|Radical SR9 Judd|
Originally founded in 1997, Radical Motorsport surprised the racing world with the announcement of an upcoming LMP2 project at the 2005 Sebring 12 Hours race. Although the company had built up a quite a reputation with blisteringly fast motorcycle-engine powered track-day specials, the step up to international sportscar racing was considerable. While Radical's intention was to build an affordable alternative to the Lola, Courage and Porsche racers, many expected a cheap racer. Even more remarkable was the intention to design and build the car within a year to be ready for the 2006 season. Those more familiar with Radical and their broad range of products were more optimistic about the outcome of the ambitious project, expecting the Brits to succeed where others had failed.
Closer inspection of the Sebring announcement revealed that Radical had hired Peter Elleray as a design consultant. His resume included designing the Le Mans winning Bentley Speed 8. Over the next months he emerged as the head designer responsible not only for the overall shape and aerodynamics, but also the smallest details. Soon after the initial announcement, Martin Short of Rollcentre Racing ordered two 'Radical SR9' chassis to replace the teams aging Dallara LMP900 cars. Rather than sitting at home waiting for the new cars to arrive, Rollcentre took up an active role in the development process, sharing the years of experience in developing a wide variety of racing cars. With a gifted designer, an involved customer and Radical's dedicated staff, the project got underway at full steam in the second half of 2005.
Elleray's influence on the SR9 is in apparent in the overall low shape, but also in numerous details like the front radiator intakes. Under the carbon fibre body the SR9 is more conventional. Radical's initial design specified an aluminium-carbon composite monocoque for cost cutting reasons, but a few months into the project it was replaced with a full carbon fibre chassis. Suspension is by double wishbones all-round equipped with push-rod actuated springs over dampers. The first announcement spoke of a three litre version of Radical's V8 engine as a possible powerplant, but right now bespoke engine packages from AER (straight four Turbo) and Judd (V8 Naturally Aspirated) are available. Both engines are mated to Ricardo's well proven six speed gearbox that, upon request, can be equipped with a pneumatic paddle shift system.
In the second half of 2005 the initial skepticism slowly turned into amazement with every progress report posted on Radical's website. Not only development of the car was reported on, but also visits to various governing bodies to make sure the car was eligible to race once it was done. Also included were pictures of various bits of the car that only further increased the reader's anticipation and desire to see the finished product. Literally hours before the truck left for official Le Mans Series test at Paul Ricard late in March 2006, the first car was completed. In a highly remarkable twelve months a completely new racing car was built ready to take on the competition.
Radical and Rollcentre were pretty much forced to run the car at Paul Ricard to keep the hope alive to have the car accepted for Le Mans. The SR9 attracted much attention from the press, but also the competitors who both had not had a change to see the completed car, let alone in the flesh. Only a few laps were completed on the first day of the two day test before a mysterious gearbox problem had the mechanics scratching their heads. Thankfully Creation's Ian Bickerton provided the team with the solution and the car was back out with half an hour to go. In the next half hour and day, the team gradually, but steadily increased the pace and eventually clocked very competitive times with pretty much a stock setup and racing tires.
If there was anything of the initial skepticism left, the Paul Ricard shake-down should have taken that away. Radical and Rollcentre's hard work was rewarded later that week when their Le Mans entry was accepted. There was little time to celebrate as the team had to prepare for the first race of the Le Mans Series at Istanbul, held just a fortnight after the SR9 first took to the track. With high hopes and a set of new and modified parts the team left for the Turkish track.
While the Paul Ricard test had impressed the sportscar racing world, the Istanbul performance blew everybody out of the water. Early in the race, the Rollcentre team challenged the LMP1 runners for the overall lead, until a number of electrical problems threw them back. With only a few minutes to go, tragedy struck as a short cut triggered the fire extinguisher, forcing the SR9 to retire. The second round of the Le Mans Series was at Spa and the treacherous track proved too much for the black and green racer, which was not able to match the Istanbul performance and eventually retired.
Two races gone, but no finishes yet for the Radical and the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the next challenge ahead. The past had shown that the most reliable LMP2 car had the best chance of winning and certainly not the fastest, so Martin Short's team regulated the pace to increase their chances of a finish. Nevertheless the team was among the top runners in class for many hours until the first problems appeared. Many laps were lost fixing engine related problems, but the team did manage to record the car's first finish; fifth in class.
With three races to go, the Rollcentre Radical was joined by the first Works car in the Le Mans Series. Livered in the very striking red and yellow Radical colours, the second SR9 came equipped with a four cylinder AER engine. With renewed confidence, the Rollcentre team were in the thick of things throughout the weekend and with fifteen minutes to go Joao Barbosa was on the tail of the class leading Lola. In a bold move to get past, contact was made throwing the Radical back several laps and to third in class.
The next race on the calendar was at home in Donnington and the team was better prepared then ever before. All seemed well for Martin Short and his men until the car refused to start after a pit stop with literally minutes to go. The car was forced to retire from the lead. It did not get much better in the following race when problems in the opening lap threw the car down the order. Amazingly the team fought back to the class lead, but again the reliability led the car down and Rollcentre and Radical finished the season without a victory.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on December 14, 2006
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