"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman
The Way It Is/ Evolutionary experience is BAT's strengthby Gordon Kirby
BAT Motorsport Engineering is a partnership of three very experienced Indy car engineers Bruce Ashmore, Alan Mertens and Tim Wardrop. Ashmore joined Lola back in 1976 and was Lola's chief Indy car designer from 1988-'93 then ran Reynard North America for seven years. Mertens worked with Adrian Newey through the mid-eighties designing March's successful run of Indy cars then designed the Galmer in which Al Unser Jr. won the 1992 Indy 500. Wardrop is a veteran race engineer and winner of two Indy 500s.
Bruce, Alan and Tim founded BAT last winter and are competing against Dallara, Lola, Swift and Delta Wing for the IRL's five-year contract to build the 2012 Indy car. Ashmore and Mertens say BAT's collective experience gives them a more complete perspective on the evolution of the Indy car than any of their competitors.
"We really want to get this project and I feel our experience gives us an edge over our competitors," Ashmore declares. "I feel like all the experience that we've gained over the years and knowing how the rules have evolved to where the cars are now gives us a unique perspective. I've been involved from the seventies to the current car design and I really want to be involved in the next iteration which is going to take it on through the next ten or fifteen years."
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Ashmore and Mertens share responsibilities as BAT's chief designers. Ashmore is in charge of BAT's aerodynamic design and development with Mertens taking care of the mechanical elements.
"I've always felt that was why my cars were successful," Ashmore observes. "I surrounded myself with a good mechanical design team. I concentrated one hundred percent on the aerodynamics and employed guys that would design really good mechanical areas of the car. I was involved in it because you have to be as the chief designer, but I concentrated on the aerodynamic side. I always felt Alan's cars were really strong mechanically. We sat down at the beginning of this project to see if we complimented each other and would therefore compliment the project and I feel that's the case."
Mertens agrees with Ashmore.
"The most successful years I had were with Adrian Newey," Mertens remarks. "Adrian was in charge of the aerodynamics and he gave me a space envelope. We fought over that space and each of us gave an inch here or there until I got all the things I needed to get packaged in the car and he managed to envelope it with an aerodynamic shape. Adrian and I were very good together as a team. I've shone when I've worked with a good aerodynamicist. It's generally acknowledged in this day and age that you need the best of both. You can't compromise one for the other.
"Bruce and I seem to be always on the same page and we're able to communicate with each other," Mertens adds. "We understand each other and can second-guess each other and more often than not get it right. There seems to be a great deal of synergy, chemistry and energy between Bruce and I and our collective qualifications and experience seem to make things just right."
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"Tim is a great ideas guy and a great development engineer," Ashmore says. "I think when the cars run he'll have a lot to do with it. But the whole process of talking to the teams and the sanctioning body is not for Tim."
Improved safety based on their decades of accumulated experience is central to the design of the BAT Indy car.
"I believe we've put more emphasis on and paid more attention to safety than the other four contenders have," Mertens declares. "We're quite proud of that and believe in what we've done, especially after speaking with Dr. Trammell and a lot of the drivers. We're quite stubborn and inflexible about it. Maybe we've got our critics, but we believe what we've done with regards to safety is good and right for the sport, for the spectators and for the drivers."
Adds Ashmore: "Our competitors don't have the history that we have. We've lived and breathed Indy cars from the seventies through today. We saw the cars crushing drivers' feet and legs and damaging them in a lot of different areas. Through the eighties and nineties we worked really closely with CART on the rule changes to make the cars safer and where you go next on the safety front is the BAT Engineering car."
Ashmore and Mertens briefly reminisced about the pleasure in working with CART to make the cars safer.
"In the old CART days we used to work with Kirk Russell and Billy Kamphausen," Mertens recalls. "We had considerable influence on the direction of the sport with regards to safety. Ninety percent of the meetings we had with them revolved around development of the rules package with regard to safety. "
Adds Ashmore: "We were designing cars against one another and then we would stay on for a Monday or a Tuesday meeting. We would meet all day several times a year evolving the rules for the following year. We focused on changes in the rules that needed to happen. It was such an interesting process and there was a passion for the safety of the drivers and the fans. We were competitors but we always worked together on the rule changes to make the drivers' and fans' environment much safer for the following year."
