Following the incredibly successful Lola Parade around the streets of Huntingdon in October 2008, it occurred to me that it might be very interesting to compare the current “life at Lola” with the situation as it was in my days, ie. the late 1960’s through the 70’s until the early 1980’s. To this end Glyn Jones of Lola Heritage arranged for me to spend some time with Julian Cooper, Lola’s former Chief Engineer, so that we could compare the way we carried out our various tasks and arrived at our respective solutions. Our positions in the Company were, on the face of it, identical in as much as we revelled in the title of Chief Engineer, but would the responsibilities prove to be the same for both of us? Although centred on the B07.90 Sports 2000, the discussion in general terms, by necessity, would encompass the whole range of the vehicles produced.
Design Team Structure
From the design aspect, I was interested in how the tasks were apportioned and who was responsible for what. Interestingly the two era’s were structured in almost identical ways, that is a Chief Designer and a Chief Engineer, backed up on occasions with individual Project Engineers where the tasks involved warrant it. The main exception is that now Chief Engineer is the organisational job and the Chief Designer is the one who designs the cars.
Added to this are a number of designers working on the detail design aspects. This in essence was the same in my day with Eric Broadly as Chief Designer and myself as Chief Engineer, assisted by up to four other engineers who were totally competent in their own right (e.g. Patrick Head, John Barnard, Dave Dawson, Bruce Ashmore and several others at various times).
The Impact of Technology
The one massive difference between us is in the use of technology. I think it is fair to say that you cannot be considered a “designer” today if you are not competent in 3D CAD – I only just about know what the initials mean, let alone understand how to work with it! Computers were just beginning to have an effect some time after I had left the racing fraternity. Having joined British Aerospace Space Division, I found computers were just being introduced for drawing and design work. I was employed as an engineer there, not a draughtsman (designer in their parlance) and as such had to sketch out the concept and let an operator design it on CAD, for me then to approve or reject. However, I digress – the use of computers has obviously revolutionised the design function and none more-so than at Lola where some of the most modern electronic design equipment can be found. Today’s designs are built up as 3D CAD models from which 2D CAD detail drawings are produced for manufacturing the individual items. Our state-of-the-art equipment at that time was a full-scale layout drawing table, individual drawing boards, pencils and rulers (plus plenty of erasers)!
S2000 Design Philosophies
I was fascinated to find that even the latest Lola S2000 was founded using similar design philosophies as those I employed for the original T490. In my case we took heavy panels from the body moulds of the T290 2-litre Sports Car, and cut out a longitudinal strip 4 inches wide before bonding the two halves back together.
From the resultant shape we took new moulds from which a 4 inch narrower body panel could be produced. The idea of this was based on the fact that we had carried out wind-tunnel testing on the T290 and had produced a car that was aerodynamically very good for the power available in that formula. An extrapolation of various factors comparing the 2 litre Group 6 T290, and the fledgling Sports 2000 T490 suggested that a 4 inch reduction in overall width (plus a shortening of wheelbase) would be just about right, and so it proved to be. The driving force behind this approach was, of course, cost.
Experience vs Technology
The modern approach to the same problem of cost-effectiveness can be achieved by way of computer programmes before the cutting of any hardware is embarked upon. This was the case with the new-style Duratec Lola, the 06/90 whereby the 2K40 car data was used and adapted to suit the requirements of the Duratec regulations. (The body pattern was hand-made as shown below). From the chassis aspect, new regulations dictated that the front wheel centre line had to be forward of the drivers feet so a fundamentally different design of chassis was required.
Whilst we in our day “guesstimated” the reduction of downforce/drag when scaling down a body profile, Lola can now accurately predict the numbers by way of running a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) simulation of the CAD bodyshape to generate the aero performance data. The S2000 wasn’t done in CAD but all other Lola cars now are. Building a car for a price-restricted formula however, has serious implications on development and production costs. For those reasons the bodywork of the ’96 car was crafted in the time honoured fashion of handmade wooden buck and plaster. The master was made by David Fox (no relation to Chris) and Glyn Jones at David’s works in Bourne. David also produced the first six production bodies.
Another general aspect discussed was that of stress analysis. Most design engineers are now competent in the use of small Finite Element Analysis (FEA) models and can therefore work out in much greater detail and with much greater accuracy the safety factors existing in a given design and modify accordingly if necessary. Lola’s current approach is to let the designers use FEA for mechanical items but leave the complex CFRP bodywork and aerodynamic pieces to the composite engineer who defines the layup using FEA.
A hand calculator and an engineering college education was all I had to rely on, with the past experience of others to fall back on when in doubt!
Discussing with Julian revealed the interesting fact that although the technology today brings about increasingly accurate results, the fact remains you still have to make the correct inputs to any computer programme to get meaningful answers – i.e. you have to ask the right questions to get the right answers and that is, as always, down to experience.
