Première Night - part 3, by Serge Vanbockryck
Biofuel and Ground Effects
The mid-’70s were not only marked by technical innovations, but also by the first global oil crisis. The Western world suddenly realised it was too dependent on oil and soon the search for alternative fuels was on. Not that car manufacturers were spending that much money or human resources on the research once an agreement with OPEC had been reached and the crude oil tap was opened wide again. Still, some countries were interested in biofuels and the Brazilian Government even made them mandatory. The ethanol-petrol mixture required just minor adjustments to the engines, yet the success of the formula – by law though it was – wouldn’t make it across the Atlantic or the Panama Canal for another few decades.
Above: Thierry Perrier’s Porsche 911SC ran on a 52/48 mixture of petrol and beetroot ethanol in 1980. The car qualified dead last, but 24 hours later did win its class.
The ACO, too, was interested in aiding the development of alternative fuel engines and decided to cater for this type of fuel in 1980. From 1949 onwards, the Club had already pioneered fuel consumption limits by imposing a minimum number of laps to be covered between fuel and oil stops, and anything thought to be helping to reduce the need for unlimited fossil fuel consumption was good news as far as the Club was concerned. Unfortunately only one car running on biofuel was entered: Thierry Perrier’s normally-aspirated Porsche 911SC.
With the help of some scholars and of the AIBF (the French national association of beetroot farmers), Perrier had his car’s engine converted to accept a 52/48 mixture of petrol and beetroot ethanol. For a privateer, it was a risky as well as an adventurous undertaking into the unknown. Perrier qualified his car dead last on the grid, some 13 seconds slower than the next Group 4 Porsche, and knew that the race wouldn’t be easy. Yet 24 hours later, Perrier and teammate Roger Carmillet not only finished the race but won the Group 4 class after a textbook event. The following year Perrier repeated his challenge, this time entering a turbocharged Porsche 934. The petrol/ethanol mixture had been changed to 85/15, but after 24 hours of racing the result was the same as a year earlier: Perrier’s ‘alcoholic’ Porsche again won the Group 4 class.
Above: In 1981 Thierry Perrier entered a Porsche running on alcohol for the second consecutive year, this time a 934 Turbo. Again he won the Group 4 category.
Meanwhile in the US, the IMSA organisation had also introduced the GTP class for prototypes, similar in look and feel to what the ACO had created in 1976 and to what the FIA’s Group C was expected to become in 1982. British constructors, March and Lola, the usual suspects for customer prototypes, were the first to respond to the call from overseas - the former with an exclusive car for the works BMW team, the latter with its T600 model intended for customers and to be used with a variety of engines. What both cars did have In common, though, were the novel ground effects design.
Above & below: French aerodynamicist Max Sardou entered this bizarre Ardex-BMW S80 with extreme ground effect venturi in 1981. Though Sardou had started the project back in 1974, the car arrived a day late at scrutineering because the paint wasn’t yet dry! It didn’t qualify for the race. Images copyright JM Teissedre Archive.
When Lotus had set the world of F1 alight with its ‘wing car’ in 1978, every engineer rushed to his drawing board to add an inverted wing to his design. Lola’s Eric Broadley had done so too, and rather successfully. The T600 – with its massive upsweeping venturi and elegant body with covered rear wheels, designed by Frenchman Max Sardou – had been created to service the needs of customers in both the IMSA and World Championships, even though the Group C regulations hadn’t been finalised yet, in early 1981.
Nevertheless, in America the Cooke-Woods team was cleaning up the series with Brian Redman driving a Chevrolet-powered T600, while in Europe a semi-works Cosworth-equipped T600 was entered for ex-F1-drivers and sponsorship magnets, Emilio de Villota and Guy Edwards. Both cars were entered at Le Mans in 1981, though for some reason, the American car was now equipped with a twin-turbo Porsche engine instead of the trusty Chevy. Whether the team sought more power or more reliability wasn’t quite known, but fact was they found neither and Brian Redman and Bobby Rahal were probably some of the biggest names ever to fail to qualify for the event. The other T600 ran with ups and downs, but made it to the finish in an honorable 15th overall and third in Group 6.
For 1981, Max Sardou, the aerodynamicist of both the Lola T600 and the less successful March-built IMSA-spec BMW M1C, had found time to design an even more extreme car, which pushed the theories of aerodynamics to levels rarely seen before. Sardou claimed he had started working on the concept already in 1974, i.e. before the Lotus 78 took F1 by storm, but his various day jobs (notably working on the Ariane space programme) had prevented him from finishing the Ardex-BMW S80 earlier. In fact, the car still arrived a day late at scrutineering because the paint hadn’t dried yet.
The Ardex looked extreme from every angle and in every aspect. The mid-mounted, straight-6 BMW engine from the M1 sat at the front under the dashboard, alongside the driver’s legs, the first time this had been done. The exhaust inelegantly hung down from the middle of the right-hand side of the body, which featured a windscreen even bigger than that of a Maserati Birdcage, and which started at the front wheels. The massive venturi began as far forward as was technically possible, giving the underfloor a distinct catamaran shape.
The car was initially to have been built without a rear wing, but when it eventually hit the road for testing the realities of aerodynamic and physical forces applied to an object at speed had proved the theories wrong. In fact, many things were wrong with the car, first and foremost a serious lack of development. Even though Michelin had committed to the project to develop specific tyres, nobody was involved on the engine side, the powerplant being a standard M1 engine bought off the shelf. At 991kgs, the car was also seriously overweight by some 220kgs. As a result, drivers Richard Lateste and Patrick Perrier (no relation) managed just 25 laps in eight hours of practice and qualifying, their fastest time falling foul of the 110% rule. The team promised to do better the following year, but the Ardex was never seen again in competition.
To be continued...
View books by Serge Vanbockryck