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Posts filed under ‘Racing’

Interesting Engines:
The Mercedes-Ilmor 500I

December 26, 2012 by Matt

Mercedes Ilmor 500I IndyCar Indy 500 1994 Penske PC-23 Engine Motor Pushrod

How far would you go to win one race?

Would you design an engine completely from scratch with the knowledge that it would almost certainly be banned by the next race, expending hundreds of thousands of dollars in development and production costs just to score that lone victory?

Mercedes and Ilmor would—and did. Their 500I 3.4l turbocharged, methanol-fueled V8 was a clean-sheet design constructed with a sole purpose: To exploit a loophole in the 1994 IndyCar rulebook and thus win that year’s Indianapolis 500. It could be argued that the nature of the race in question—the prestige of winning the Indy 500 being up there with the Monaco GP or Le Mans—made the resources committed to the project slightly more worth the investment. Still, the scale and audacity of the endeavor shocked the racing world.

Mercedes Ilmor 500I IndyCar Indy 500 1994 Penske PC-23 Engine Motor Pushrod

Some background: The IndyCar technical regulations for the 1994 season allowed pushrod engines to run higher turbocharger boost pressures, as well as additional displacement, over their multi-valve counterparts as part of a kind of equivalency formula. IndyCar reasoned that some constructors would simply use non-optimized off-the-shelf production-based pushrod engine designs as a less-expensive starting point, and gave teams who chose to do so a leg up on their more affluent competition by allowing them the benefit of a few extra cubic inches and pounds of boost.

Mercedes Ilmor 500I IndyCar Indy 500 1994 Penske PC-23 Engine Motor Pushrod

Prior to the 1991 season, engine manufacturers had indeed been limited, by the rulebook, to production-based engine blocks. After 1991, however, that requirement had been dropped, a development that went largely unnoticed—except by engine maker Ilmor. They figured that a clean-sheet, carefully-designed pushrod engine could take advantage of the regulatory loophole to overcome its inherent design disadvantages compared to a multi-valve engine, and thus trounce the competition for at least one race before the powers-that-be cracked down on the rulebook’s oversight. Ilmor placed their bets on the 1994 Indy 500, and before long Mercedes came on board to help finance and lend technical assistance to the top-secret project.

It worked. Mated to Penske’s all-conquering PC-23 chassis, the 500I’s extra 650cc and 2.5 psi of boost (as allowed by the regs) netted it an extra 150-200 horsepower compared to its multi-valve rivals, and Al Unser Jr won the race going away. Some sources quote a remarkable figure of over 1,000 hp over the duration of the 500-mile race. And naturally, caught with their pants down, as it were, the regulators banned the engine almost as soon as the checkered flag waved at Indy. Still—it’s to Ilmor’s and Mercedes’ credit that they had the creativity to consider an “inferior” engine design in light of the racing series’ rules, and the commitment to follow through with it, with spectacular results.

For a more in-depth look at the engine and the racing politics that surrounded it, check out this 8W article.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series examining unique and significant powerplants. Read the other installments here:


The Nissan Skyline Racing Pedigree Began Here

December 24, 2012 by Matt

As if any reminder were needed, this clip consolidates the case that the post-war racing heritage of Japanese automakers extends almost as far back as that of outfits more commonly renown for their competition pedigree, such as Porsche.

The misconception, of course, is that Japanese cars have no character, no soul; they’re relatively sterile both in their demeanor and in the amount of racing success they’ve given birth to. And yes, in the race featured in the clip the Skyline does lose to the sole foreign entrant, a Porsche 917—but the effect on Japan’s burgeoning racing culture of the fact that the Skyline held its own for a few laps cannot be overstated.

Via Tamerlane.

Merry Christmas to all my faithful readers! You’re the best gift a blogger could ask for.


Choice Circuits: Hockenheim

November 17, 2012 by Matt

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit Old Classic Full Pre-2002

Once known as the fastest F1 track, eclipsing even Monza in that regard, Hockenheim has been maimed, reduced to a shadow of its former self.

