires are the ideal choice for some, but not every, winter tire buyer. True to their name, performance winter tires provide greater handling and steering response on cold, damp and wet roads than studless ice and snow tires. And compared to all-season tires, performance winter tires provide better traction in snow, slush and ice.

But performance winter tires fall short of the snow and ice grip of studless ice and snow tires. “The outright snow and ice traction of a performance winter tire is not quite as good as a studless ice and snow tire,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack Inc.

So which option is best for a driver who wants extra comfort and safety in the cold months? The answer depends on the vehicle, the local climate and the customer’s driving style.

Performance versus mainstream

Drivers who put studless ice and snow tires on their cars give up a bit of the steering response and handling and the “connected driving feel” of a performance tire.

“The performance winter tire is geared around a more powerful, higher performing vehicle, or a driver who wants to retain more of the sporty handling of his or her vehicle when the roads are clear,” says Rogers.

Performance winter tires typically have higher speed ratings and tend to come in lower profile sizes, making them better suited for American muscle cars, European performance cars, Japanese sports cars and performance luxury cars such as higher-end Lexus, BMW, Audi, and larger Mercedes.

“Performance winter tires are definitely more for these performance vehicles and not the mainstream,” says Rogers. But manufacturers offer performance winter tires for some mainstream sedans. “I’d say it’s fifty-fifty as to more mainstream fitments,” says Rogers. “You may find there are both options available or you may find there’s only the studless tire.”

He notes that a performance winter tire has better snow and ice traction than an ultra-high performance all-season tire. Performance winter tires bear the three-peak mountain snowflake symbol that indicates the tires meet the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association standards.

A performance climate

Most climates in the U.S. are what Rogers calls “performance climates,” where the roads are clear and wet during the winter months.

“You get icy patches, but it’s not like you are driving through slush and snow six days a week. As a general rule, more clear, dry and wet days, versus snowy days, shift you toward a performance winter tire.”

Ask what customers really want

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As in all tire sales, the type of winter tire a dealer recommends to customers comes down to what they need for their style of driving, the kind of vehicle they have and the available fitments. But the difference between performance winter tires and studless ice and snow tires adds another layer to the buying decision.

“Do customers want maximum snow and ice traction or a balance of snow and ice traction plus clear road handling? That will help them decide between a studless ice and snow tire or a winter performance tire,” says Rogers.

If a customer wants something better than an all-season tire and is willing to give up some snow and ice traction in exchange for better handling on clear roads, the choice is the performance winter tire. ■

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Performance winter tires: a subset of UHP
Tire Rack considers performance winter tires to be a subset of the UHP tire category. “We drop the ultra-high part of it because it is not ultra-high performance from a traditional perspective, which is the dry and wet traction side of the equation,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist.

“Because of the step down in dry and wet performance for this performance winter segment versus ultra-high performance summer or all-season, I don’t know anyone who is bold enough to say a tire is ultra-high performance and winter at the same time.”

Although the snow performance of all-season tires as a whole is improving, they lack the ice traction of a dedicated winter tire. Performance winter tires have been improving in the snow, too, but to a smaller degree.

“The winter performance is very high even for performance winter tires, so tire manufacturers are making them quieter, improving the wet traction, and working on other aspects, like dry road steering response. And that’s true for both studless ice and snow tires as well as performance winter tires.”

If a customer wants something better than an all-season tire and is willing to give up some snow and ice traction in exchange for better handling on clear roads, the choice is the performance winter tire.

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Ann NealSenior Editor

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What Is Trail Braking & How To Trail Brake

The number one skill that our race car coaches see across all levels of racing that separates the great drivers from the good drivers, and then the good drivers from the bad is the ability to trail brake.  Before we get into how to trail brake let’s first discuss what is actually is and why it is so important.

What Is Trail Braking

Trail braking means having a small amount of brake pressure still being applied as the driver carves the car all the way down to the apex.  It is important to understand that during the trail brake zone (after initial turn in all the way down to the apex) we are not applying a lot of pressure.  Instead, it should feel like you are simply resting your big toe on the brake pedal.

The goal here isn’t really to be slowing the car down.  Yes we are doing that, but in my mind I’m conciously doing this simply to try and keep weight on the front nose as I turn.  That is the big reason why I am doing it.

Do We Ever Not Trail Brake?

Yes, there are a few exceptions.  But these are exceptions to the rule.  Example corners of where we don’t trail brake are almost all limited to high-speed corners where there we do not need to brake on corner entry.  Some examples of corners on different race tracks would be:

The Kink at Road America

Turn 8 at Thunderhill

Turn 12 at Road Atlanta

You will notice there is a constant theme in these corners.  All high-speed corners where we don’t brake at all. So, for nearly every other type of corner where we will be braking, we will have some form on trail brake.  

