Powerchip Furore

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One of the sites which we at Zoom seem to have a natural affinity for is performanceforums.com (aka PF) due to the forum's focus on performance vehicles and modifications of all types. Like Zoom, PF likes cars that demonstrate a high degree of performance engineering and design acumen. Many of Zoom's feature cars have been built by members of PF.

PF is also renown for having a collective sense of humour that is equal parts office humour, /b/-type lol-trolling and workshop-floor shenanigans. It is not always appreciated and for some it will be down right offensive.  Sometimes the 'in on one' bandwagon becomes the PF 'lynch mob'. This is all readily admitted by most PF members and in fact is part of the forum's quirky charm.

A recent furore on PF has garnered much attention on other forums and on car enthusiast news blogs. The subject of the thread is Wayne Besanko and his company Powerchip Australia Pty Ltd. It started on another forum and then moved to PF. The thread is now over 80 pages long and there are many other threads across the internet about it. The fragmented nature of the humour means that the furore ceased being simply about Wayne Besanko, who quickly became a straw person, or his business, and shifted into other terrain. Now people are posting to 'be part of it' or as part of a pursuit of internet infamy. Part of the interest in the thread is that internet-based acerbic jostling has spilt over into the 'real world' with the so-called 'gearboxing' of the Powerchip place of business. (Hence the gearbox image above.)

Wayne and I exchanged a few emails about the possibility of doing some product testing of Powerchips in Zoom (an exchange instigated by Wayne based on my comments in the PF thread). But this work has mostly been carried out by another party already. One sensible voice amongst all the clamour has come from Julian Edgar over at Auto Speed. Julian has had a long and illustrious career in automotive journalism and always writes and publishes with integrity. Part of the initial surge of interest on PF was based on an interview that Julian carried out with Wayne approximately a decade ago. It would be fair to say that Julian takes Wayne to task for not really being able to fully back up his technical claims. For example:

AutoSpeed: But the actual program development for those cars - does that fall into the same category of 95 per cent local and 5 percent overseas? 'Manufacturing' of the chip is not a very specific term.

Wayne Besanko: I don't understand what you mean.

AutoSpeed: The chips that you develop yourself, what proportion of those would you have in a car, have the car on the dyno, perhaps have the engine out on an engine dyno, do five gas analysis, study air/fuel ratios, do durability testing - perhaps 1000 hour test trials - the sort of thing that every vehicle manufacturer does when they are developing the original software.

In our email exchanges both Wayne and Julian pointed out another article on Auto Speed, published some six years later, where an Alloytec-powered Commodore had an ECU remapping. Julian writes:

[The] PowerChip 98 RON tune achieves a considerable power gain in an otherwise bog-stock Holden VZ Alloytec. The standard curve (shown in green) maxes at around 109kW at the wheels while the tuned car (its power curve shown in blue) touches 121kW. That’s a gain of 11 percent.

Furthermore, Julian recently had his turbo diesel Skoda Roomster remapped by Powerchip and, as he writes, the outcome was positive. He also notes that technical information about the tuning and remapping of ECUs has come a long way in terms of development since the early 2000s:

And when, just this month, I wanted my turbo diesel Skoda Roomster remapped (it runs the VW 1.9 PD engine), I was happy to approach Powerchip. The car’s modifications will be covered in detail this coming year in a full AutoSpeed series, but the results achieved by Powerchip’s Bill Ingram, working on the Queanbeyan dyno of ESP Racing with Glen Kelly driving, were outstanding.

Together with the intake and exhaust mods already undertaken, the Roomster remap has improved power and fuel economy while retaining absolutely factory driveability. I am amazed at just how good the outcome is – I rather expected a stutter or two, or black smoke, or at least some downside. But I cannot find a single tuning negative.  In this case the tuning software was extremely effective – and I might add that I was able to watch every tuning step being undertaken, and ask Bill (and have answered) whatever questions I wished.

Two points from all this.

Have things got better in terms of tuning cars? Yes, by a simply massive amount.

And should people assume that interviews that are more than a decade old reflect current company abilities? Well, that would be a pretty dumb thing to do…

Check out the rest of the article it makes for interesting reading. It raises questions about the power of the internet archive to haunt people and businesses. A decade is a very long time in automotive engineering development.

In terms of the frontier cultural logic of the internet and online media, the Performance Forums and Besanko incident is an interesting case study.

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