In the last few months, we've been chronicling the design and construction of Christian Rado's all-new Toyota Celica Pro FWD racecar. As with any project of this magnitude, progress has been erratic at times, due to manufacturing delays and supply issues. The 2004 season is now officially under way, so the sense of urgency at Norwood's Texas facility is high.
The team hopes to have the car complete in time for the NDRA season opener at Dinwiddie, Va., and the construction crew of Bob Norwood, Tony Palo, Shawn Fischer and Andrew Campbell is virtually working around the clock to meet the deadline.
Finishing the car is only the first step. Testing is an important part of any new project, especially one that features as many new ideas as this one. So the timeline is advancing even faster than the event calendar suggests.
The delayed schedule is driving Christian Rado out of his mind. Racers are not known for being patient. "I was in L.A. for the opening round of the series," he says. "Nothing is worse than watching your rivals from the sidelines. Every race is painful to see. All I want to do is get out there with them. I understand the construction can't be rushed, but I feel like a first-time dad waiting for the baby to be delivered. It's unbelievably frustrating."
"The biggest problem is we end up waiting for special parts," team leader Bob Norwood explains. For example, Turbonetics had to manufacture the intercooler as a one-off so it took awhile to arrive. Without it, the team couldn't build the exhaust manifold, mount the turbo or bend the tubing. It's an unavoidable issue with a scratch-built car, but Team NORAD is doing all it can to minimize the delays.
This month we look at the current state of play and fill some of the gaps in our earlier articles. With completion seemingly just around the corner, our future articles will focus on the testing and tuning as well as the car's highly anticipated debut.
Chassis, suspension and bodywork
The chassis is now complete except for a few minor details. All of the brackets, mounting tabs and controls have been positioned and welded. The only exceptions are the supports for the intercooler and oil tank. These won't be fabricated until the one-piece carbon-fiber nose section is complete because of clearance issues.
"Without the front end, we can't finish the positioning of the final tubing." Tony Palo explains. "It's pretty tight and we don't want to do it twice. The carbon work should be finished in the next few days and it'll only take a few hours to finish the chassis once we have all of the parts in hand."
The rear swing-arm-style suspension, complete with custom-wound titanium springs, is finished. The team is still waiting for the titanium springs for the Penske shocks. "They're on the way," says Norwood.
The carbon-fiber doors are fitted and the carbon floor panels are being installed. The only exception to this is the rear diffuser panel.
"We spent a lot of time on the diffuser," Norwood explains. He wanted to eliminate the need for a large, drag-inducing rear wing so he hired an aerodynamics expert to find an answer. He came up with a diffuser design that will have minimal drag, but will greatly improve the car's stability at speed. The team provided the carbon fabricator with a plug that was machined on the massive CNC mill. Shawn Fischer spent a lot of time making sure it was perfect. The diffuser is built into the rear floor panel, which in itself is a fairly complex part. "The diffuser/floor panel is finished and now we're waiting for a visit from the UPS man."
The rest of the lightweight carbon-fiber panels are finished and waiting to be installed. The only delay is it will be far easier to install the floor and diffuser before the rest of the body goes on, so common sense dictates the team waits until the floor is fitted.
The Lexan windows are cut, drilled and ready to be installed once the rest of the body is finished. "There's no point in installing the Lexan at this stage," Norwood points out. "By the time we've finished the car, it'll just be scratched and dirty." The windows will probably be the last thing to be installed after the body has been painted.
The engine development program has been progressing rapidly. At this stage, the cylinder heads and short-blocks are being assembled at the LC Engineering facility in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
The turbocharger system is ready to be installed. The only delay is the exhaust manifold, which once again cannot be completed until the bodywork is complete. Norwood's crew manufactured the lightweight stainless-steel manifold flanges and Burns Stainless Products supplied some well-made four-into-one collectors, but the rest of the system can't be bent until the body is fitted and clearances checked. The turbocharger is a custom-built Turbonetics ball-bearing T88 and the impressively crafted air-water intercooler was also supplied by the experts at Turbonetics.
