Showing posts with label Racing Cars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Racing Cars. Show all posts

Aston-Martin DBR9

Aston-Martin DBR9 2000s GT race car

Hitting the grid in '05, Aston Martin's DBR9 was the racing version of their DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately. So, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, whether you should do the shopping in a car that won the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours race, is a moot point. To be fair, it would get done very quickly - leaving you with more time to do good deeds for the rest of the day!

It is not hard to see why the DBR9 won at Sebring - a racetrack in Florida, USA. The fact that its engine churned out 600bhp had a lot to do with it. The power was fed through a 6-speed sequential gearbox - conveniently located on the rear axle. Cutting edge carbon brakes were duly installed - and not as an afterthought!

Light weight was key to the DBR9's success. Just 2,425lbs needed to keep contact with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 road-going equivalent - which weighed in at a comparatively lardy 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car's body panels - fashioned from carbon-fibre composite. Aston Martin Racing designed the panels - with top-flight aerodynamics in mind. An aluminium chassis also shed weight. Aptly, the DBR9's Sebring win was on its first outing. For spectators of a certain age, it conjured up memories of Le Mans, '59. That was the scene of another famous victory for the great British brand. So, Aston Martin race fans had been patient a long time. But they say great things come to those who wait. Those words were never so true as in the streamlined form of the DBR9!

Lotus 79

Lotus 79 1970s classic F1 car

The Lotus 79 was yet another product of Colin Chapman's fertile mind. This time, the legendary Lotus boss trained his sights on 'ground-effect' - the process of aerodynamically 'pressing' the car to the race-track. In theory, it is said, an F1 car could be driven upside-down - so strong is the 'downforce' it generates. It was that kind of handling, then, that Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus.

Lotus had started their ground-effect quest with the 78 - or, 'wing car'. Each side-pod housed an inverted aerofoil. 'Skirts' below the side-pods ducted air through a venturi. That created a vacuum - by slowing down, and then speeding up air through a bottle-neck. The skirt sealed in the air - which the aerofoil then used to 'suction-clamp' the car to the tarmac. The upshot was that the Lotus 78 had been the fastest car on F1's grid. The 78's speed advantage, however, had been offset by reliability issues. The 79 would sort them - or so Lotus hoped. The best parts of the 78 car were retained. Lotus then added a couple of updates. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - which was increasing the downforce. The side-pod skirts, too, had been upgraded. They now moved up and down, as required - providing a surer seal.

The net result of these changes was precisely as Lotus had planned. The 79 car was streets ahead, in the '78 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five F1 wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. And Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship, at a canter. Chapman - and the Norfolk-based team - were ecstatic. But - as is so often the case in F1 - it was not to last. From the start of the '79 season, it was clear Lotus' competition had come prepared. Almost to a team, they were armed with their own takes on the ground-effect phenomenon. Indeed, some of the engineers had twigged that yet more downforce could be served up - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus was duly outstripped by its beefed-up rivals. But, that would never obscure the fact that - during its brief season in the F1 sun - the Lotus 79 had put the opposition well and truly in the shade!

Lotus 56B

Lotus 56B 1970s British F1 car

The 56B was another example of Lotus pushing motor racing's technical envelope. Saying that, boss Colin Chapman knew no other way. Powered by a turbine engine, it was a new first for F1. Said motor was supplied by Pratt and Whitney. The car had its genesis in Indianapolis, America. Lotus had entered the STP-Paxton turbo car in the '67 Indy 500. It performed well. Driver Parnelli Jones would have won the iconic race - had he not broken down, just yards from the flag. Nothing daunted, Chapman returned to Indy in '68. With backing from STP's Andy Granatelli, Chapman hired Maurice Phillipe to design the Lotus 56. Sadly, Chapman was to experience an unpleasant case of déja vu. Pilot Joe Leonard again broke down, with victory as good as in the bag.

Shortly after Lotus' streak of bad luck, American motorsport banned turbine-powered cars. Chapman decided it was time for F1. Sticking with the turbine power the 56 had pioneered, the 56B was readied for the '71 season. Lotus had intended to unveil the new car the previous year. Tragically, the death of driver Jochen Rindt - at Monza - upset the 56B's development schedule. In due course, however, it rolled onto the grid at Brands Hatch - for the Race of Champions. Emerson Fittipaldi was at the wheel. It did not go well. The 56B bottomed out so much, the suspension snapped. Subsequently, it crashed out at Oulton Park. Next stop Silverstone - and the International Trophy. The 56B started on the front row. In the first heat, the suspension again gave up the ghost. Second time out, though, Fittipaldi finished third. Things were finally looking up, it seemed!

Thankfully, these early outings were non-World Championship events. F1 'friendlies', so to speak. The 56B's first race that mattered was the '71 Dutch GP. Driver Dave Walker started from the back of the grid - on a wet track. By the fifth lap he was up to tenth - notwithstanding turbine throttle lag. Sadly, it was not to last. Walker slid off the track - at the Tarzan hairpin. Next, to Monza - a year on from Rindt's fatal accident. The 56B placed eighth. At Hockenheim - albeit in another non-championship race - Fittipaldi finished second. And that was pretty much it for the Lotus 56B. In truth, its points tally was unremarkable. What fascinates aficionados, though, is that it was the first of F1's fabled 'turbo cars'!

