February 05, 2015

Horse 1835 - The Most Bonkers Race Car Ever

Following on from the announcement that Nissan through its Nismo division in this year's World Endurance Championship (which includes the Le Mans 24 Hour Race) with a with a front-engined, front wheel drive car producing 1250 brake horsepower¹.

I've had a few front wheel cars and probably the most amount of power I've ever had through those wheels is about 110bhp; even then you can still set up an interesting case of torque steer on wet roads. Conventional wisdom suggests that anything more than about 150bhp through the front wheels is generally considered unwise and when you get cars like the Ford Focus ST and the Honda Civic Type-R² sending upwards of +250bhp, it's a wonder why they don't just instantly torque steer you into the nearest tree.
If Nissan can even get this thing to work properly it will be something of a technical coup. Nissan's solution to the problem of torque steer isn't the usual solution of four wheel drive but to send even more power to the front wheels. It's like Nissan decided to employ both Jeremy Clarkson and Tim "The Toolman" Taylor as their engineers.
There mere thought of so much power going through the front wheels is enough to make you want to take the motorway to Crazy Town; provided you don't torque steer your way through the nearest mountain. This honestly sounds like Nissan have produced a car which is actively trying to kill you.

In this brave new world where automotive babies are brought up in jars (and only time will tell if this is an Alpha Plus or an Epsilon Minus Moron), I wondered what the most bonkers idea for a race car actually was.

I'm not thinking about cars like Brabham's BT49B or the Chaparral 2J "fan cars" which used the sensible idea of sucking out all the air out from under them to create ground effect, or the Lotus 56 or STP-Paxton Turbocar which used small jet engines because again they were both sensible ideas. Parnelli Jones had the STP-Paxton Turbocar fail just 8 miles from the end of the 1967 Indianapolis 500 and Joe Leonard's Lotus 56 failed due to a Fuel Shaft failure whilst in the lead in 1968.

- Check out those massive rear tyres. They're like trampolines of rubber.

In context, surely the most idiotic racecar for its time must have been Renault's RS-01 in 1977 which pioneered the proper use of turbocharging in F1.
Just a glance through the entry list for the 1977 Formula One World Championship will make it incredibly obvious that the all conquering Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ruled the roost and apart from a few engine builders who ran V12s like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.
A bright spark and prize nutter at Renault, André de Cortanze, looked at the regulations which had been in place since 1966 and decided that Renault should make use of the sections which allowed forced-induction and committed the company to what must have seemed like at the time, an idiotic project.

The Renault RS-01, looked cumbersome and due to the fact that Renault couldn't immediately work out a way to contain the required pressures for turbocharging such a small engine, they had to cast the engine block from iron; consequently the car was hideously overweight compared with the rest of the field.
Even despite this, for 1977 and most of 1978, it consistently blew its top and expired in a cloud of white smoke, which gained it the name of the "Yellow Teapot". From 28 starts the car only finished 7 times; though it must be said that at the 1978 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Jean-Pierre Jabouille took it to fourth and scored the first ever points for a turbocharged car in Formula One.
Renault never really made their turbocharged engine work properly until they took a variant of it to Le Mans in the Renault Alpine A442 prototype to compete in the 24 Hours race and it was there that they improved the breed. Of course by 1983, turbocharging was de rigueur and they were vindicated but in 1977, who could have forseen that at all except for André de Cortanze?

The biggest difference between Renault in 1977 and Nissan in 2014 is that in the GT-R LM (even in spite of producing an automotive psychpath), Nissan is using technologies which are reasonably sure to work. Renault broke ground with something that no-one had done before.

²I am always open to the donation of a Honda Civic Type-R... or a Ford Ka.

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