The most powerful Italian road car ever has had its shakedown at Italy’s high-speed proving ground. Yes, Pininfarina’s all-electric Battista ‘hyper-GT’ has been thrashing around Nardo, conducting high speed laps of the 12.6km bowl, and multiple circuits of the 6.2km handling track.
We’ve caught up with Rene Wollmann, the ex-AMG engineer behind the car’s development to find out how testing’s been going.
TopGear.com: How badly delayed have you been by COVID-19?
Rene Wollmann: You can never be happy with the timescale – we want the car finished ‘yesterday’! Of course we have disruption but we can still confirm cars will be delivered to customers in 2021. We changed the plan because of the news changing, but overall the delay caused to us was not as bad as some of the delays COVID has brought to the world.
So Nardo must’ve been pretty useful. Are you planning to test the car on the road? How long before we see lots of Battistas testing on the road?
Well there are not too many Battistas, so just to see one on the road would be like winning the lottery, but joking apart mainly will we be testing on proving grounds. This is not unique these days, because there is disruption on the street. There are road-like test tracks at Nardo. We get so much attention on the road, and even [when doing] something simple like recharging we are getting so many questions – it’s nice but it slows down the work.
How many prototypes are you running right now?
Overall we have nine ‘objects’, but some of them you wouldn’t call a ‘car’. We have the body-in-white sample, some have wheels and some don’t, some cars go directly from being built into crash testing. We [are selling] in Europe and the US so we have a lot of crash testing to do. But overall we have nine chassis VIN, but it doesn’t mean you will see nine cars testing.
What about hot and cold-weather testing? Surely visiting Death Valley or the Arctic is out of the question right now?
Nardo is actually quite a good place for a hot and cold weather environment. The winter is in front of us, so we have something planned. We like to have an environment we can control, like a dyno, rather than taking a whole car to a new environment.
You’re building the most powerful Italian car ever, and a new sort of EV. What on Earth do you benchmark?
It’s all in our head! Not to sound arrogant, but some of us are quite used to this by now, so when there’s a boundary, we’re always chasing beyond, putting our own targets in place. This is a difficulty for sure, what’s too fast, when to stop? There’s no such thing as too fast, but if we set our targets too far away, it takes too long to reach them.
Bugatti has been testing the Chiron Pur Sport on the Nardo handling circuit – surely that lap time is a target?
We’re not necessarily chasing a lap time, this is not what the car is for. This is more of a hyper-GT – good behaviour on curved roads. If you tune a car for sport not comfort, like some of the ‘track tools’ out there, then they can get quite bumpy. If you think about a very nice curvy road in the south of Italy, these roads are quite bumpy sometimes. To be really fast and fun in those kind of conditions, we cannot bring the hardest set-up.
Are you saying your 1,900bhp car is built just as much for comfort as it is for speed?
No! For sure, speed is what we build it for. But not for the final track [lap] record around Nardo.
When people think of fast cars and high-speed testing, they think of the Nürburgring. Do you have any plans to go testing there?
… not yet.
But there’s an electric supercar lap record there waiting to be broken…
… not yet! [laughs] The first [objective] is to put a car on the ground that you can appreciate in every environment, that’s road legal. Then if we find time…
[Here, Pininfarina’s press man leaps in to point out that while the Battista’s rivals will likely focus on circuit performance, the Italian car is supposed to be much more about luxury and comfort than the likes of the Lotus Evija and Rimac C_Two. And of course, if any of the eventual 150 owners do decide to take their Battista to a track day, they’re highly unlikely to find it lacking in punch…]
Going back to testing at Nardo – did it all go smoothly? Any sketchy moments?
For sure, nothing went wrong…. [laughs]. There were some ‘Murphy’s law’ moments when we first started to prepare for running the car then Italy went into lockdown. At the moment when the most valuable components were needed, the country shut down. The only failure we had was the car refusing to start because of a failure of one of the control units. We had a lot of people around the car, all excited, then the car decided to be a diva. The diva didn’t want to work. But I would say this is normal in testing.
What’s next on your to-do list?
Right now we’re doing final design validation, and calibration of the systems. Right now we’re freezing our damper, spring and anti-roll bar settings, and fine-tuning those in the wind-tunnel and simulator. After we’ve done that in the next couple of weeks we jump into calibration, which is a big playground for engineers. We’ll be playing with drive modes, torque vectoring, and even the HMI inside.