Williams FW07

Williams FW07 1970s F1 car

The FW07 moved Williams into F1's major league. Its precursor - the FW06 - had already nudged the team firmly in that direction. Patrick Head was chief designer. Key to the FW06's success was 'ground effect'. Lotus first introduced this piece of GP game-changing wizardry. Aerodynamic skirts 'sucked' the Lotus 78 to the tarmac. That groundforce helped the car corner. So much so, that it had rendered the Lotus nigh on unbeatable. But, the 78 had a chink in its armour. The car's structural strength - or lack of it - limited the amount of downforce that could be used. Fast-forward to Williams again - and the FW07 featured a robust monocoque chassis. In layman's terms, it could take as much 'vacuum-suck' as the venturi could chuck at it!

The '79 season was well underway by the time the FW07 was launched. It did not take it long to get up to speed, however. Come the mid-point of the campaign - and the FW07 was flying! Clay Regazzoni took its first win. Fittingly, for Williams, it was at Silverstone, England. By season's end, Alan Jones had added a further four wins to the tally. Next time around - in 1980 - and the FW07 was there at the start. Jones went on to win Williams' first World Championship. In doing so, he pipped Nelson Piquet to the post - in his Brabham BT49.

In '81, it was more of the same. Carlos Reutemann topped the podium for most of the season. '82, though, saw the curtain come down on the FW07. The car's final Act was staged at Long Beach, California. Keke Rosberg finished second - giving Williams another world title. Ground effect - in the form of the FW07 - had generated more than just downforce. It had provided Williams with their first - but not last - taste of F1 dominance!

Mercedes-Benz W196

Mercedes-Benz W196 1950s German F1 car

In the mid-'50s, the W196 marked a welcome return to GP racing for Mercedes-Benz. As it was, they would only be back for a couple of years. In '54 and '55, Mercedes left the opposition for dead. No great surprise, really. They did, after all, have Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss on their books. Behind the wheel of a W196, both men were in their element. Past masters of their craft, they now had machines to match.

But, there was more to the W196 package - even than Fangio and Moss. Engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut was likewise at the peak of his powers. While rival teams' technicians trod water design-wise, Uhlenhaut took risks. No parts barred streamlining was key. At first, that included the wheels. Originally, they were fully enclosed. As a result, however, handling was wayward - especially, near the limit. No worries! Uhlenhaut uncovered the wheels again - and the W196 was back to its sure-footed best.

Fangio won first time out in the new car - at the '54 French GP. That was the first rung on the ladder to his second driver's title. That season, there were just two races the W196 did not win. The '55 campaign arrived - and it was the same story. Well, almost. This time around, there was only one race victory it did not take! Sure enough, Fangio soon held aloft his third World Championship trophy. Uhlenhaut's car was packed with cutting edge spec. Its straight-eight engine, for instance, was rotated through its 'default' position. That gave a lower centre of gravity - optimising handling. The motor's valve-gear was desmodromic. Valves were opened and closed via cams. Having no bouncing springs improved efficiency. Plus, it was fuel-injected - almost a decade before that became standard GP practice. In terms of engine and bodywork, Uhlenhaut had gambled and won. Monte Carlo or bust, so to say! A consummately-crafted car, and - in Fangio and Moss - two of history's greatest drivers. Truly, the Mercedes-Benz W196 was a motor racing marriage of man and machine!

Lotus 72

Lotus 72 1970s F1 car

The Lotus 72 had a legendary engine. Lotus had led the way with the Cosworth DFV. Its winning streak started in '67 - when it was fitted in the Lotus 49. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were the first drivers to reap the rewards. The 'Double Four Valve' V8 would go on to become the gold standard Formula One engine. Unfortunately for Lotus, their rivals were quick to seize upon the source of their success. Not exactly unknown in F1! By the end of the '60s, it seemed like every car in the paddock had a DFV engine. That was great for the sport - since it fostered close, competitive racing. But it was not entirely to Lotus' liking. They had acquired a taste for leading GPs. The ubiquity of the DFV was eroding that lead.

Cometh the hour, cometh the F1 car! Hitting the grid with the 1970 season already underway, there was much that was new about the Lotus 72. Most obviously, cigar-shaped bodywork - previously de rigueur - had morphed into a wedge. Inboard suspension and brakes made the 72 more aerodynamic than its predecessors. They also served to reduce unsprung weight. Suspension was via torsion-bar. Oil and water radiators were laterally placed - centralising weight distribution. The result of all this innovation was higher grip levels. F1 handling had come on leaps and bounds.

Lotus had their lead back! Driver Jochen Rindt duly won four races on the spin. He then crashed in qualifying for the Italian GP, at Monza. He was fatally injured. Remarkably, Rindt still went on to win the 1970 World Championship. That is how dominant he had been, up to that point! Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi likewise took a drivers' title - in '72. Indeed, he was the youngest driver to do so, at the time. He was just 25 years of age. In '73, Ronnie Peterson - also in a 72 - amassed a record nine pole positions in a season. From 1970 to '75, then, Lotus ruled the F1 roost. Their early adoption of the Cosworth DFV had paid huge dividends. The Lotus 72 was the chief beneficiary!