The Radical SR9
A Year In The Life Of The New Radical
1 of the story of the LMP2 Radical SR9 was in effect concluded at
the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track at 23.30 on March 26 –
when Martin Short drove the new prototype in anger for the first
time. It wasn’t the first time that he’d driven it,
that had been earlier that day – but at 23.30 Martin Short
knew he had a highly competitive car on his hands, for
the increasingly competitive LMP2 Class.
But in reality,
Martin Short knew
he would have a competitive car all along: what his Rollcentre team
and the Radical factory staff lacked was time. This is a year in
the life of both organisations – and of the new Radical SR9,
through the eyes of M. Short.
“It all started at the Autosport Show, in
January 2005. I looked at their new SR8 car, which was a stunner,
and said to Mick Hyde (of Radical) that the company ought to think
about manufacturing an LMP2 car – and Mick’s response
was that such a project would be “two or three years down
the line”. They’d thought of it, but they didn’t
think they were ready yet.
“But by early March, Mick had convinced the
other directors to do it, Radical was committed to it, and they
announced it during Sebring week. I was surprised at the announcement,
but also delighted. Even more so when Mick asked if he could come
and look at the Dallaras, to understand a little about what they
were getting themselves into.
“The initial concept was to create a ‘cheaper’
LMP2, and maybe such ‘charitable’ thoughts came back
to haunt us more than once during the early months – and nearly
a year later. The idea was planted in certain minds that it would
be a cheap car – but really there’s no such thing. Certainly
the design changed over the first few weeks…
“The Editor of a certain website had previously
introduced me to a Mr. Peter Elleray, at Milan Airport, and once
Peter was on board, and with Mick Hyde, Phil Abbott and Tim Greaves
convinced of my commitment, Peter persuaded everyone at Radical
that they had to build a ‘proper’ racing car. Radical
is a radical company – but if there’s such a thing as
‘Radicalism’, that meant, with this car, looking at
it again, and coming up with a very serious prototype design. Even
many months later, some people still had to be convinced that the
intent to build a class-winner was there – but Peter sealed
it for us at Rollcentre.
“That’s rushed in with the story though:
I was showing more and more interest (during the spring), but had
to decide what to do with the two Dallaras. We had a huge spares
package – so should we turn them into hybrids, or move on?
Inevitably, we decided not to throw a lot of money at a project
which had only one year left – and we didn’t want to
change the integrity of two cars, cars which have a considerable
history behind them, just for one year.
“So we plunged into the Radical SR9: I handed
over a cheque to Mick Hyde at the LMES race at Silverstone last
August – after an in-depth consultation with our sponsors
at Deutsche Bank, of course.
“Meanwhile, Peter Elleray had already put
‘pen to paper’ – but I suppose it took me until
we got to Paul Ricard last week to fully appreciate what a mammoth
task we’d all undertaken. Radical has impressed anyone and
everyone who has visited their factory with the volume of cars they
produce, and the range of expertise there, but they didn’t
have experience in Le Mans cars. All the design work was therefore
left to Peter Elleray and his small band of drafted-in designers.
Having now seen how complex the car is (even though it’s very
simple really!), it’s quite incredible how such a small band
of people got this all together.
“Inevitably there were times when Radical
and ourselves were twiddling our thumbs waiting for the design to
be completed, and then some of us were waiting for components to
be made – but that’s all part of the process we had
to go through. It was a huge undertaking, from Radical and ourselves.
We didn’t make our deadlines in early March, but I suppose
you could say that we made the important one at the end of the month.
task for Radical was to get the tub underway, and things certainly
accelerated when the buck was completed – but that was at
the turn of this year….If I had any doubts at all about the
car, they were dispelled when Radical finally unveiled the buck…..the
car looked stunning. It made all the other LMP2 cars look……well,
out of date…..certainly to my eyes.
“We knew how much work lay ahead in the next
three months – but again you need to understand that this
wasn’t a multi-million pound project. Our Project Manager,
Vincent Rassat, had the support of three or four key Radical men,
and they had to manage the whole thing between them.
“You could sum it up as having taken longer
than we expected (to get the first car on track), but it was still
quicker than most companies would have achieved.
“But all along I had complete faith that Peter
Elleray and his small team, plus the manufacturing arm at Radical,
could produce a car that would challenge the best in the class.