It happened in 2002. Once a 4.2-mile collection of flat-out straights connected by a series of brief chicanes and one “twiddly bit,” the race organizers finally succumbed to pressure from the various Formula 1 powers-that-be to make the circuit shorter, and thus easier on the cars and more spectator friendly. So the fabled Hockenheimring went from the layout shown at top, to this genericized “made to order” 2.8-mile aberration:

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit New Post-2002 Redesign Herman Tilke

What am I on about? In truth, the redesign advocates did have a bit of a case. The long high-speed stretches were very difficult on engines and transmissions, and since the only real grandstands were clustered in the “stadium section” near the Südkurve, race fans really only caught a glimpse of the inter-car action as the cars made their way through that relatively small portion of the circuit.

That said, was the only solution to alter the course so radically? Allow me to indulge in a touch of Monday-morning quarterbacking when I say no, it wasn’t. Who’s to say additional grandstands and infrastructure couldn’t have been built to accommodate spectators at different locations around the track? And furthermore, F1 by its very nature is supposed to be a mechanically-demanding motorsport, and the intensity of the Hockenheim challenge pushed the designers to their uttermost limits in order to deliver the maximum amount of horsepower out of the engines, get it to the ground effectively and still be reliable. It’s arguable that the majority of the viewing public could care less, but for a F1 technology nerd like myself, the knowledge of what the engineers had to achieve to make an F1 car win at Hockenheim was exhilarating.

Hockenheim Hockenheimring F1 Formula 1 One Track Circuit Remains Destroyed Jim Clark Curve

The real tragedy, though, may not be simply the fact that Hockenheim was redesigned, but that the race organizers opted to destroy the unused portions of the classic circuit, ripping out the asphalt and reclaiming the area with foliage, as shown by the remains of the Jim Clark Curve above. It was an incredibly short-sighted move, eliminating the possibility that the traditional layout could be used for classic races, assuming that F1 would never again be in a place where the old circuit would be desirable, and to my mind perhaps demonstrating a hint of passive-aggressiveness on the part of the race organizers for having been made to redesign the track.

The old circuit holds particular appeal for me as it was the site of Ferrari’s first race win in almost 4 years when “my” driver Gerhard Berger triumphed in 1994. The Ferrari 412T of that year was one of the few remaining cars persisting with a V12 engine configuration when all their competitors had switched to lighter, more frugal V10s and V8s. This decision made the 412T for the most part uncompetitive except when it came to sheer engine power—an important advantage at a circuit like Hockenheim that prioritized brute force and top speed over apex-clipping nimbleness. So in a season filled with change (most drivers’ electronic aids were banned) and tragedy (Ayrton Senna’s tragic death at Imola just a few races before), Berger provided a morale-boosting victory at the German Grand Prix, a race I’ll never forget.

Watch and listen as BBC commentator and former F1 driver Martin Brundle provides a turn-by-turn analysis of Mika Hakkinen’s lap of the pre-’02 classic circuit:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing legendary and notable racing venues from around the globe. Read the other installments here:


The BRE Datsun 510 Racer In Action

October 8, 2012 by Matt

As evidenced by the above clip, British IndyCar driver Alex Lloyd clearly appreciates classic racing machinery. He puts the #46 Brock Racing Enterprises (BRE) Datsun 510 through its paces around the Memphis Raceway, waxing lyrical about the rawness of the chassis and the glorious wail of the 4-cylinder L16 engine at high rpm.

I, too, smiled as I listened to the mechanical soundtrack. I’ll be the first to vouch for the fact that the Nissan L-series engine, an example of which resides under the hood of my 240Z, has an electrifying, distinctive, gritty sound at any speed, a quality that endears it to vintage car aficionados in spite of the L-series’ “disadvantages” such as a non-crossflow head and only two valves per cylinder. It produces a full-bodied, muscular sound all out of proportion to it displacement, and exhibits a flexibility and durability that have given it quite the racing pedigree.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the #46 BRE 510’s history is that before being lovingly restored to its former glory, as you see it in the above clip, it was on the verge of being scrapped! Fortuitously discovered under a tarp at Nissan headquarters in 1984, enthusiasts recognized it for what it was and rescued it from destruction. Having been fortunate enough to drive it in anger, Alex Lloyd is understandably grateful for that turn of events.