Ashmore says a better driver survival cell is essential to the BAT's design.
"We've designed our car around the driver," Ashmore relates. "We sat down with Terry Trammell and designed a safety cell that the driver sits in. We want the driver to walk away from any type of crash at any speed so that when his body is subjected to massive decelerations it doesn't crush your spine or allow your arms and legs to flail around and hit various objects in the cockpit."
Adds Mertens: "We've gone to a great extent to continue to protect the drivers' lower extremities as well as the spinal injuries that have occurred over the years. The headrest has pretty much stopped skull fractures from happening but we've paid particular attention to all those things in the details of the concept. The one thing we've addressed more than most is the compressive spinal injuries."
The driver will sit in a more upright position in the BAT and will enjoy much better rear and peripheral vision than the current Dallara affords.
"The driver will be seated in a more athletic driving position that will enable him to race better," Ashmore says. "The driver will have much more comfortable seating and much better vision out of our car than the current car. You've got to remember that the current car was designed to be a faster car than another race car. It wasn't designed to be a better race car or to put on a better show. It was designed to be faster than a competitor. Our goals are different and one of those was to improve the driver position and vision.
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The BAT has also been designed to be less susceptible to minor crash damage.
"We don't have to concern ourselves with the nth degree of performance because we don't have a competitor to beat," Mertens says. "Our primary focus is on safety, raceability and consistency. By that I mean keeping the car in the race as much as possible to add to the spectacle so that if they crash or get into the wall they don't bend a bottom wishbone and your day is done.
"In this day and age we use the survival cell to absorb most of the energy. Obviously the extremities still help and in particular the external bodywork. We don't want the car to fold up in a 50g impact because you're never going to avoid the big crash. But we don't want petty little accidents knocking wheels off. We want the cars to be able to brush the wall and continue without bending wishbones and bringing their race to an end."
Adds Ashmore: "We want the car to be safer but stronger as well so that people can keep going when they have minor accidents."
Ashmore has long been a proponent of filling the gap between the wheels with bodywork so the chances of wheels interlocking and cars flying are much reduced. The accompanying illustrations clearly demonstrate BAT's solution to this problem.
"It's essential to design and build the new car so that there's much less possibility of the wheels interlocking and one car being launched over another," Ashmore remarks.
The BAT Indy car will make most of its downforce from the underwing to encourage closer racing and more passing. BAT will also offer only one aerodynamic package for all tracks.
"One of the things we're really pushing is that first of all there's no difference in the aero package between ovals and road courses for cost reasons," Mertens says. "The front and rear wings will end up being the same once the car is fully developed. What we've gone back to is trying to develop the downforce primarily between the wheelbase with bigger tunnels so that that car will be more stable or less susceptible to turbulence or dirty air when it's running in traffic. We want to generate the downforce from the tunnels and much less from the wings and extremities.
"By generating most of the downforce between the wheels and underneath the car it's more consistent. Effectively it has much less polar moment of inertia because it's not making much downforce from the wings. So when the car is running in dirty air it's not heavily dependent on the front or rear wings at the extremities of the car where there's a huge change in balance. With our car the front and rear wings will be more of a trimming device.
"The initial concept has undergone a pretty extensive CFD analysis and that will be incorporated into our package when we make our final proposal to the 'Iconic' board. The car is being developed already because the full scale model that went into the CFD is the next iteration. Even though this is a speculative thing right now we're still moving ahead with development. The car is being developed even though there are no assurances that we're going to get the contract."
Ashmore and Mertens have designed their car with Honda's proposed turbo V-6 producing between 500-750 bhp in mind.
