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Ford Falcon Sprint prioritises control

Stacked up: Ford benchmarked the Falcon Sprint against the HSV Clubsport, but the BMW M3 was also in the engineers' minds.

Best-ever handling and ride focus drove the dynamic signature of Ford Falcon Sprint

17 Mar 2016

FORD Australia has revealed that European levels of dynamic capability drove the development of the last-of-the-line Sprint series that launched this week ahead of May production.

The almost sold-out high-performance XR6 Turbo and XR8 swansong, limited to a 1300 unit run for Australia (with a further 100 units heading to New Zealand) plugged into Ford’s global resources to achieve the desired steering, handling, road-holding, and ride results.

“The Sprint was engineered as a cohesive package of changes to create a unique vehicle,” according to Ford Australia chief program engineer, David Burn.

“We wanted the Sprint to be sporty but subtle, for it to have a different look to what we’ve done with Falcons previously. For it to have its own identity.

“We wanted to produce some of the most powerful XR6 and V8s ever… but also for it to utilise the full potential of the chassis and engine, tyre, and suspension changes, which were specially developed to put the power to the road.”

Described as “a small volume program but with an incredible amount of work going into that program”, the Sprint project began immediately after the GT F program concluded in the third quarter of 2014, just as the final FG facelift, the FG X, was coming to market.

Dubbed internally as Project SVP (Special Value Program), it included over 200,000km of vehicle testing, with 16,000 hours of component bench testing and 1000 hours of engine dyno testing.

A Falcon Sprint prototype was sent to Detroit and Arizona in North America, as well as at Saarbrucken in Germany, while back in Australia it underwent hot weather testing in the Northern Territory, brake testing in Winton, Victoria, and ride and handling honing at Phillip Island, Victoria.

The benchmark vehicle was Holden’s HSV F Series Clubsport, though one influence from an earlier evaluation program that was clearly a yardstick in Ford Australia vehicle dynamics manager Alex De Vlugt was the BMW M3. “The M3 was also in mind,” he revealed.

Mr Burn said there were three key elements that the Falcon Sprint program needed to focus on – a subtle yet sporty appearance, better-than-ever performance for an XR series and ultimate chassis grip.

“We had worked on GT F and saw the impact it had, so following on from that, we wanted to know how we could build on that success and do something with the XR Falcon,” he said.

“So for about 18 months, we debated the look of the car… what the powertrain would be, and some of the other areas of what we wanted to touch on.

“With all of these elements working together, it was a car we wanted, what enthusiasts want, and to go out with something that is a real celebration of what the Falcon represents.”

Central to Ford’s goal – and a Falcon first ­– is the employment of the suspension-tuned and matched high-performance Pirelli P-Zero 245/35R19 front and 265/35R19 tyres, improving base line grip “without compromising ride quality”. As a result, tyre yaw behaviour compliance improves 40 per cent, assisted by a 9.0-inch section rear wheel for better overall grip.

They form part of a revised Sprint dynamic strategy that called for quite different outcomes depending on whether the car carries six or eight cylinders.

While the former weighs about 85kg less and hasn’t as much weight over the front wheels, the latter’s V8 and supercharger combo make for a slightly higher centre of gravity, affecting the car’s yaw characteristics.

Over the existing XR8, the aim was to soften the ride, while the differently set-up XR6 Sprint’s main motivation was to provide “a sportier ride”. Both also strive for sharper handling, increased road-holding, improved stability, stronger braking performance, more body control, reduced understeer, and better overall balance.

The rear differential features the 8.6-inch crown wheel and has a clutch-style limited slip functionality, with the 2.73 (auto) and 3.73 (manual) ratios offering no change over the corresponding XR6 Turbo and XR8.

Mr De Vlugt said his team strove to make the Sprint the best handling Blue Oval sedan in the world.

“We wanted to align it as close as possible to Ford’s global high-performance DNA,” he said. “Getting the right level between sportiness and comfort is always difficult. We wanted to get the oversteer balance right.

“The steering rack now has a bit more torque built up on and just off centre… and the aim was to combine better agility with outstanding high-speed stability, improve the balance between suspension breathing and body control, and reduce response delay.” To help achieve those parameters, the Sprint features new front suspension jounce bumpers, retuned Sachs dampers front and rear (with different compression rates all round), XR8 damper top mounts on the XR6, slightly firmer front springs and 35 per cent firmer rear springs in the XR6, and between five and 10 per cent softer springs out back in the XR8 version compared to the corresponding old R-Spec.

“The ride frequency relative to the front and rear now works closer together, to really help keep the car stay flatter,” Mr De Vlugt added.

Aiding this, there has been adjustments to the rear wheel camber, with a higher static camber tune, for optimised rear-wheel grip.

Finally, Brembo six-piston vented disc bakes are on the front axle and Brembo four-piston solid items are out back, while a small bootlid spoiler brings some aero stability as well as visual benefits.

“We wanted to create confidence feel at any speed and lateral acceleration level,” Mr De Vlugt said, “… while providing braking capability that matches the performance potential”.

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