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Interesting Engines: Mazda’s R26B

October 6, 2012 by Matt

Mazda R26B 4 Four Rotor Engine Motor Le Mans Win 787B

Mazda’s 4-rotor, 2.6l, 700-hp R26B is the only engine by a Japanese manufacturer to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans race outright. In doing so, Mazda scored an achievement that has always eluded such pillars of the Japanese racing scene as Nissan, Toyota and Honda.

The year was 1991, and Mazda had something to prove. Perennially stung by criticism of their signature Wankel engine as an unreliable gas guzzler, the automaker had long sanctioned factory entries into endurance racing series across the globe. And though Mazda had achieved a remarkable amount of success through the years in that form of racing, Le Mans stood as the unconquered peak, the title that would perhaps finally demonstrate, to the racing world at least, that the rotary engine deserved to taken seriously from a competition standpoint.

The ultimate incarnation of a long series of endurance-focused rotaries, the R26B built on the foundation laid by its 4-rotor predecessor the 13J-M, itself a variation of the 3-rotor 20B, and added a number of refinements. At its core, the R26B was a basic non-turbocharged rotary engine, but with racing-derived features like intake ports on the periphery of the rotor housings instead of on the side plates (as in all production Mazda rotaries), an arrangement that produced a great deal of overlap between the intake and exhaust “stroke” of the rotor but which allowed for much greater airflow potential at high rpm, where racing engines live.

Mazda R26B 4 Four Rotor Engine Motor Le Mans Win 787B Diagram Schematic Drawing Cross Section Cutaway

Also, the R26B was fitted with steplessly variable intake runners, able to optimize intake length and thus airflow seamlessly for any engine state, as well as 3 spark plugs per rotor instead of the usual 2, promoting more uniform burn of the fuel-air mixture. The engine was capable of cranking out 900 hp at upwards of 10,000 rpm, but was detuned to “only” 700 at 9,000 rpm to in the interests of durability.

Mazda R26B 4 Four Rotor Engine Motor Le Mans Win 787B Cutaway Drawing

And it worked. Fitted to a durable, proven 787B prototype chassis and driven by the trio of Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot, the R26B vindicated Mazda’s efforts once and for all at Le Mans in 1991. Perhaps sweetest of all were the primary reasons for the win: Not power, where it was outclassed by the Jaguars and Mercedes running that year, but fuel economy and durability, two attributes which allowed the R26B-powered 787B to keeping lapping the circuit longer and shrug off failures that sidelined other teams. It’s an amazing engine, and Mazda is rightly proud of their success.

To see 1991 Le Mans winner Johnny Herbert driving his race-winning 787B just last year, click here. It’s a spine-tingling clip.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series examining unique and significant powerplants. Read the other installments here:


Breathtaking Le Mans Classic Photos

August 15, 2012 by Matt

Laurent Nivalle Le Mans Classic 2012 Photos Photographs Images Pictures

If you have a few minutes, stroll through this collection of stunning Le Mans Classic photos taken by Laurent Nivalle at the 2012 event. Each one is poster-worthy.

The most amazing thing about them (in addition to the obvious artistry) is the photographs’ aged quality, which makes them look absolutely, perfectly “period.” Was there a more romantic time in racing than the ’60s through the early ’80s? The cars, at least, certainly exhibited more creativity, coming as they did in a myriad of shapes, as opposed to the computer-designed homogeneity on display nowadays on any given circuit on any given weekend. For that reason, among many others, we might well consider that time a golden age.

H/t to Ray at Core77 for the link.

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The Aesthetics of Racing: Ford GT40

August 8, 2012 by Matt

Ford GT40 Mark II 2 Gulf Racing

Pure function can be brutally attractive.

