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Staff columnist

It's been a challenging economy to launch a hypercar project, but it seems Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche have approached the task with ingenuity and humour in equal measure. Starting off in Maranello, Ferrari has finally admitted that their LaFerrari flagship supercar does not actually exist. Amidst a rising tide of rumours regarding the delayed launch - including allegations that the chassis failed crash tests - the Italians felt it was the right time to come clean. "The car does not exist, quite simply", stated Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari's design director. "This is not a mistake, but it has always been intentional - it is true, the direct translation of LaFerrari is 'The Ferrari', but subliminally there is an oxymoron at play," continued Manzoni. "You must realize that we are very powerful in marketing the Ferrari brand and that our customer base thrives on mystique, even illusion in some cases. They love to be teased, like a man who cannot bed the sensuous and curvy woman that constantly provokes him. Only Ferrari can create these emotions and attach them to a car." Manzoni admitted that the very idea sounded unbelievable, but went on to describe deposit holders' reaction when the scheme was revealed. "To a man, they paid the remaining balance anyway - in fact, they begged us to take the money. Of course, we knew this would be the case, as our methods with LaFerrari have been honed over decades, starting originally with the Fiorano lap time, which also does not exist. No, let me be clear - the Fiorano track is real, but we have never timed a car, there. The marketing department has always made up the lap time - indeed, in most cases, it is the first thing we design on the car. I don't even know what a good real time would be, but this is irrelevant."

Over in Stuttgart, Porsche spokespeople giggled their way through a company statement regarding the 918 hypercar's true curb weight. According to Porsche, "the 918 will actually weigh 1315 kg, or exactly 9.18% less than the Carrera GT." To be precise, Porsche clarified that the delta is 9.1799%, but that they thought 9.18 looked better, considering the name of the model. When pressed to explain the reason for holding back this information, Porsche would only say that the whole thing was a ruse to paint the company in a more jovial light. "We are tired of people saying we are too German, too logical or clinical or something like this. Germans are actually very funny people, we can play practical jokes and we like to drink beer, for example. So we thought why not a prank to show this side of the company? We would never build a range-topping Porsche hypercar that weighs 1700 kg - come on now, that is just a silly proposition. Our Cayenne SUV doesn't even weigh this much."

Lastly, Woking brought us news in the form of the McLaren Group shutting down their wind-tunnel facility. It is no secret that the perennial Formula One contenders have been struggling this year and against the backdrop of a global recession, difficult decisions have to be made. Racing outfit CEO Martin Whitmarsh explained the rationale. "When something is not working, naturally you begin to look for alternatives, particularly if those alternatives can also save you money", said Whitmarsh. "The tunnel correlations have been off this year, so we began to look everywhere, I mean really look under every rock for answers." Those answers, it seems for the British operation, were right under their nose, and available free of charge. "Car forums", said Whitmarsh. "They're jam-packed with experts and intellectual talent." Whitmarsh explained how the company has been able to tap the world wide web of knowledge to not only get their racing program back on track, but keep McLaren Automotive thriving, as well. "For the racing, it's a straight transfer of intellectual property; a forum member posts what he thinks happened during the race and we just implement it for the next weekend, simple as that. The savings compared to running the wind tunnel 24 hours a day are immense, as I'm sure you can imagine." On the road car side, it was actually group chairman Ron Dennis who pushed the organization to leverage the wealth of constructive opinion that abounds online, says Whitmarsh. "Ron is a firm believer in recruiting top talent and sometimes that expertise just does not exist between the walls of the company. We've made some mistakes in the past, putting our faith in world champions and experienced test drivers, for example. These guys don't actually know anything about how a fast car is supposed to handle, how it should feel or how to have fun, really. Lewis Hamilton once told me he's never enjoyed driving anything, not even go-karts. And we erred when we took feedback from him and Jenson (Button). Now, we just browse the forums and we are making huge strides, especially in the last stages of the P1's development. There are guys on there that do lots of track days and are just really, really impressive in terms of their understanding of car control and vehicle dynamics. Moreover, they're teaching us to go slower and have more fun, you know, kind of a stop and smell the roses at the side of the circuit sort of thing." Whitmarsh concluded by giving more insight into chairman Dennis' fixation with the car discussion websites. "I probably shouldn't say this, but Ron recently confided in me that he doesn't know how any of his past business ventures succeeded before the advent of car forums. He said he reads the sites religiously, taking the best business ideas from forum members and re-packaging them as his own initiatives for the Board. It has really taken his understanding of the car business to a whole new level."
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