If I hadn’t believed that, there would have been no point
in making that commitment to Radical.
that also, just recently, I’ve realised that other people
don’t necessarily think the way that I do……..fortunately
for them! By that I mean about risk taking. Whether it was the TVR
Cerbera, the TVR Tuscan R, the Mosler or to some degree, the Dallaras,
Rollcentre has always plunged into projects that nobody else has
done. I never wanted a Porsche, because everybody else had one.
And we have always ploughed our own furrow….. And sadly, as
anybody who knows me will realise, I am absolutely devoid of bullshit.
I am as to the point and factual as anybody can possibly be, and
this is usually not beneficial in a racing world, where bullshit
and broken promises abound!
“Basically we didn’t shout out loud
enough over the winter about how fantastic this car was going to
be – but what’s the point of claiming anything until
you’ve run on the track? That’s what I was looking forward
“But I suppose I can understand people sitting
on the fence, until that point was reached….
“I often think back to when we developed the
Cerbera, over the winter of 1999 – 2000. Rob Barff showed
his commitment to me then: he committed his budget and his life
savings. I suppose he’s a risk taker too, but I don’t
believe he ever saw that project as a risk…….but he
must have, and he committed to it. He will be racing with us this
“Just as I never saw the Radical SR9 as a
risk: I had faith in the people involved, and if you believe in
the people, well that was good enough for me. Anyway, reputations
were on the line – the reputations of people who are prepared
to work as hard as it takes. I’ve known Phil Abbott for 15
years, and he works longer hours than you’d believe. Everyone
at Radical is still a racer at heart – and they all still
race themselves. They’re not the kind of people who go and
buy yachts – they race. As we speak, Phil is testing an SR8
ready to race this (past) weekend at Snetterton. He hasn’t
had a day off in probably a month…….but he has to be
at the track this weekend…..his wife Amanda is the Radical
“I suppose what I’m saying is that they’re
like me – they’re racers and they work at it.
“But despite all that, we were getting frustrated
in January. We’d built the wooden buck in November / December
– the ‘wooden wonder’ – and we used that
to trial fit any number of components: the wiring layout, exhaust,
headrests, steering location, panels, seat design and so on. The
aim was that when everything came at us in a rush, we were prepared…
but there we were, sitting on our hands…. through no fault
of anyone’s…. except perhaps that we had taken on an
the tub passed its crash test – on February 7. Now it really
did come at us all in a rush – it all happened logarithmically.
is the manufacturer, but here at Rollcentre, we took on as many
tasks as we could to help: we’ve got our own small carbon
facility for example, so our guy was making some of the smaller
panels, such as the headrests. The Radical factory was meanwhile
turning out moulds and patterns, at which point their guys in the
composites shop started working 14 hour days, and a night
shift swung into action. They’ve got a huge machine shop there,
and they started working a night shift there too. During this period,
the whole focus of the machine shop was on the SR9, and we were
all working silly hours. There were frustrating moments when some
things weren’t quite right, but they were redesigned on the
spot and the machine shop remade them while we waited: you can’t
get everything spot on when you’re working at this rate.
“Meanwhile Peter Elleray was almost fanatical
in his detailing, nothing was slipping by. He was keeping the focus
“We’d got another potential hurdle out
of the way in January – when Phil Abbott and I went to see
Daniel Perdrix and Gerard Gachet at the ACO. At that time, I think
they didn’t know who or what Radical was.
“But I think you’ve already got the
impression that Radical is a significant company these days, one
which has built hundreds of race cars, which builds its own engines,
which tackles all its composites work, which has this huge machine
shop – it’s staggering what they do.
“I came up with the idea of creating a ‘Radical
presentation’ on my laptop, for the ACO – in effect
a guided tour of the factory. But looking back, Radical had earlier
planted the idea (at the ACO) that we were building a so-called
‘cheap car’, and we had to persuade them that this wasn’t
“I know that despite my best work, when Daniel
Perdrix visited the Radical factory in February, he was stunned
at the scope of that company’s abilities, plus the sheer scale
of the operation.
“I’d hoped that we’d be testing
in Spain on March 20 – but time was our greatest enemy, and
it ground away relentlessly. Every time we set a date, we didn’t
make it. It was the little things that were now taking time up.
Big bits bolt together easily, it’s always the small stuff
that holds you up. And then some components needed to be designed
on the car – such as the inner wheel arches, the head restraint
system. And even as late as the night before we left for Ricard,
we were making new carbon moulds and parts for the shoulder recesses.
