At Reynard

(This piece was obviously written before Reynard went into receivership. Let us hope it rises from the ashes.)

I knew we were in the right place when we entered Reynard’s small lobby and saw a scale model, about three feet long, of Alex Zinardi’s Champ car in full Target livery. Reynard’s home offices are located in Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, but it was at its new, 14 acre complex in Brackley, Northamptonshire that Missy and I were most privileged to take a tour of Reynard’s race car manufacturing operations. (Our friends at British Timken were kind enough to introduce us to Reynard and to arrange this private tour).

Reynard’s Brackley complex is also home of the British American Racing Formula One team. Reynard Motorsport was formed by Adrian Reynard in 1973. From admittedly humble beginnings it has grown into one of the world’s leading manufacturers of race cars. Fans of motor sports know that Reynard’s racing cars have won every new championship in which they have been entered and in excess of 150 motor racing championships world-wide. This includes successive CART titles from 1995 to 1999 as well as the Indy 500.

Our host and tour guide was Simon Dowson, Manufacturing Manager at Reynard’s Motorsport division. Heady stuff for a young man who began his engineering career only a few short years ago.

It was in the area where the molds are produced that Simon began our tour. The carbon fiber bodies of Reynard cars take their shapes from molds made of either mahogany or a man-made material. Precision cutting by computerized and automated equipment is complimented by hand craftsmanship and finish work. We saw the mold for the bottom of the 2002 Champ car, having just been finished. A row of Formula Nippon bodies, in plain black carbon fiber, graced the area. Molds for engine covers and air intakes were also present in an area of which NASA would be proud for its organization and cleanliness. Indeed, the entire facility is extremely well organized, clean, and well lighted.

Carbon fiber construction combines strength and lightness to provide the safest and most efficient framework for the modern racing car. This material is made of fibers which are woven into a criss-cross pattern impregnated with resin. The sheets of carbon fiber are spread out on specially designed cutting plinths and, utilizing CAD generated patterns from Reynard’s design department, the various components and structural pieces are cut. This computer-controlled process assures that the alignment of the fibers is optimized to give each piece maximum strength. Like cutting a dress pattern, Missy commented.

The pieces of carbon fiber are pressed into a shape to form a mold - the skeleton for the race car and its components. The molds are cured in one of Reynard’s three autoclaves, pressurized vessels that harden the resin and produce the stiffness and desired strength of the finished product. In the area where the cut material was being placed into the molds we were shown an experimental seat for use by NASCAR. As Simon generously pointed out, NASCAR is “less technically developed” than other racing series and could use some help. This seat’s design is part of the effort to get the good-old boys out of their aluminum racing seats and into something that will give them a safer driving environment.

Reynard’s operation also contains a most impressive machining and assembly operation. What some of the gear heads among you may not know is that Reynard also makes, well, gearboxes. Reynard gearboxes are used in the Barber Dodge, Formula Nippon, and Champ Cars. The gearboxes, which we saw close up in various stages of completion, are cast in various materials ranging from aluminum to magnesium depending on the application. They are machined and then fitted with either X-trac for Champ Cars or Hewland gears and shafts for Formula Nippon and Barber Dodge. The Timken Company’s tapered-roller bearings are used in the gearboxes as well as the wheel ends. The casing of the gearbox is designed to have maximum rigidity with minimum weight. Weight is of prime importance as the gearbox is located at the rear of the chassis and has a major impact on the weight distribution and, therefore, handling of the car. 911 pilots will agree.

Reynard also has a wind tunnel, as does BAR, at this site. We did not get to see the wind tunnel, but did get a close-up look at the model of Reynard’s LeMans prototype, designated as the Reynard OS2 Sportscar, which is to run in the 675 class. This model was built to scale in incredible detail. No simple model of wood or plastic, the components were made of metal and carbon fiber. Only a functioning power plant was missing from this model that was about 18 inches in length.

Our visit took us all the way through the operation, but was too short for my liking. I could have easily stayed the entire day gazing at models and partially completed racing chassis. It was also tempting to visit BAR and ask for a tour. But after bidding Simon good-bye we were off, driving on the wrong side of the road in our Peugeot 307, headed for our next hotel, south of London.

What a day.

© W. S. Cline/Rose Lane Garage 2002

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