"The League are really looking for advice on where they need to be," Ashmore says. "We're advising them on what we think they need to make a show. To put on the best show at all the different tracks they go to you need an engine that's adjustable from anywhere from less than 500 horsepower to over 750 horsepower. The only way you can do that is some sort of forced air injection, either a turbo or a supercharger."
Neither Ashmore nor Mertens believe the FIA's proposed 1.6 liter four-cylinder turbo 'Global Racing Engine' is capable of producing the power required by a traditonal, non-Delta Wing Indy car. Nor do they think any manufacturers will be ready to compete with a 'GRE' in 2012.
"The problem with the 'World Racing Engine' is it doesn't produce enough power for an Indy car," Ashmore observes. "It's around a 500 bhp engine which is not enough to have an exciting show on a road course. The current road course car has only just over 600 bhp and everybody that I've spoken to wants to see the road courses back where they used to be in the nineties which was 900 horsepower. So you need to be 750+ and you can't get that level of horsepower out of an in-line four-cylinder turbo and have it last 500 miles.
"If you believe you need more than 700 horsepower for the road courses that's not the in-line four 'World' engine. That engine doesn't really fit Indy car racing. It fits a lot of other series--Formula 3, touring cars and so on. There are a lot of applications where that engine would work. But it's not powerful enough for an exciting Indy car."
Adds Mertens: "In terms of the power with hopefully the Honda twin-turbo V-6 they can vary the boost levels and develop a package that gives them the power they're looking for depending on whether it's a speedway, a road course or a street course.
"Bruce and I spent a long time talking about the inline four-cylinder but it would seem that there's no player who's ready to come to the table with an inline four. It might be a 'World' engine and something that the industry is going to go to. But from the research we've done we can't see anybody waiting in the wings to bring it to the table. They might be in three or four years, but we can't see anybody actually ready to do it now."
Ashmore is an equal believer in Honda's turbo V-6.
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Most everyone believes and hopes the new Indy car will produce more differentiation in straightaway and cornering speeds so that the cars will be more demanding to drive and more exciting to watch. Ashmore hopes the IRL will experiment in the future with reducing downforce to help achieve these goals.
"The cars need a lot more horsepower on the road courses," Ashmore adds. "Just adding power on the road courses will make a huge difference. But the ovals are a whole other subject. There are different types of ovals, of course, and there's not a lot you can do with tracks like Texas. Those are going to be stuck as almost restrictor plate-type racing. I think it's quite an exciting show, but it would be nice to try it at some point with a lot lower downforce and put it more in the drivers' hands.
"I think that's something that can evolve over time by doing some test sessions and allowing people to experience it. But the car we've designed will have enough downforce to be flat and you can then reduce the downforce if the League wants to try those types of rules packages."
BAT's discussions with the IRL about their desire to have a more efficient or 'green' car resulted in Ashmore and Mertens taking a more wholistic approach aimed primarily at producing a much more cost-efficient car.
"They said they want the car to be perceived as more green and when we first started talking to them they were specifically talking about the weight," Mertens says. "They thought a green car would all be relative to weight because they were looking for better fuel consumption. That's what they really meant.
"There's a famous old saying where form follows function and we said to them that a lot of our philosophy in terms of making the car more raceable and more effective in traffic and reducing the wake of the turbulence off the car revolves around a car with a very low coefficient of drag. That's where you're going to get your so-called 'green' car and fuel consumption gains."
Ashmore points out that it's expensive to reduce the car's overall weight.
"When we were quizzing the League on efficiency we honed in on what they were really wanting which was fuel economy and efficiency, which is aerodynamic drag not weight," he remarks. "You don't really want to lower the weight of the vehicle very much from the current weight because you've got so many components--gears, axles, driveshafts and so on--which are all steel components that are inherently the size that they need to be for the longevity of the vehicle.
"You've also got the safety cell for the driver that you're going to slam against the wall at 230 mph and expect him to walk away from. A certain amount of material is needed to contain that and when you add it all up you've got 1,400-1,500 pounds of vehicle. It's incredibly difficult, or incredibly expensive, to go any lighter than that."