Where the modern approach to car design is so noticeably advanced is in the way the finished cars performance can be assessed. By putting values to fixed parameters, e.g. track/wheelbase/engine power/ tyre characteristics/ overall weight etc, a “virtual car” can be produced from which initial performance is predicted. Modifications to the programme can then be made to evaluate the changes and a theoretical optimum set-up arrived at before any detail design has commenced. To compound this further, the characteristics of individual circuits can be fed in and again optimum set-ups arrived at. This blows my mind – the best we could do was to design a car using experience and intuition, make it, bolt it together then dash off to a circuit and try it!
To take this one stage further, Lola have a vibration rig that can be programmed to replicate any given circuit and with a pre-determined sine-wave input (usually between 1 to 20 Hz). This measures all the car’s responses via strategically placed accelerometers, and then uses this data to optimise spring rates, damper settings etc.
Again our approach was slightly different – it consisted of pressing up and down on the front bulkhead or gearbox, see what it felt like and then adjusting the dampers to suit! For us the damper settings could only be varied within the range of adjustment provided (actually no adjustment possible on the original gas-filled Bilsteins fitted to the T 490 and derivatives), whereas with the facilities available in-house at Lola, the required damper basic internal settings can be pre-determined and given to the unit supplier if that is deemed to be the best approach. We could only supply the basic estimated vehicle data and let the unit manufacturer determine the damper internal characteristics.
The big breakthrough regarding improved chassis stiffness was originally brought about by the change from tubular frames to monocoques. Stiffness to weight ratio for a typical monocoque chassis was around twice its tubular equivalent, and in these days of CFRP chassis, doubtless very much higher. With our early cars, achieving sufficient torsional chassis stiffness was a number one priority to ensure that the suspension components worked as intended. Nowadays adequate chassis stiffness is achieved automatically by virtue of the need to comply with the stringent crash-test requirements, something that was not in force during the early days of Sports 2000.
Set Up and Alignment Checks
It was refreshing to find that even today, the basic alignment checks are still usually carried out using the tried and tested “string around the wheels” method plus the Dunlop alignment gauges. Laser equipment is now also available but the old method still predominates.
Testing and “Works Teams”
The present-day Lola approach to testing and “works support” seems in essence the same as in my day, whereby mutual co-operation with a chosen customer enables the evaluation of test pieces and alternative set-ups to be carried out. That approach nowadays has the advantage of being already backed up by computer predictions and simulations – a luxury we did not have at our disposal. In that sense I suspect that we were more “hands-on” and by necessity, more directly involved in the racing than our modern counterparts.
An example of the present-day co-operation is exemplified by Nick Bates running the Lola 07/90 Sports 2000. It was found during runway testing that, as originally designed, too much front end downforce existed compared to that available on the rear. A subsequent re-positioning of the rear wing further aft improved the balance to a point where all drivers then felt able to exploit the cars to their full potential. We had similar successful arrangements with drivers such as Guy Edwards, Chris Craft, Ted Wentz, Jean-Louis Lafosse and many others. We also had more “full-on” arrangements with our various agents and distributors such as Carl Haas in America and Jo Bonnier/Heini Mader in Europe, who would run actual works-assisted teams.
To Sum Up.............
Having been out of the sport for over twenty five years, how do I view the present climate?
The first thing that appears to me to have been improved beyond all recognition is that of the reliability of new cars. This must be due to the amount of accurate, definitive data that is now provided by modern technology which is available at the outset and throughout the design phase of any project
My second observation concerns the importance of aerodynamics. It is a product of the natural progress afforded by modern computers and associated, dedicated programmes. It is fairly inconceivable these day’s for a serious, professional manufacturer not to embark on an extensive wind-tunnel programme for almost any formula, and especially for any car with all enveloping bodywork. In earlier years wind-tunnel testing was much more basic (often without “rolling road”) and rarely utilised except for the upper price range sports cars.
I think I can fairly observe that the majority of lap time improvements have come about from the greater use of aerodynamic analysis and data. This is not to devalue the progress in other areas such as the improvement in materials and other forms of complimentary technology, but I do consider it the most contributing single factor.
On my “return to the fold” a year or so ago, I was delighted to see the strength and depth of the Sports 2000 grids. Duratec cars were completely new to me and obviously reflect the upgraded Sports 2000 regulations and corresponding design in the intervening years. My one concern was related to the cost of running such a car and whether it was moving too far away from the original economy-orientated concept. Julian assured me that the “Duratec” regulations were drafted in response to potential-owner demand, combined with the lack of Pinto engines and therefore represented the direction that the majority in this country wished the formula to go. I also understand that the SCCA in America are undecided in which way to take their version of the formula, and from a manufacturers point of view it must be essential that the UK can provide cars to suit the US requirements with minimal changes to the SRCC specs. It is a simple question of economy of scale. We need the formula to progress and I can see the logic of the “Duratec” approach but this old dinosaur will also be very happy if the T490’s et.al are still performing in another 30 years time!
My thanks to Julian Cooper for joining with me in this discussion.
Bob Marston (Chief Engineer Lola Cars 1969 – 1983)