Please extend a warm welcome to Tavarish from Jalopnik and APIDAonline as he takes you step by step through the Alex Roy cross-country Q50 — JB
Life, when it boils down to its base elements, is about one thing: legacy. It’s up to the movers and shakers in the world to make sure that not only are they never forgotten, but that their accomplishments are so far outside what’s possible that all one can do is stand by the wayside in quiet admiration, with a pinch of envy. Alex Roy happens to be one of these modern-day luminaries, and as you’ve probably learned today, he, along with two co-drivers, shattered the transcontinental record in a car that is a pioneer in its own right. Here’s what it’s like.
As a preface, Alex Roy is a personal friend of mine. After a light lunch at a downtown New York bistro, he let me in on his plans to attempt the transcontinental run, and although he seemed quite excited, I didn’t get any details at that point. Later in the week, he contacted me and said that I’d be able to view the car as it was being built – I’d be the only person outside Team Polizei and the car’s builders to actually see the car in the metal. I’d also be able to ask his co-driver, Greg Ledet, the geeky technical aspects of the build. I was allowed to audio-record my conversation, but there was a catch – I’d be able to take exactly zero photographs.
Note: The picture you see above is a reasonable facsimile of what the car looked like. It is not Alex Roy’s actual car.
I hastily got my coat and headed to the shop where the car was being held and subsequently modified. What I saw when I walked into the dusty shop was something akin to The Six Million Dollar Man if you’re over 30, or Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man if you’re not. The car was in various states of disassembly, but what was readily apparent was that there had been major work done to make this car the ultimate outfit of stealth and speed. Alex told me that the car had just been taken out of the heated paint booth a few days ago and the paint was still fresh.
As far as the not-so-subtle touches, the inside of the car was a symphony (or perhaps a cacophony) of at least three decades worth of technology and hundreds of man-hours of work – the crowning achievement being the double-steering wheel arrangement. Roy deferred my questions to co-driver Greg Ledet, who answered with an astonishing amount of detail.
Tavarish: How did you arrange the physical placement of the steering wheel?
Greg Ledet: It’s actually easier than it looks. Infiniti made a right-hand-drive version of this exact car in Southeast Asia. The dashboard is nearly symmetrical, so we had the front clip shipped in from a crashed car. We were extremely lucky in that the parts car we got was rear-ended, so all front airbags were in tact. The Q50 has a steer-by-wire system, which uses electronic sensors primarily, and a mechanical linkage with a clutch as a backup, meaning if one of the systems fails, the electronic clutches engage and you’d have regular mechanical steering in a pinch. There isn’t such a thing as a double-steering rack, so we rigged up a sort of ingenious system – we wired the sensors in parallel, with the only mechanical fail-safe being in the original, left-hand-side steering wheel, then we would use a console mounted switch to switch between the inputs of the driver and passenger – also controlling the input of the dual throttles. The brakes were a little simpler – we put a welded stainless steel rod underneath the dash across the fulcrum points of both pedals, like you’d get in a Driver’s Ed car. This was done as a safety measure, so either front seating position could brake at any time, regardless of who’s actually driving at the time. The system’s near flawless – no warning lights and everything works like it was made at the factory. As far as the car is concerned, it has one steering wheel and one set of pedals. Hell, even the airbags work, but I hope we never have to test them!
With the floor of the car still littered with jagged metal edges and body shop dust, Alex dutifully popped the hood, and I noticed that the powerplant was not something available to just anyone at the local Infiniti dealer. In the engine bay lay the venerable VR38DETT, pulled from a 2014 GT-R, breathed on with slightly larger turbochargers, an aluminum intake manifold, TIG-welded exhaust manifolds, and a blacked out stealth front-mount intercooler running across the car’s large mouth. From ten feet away, the front looked entirely stock – exactly the desired outcome of the car that was all but anonymous from the next lane over.
All the usual under-hood plastics were gone and what remained was actually quite a bit roomier than I thought would be available in a modern car. The stock rubber fuel lines were replaced with blue and red AN fittings and stainless steel hoses, and radar detecting and jamming equipment with zip-tied signal and power lines ran the length of the engine bay, leading to the front grille. I asked Ledet about the choice of powerplant.
Tavarish: Why the GT-R? I mean, the stock engine is more than capable of handling a fair amount of power. Do you think that this is a bit of overkill, or reinventing the wheel?
Greg Ledet: Not at all. There’s a reason why the GT-R is a great track car – it has an great platform for power and stability. That’s what we wanted above all else. In some of these sections, we’re hitting close to 200 (miles per hour), with 50 gallons of fuel on board, and three people. When we go radio dark and we’re relying only on night vision, the only thing we’re really putting our trust in is the stability of the car and our drivers. Since we can’t upgrade the drivers, the car has to be top notch in every way. The stock engine, on top of not being very performance-heavy, can develop problems with the rods after a certain amount of power. I’ve seen pistons punch holes through the stock block, and that’s the last thing we’d want in a run. It’s all about safety.
