Pilbeam Racing Designs’ MP93
And Mike Pilbeam Himself

Mike Pilbeam has spent his working life designing, building and developing racing cars, a personal story that began in 1962, when he joined BRM – “the year that Graham Hill won the World Championship.” BRM was based at Bourne in Licolnshire, of course, and that’s where the Ed. paid a visit to Pilbeam Racing Designs, on October 6.

42 years after he joined BRM, Mike Pilbeam is still hard at it (having built “something like 100 cars” so far), with the imminent construction of a new line of sports prototypes, the MP92 (for hillclimbing) and MP93 (the new LMP2).

He and his Design Engineer, Peter Bowes, are pictured with the wooden buck for the new car, which has taken three to four hundred hours of craftsmanship to get to this stage, where it’s nearly ready to go away to have the first, carbon, tub built. One order for the MP92 has been confirmed already.

dailysportscar.com

“It’s encouraging that there’s so much interest in the LMP2 version,” says Mike Pilbeam. “We’ve had enquiries from eight potential customers – which doesn’t mean we’ve got eight sales lined up, because inevitably, they’re looking at rival products too.”

Pilbeam began studying the rule book in March of this year, and with his company having nearly finished the buck for the tub, progress should accelerate now, to the point where “we’re aiming to have cars built by the end of February.”

The next stage will involve he and Peter Bowes working with the model in the wind tunnel, and they expect to spend ten working days refining the aerodynamics, in two day periods. Much of that will be at Cranfield, “but we do some work at Southampton University too. We’ll both be present all the time, and we have some experienced aerodynamicists on call to work with us.”

dailysportscar.comSo what will the new car look like: will it have a family resemblance to the MP84 / 91?

“The MP84 was designed to a completely different set of regulations, and we always set out to make that car as small as possible. The new car will still have the familiar, curvy appearance, but it will be the full two metres wide. It won’t have the more rectangular shape of some cars, and we’re aiming to make it a very attractive car, as well as a very efficient one. It won’t have our familiar roll hoop though, because of the LMP2 regulations, and the lights will be very much smaller than anything we’ve used before. We’ll let you have a view of the design as soon as we can.

“When we developed the MP91, it was always difficult to get enough air running through the radiators, for example, because of the size of the car, but the new one will have 15% more air running through and under it. That will allow us to fit any engine a customer wants: with the current car, there was no way to find enough room to fit an intercooler, for example.

“I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into developing this car….”

For Mike Pilbeam, that means making the car as user-friendly as possible, as driveable as possible – features that have applied to all of his designs over the years.

“When Sylvie Delcour drove the G-Force Pilbeam at Spa in September, she was comfortable straight away, and that allowed her to be quick straight away.”

Mike Pilbeam describes the new Judd XV engine (a development of the KV, 3.4 litre V8) as “our top priority, but we have been contacted by several other engine manufacturers, and the MP91 will take the Nicholson-McLaren engine, the Zytek, the AER turbo and the JPX. Let’s just say that the Judd and the JPX will be our two main engines, initially.”

The gearbox will be a Lola unit, because “they’re quite happy to sell us gearboxes, and it’s the best gearbox for the job. We’ve run it for a full year in a hillclimb car, where it’s coped with 700 bhp and standing starts, so we’re confident that it’s going to be bullet-proof – although you always learn things when you run them, of course. It’s a transverse ‘box, which effectively makes for a longer wheelbase, which gives us a bigger floorpan, for better aerodynamic performance.”

So for 2005, Mike Pilbeam will have an LMP2 to really take on the existing Courage C65, plus the Lucchini and the new Lola B05 / 40. But with Mark Winsor of K2 Race Engineering on hand, we had an immediate reference point for the performance of the MP91.

“We earned a lot of respect for the pace we set at Silverstone, relative to the Courages. Unfortunately, accident damage put us out of that race, but we were very close to the ultimate pace.”

dailysportscar.com

Both Mark Winsor and Mike Pilbeam agreed that the birth of the LMES has galvanised interest in sports prototype racing, the FIA Sportscar Championship having effectively died on its feet in 2003.

dailysportscar.com“The LMES has got everyone excited, and the whole package is what we needed,” confirms Pilbeam. “They’re high profile races, and the whole package is what it should be. Initially I felt that four races wouldn’t be enough, but it is enough – with perhaps a fifth for 2005 being ideal.”

“Having four races is very appealing to us,” confirms Mark Winsor. “Five for next year would suit us perfectly, because it would help to bring the cost per race down.”