Even though its profile changed in detail between its four incarnations, whatever specific shape it took, the legendary Ford GT40 epitomizes the function-as-form racer aesthetic.

The Mark I and II shape, shown above, remains the most well-known GT40 variation. The car’s genesis is familiar to most car buffs: After an aborted attempt to buy Ferrari outright, a racing-victory-hungry Henry Ford II decided to build his own Ferrari beater, and after a few years of working out the kinks, scored 4 straight 24 Hours of Le Mans victories from 1966 through 1969. The body of the 427-powered Mark II, which delivered the first Le Mans victory in 1966, was a British-based Lola creation, so it was technically an Anglo-American car. Still, whoever made it, the GT40’s design is absolutely arresting (especially for the mid-’60s), devoid of anything that would compromise its singular mission. There were no wings, no frills, no fancy multi-cam V12s—just brute American pushrod force to complement the stubby, blue-collar shape.

Ford GT40 Mark III 3 Road Car Blue Gray Grey

With the Mark III, shown above, Ford civilized the GT40 just a bit for road use. It’s a tribute to the basic appeal of the car’s proportions that the only major external changes came in the form of different headlight clusters and a slightly lengthened tail for additional storage. A contemporary of the groundbreaking Lamborghini Miura (the first mid-engined supercar), the GT40’s dynamics and racing pedigree easily trumped the Italian exotic’s. Sadly, only 7 were made.

Ford GT40 Mark IV 4

The wholly made-in-America Mark IV was a substantially different beast. Even though it retained the same overall look and feel as its predecessors, much of its aesthetic appeal was sacrificed in the name of additional aerodynamic refinement. Dispensing with the Lola-designed bodywork, Ford brought the design in-house, tweaking and refining the basic theme. The Mark IV kept the GT40’s signature stubby shape, and delivered the only true all-American Le Mans victory, driven by the all-star pairing of Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt in 1967.

I don’t know that there’s even been a car quite as effective looking as the GT40. Delicate F1 racers and more modern endurance machines are typically festooned and underpinned with far more sophistication, but the results seem to be cars that politely ask the elements (air, road surface, etc) to cooperate. The GT40, on the other hand, commands respect; its shape demands compliance from its partners in victory. It gets the job done, not glamorously, but effectively, and there’s an undeniable beauty in that.

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series examining the aesthetic merits of cars designed almost wholly with function in mind. Read the other installments here:


Is the Nürburgring Going Bust?

July 21, 2012 by Matt

Nurburgring Ring Corner

Motor Trend relays a distressing report about one of automotive-dom’s most hallowed stomping grounds:

The Mecca for many car enthusiasts, Germany’s Nürburgring, is apparently in dire financial straits. German newspaper Rhein-Zeitung reports the famed motorsports complex is bankrupt, and that the European Union (EU) may deny the track rescue aid.

So, evidently the single-lap price of €26 (along with all the other multi-lap and “season pass” package deals) isn’t enough to keep the circuit afloat… It’s a shame, really, but somewhat understandable in the current European financial climate of “austerity,” even if the ‘Ring is something of a national icon, at least as far as car buffs are concerned. Here’s hoping an enterprising enthusiast (or group thereof) decides to step in and rescue the track from foreclosure.


Group B Rallying: All-Terrain Monsters

July 4, 2012 by Matt

If you have an hour to spare and consider yourself any kind of motorsport enthusiast, you owe to yourself to sit through the documentary above. It offers a brief overview of the sport of rally racing in general before focusing on the ’82-’86 Group B era, featuring a class of race cars among the most electrifying ever built. From the early domination of the Audi Quattro to the mid-era success of the Peugeot 205 T16 through to the competition-crushing Lancia Delta S4, the clip resurrects tons of archival footage and showcases beautiful in-action and static views of each car. Less renown Group B racers such as the Ford RS200 and MG Metro 6R4 even get airtime, along with sports car entrants like the Ferrari 288 GTO and Porsche 959. It’s amazingly well-produced and comprehensive documentary. Watch it if you have a chance.

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