As a 'thank you' to the Autosport forum, and in honor of the significant role Patrick Morgan played in making the book happen, here's an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming book, BEAST. The book will soon roll off the printers in the US. I'm not certain of the UK/Europe timeline for release, but advance orders via Amazon will be shipped as soon as it's available.
This excerpt (edited for brevity and to remove spoilers) takes place after the engine had been designed and built by Ilmor Engineering in Brixworth, England. Once manufacturing of the parts had begun, they were sent to Reading, PA, where Team Penske was based. However, because the engine was still top-secret, only a small handful of employees knew of its existence. So, the engines were built several blocks away, in a tiny, dark and dank little garage they jokingly called the Taj Mahal.
Internally, the pushrod was code-named the "265E" to keep its real intent secret. (The double-overhead cam "standard" engine was the "265D" - and raced the '94 CART season as the “Ilmor Indy” engine.) For many at Ilmor and Penske, they still refer to the pushrod as “the E” twenty years later.
The first on-track test took place Feb. 20, 1994 at Nazareth Speedway, a one-mile oval roughly 60 miles from Penske’s headquarters. Al Unser Jr. drove the first day of testing in very rough conditions, including frigid temperatures and giant snow drifts of ten-feet or more on each side of the track. We pick up the story after the completion of the first day of testing.
Test. Then Test Again. / Heat guns and engine failures
Al Unser Jr. and the test team had survived the chill and snow to complete the targeted mileage on the first day of testing. The session was scheduled to continue the next day, but too much precipitation meant no laps were turned. The Goodyear tires were slicks, so even the smallest amount of moisture on the track surface could cause calamitous results. It was a day of tedium. And interminable waiting.
With the weather improved the following day, they began again. After 105 miles, Unser Jr. began to complain the engine had “lost its edge.” A quick check showed no major issues, so it was buttoned up and sent back on track. The engine continued to run until a driveshaft came loose and the test was stopped at 205 miles.
Another driver was scheduled for the next round of tests. He just didn’t know it yet.
“It was [team managers] Clive Howell and Chuck Sprague who called and said, ‘Hey, we need you to fly into Allentown,’” Paul Tracy recalled. “All I knew was that I was going to the shop for a seat fitting.”
Each driver has custom seat inserts made from an exact mold of his body, and Tracy hopped on a direct commuter flight from Toronto to Allentown, the nearest airport to Reading.
Tracy had grown up in suburban Toronto and set the tone for a new generation of drivers in the early 1990s. As a teenager, he claimed a number of “youngest ever” records as he rushed up the open-wheel ladder with seeming ease. The short sprint races in Formula Ford, Formula Atlantic, and then Indy Lights (he was the 1990 Indy Lights champ) were ideally suited to his style: all out, all the time.
He made his Indy car debut with the small Dale Coyne Racing team in 1991. The one-off ride was funded by his family, which had scraped together enough money in a final attempt to make it to the top level. When the old, tired engine on his car expired early in the Long Beach Grand Prix, a dejected Tracy received a message to see Roger Penske. Hoping he hadn’t done anything unintentionally to upset the Captain, Tracy sheepishly went to Penske’s motorhome, where he was instead offered a position as test driver.
After a mix of brilliant flashes and massive crashes in his few race opportunities, Tracy made his full-time debut in Marlboro colors in 1993 and secured his first victory at the Long Beach race, two years after his meeting with Roger. His five victories tied the champion Nigel Mansell for the most wins in the season, a sparkling achievement for a rookie.
“It was weird. They had me fly in late that afternoon, and they said, ‘Oh, we’ll just make the seat tonight,’” said Tracy, who had several nicknames at the time, most notably “PT” and “The Thrill from West Hill.” “I came into the shop and they had the test-team guys working there at night. There was a car that had a different engine cover on it than normal. I didn’t think much of it . . . at first.”
After the seat was molded, a few more details trickled out.
“Oh, by the way, we’re going to test tomorrow at Nazareth,” they told him.
“It was flippin’ February!” Tracy laughed. “I still knew nothing about it until we were going to the track the next day!”
Just like everyone else who learned of the project and was immediately dedicated to the effort, Tracy became the primary test driver for the project, less than one hour after learning of its existence.
“I was so busy then, and those times were much different from now,” Tracy recalled. “I was testing all the time. I was testing the other car, too. There were no testing rules, you could test as much as you wanted, and as much as your budget would allow. I was going from Nazareth to Sebring to Phoenix to California. All over the place. All the time.
“I lived out of a suitcase,” he said, before poking fun at his more experienced teammate. “Emerson [Fittipaldi] wasn’t a big tester in the offseason. He liked to go to Brazil and you couldn’t get him to come out of there unless it was a really important test. It was hard to get Emerson to test anywhere that wasn’t eighty degrees and sunny!
“I was the young guy, and that was my job.”
As Tracy prepared to drive, did he share Al Jr.’s caution about the conditions and the brittle engine?
“No,” he replied. “It’s just part if it. Anything can blow up at any time. That’s what my job was.
“Nazareth wasn’t the place this engine was built to perform,” said Tracy, who tried to push the limit every lap. “It was only a testbed for us.”
Tracy did share Unser Jr.’s assessment of the most difficult part of testing the E.
“The hardest part of driving was my hands were cold,” Tracy said. “I tried to drive in ski gloves but they were too bulky and big. The cockpits at the time were small. Then we tried mittens—those big ski mittens—and it just didn’t work very well.”
While his hands were cold, the worst chill was reserved for his feet.
“If the engine would last, I’d do a thirty-, forty-, or fifty-lap run,” Tracy said. “I’d come in and my feet were just frozen.”