Adds Mertens: "Not only is it expensive but it would significantly reduce the lifespan of the components on the vehicle which is contrary to what the teams are looking for."
Ashmore says the IRL and its impecunious teams want a low maintenance, high-mileage car and engine.
"They're looking for a car that's going to run for five years and be relatively maintenance-free and engines that will run 4,000 miles," Ashmore comments. "If you raise the maintenance schedules you're raising the costs substantially and the teams don't have the budgets. But you're not making the racing any better. You're much better off having a vehicle that will last a long time and is easy to maintain."
To contain costs BAT's design includes the existing car's transmisson internals and rear axle.
"As Bruce has alluded to," Mertens says, "we've pledged to our potential customers and the IRL and people like XTrac that we'll carry over things like the complete axle assembly and all the gearbox internals. That helps a bit and keeps the teams happy."
BAT's plan is to deliver components to the teams rather than complete cars. The IRL teams have told Ashmore and Mertens that they prefer to build their own cars.
"When we met at Long Beach with Roger Penske and Tim Cindric," Mertens comments. "Roger was one of the people who was most vocal about that and we agree with him. You don't need to have to carry that overhead and facility. Roger said none of the teams and his in particular need to receive built cars. He said all the teams are capable of building the cars themselves, therefore saving that extra expense."
Ashmore says BAT will operate much like Reynard North America through the middle and late nineties.
"When I left Lola in '93 to run Reynard North America that was the parts warehouse that supported the Reynard Indy car project," Ashmore comments. "I was technical director in the US but I really ran the parts support network. What we're putting together for BAT is that part of Reynard.
"I operate in a couple of different locations and BAT may be based in one of those locations although there are a number of other options open to us. We'll have a parts and inspection warehouse. We operated Reynard North America in less than 5,000 square feet and I operate in a building that's bigger than that. Around 5,000 square feet is all you need, including design offices, parts storage and inspection. Everything else will be done outside."
Ashmore emphasizes that the spec car element of the 2012 formula makes this the most efficient method of building cars.
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"There will be a kit of parts and a comprehensive parts book and build schedule and everything will be inspected," Ashmore adds. "The assembly of the cars will be done by the teams which they're used to doing. That's what they want. There's no need for them to receive an assembled car."
Comments Mertens about how BAT will work: "We just need a storage facility for spares and that's not going to be too difficult to handle. There will be some management people to take care of all the invoicing and the financial side. The whole process becomes a management process. Bruce and I have spent most of our lives running subcontract chains where the majority of the work to build cars has not been done in-house at Lola, Reynard or March, let alone Galmer.
"None of those companies wanted to carry the level of overhead needed to build a complete car in-house. In Reynard's heyday, for example, Galmer built most of the mechanical components for Reynard and it suited both of their purposes. So we understand how that system works."
Back in November of 1993 the state of Indiana passed a law removing sales tax from any motor racing-related transaction in the state and BAT is poised to take advantage of that law.
"There's massive investment in Indianapolis in CNC machines, fabrication facilities, carbon shops and autoclaves," Ashmore observes. "There are seven carbon shops in Indianapolis and three of them have autoclaves that are large enough for the chassis and underwing.
"All of the manufacturing will done by local industry. There are over 1,200 companies based in the Indianapolis area. There were about 100 motor racing companies in this area in 1993 and now there are over 1,200. So there's more manufacturing of the type that builds Indy cars in one concentrated area in Indianapolis than there is anyplace else in the world. We're going to tap into that manufacturing. There is no need for us to own a lathe or a mill or an autoclave."
Mertens says state and local governments are anxious to support an Indiana-built Indy car as are the local suppliers and component manufacturers.
"By going locally we can get huge support from the local government," Mertens relates. "The manufacturers we've spoken to are really hungry to get involved in a scheme like that. We will just have to re-educate them because they're used to building products in very limited quantities and making the profit in the first components that go out the door. Quite clearly, they can't do that with a five-year contract requiring them to manufacture large quantities of components in the initial stages.
