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Appleby's power chip delivers one hell of a drive

By Ian Porter
September 9 2002


Picture: NIC KOCHER
Sold over 50 metres: Stuart Appleby, left, and Wayne Besanko of Powerchip.

Stuart Appleby is a keen driver, and not just on the golf course.

The runner-up in this year's British Open golf tournament drives a BMW M5 when he is at home in Orlando, Florida, but even the car widely rated as the fastest sedan in the world is not quite right.

Appleby wanted a bit more oomph, especially in the middle of the rev range, where most drivers spend most of their driving time.

But looking for help to solve the problem almost drove him to distraction until he accidentally surfed on to a Melbourne company's website and remembered some ads he had seen in vehicle magazines 10 years ago.

"America is so big you can always find what you want, but I just kept bumping into nothing when I was looking for improvements to the M5," he says.

"What irritated me was that everyone in the US was telling me it could not be done."

When Appleby finally made contact with Wayne Besanko at Powerchip, his search was over - almost. M5s are so rare in Australia that Powerchip had not been able to get its hands on one to design a new program for the engine control unit or ECU.

When it finally did, Appleby was impressed by the fact that, with some coaching from Mr Besanko, he was able to use his portable computer to download the program from the Web and install it himself at his Florida home.

"I remember backing the car out at night," he says. "I drove 50 yards and it hit me. This was awesome."

He was sold. Since then, he has organised similar Powerchip upgrades for five of his BMW-driving friends on the PGA tour, and is planning to visit his neighbour Tiger Woods.

"I live only a couple of hundred yards down the road from Tiger, so I think I'll go and knock on his door. He has a couple of nice Porsches."

The response from his golfing colleagues and other car enthusiasts in the US has led Appleby to make his biggest investment decision: he has bought a large slice of Powerchip, which will use the $US500,000 ($A925,000) of fresh capital to attack the huge American market.

"The US is the biggest market in the world and we wanted to go in with a wholly owned subsidiary which can control distribution and appoint agents," Mr Besanko says.

"We will also establish a research and development operation to ensure that all our programs continue to meet the strict emission laws in California."

Powerchip, the market leader in Australia with revenue of more than $4 million a year, already has a lively business with US customers.

"Every week we receive about 30 ECUs from customers desperate to have them 'chipped'," Mr Besanko says.

"It's much quicker than pulling engines out and having them modified.

"That can take weeks or months. We can send the ECUs back within 24 hours."

Mr Besanko claims Powerchip not only has more programs than the opposition - more than 1000 models have been done - it has already managed to crack the best that the car makers can produce.

"They have done a good job on some of the latest Porsches. The protection in some of the latest Bosch software is just phenomenal.

"We are always pushing. We want to be first. We cracked the Porsche.

"It's just a matter of applying yourself."

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