“Tracy was really a trooper,” said John Cummiskey, one of the lead mechanics on Tracy’s race team, and who attended some of the test sessions. “He got into the snowmobile suit, but his feet would get really cold. He had to wear his thin driving shoes because there was so little space in the footwell. He had big feet too, so there was no extra space. We tried to close as many ducts as we could.”
Not only was it uncomfortable, but his cold feet hampered his ability to feel the throttle and brake pedals. So the team concocted a plan to help Tracy when he came in to pit lane.
“We’d take the cover off the nose of the car, and put heat guns on his feet to warm him up,” said Cummiskey. “A few times his driving shoes got so hot, they started melting and smoking, but he couldn’t feel anything because his feet were so numb!”
With the temperature lingering at twenty-three degrees Fahrenheit (minus five Celsius), Tracy climbed in for the first time. The goal for the day was to cover three hundred miles. It didn’t begin well, with a serious misfire caused by a misconnection in the electronics.
“It was a strange engine,” said Howell. “Some days it would start right away, some days it wouldn’t.”
At 280 miles, the engine suffered its first major on-track failure.
The number-three piston dome had cracked, leading to the destruction of the piston. This can be catastrophic if the connecting rod—suddenly unattached to the piston—thrashes wildly like a cleaver through the block and sump. Luckily, the cylinder liner contained the damage and limited the carnage.
With another E bolted to the test car, Tracy managed only twenty-eight miles the next morning before heavy snow ended the day. Everyone remained optimistic, not letting snow or vaporized pistons dampen the mood. Yet, the shadow of Indianapolis grew taller each day. How, in less than three months, could this engine be expected to last five hundred miles?
“For a newbie, the struggles could be a morale buster,” said Guy Oder, the man in charge of the small test team. “If someone said, ‘I want instant success, and I’m not getting it.’ That’s not the right way to think. I had been through the [Ilmor’s first-ever engine, the 265A] motor program. That was a nightmare. We started testing in 1986 and we didn’t get a victory until after Newman/Haas got one in 1987. We were bustin’ our nuts, closing those things up. Here, at least we could see progress every day.”
With the snow clearing and the weather warming, they were back at it. Almost all the testing was focused on the engine rather than the PC23 chassis. Despite cold, hard tires that were closer to Fred Flintstone’s than racing treads, the data showed Tracy turned a lap of 19.85 seconds, quicker than the existing track record! (His top speed of the day was measured at 189 miles per hour.) After 175 miles, the engine failed. A quick diagnosis showed a number of issues with the valve train. Damage was evident on the valves. There was also a bent pushrod and failed cam follower.
The cycle was in action. Test. Fail. Diagnose. Communicate. Improve. Manufacture. Ship. Rebuild. Then test again.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world was unaware the E existed. Rumors were even being printed about other projects that were phantoms at best, without a single mention of the E.
National Speed Sport News had been America’s definitive weekly paper for race news since 1934. The most popular segment of the paper was called “The Editor’s Notebook,” where the dean of American motorsports writers, Chris Economaki, wrote snippets of news and rumors from his vast travels. In the March 4, 1994, issue, Economaki wrote of his “spies in Warren, Michigan, who tell us Chevy’s ‘Get Even with Roger’ pushrod Indy engine should be in production by the fall.” His spies were wrong.
Unser Jr. was back in the car on March 11. It was cold as usual, but with a blustery twist: twenty-five-mile-per-hour winds. This increased the level of misery for the crewmembers, but the engine performed beautifully, covering four hundred miles. Any time the day ended with the driver shutting off the engine in the pit lane rather than on-track, it was a victory.
Earl McMullen had been with Penske Racing since the Mark Donohue days and was in charge of the gearbox department. He and Steve Tredup were a two-man team, constructing the regular gearboxes as well as the new, beefier version to handle the torque of the E. Tredup recounted McMullen’s view at the end of the day.
“Al Jr. came in to shut the car off, and Earl walked to the back of the transmission and the two oil seals on the starter shaft just fell out onto the pavement and all the oil in the gearbox fell out!” said Tredup. “Earl was like ‘Oh crap! Oh no!’ It was coming apart big time. It couldn’t handle the torque.”
The following morning, Tredup and McMullen tore into the gearbox to find shattered bearings. The damage was significant enough that Penske Cars was called in to redesign the entire outer case for the gearbox. The process would take nearly a month.
“Roger walked in later that day,” Tredup said. “He came in the back door, right by the gearbox shop, and said, ‘How’s everything look?’ Earl, who was kind of a colorful guy, snapped at Roger. ‘That fuckin’ thing is not going to run for a while!’ I thought, ‘Oh my god. . .’ Roger looked at him and said, ‘I don’t give a damn what it takes or what it costs, that thing’s going to run next week!’ Roger was under a lot of stress.”
Penske had been concerned about the gearbox from the very first time he heard it, most likely because the E was a much quieter engine. He didn’t like what the team had dubbed “the Penske Death Rattle.”
“The gearbox was loud, perhaps because the engine itself was so quiet,” said Jon Bouslog. “I tried to explain that to Roger, but he came in to hear it run and almost immediately said, ‘Turn it off! Turn it off!’ He made us rebuild the transmission even though we had told him that was the ‘normal’ noise.”
“Roger thought it was loud,” said Tredup, the gearbox specialist. “Look, with straight-cut gears, it rattles. There’s nothing you can do about it. Ever since we went to an aluminum main case, the whole gearbox was a thin-wall casting so it seemed louder. It accentuated the noise. Roger would hear it running in the pit lane and he’d look at me. I’d say, ‘It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Just run it.’”
Round one of testing was complete, and it was time to travel halfway around the globe to Australia for the first race of the CART season. While the teams were enjoying the warm Gold Coast, work on the E continued nonstop at Ilmor and the Taj Mahal.
Edited by JadeGurss, 25 April 2014 - 17:03.