AER’s LMP1 V8 On The Dyno
It’s Decision Time
Engine Research has an enviable 2005 sportscar record:
Sebring 3rd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Atlanta 2nd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Mid-Ohio 1st and 2nd LMP1
Lime Rock 1st LMP2
Infineon 2nd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Portland 2nd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Road America 2nd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Mosport 1st LMP1, 1st LMP2
PLM 2nd LMP1, 1st LMP2
Laguna Seca 3rd LMP1, 2nd LMP2
Spa 1st LMP2
Monza 1st and 2nd LMP2
Silverstone 1st LMP2
Nurburgring 2nd LMP2
2nd and 3rd LMP2.
That’s an awful lot of racing miles, completed
reliably, powering modern prototypes to the finish line, quickly
and economically – all of them by the two litre, inline-4,
single turbo unit.
That engine was blisteringly fast on its debut at
Le Mans in 2001, and (with its Nissan-based V6 too), the AER company
was the ALMS 675 Engine Manufacturer Champion in 2001, 2002, 2003,
2004 (teams) & now 2005 as well.
But as attentive
readers will know (link), the Basildon (Essex)-based
company has a new product available for 2006, the twin-turbo V8.
Company founder Mike Lancaster took a significant
decision 12 months ago, and that was to “move the company
forward. We’ve always been technically-led, and although I’m
from an electronics background, what I knew we needed was even more
of a technical bias, if we were to take AER to the level I aspired
“The timing was perfect, because opportunities
presented themselves, thanks to changes going on in the F1 world.
AER now has the finest engine designer line-up of any non manufacturer-owned
racing engine company.”
enabled the employment of Technical Director Oliver Allan (left)
and Chief Engineer Ian Prosser.
Oliver Allan: “In F1, you always set a fire-up
date, and work backwards from there. I’ve never missed a fire-up
date in F1, because it’s just unheard of. This year has been
spent working towards the fire-up date for the twin-turbo V8 and
we managed to hit that within a few hours of target!”
Mike Lancaster: “We had potential customers
call us on the Monday (October 3), and they seemed genuinely surprised
that the engine was running on the dyno. that morning, when they
There were late nights, of course there were, but
most of those were preparing the dyno. for the new engine, rather
than building the engine itself.
So Oliver Allan, having designed both the bottom
end of the V8 – “I’m a block, crank, rods and
pistons man” – and the schedule for the design and build
programme, saw the schedule (virtually) adhered to, even though
some components were a little late arriving.
How does that compare with the inline-4’s
gestation period, Mike Lancaster?
“By necessity, that was completely different.
MG gave us five months to design and build it, and the compressed
programme and the late nights meant that we simply weren’t
able to follow a proper schedule. Ollie gave us a carefully planned
schedule for the V8, and you’ve seen the result.”
mock-ups that we revealed back in July (right) hinted at a remarkably
clean, neat, attractive design – and the real thing is also
a thing of great engineering beauty. So it looks nice – so
Mike Lancaster admits that any business decision
– building a new engine, building a new widget, building a
new anything – is a risk, but with the likes of Allan and
Prosser on board, is it actually a risk? Well it is from the point
of view of the investment required, but “you have to aspire
to be the best at what you do. We’re used to taking on factory
teams, notably Audi, and although we can’t compete with Audi’s
financial resources, if you compare what goes in and what comes
out, we actually compare very favourably with a major manufacturer.”
Oliver Allen: “I count myself as very lucky
– to have found a company with the balls to take on this challenge.”
And part of
that challenge is the conservative old world of sports car racing,
where other companies have typically based their product on an engine
that was originally designed for another category altogether –
and in another era too. Not AER.
“I’m absolutely convinced that there’s
a market for a new engine that’s built to the actual rules,”
says Mike Lancaster. “To do this is a risk, but the risk would
be greater if we set about designing something that wasn’t
state of the art. To make matters much less of a risk, we also have
the many years of experience with the existing 4 cylinder turbo
that has become the benchmark in LMP2.”
What is the target number of customers for 2006?
“We’d like to see four or five teams
using this engine next year – and we’re talking to a
lot of people.”
The underlying story here is that the LMP1 prototype
market is at last ‘coming on stream’, and the customers
for new chassis will shortly have to take a crucial decision as
regards their engine supplier.
“What we’ve got here is an integrated
engine design, the sort of thing that only Audi, in recent sportscar
history, has been able to do,” explains Oliver Allan. “The
engine and all the electronics have been designed in-house, so we’ve
got a product with a drive by wire throttle, for example. We were
a little conservative with the weight of the engine: we said it
would be 115 kg and it’s come out at a shade over 110 kg,
with the turbos fitted. It’s shorter than the I4, it’s
lower than the I4 – and with the drive by wire throttle, the
engine will be easier for, say, a gentleman driver to drive, and
the engine / gearbox electronics will make it cheaper to run, because
incorrect gear selection and over-revs will be all but impossible.”
Does the expression ‘drive by wire’
put people off though?
“Well if it does, it shouldn’t do,”
says a slightly indignant Mike Lancaster – who perhaps is
faced with this kind of question all the time (in the conservative
sportscar field). “This is a system that was fundamentally
tested and developed for road cars, and it’s successfully
running out there, with hundreds of thousands of miles behind it.”
This company, established in 1998, has come –
and travelled – a long way already.
Of course there’s a development path back
to the I4 engine, but with the four cylinder developing 140 bhp
per cylinder and the V8 ‘just’ 80 per cylinder, it’s
clear that the company’s experience with the I4 will make
the V8 that much more straightforward to get up and running.
“Quieter, smoother, less vibration, a wider
power band and less stressed,” is Oliver Allan’s comparison
of the 75 degree V8 with the I4.
The first week’s dyno. work on the V8 involved
working on the mapping, plus ‘tweaks’ to the software
and hardware, after which the first engine was stripped and inspected,
then reassembled ready for the first power testing, at the end of
last week (October 12-13-14).
“Once we’ve got Laguna Seca behind us,”
said Mike Lancaster last week, “we’ll have the guys
back from the US, and they’ll begin migrating to the V8 –
although we have development plans for the I4 too, over the winter.
“The first engine was deliberately conservative,
but having now run it up through the first power runs, there are
some very happy faces here. And we’re going to be testing
our latest technologies with the next group of engines…..”
So what does it sound like? “The engine is
very smooth for a big V8 but revs unusually freely with an aggressive
edge to the sound.”
You’ll have noticed by now that Allan and
Lancaster have deliberately avoided naming possible customers for
the V8 (codename P32): those potential V8 users will become known
only when the crucial decision has been made, obviously.
But let’s finish with a story about one particular,
long-standing AER customer – Jon Field and his Intersport
Racing – now with another LMP2 championship sown up at Laguna
Mike Lancaster: “Jon is the most amazing guy
for giving us feedback on the I4. He’ll freely admit that
he doesn’t know that much about engines, and that all he wants
to do is drive fast – and he is very fast! But he’s
one of the most sensitive drivers we’ve ever met as regards
an engine’s feel. He can sense the tiniest change –
for example a tiny amount in engine timing. If we make a change,
he can sense it straight away. I don’t know how he does it.”
Customers for the P32 won’t have to have Jon
Field’s degree of sensitivity to assess the new engine’s
performance. Mike Lancaster, Oliver Allan and Ian Prosser know they
have a winner on their hands at AER. What is it – about 130
odd days to Sebring?