The Radical SR9
A Year In The Life Of The New Radical

dailysportscar.comPart 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.

“The main 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.

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“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.

“I suppose 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!

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“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 to doing…

“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 year.

“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 race co-ordinator!

“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 enormous challenge.

“But then the tub passed its crash test – on February 7. Now it really did come at us all in a rush – it all happened logarithmically.

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“Radical 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 on performance.

“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 the case.

“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 for example.

“When 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.

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“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.

dailysportscar.com“Megaline has responded really well, and have a program in place to fix this glitch.

“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.

dailysportscar.com“So 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.

“We’ve 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 most people!”

 

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