"Rather than making a profit on the first set of wishbones that goes out the door they've got to get a different mindset in terms of amortizing the costs of the materials, jigs and tooling. It'll take halfway or maybe two-thirds of the way through the build before they can start making a profit. We will pick these people based on their ability to do the job in terms of quality assurance."
Mertens says BAT will carefully select its suppliers to make sure they can provide the quality required and the financial planning to make the business work.
"We're going to be responsible for quality controls and safety," Mertens observes. "We'll have fixed contracts with these vendors who will be hand-picked. They've got to have some degree of financial security and the commitment to the program that we're looking for that we know they can support to the extent that we need.
"At the beginning of the project when it's front-end loaded in terms of parts, like we used to at March and during the Galmer days, our staff will be supplemented by mechanics from the race teams that would actually give us the head count that we need early on. Once things start to slow-down over the period of the five years and we don't have the volume we have in the first year our business plan has the appropriate amount of people who can take care of that at a reasonable standard over and above the design staff and upper management staff."
Mertens adds that BAT will put a proper trackside support program in place.
"There will be a facility at every race, whether it's run by us, or the Jeff Sindens of the world, where we've got emergency spares which are built up to a greater extent than what we might normally deliver. If somebody knocks a corner off, for example, they can come to us for a wishbone with the brakelines already through it and the rod ends already in place."
Randy Bernard had hoped his seven-man board could reach a decision on the 2012 formula by mid-June but BAT and its four competitors' formal presentations to the 'Iconic' board have been moved back from early May to mid-June.
"The five contenders were going to go up against the 'Iconic' IRL board in the second week of May before the Speedway opened," Mertens says. "Now we've been told it's going to be not until the 14th or 15th of June. So our meeting with the board has been pushed back a month and I've no idea what that's done to the final decision-making process.
"In our business plan we have a very specific time-frame. But unfortunately if the IRL continues to delay the process and move the goal posts it seems that we're not in control of that. Obvously, every time they do that we have to take a serious look at how we've planned it. Both Honda, us, XTrac and I imagine the other four contenders are quite concerned that if they let it drag on too long it could be a serious problem for all of us."
Adds Ashmore: "If we go by the original time scale that means IndyCar will make their announcement about how they're handling the chassis about the middle or end of July. It can always be made later, but of course, the cost goes up. The later the decision is made, the more it's going to cost."
Mertens emphasizes Ashmore's point about time and costs.
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Ashmore adds that BAT itself is properly funded.
"We have some investors who don't want to be named who are no strangers to motor racing," Ashmore says. "We have the investment behind us. They are very passionate individuals which is what you need with a venture like this. You need someone who understands the business and what it is you're trying to achieve because it's not a money-maker. It'll do okay, but it's not something we're going to get rich from."
Ashmore sees no reason to put off the new formula until 2013.
"I think it needs to be 2012," he insists. "It doesn't make any sense to put it off. In our conversations with the IRL it's always been about 2012 and that continues unchanged. I think some of the teams would like to move it back. But most people I've spoken recognize that the car needs to be replaced by 2012."
Ashmore argues that improved safety cannot wait another year.
"You've got a time bomb sitting there," he observes. "The further you get away from August 22nd, when we broke the last driver's back, the more comfortable people become that they can carry this car over. We had that crash happen twice last year [Vitor Meira and Will Power] and of course, it's happened before. But the further you get away from the last crash of that type the more people are happy to carry this car over for another year. But if you have another crash like that, the climate would change again. Let's hope that doesn't happen, of course. But history shows us it's entirely possible."
In closing Ashmore adds praise for Randy Bernard.
"I think the guy is awesome. I'm a big Randy Bernard fan. I think he's someone we've needed for a long, long time. He listens and he thinks things through. He's very impressive."
And very occupied on all fronts too as Bernard works to recreate the torn fabric of IndyCar racing. The first step of course is the 2012 formula. As the month of May unfolds everyone is wondering which solution Bernard's seven-man 'Iconic' board will choose.
Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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