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The name Sebastian Vettel might not excite a lot of people. Only fans of Formula One racing will even know without looking him up on Wikipedia that this German chap was the youngest-ever world champion when he took the driver's title last year at age 23. He also has a comfortable lead over his rivals this season, which could also make him the second-youngest F1 champ. Now his name has been applied to a special version of the Infiniti FX50 crossover: the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Version.

"I have been driving an FX all this year," said Vettel, "and it's a car I love. But it could go a little faster." So the engineers at Infiniti did to an FX50 what any team of technicians would do with their race cars. They started by increasing output of the 5.0-liter V8 from 390 horsepower to 420. This was achieved by re-flashing the ECU and fitting a freer-flowing exhaust system.

Next came the transmission. Vettel needed taller ratios to help attain a target top speed of 186 mph. The suspension was stiffened while ride height was lowered by nearly an inch; a new set of lightweight 21-inch alloy wheels were fitted, and then the aerodynamics were optimized ("I wanted better stability," said Vettel) - even the door mirrors were re-shaped. To help our man feel more at home, the interior has plenty of sporty carbon fiber and black suede. At 4,500 pounds, the Vettel Version is said to be 101 pounds lighter than a standard FX50.

"This is the first road car I have helped develop," said Vettel. "It is all I hoped for - and I can still fit my mountain bike in the back." Infiniti calls it a "crossover supercar."

Just one thing, this is a one-off machine. "The FX Sebastian Vettel is unique and very much Sebastian's car. But at the same time, it is a concept car for Infiniti globally," said the company's VP, Toru Saito.

Here's the deal: Infiniti is part of Nissan. Nissan has a partnership with the French company, Renault. Renault supplies engines to Vettel's Red Bull Racing F1 team. The Infiniti marque has only recently been launched in Europe, hence the unveiling of this car at the Frankfurt Auto Show. With this connection, Infiniti and Red Bull Racing (the class of the F1 grid) can collaborate on high-performance versions to compete with BMW M cars and Mercedes-Benz AMG machines, yet gain the kind of credibility in a short time that has taken the German companies decades to nurture. And remember the old racing saying: "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday."

So a hot FX could one day become available in North America. In the meantime, you can catch Sebastian Vettel drive his work car around a brand-new track in Austin, Texas, when Formula One - the pinnacle of motorsport - returns to the States. The US Grand Prix takes place on November 18, 2012.

 

See more coverage of the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show.

 

COLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.
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