"A successful two-day shakedown and now onto the serious mileage"
Q&A with Simon Dowson, Operations Director, Delta Motorsport (Silverstone, UK)
You are currently putting the finishing touches to the very powerful new Grand Prix Masters race car which has undergone a successful two-day shakedown this week. Can you please provide a technical overview?
It's a state-of-the-art single-seater racing car powered by a 3.4-litre V8 engine that has been built by the renowned engine suppliers Nicholson-McLaren. It is based on the superb Cosworth XB engine that won many races in North America and we have developed it so that it can now produce well in excess of 600 horsepower without the use of a turbocharger (which the XB originally ran with). The engine is controlled by an electronic management system and can rev to over 10,000rpm -- although the engine will not have an automatic limiter on it, so drivers will have to ensure they don't over-rev when changing gear. The transmission has been designed and built by Ricardo and is a six-speed sequential unit that uses an Equipmake paddle-shift system, with the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, just like a Formula One car.
The drivers will use a conventional foot clutch to pull away from a standstill but after that all gear changes will be clutchless and will come at the flick of the paddle. To allow the gears to engage smoothly, the system automatically blips the throttle during downshifts to prevent the rear wheels locking. The chassis is made from an incredibly strong mix of carbon-fibre and aluminium honeycomb. We are using the very latest construction techniques to apply high-density foam to large parts of the driver's 'tub'. This ensures an excellent level of energy absorption in the event of an accident and means we will comply with the most stringent standards in terms of side intrusion, side impact, front impact and rear crashbox testing.
The brakes are produced by AP and consist of cast iron brake discs and carbon-metallic brake pads that ensure excellent braking without an undue risk of fade. We have not opted for full carbon brake discs as part of the attraction of the Grand Prix Masters series will be proper overtaking -- something that is incredibly hard when you have the very short braking distances that carbon discs allow. And finally our tyres will be a control slick tyre built by Avon. We are currently evaluating a series of different compounds during a testing programme before the first race. We intend to have one grade of tyre for each event -- again preventing one driver getting an advantage over another simply because of his choice of tyres.
What design philosophy did you take before starting work on the new Grand Prix Masters car?
This series is all about close, exciting racing that provides entertainment to everyone watching. For that reason we have designed a car that is seriously quick but also balanced and stable -- something that allows the drivers to use their skill to drive on the limit. We will also keep a close eye on how much drivers can adjust their cars. The plan is only to allow limited adjustment in areas such as aerodynamics, ride height, suspension settings and so on. We will even choose gearbox ratios before we get to the track to ensure that all the cars are as closely matched as possible.
I think you can compare them to a modern GP2 car and say that while in performance terms they will be very equal our cars will be more driver-friendly and certainly will slide around a bit more because we will be able to control the set-up and development at every race. In the interest of equality we will also guarantee that every car that starts the race will weight exactly the same. We have weighed every driver during seat fittings and will do so again at every race. We will then add ballast to the lighter cars to make sure that no-one has a weight advantage. Even with all this factored in, these cars will be seriously lightweight racers -- no more than 600kg before the driver climbs aboard.
Can you say exactly how fast the cars will go and what sort of performance we can expect to see?
Obviously that depends on the kind of circuit we are racing on, but at a race track with really high top speeds like Monza (Italy) we expect the GP Masters cars to touch 200mph on the long straights.
They will corner really well and that means that over a long race drivers will be subjected to some serious g- forces. Consequently one of the key aims of our test programme so far has been to ensure that the steering is not too heavy. I'm pleased to say that Bob Berridge, who is acting as a consultant to Grand Prix Masters, tells us that the car is really easy to drive at high speeds. Bob has driven many powerful Formula One cars in his racing career, so we are very pleased to with his feedback so far.
What sort of test programme have you got planned for the cars?
It is pretty intense from here to the first race. We have already conducted the scheduled shakedown work (at the Pembrey race track in South Wales) and the next stage is to generate serious mileage to see how it holds up. We will work every area of the car as hard as we can -- in reality the object is to try and break it -- so that we can find out if we need to make any adjustments or changes before the first race in Kyalami on 13th November.
How excited are you to be involved in a project like Grand Prix Masters?
Everybody at Delta Motorsport is thrilled to be involved. We are very proud to have been asked to build and run the cars for Grand Prix Masters and equally pleased that everything is going according to plan. Projects like this really pick up momentum as the first race approaches and it has been a hectic but very rewarding experience so far. We can't wait to see some of the world's greatest drivers battling it out at Kyalami in around six weeks from now.