“My lads were working with the Radical guys,
helping them as much as we could. It was a great team effort to
get the first car ready. I am sure though that Radical will be pleased
to be able to settle down after the frenetic activity of the first
car build, and get down to what they do best, building the rest
of the SR9 race cars.
“The day before we left for the south of France,
we could perhaps have just about made a shakedown on the Stowe Circuit
at Silverstone, but Phil and I felt that the time spent getting
the car ready, loading it up and then getting sorted at Silverstone
was better spent in the workshop, with everyone working on it. Rather
than spend half an hour on the track at Stowe, it was better to
spend six hours working on it… and go straight to Paul Ricard.
When we arrived there, we thought we just needed a couple of hours
on the Saturday to finish it off – those redesigned headrests
I took it out for the first time on Sunday morning, I knew
straight away that we had a good car. I always felt detached in
the Dallara – I couldn’t feel what each of the four
corners was doing. It was OK for Joao Barbosa…but then of
course he’s a top notch driver.
“But in the Radical, the feel was there –
it responded superbly straight away. The faster it went, the faster
it responded. I could feel the downforce, the mechanical grip, the
car turned in terrifically, everything was smooth and silky, like
it had already done 100 laps, not that it was on an out lap…..
But then as we pushed the revs., we found the gearshift problem.
“It was our first experience of ‘flat
plane crankism’! The actuating system for the gearchange is
bolted to the gearbox, and the vibrations at 8,250 revs caused a
harmonic that shook the air out of the system. But we didn’t
know that immediately – we were looking for leaks, anything
that might be causing the problem. When we spoke to Bicks and Smithy
at Creation, all became clear - AV mount everything!……which
we did, and then the gearshift was perfect, and we were able to
get out in the last hour of Sunday night – and everything
was fine. I could rev it to 11,000 and the gearshift was superb.
I was dancing round the circuit in the dark, loving the feel of
the car, grinning every time the scenery lit up from the flamey
overruns of the howling Judd V8.
“A loud cheer could be heard from our garage
when the guys heard me pass the pits at racing revs – changing
gear as it should, the engine singing.
has responded really well, and have a program in place to fix this
“We’d managed 20 or so laps on the Sunday,
and had discovered other, minor issues – such as bodywork
that needed some attention. But that’s all been on the job
list for Istanbul – and Radical has the machine shop working
the night shift again.
“The Radical team has lived and breathed this
project, and they weren’t about to stop now. By 5.30 on Monday
afternoon, at Ricard, we had a prioritised job list to be accomplished
before Istanbul, and by the following morning, Vincent had a progress
report ready, including a list of parts, when each would be ready,
and how each of them would be transported to Turkey – some
in our hand luggage.
“I’ve got to hand it to them –
whatever the project has needed, they’ve provided it….
no quibbles, no cost issues, they’ve just done it.
we’ve had part of one day and most of the second day at Ricard
– and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the set-up.
We went to stiffer springs and found that was a mistake, and we
lowered the ride height, but we’re nowhere near where we’re
planning to be.
done no aero work or damper work, and we only used race tyres. I
only drove it (with the gearshift working) late on Sunday night
and for the last seven or eight laps on Monday – but it was
brilliant. Joao and Rob (right) lapped within a couple
of tenths of each other, and there we were, just two seconds or
so off the fastest time in the class. And more importantly, one
second off the RML car, which is quite astonishing in the circumstances,
isn’t it? The car hasn’t been in a wind tunnel, and
it’s all out of Peter Elleray’s head, it was the first
time it had run, we had made little to no changes, the drivers had
never been there before…..well you get the drift……what
is there to come….?
“It’s actually got the spirit of the
SR8 in it – despite a different design team. The SR8 ‘feel’
has been carried over to the SR9 – and part of that is the
fact that both run INTRAX dampers. They’ve been amazing: that
company’s support, plus the geometry and aero package that
Peter Elleray and his team came up with – we’ve got
a car that is like a high tech SR8, with a very, very nice feel
to it. It’s a car that you can really look forward to driving,
and then really enjoy driving.
“Istanbul is very early days for us, but with
the Ricard test behind us, we know we’ve got a quick car……we
are not sure about the reliability, that will come though, whatever.
I think I’m probably looking forward to Istanbul more than