Tavarish: Are you going to rely on the GT-R’s suspension?
Greg Ledet: No way. The GT-R was set up for a car with a specific wheelbase and weight. This car is heavier and longer, so we had to throw away the stock suspension components and go completely custom with control arms made of CNC aluminum and a front subframe made of tube steel. We also have shocks that were designed as a prototype by the same manufacturer that made the original magnetic ride shocks for the Audi R8. That company was looking to get into the aftermarket, and we needed an off-the-shelf suspension solution. A match made in heaven, I guess.
Tavarish: What kind of power is this setup putting out?
Greg Ledet: That’s a question with two answers. First, we have standalone engine management system with a conservative tune that made 654 horsepower at the crank. With drivetrain losses, we’re looking at high 500’s to the wheels, which is OK, because that engine map has a built-in lean-burn mode. What this means is that when we’re at cruising speed, it jacks the timing up a tad and leans out the mixture in the cylinder, allowing us to get acceptable gas mileage in triple digit speeds. We thought about using methanol as an additive to lower the potential for knock, but space was limited – we just didn’t have any space in the trunk with the 55-gallon fuel cell in the way. We also didn’t want to risk running out of methanol in the middle of the run and have diminished power, so we decided on E85. It’s practically race gas, and there are enough stations along the route for us to refuel without any real concern of running dry. In addition to that tune, we have a “balls out” tune that cranks the boost and just dumps gas into the cylinder. It’s a little richer, but does it ever fly. We had it on the dyno a month ago, and it maxed out at more than 850 crank horsepower, which is around 750 or so, to the wheels. This helps in the uphill areas and in any stop-start scenarios we may come across. We have a switch in the console that can switch between engine maps on the fly.
Inside the car, the headliner was removed and what looked to be a molded Lexan enclosure was bolted to the roof. Bits and pieces of the A and B pillar trim were taken apart to bolt brackets holding cheese plates that housed all of the invaluable radio, GPS, and police-tracking equipment.
Tavarish: It looks like a few of your components serve the same purpose. Why?
Greg Ledet: Here’s the easiest way I can explain it: In a 747, every single system is backed up by another, independent system at least twice. That’s because when you’re in the air, the last thing you want is to have something fail or give you a false reading. It’s all about redundancy. If we can have an iPad that transmits our location securely, it’s better to have two to make sure we don’t have any glitches throughout the run. We also don’t want to have anyone think this was staged or faked, and the way to prove it is to have mountains of evidence to back it up – all at the appropriate time, of course. As it stands, I think we’ll have the most datapoints of any transcontinental run, ever.
Tavarish: What do you have on this car that has never been used before on a run?
Greg Ledet: Ha ha, I think it’s better to ask what has been used before, because the car as a whole is a big expensive experiment, and that would be a shorter list. We have a FLIR thermal imaging and low light turret system being installed in the roof. Whoever’s in the back will have the job of calling out anything they see. What’s great about the system is that it has a 360 degree view, in almost all directions, including straight up. This will let us know what to look for, miles before we actually see it with any of our night vision equipment. Deer in the road? It lights up like the 4th of July. Plane following us? We’ll be able to see it like a flashlight in a darkroom. I mean, you can even see the heat signature of car tires on the road to see what’s ahead of you, which, when you’re going 150 in complete darkness is invaluable. We’re also the first car to have an active deterrent system, which is real James Bond stuff. We have kind of a smoke screen. It’s our last resort option if shit really hits the fan. On top of all that, we have multiple hidden hard-wired HD cameras positioned at nearly every angle of the car, recording the entire run in 1080p on 128GB Class 10 cards. We’re also streaming directly to the cloud, so we’ll have time stamps on both the internal cards and the uploads. It’ll be useful in proving the run and in the documentary that we’re releasing after this whole thing gets done.
Tavarish: If I may ask, how much did all this cost?
Greg Ledet: I’m actually not sure, Alex is the money man here. I know his last run was about half a million dollars, the working budget for this run has to be triple that, easily. We have more than the last run’s budget tied up in this car alone.
After composing myself, I thanked both Alex Roy and Greg Ledet, and reflected on what I had just experienced. These were, pardon the pun, driven individuals that stopped at nothing to put their mark on the world. Whether the mark is relevant or necessary is another matter altogether, but there’s something to be said of a team that’s passionate about doing something that’s dangerous and illegal in a way that removes as many variables as possible. Maybe it isn’t noble, but it is notable. The car was a masterpiece by itself, and with the permission of Alex and Team Polizei, I’d love to take a second look at the finished, ground-breaking, record-setting vehicle that scorched the country in a little more than a day.
Tavarish is the founder of APiDA Online and writes about buying and selling cool cars on the internet. He owns the world’s cheapest Mercedes S-Class, a graffiti-bombed Lexus, and he’s the only automotive journalist that has never driven a Miata. He also has a real name that he didn’t feel was journalist-y enough so he used a pen name and this was the best he could do.
You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He won’t mind.