This may mean we will see less initial brake pressure to be able to extend our brake zone to be longer but with lighter pressure for corners with typically short brake zones.  This is a great technique for the higher speed corners where we still need a little bit of braking to be done. The lighter pressure allows less weight to be transferred to the front end, which will keep the rear more settled.  This will allow us to still have the front grip we want without getting that over ration after turn in.

How To Trail Brake

The way I like to trach trail braking is as a 3 step process.  The first step of this process is identifying where our initial throttle application spot comes in.  

Initial Throttle Application – This is a golden rule that our race car coaches focus on.  We tell our drivers the following, “You are not allowed to get to throttle until the apex.  Until the point, you can start to unwind the steering wheel.”  

We really want to develop this discipline.  To understand why let’s talk about the two reasons why we see drivers apply the throttle before the apex:

  1. They feel the car has too much oversteer and the throttle settles the rear.
  2. The driver has over slowed, and when we overslow the only thing we can do is get to throttle.

So, let’s talk about point 1 first.  It is totally true that a little bit of maintenance throttle will settle the rear and create understeer.  There are some cases we want to do this, but in almost every scenario this will hurt us more than it will ever help. For most drivers the oversteer they are trying to fix is actually a good oversteer, we want that oversteer to rotate the car so we have the car pointed in the right direction mid-corner.  

We have a great article on oversteer and how to control it here:

How To Control Oversteer

I like the drivers I work with at Racers360 to think about maintenance throttle in the following way: Sure, it may make the car feel better.  But, you are essentially taking the ceiling of the ultimate amount of grip your car has, or the ultimate amount of entry speed you can bring in while still getting the perfect exit, and significantly lowering it.  

We need that weight on the front nose and that rotation to drive at a high level.  So, I would rather them focus on learning car control and experiment with the line for where a good level of rotation turns into too much rotation, rather than preventing any rotation from happening at all.

Now for point 2.  I want to break the bond between over slowing and getting to throttle.  The two should NOT be related in our minds.  

If we can be completely disciplined on not allowing throttle before the apex we may feel too slow on entry but we don’t turn one negative into two negatives and create a bad habit along the way.  Instead, once we feel like we are over slowing while turning into the corner and we take away the option of going to throttle to fix this issue our brain will naturally look for another solution to its problem.  

There are only two ways to fix over slowing. Those options are:

  1. Picking Up Throttle Too Early – Bad Solution
  2. Rolling More Entry Speed Next Lap – Good Solution!

Rolling More Entry Speed

So, now that we have built our discipline of not picking up initial throttle before the apex, we can focus on rolling more entry speed.  The first step of this next process is NOT braking deeper.  

We first focus on the back end of our brake zone.  Initially, I want the drivers I work with to do everything in the brake zone the same.  

Once they have mastered the discipline of the throttle application they will want to naturally start to roll in more entry speed.  Once they get to this stage I want them to focus on braking at the exact same initial spot, with the nice threshold pressure early in the brake zone.  But, here is the key thing that we tell them.

Focus on getting off of threshold brake pressure earlier and extending our brake zone to be longer but with much less time spent at heavy pressure and much more time spent on very light brake pressure.  Releasing the brakes should be a very slow process as we enter the corner.

The following graphic explains what we want to see using a data graph example.  The red line would be how their brake zone initially looks and the green line looks like what we see our drivers doing after a session with a Racers360 coach.

how does trail braking work

The Final Part

The very last thing that we want to see our drivers start to work on is braking later.  Only once they have mastered step one and two. Once they have mastered step 2 and still feel like they are over slowing, that is when we can focus on braking deeper.

It is so important to do this last not only because it is the highest risk part, but also because for lap time braking deep does nothing for us if we can’t combine it with good entry speed, a good turn in, a good apex, and a great exit.  Figuring all the rest out first lets us know what it all is supposed to feel like and we will know if we brake too deep because we won’t execute the rest of the corner how we want to.

So, when race car drivers get to this stage we teach our drivers to slowly bring their brake zones later and later lap by lap. Our objective here is to get it to the point that we start to make small mistakes such as:

  • Missing our turn in point
  • Too much brake pressure still on after turn in
  • Locking up the tires during straight line braking
  • Too much entry speed so we miss the apex or can’t get to throttle where we want to

Once we start making these mistakes we back up that brake zone slightly and then we know we are right at the limit!

By Dion von Moltke | December 7, 2018