SharkWerks part one

Sharks have been parked on our human radar for quite a while now: they’re the ultimate lean, mean, killing machine. Online knowledge dictates that the earliest shark dates back more than 420 million years, so their predatory traits are firmly baked in our consciousness.

Sharks never stop – not even to sleep – and are always up for a fight. If the science behind the sea predators on their own wasn’t awesome enough, sensationalised stories on screen have taken their legend to a whole new level, too.

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has been going strong for a quarter of a century, and now attracts 30 million viewers. One such die-hard fan is Alex.

Born in London at the end of the swinging Sixties, Alex was hooked on Selachimorpha (the scientific name for sharks) well before Discovery spotted the gap in the market. School friends quickly cottoned on to his passion, soon applying the obvious nickname, and ‘Sharky’ Ross was born.

“I was into two things,” remembers Alex. “Sharks and computers. I was one of those teenagers who lived for performance data: things that pushed the envelope. Sharks were top of their food chain, and the fight to stay on top was constant.

The search for faster computers was along the same lines: industry giants in an unpredictable ocean, scared that the minnows were smarter and faster. The big guys had to work hard to survive, so innovation was everywhere.

“Following technology became my fascination. Before the advent of blogging, I wrote online about who was on top and who looked like fish food. That website, called Sharky Extreme, built an audience.

Sharkwerks Porsche, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

Computer firms started sending us products for testing and promoting their wares on our site. It grew and grew: three years later came our first buyout offer, then another, and another. Eventually, the right number came, and we called it a day.

“By then, I had moved to California, close to Silicon Valley. I was happily settled and had some money in the bank – I’d started this website just out of school and took it right to the top. Now, it was time to live a little: buy some toys and blow off some steam.

“Growing up in London in the Seventies had given me a real taste for supercars. I’d always liked the 911 shape and the Turbo badge they stuck to the really fast ones, so I bought myself a 996 Turbo.

“Selling a business that has occupied every waking moment of your life for years leaves a big hole to fill. As good as the 996 Turbo was, it wasn’t enough: I needed more speed.

“It then occurred to me: this thing was run by computer, so maybe I could make it faster, just as I’d done to PCs. I did some research and found that the chips used in cars were the same things we’d been tweaking for years. I found the ECU, pulled it out and got to work.

As Sharky continues, ECU tuning was almost impossible back then. “Chips were soldered in place, so removing them to modify was a total black art. To start with, tweaking data was all we did, taking our Turbo to the drag strip to compare software versions.

Datalogging with Stone Age software offered hints of a direction to follow, but it wasn’t completely specific. We needed someone who was clever with cars, and I knew just the man.”

Sharkwerks Porsche, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

That man was James Hendry, a friend from a forum called Fun Cars. James was a Porsche trained technician who was well into tuning, and the two men hit it off instantly: “We swapped a few posts, talked about projects and it snowballed from there,” Sharky says.

“We entered some tuning competitions, kept running the drag strip and eventually claimed the National Hot Rod Association’s street car quarter-mile record at 10.5 seconds, with a terminal speed of 138mph. It took 18 months for someone to beat us!”

At that point, Sharky’s partner, Joan, who had also been his business partner on the computer website, suggested a merger of talents and experience to turn this fast-moving hobby into a business. “We reached an agreement in 2005, and that’s how SharkWerks was born,” confirms Sharky.

Upon arriving at SharkWerks’ base in Fremont, California, it’s obvious that this is no regular Porsche shop. The first clue is a Toyota RAV4 parked outside, with ‘electric vehicle’ stickers down its flanks.

Next to that is another electric car. I’m all for electric technology, but I wonder for a moment if we’re in the right place. “California is beautiful, but normal driving here is not easy,” says Alex.

“Fuel prices soar up and down, and rush hour traffic is crazy. For those of us who are forced to drive to the office, the daily commute can be soul destroying.

“There’s a lot of bad press around electric cars, but it’s good technology that makes life easier. Low emission cars in California can use car sharing lanes with only one person, so commuting is faster, not to mention cheaper.

Sharkwerks Porsche, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

“My RAV4 is a factory conversion and fully electric: I’ve got a plug-in point at work, which makes it simple to live with.” The nearby Tesla factory heightens EV consciousness.

Tesla hasn’t answered every question regarding electric cars, but they understand the importance of performance in changing mass behaviour. Combustion engines struggle to match the instant surge of torque from electric motors.

Porsche now fits electric power to racing cars (GT3 R Hybrid) and the latest Panamera Sport Turismo. Current EV thinking might not be the ultimate solution, but a revolution could be right around the corner, especially here in California. By using and understanding EVs, SharkWerks can easily keep in touch with progress.

Keeping abreast of the EV revolution makes good business sense in this part of the world, but SharkWerks is not short of work in the meantime. Having spent the last seven years building a reputation for easy-going professionalism that ultimately leads to Porsche satisfaction, owners have complete trust in the team.

“We’re now at the point where some people are buying cars and not driving them in standard form,” Alex explains. “The new car is delivered to the dealer, the customer tells us when it’s arriving, we collect the car on their behalf and add our suggested upgrades before they use it themselves.”

Sharkwerks Porsche, Fremont, CA. 7 November 2012

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