Mike Pilbeam’s only concern is that “the LMP2s might be a little too close to the LMP1s. I hope there’s a distinct difference in performance between the LMP2s and LMP1s: LMP2 is supposed to be for private entrants, after all.

“But the good thing is that there’s more interest in prototypes than I’ve seen for four or five years. We had a lot of interest (then) in the MP84, but in reality, not all of it actually turned into cars for production.”

So two men very encouraged with where this class of racing is going. Wind tunnel work on the MP92 / 93 should be finished in early December, and the manufacture of the bodywork will then be contracted out. But eventually, Mike Pilbeam would like to take over body manufacture in-house.

“We currently employ 12 staff here, and several of them have been here a long time. We used to be 20, at a time when we made everything on the cars, but with wings and so on now being in carbon, we contract that work elsewhere – but it would make sense for us to do our own composite work here, which would be more cost effective, and we would have a greater degree of control. I’d love to have everything made here, apart from the engines and gearboxes.”

Pilbeam himself has drawn the basic outline of the MP92 / 93, leaving Peter Bowes to “do the details.”

It was detail work that Mike Pilbeam concentrated on all those years ago at BRM, Tony Rudd having taken him on as a stress engineer.

“I had a maths degree, and he said that I could do all the calculations – crankshaft balancing calculations for example. The first major project I was allocated was before the three litre formula in 1966: would four wheel drive be the way to go? We decided it wasn’t, because of the weight penalty.

“In 1965, we were the first people to use data logging. It was a primitive system, but it worked. The box was battery powered, and it produced traces, on light sensitive paper, of suspension travel, G forces, acceleration, braking and so on.

“Eventually I ‘grew up’ to be a designer, but my grounding was in the mathematics behind the design of the car.”

Mark Winsor felt moved to say that “the engineering skills in this building are second to none,” and logically those skills have a foundation in Mike Pilbeam’s grounding in design all those years ago at BRM.

dailysportscar.com

dailysportscar.comAt which point, Mike Pilbeam hurried off to find an example of his company’s design and engineering skills, one that he is particularly proud of. It was the SR2 nose box, a design that folded up so perfectly when it was crash tested (at 30 mph), that the folds in the aluminium were almost a work of art.

“The deceleration was so smooth when we looked at the graph afterwards. I seem to remember that other manufacturers used our nose box, because initially we were the only ones to get a design to pass the crash test.”

After BRM, the Pilbeam touch was employed at Fords “for a couple of years, I worked with Maurice Philippe on the Lotus 72 and the 4WD gas turbine car, then I had a spell at Team Surtees, working with John and Mike Hailwood – then it was back to BRM, taking over there when Tony Southgate left. I did a lot of the development work on the P160, but the first car that was really ‘my’ car was the P201 – which Henri Pescarolo drove. He and I were talking about that car at Monza this year. Another sportscar man also drove it – Francois Migault.”

In its maiden race, the P201 finished second, at the 1974 South African Grand Prix, driven by Jean-Pierre Beltoise – but engine problems ruined much of that season.

dailysportscar.com

Mike left BRM before that company came to the end of the racing road, and initially worked as a consultant, designing a Formula Atlantic / F2 car for Tom Wheatcroft – and the LEC F1 car, for David Purley. That was the machine that had its throttle stick open (extinguishant got onto the throttle slides and set), Purely surviving the most fearful impact with the bank at Silverstone – but thanks to Mike Pilbeam, he survived to race another day.

But the time came for Mike Pilbeam to set up on his own, and although the company is recognised as a specialist hillclimb car manufacturer, there’s much more to it than that.

dailysportscar.com

17 UK Hillclimb titles have been won (above is an MP62, being refurbished for its new owner), but F3, Formula Renault, Rally (Group A, WRC and F2), GT and Super Touring Car projects have all passed through the doors in Graham Hill Way, for customers including General Motors, Ford, Honda, Peugeot and Hyundai.

Graham Hill Way? “Yes, when we moved into this building, we had to have the tarmac road put down, so I asked if I could name it. I asked Bette Hill to come along and open the building.”

dailysportscar.com

Bette’s husband was a Le Mans winner of course, and Mike Pilbeam admits that “our first entry at Le Mans was a very significant event for the company, but I’ve still got something to prove where that race is concerned.”

Will that be in 2005 or 2006? We’ll leave that question open-ended for now – but we wish Mike and his company, and future MP93 entrants, all the best racing experiences imaginable for the new year.

 

Contents Copyright © dailysportscar.com. All Rights Reserved.