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Ingram: The Race Is On At USF1

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 20 2010
Workers at the USF1 shop in North Carolina have heavy deadlines hanging over them. (File photo courtesy of USF1)

Workers at the USF1 shop in North Carolina have heavy deadlines hanging over them. (File photo courtesy of USF1)

Huntersville, N.C. – Will USF1 make it to the grid in Bahrain at the Formula One season opener on March 14?

A walk through the team’s shops as a guest of PR rep Dan Passe just seven weeks before the first session in Bahrain does not necessarily answer that question. The team’s first carbon fiber tub is in place on a chassis plate with a mock-up Cosworth engine and a gearbox casing. But it’s being used to lay out the plumbing and electricals. It’s also been used for publicity photos (yet to be released) of visiting drivers (yet to be officially named).

The team members, some of them recently hired, are working flat out in all departments, especially in the composite shop. The man in charge of composites, Kevin Bialas, is composed and relaxed. But his staff has a backlog of layup work to do. The undertray, meanwhile, has been farmed out to nearby Crawford Composites and its larger autoclave.

Crucial pieces of the suspension and gearbox are done – but await more pieces required for final assembly. So the computer-aided machine shop continues to churn out lightweight, high-strength parts.

A glance at a full-scale, side-view drawing reveals a compact car despite the large fuel cell needed to accommodate races without pit stops. The gearbox, to be built in-house, will be transverse for the sake of packaging. But the crucial details of the front and rear wings cannot be discerned, either in the drawing or anywhere else in the shop.

One gets the feeling that these workers, many of whom have been in similar pre-season situations before, probably recognize a seven-day work week is not far away. But like Bialas, they all seem to be composed and cautiously optimistic about meeting the deadlines necessary to get to the nearby full-scale Windshear tunnel, then a first test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and to the FIA group testing in Spain by the end of February. On the other hand, the mandated FIA crash tests are not yet complete.

Fans have by now figured out how to handle this extraordinary scenario. They are dialing up USF1’s official Facebook site, where scenes from this undertaking are being posted regularly. The postings are the early stages of a massive mosaic on how it gets done in F1. It’s a unique, open-ended and unabashedly American way of introducing a new team. There are photos, words (via team member blogs) and special interviews by the American voice of F1, Bob Varsha.

But has US F1 bitten off more than it can chew as a start-up by building its own car from scratch in a building that was empty in July, starting with nothing more than computational fluid dynamics?

I’d have asked Ken Anderson – but he was moving from station to station, immersed in soon-to-be-final details. He looked neither harried, nor preoccupied. But in the words of F1’s business boss Bernie Ecclestone, who apparently has noticed that the final crash testing is not quite complete, there is an air of drama.

I’d have asked recently appointed team manager John Anderson, but his offices are just being finished and he was not in the building. Peter Windsor, the sporting director, was away on business as well, likely working on getting drivers into the final details of contracts.

Extrapolating from a previous visit in November and looking forward to Bahrain, there’s no telling how this experiment is going to turn out in the short run. But these guys have already come a long way and I wouldn’t bet against them. There’s another shoe yet to drop as well – how fast is the car going to go as a result of what is reckoned to be a slightly different approach to this year’s rules?

At least the long run has come into focus. There will be an American team in F1. It is possible to keep costs in check and build an F1 car. The first appearance of the Type 1, as it has been designated, will be an historic occasion and hardly bereft of anticipation.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 20 2010
5 Comments

5 Comments »

  • DDT says:

    Jonathan,
    Great insight into the workings of the squad. Anything you find out, please publish.
    Perhaps, the most encouraging thing you said was that they aren’t panicking. They seem “composed”, which is exactly what they need. Just keep your focus and keep building parts. What I see looks very well done, although they are obviously behind schedule. But engineering projects slip all the time, and come out OK.

    With everything being designed by CFD, and equally important FEA (finite element analysis), they should be able to just build it, test it and go. You expect everything to come out all at once and just bolt together. Of course, its not quite that easy, but it will happen all at once. Then again, leaving everything to the last minute makes your schedule vulnerable to small goofs.

    Nick Wirth of VIrgin, obviously has proven this method to be viable. However, his shop started earlier, and this isn’t their first car, having built several LeMans cars last year. Anyway he’s proven it’s possible.

    I hope to see a “roller” here pretty quick, followed by some wind tunnel testing. Then a full on car for the 7-post shake test, and a shake down cruise in Alabama. But they’re so late at this point, those will really just be sanity checks to make sure it won’t fall apart on track. Presumably, the second car will be coming together while they are testing the first one. They will ship them off to Bahrain wishing they could make lots of changes, but they won’t have time.

    I’d be pretty discouraged if they had to win races right off. But they just have to show up, and go around in circles fast enough not to get thrown out of the race. Bernie is making obnoxious noises, but that’s what he does. Bernie probably hopes he’ll rattle them enough he can sell the slot AGAIN! That’s also what he does.

    Go USF1!

  • demien says:

    GO USF1!!!!!!

  • Nick H says:

    Hmmm, you sound a little bit doubtful there Jonathan.
    Seems a little bit odd that they invited you in, but none of the ‘big noises’ were around to talk to you.
    I’m writing this on February 2nd, when the major F1 teams are already out testing at Valencia, Spain, and it make me worried that even if USF1 are out testing in two weeks from now at Barber, they have no comparison data against the other teams in F1 until they arrive at Bahrein. The closest comparison that they can get is that the track record at Barber is 1′ 09″, set by an Indy car in early 2009, so you’d have to expect a competitive F1 car to do the lap in just over a minute.
    I’d like to think they will perform adequately; I just hope they don’t embarass themselves.

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  • ANM says:

    The never ending saga of USModa and the Falcon.