The team will use dual Turbonetics "Godzilla" blow-off valves that were heavily modified to reduce internal restrictions and reduce weight. The wastegates will also be sourced from the Turbonetics catalog and mounted as a pair. The aluminum intake and turbocharger tubing is another area the team can't finish until the bodywork is installed and checked for clearances.
Norwood designed and fabricated the intake manifold. The oval runner design allows the 1600cc injectors to be positioned in pairs, side-by-side in each runner.
"The whole idea was to have an injector aimed directly at the back of each intake valve," Norwood explains. "I also utilized a Ford SVO 83mm throttle body to allow this thing to breathe at the big end."
The lubrication system on the NORAD 3RZ is ready to be installed and consists of a Peterson Fluid Systems four-stage dry-sump pump driven by a belt drive. Supplying the pump is a gorgeous aluminum oil tank from Peterson, which also supplied the inline filter. Peterson Fluid Systems has a well-earned reputation for producing top-quality components.
"When selecting lubrication system components, I won't settle for anything less than the best. Peterson has been awesome to work with and I can't recommend them enough," says Norwood.
Mounted on the rear of the Peterson oil pump is the Waterman fuel pump. The team wanted to eliminate as much parasitic drag as possible. A belt drive could've been used, but mounting the fuel pump directly to the oil pump shaft eliminates the need for a belt and will also reduce the loss in horsepower.
More Norwood-style trickery is evident at the front of the engine, where a distinctly odd-looking balancer arrangement graces the snout of the crankshaft. The balancer itself is a custom ATI unit that was manufactured to Norwood's specifications. Mounted directly behind the balancer is a billet-aluminum ignition pickup wheel that was crafted by Norwood's ace machinist Tommy Todd.
Todd is also responsible for the titanium hub the balancer and pickup wheel are bolted to. A unique facet of this arrangement is the hub has a thread machined in it to allow the mounting of the alternator directly on the nose of the crank. Once again, Norwood is looking to minimize the parasitic power losses a belt drive system allows. It also places the weight of the alternator forward and much lower, helping to lower the car's center of gravity and limit weight transfer.
It may seem Norwood's crew still has a lot of work to do, but Norwood isn't as concerned as you'd think. "I've been around racing for many years and I've built a lot of cars. No matter how far ahead of the curve you may think you are, there are always glitches and delays. We've done everything we can at this point. Once the last few parts of the puzzle are in our hands, we'll bust our asses to complete the project. I have four talented people waiting in the wings and they're all ready to work 24/7 on Christian's car when the time comes."
Transmission, driveline and wheels
The Lenco transmissions are currently in transit from the factory. The air-shifted five-speed units have magnesium cases and were upgraded with titanium internals to save weight. The unique slipper clutches have been manufactured and are ready to install and the clutch control system is complete.
The biggest task the team faces in testing will be the setup and adjustment of the clutch system.
Further down the driveline, the billet-steel uprights are complete and the crew is waiting for the custom hub and carbon front brake assemblies from Mark Williams. Once they arrive, the crew will mount the uprights and install the CVs and driveshafts.
Finding the right wheels was a stumbling block until Norwood teamed with the folks at Bogart Racing Wheels. The unique size and offset the Norwood design dictates aren't available from any manufacturer as an off-the-shelf item. Bogart agreed to manufacture the wheels to Norwood's specifications and they're spectacular.
Two versions of the front wheels were developed. The first are 11 inches wide and will be used for the NHRA events. The NDRA versions are a massive 16 inches wide, taking advantage of the unlimited tire size regulations.
Rado's new Celica is a fairly complex car in terms of electronically controlled or monitored systems. A multitude of sensors record everything from suspension movement and chassis flex to air/fuel ratios and individual cylinder knock.
The heart of the system is Motec's M880 engine management ECU. The capabilities of the high-end Motec systems have made them a requirement in many forms of motorsports-Norwood refuses to use anything else.
"The ability to datalog so many functions is crucial," says Norwood. "When you combine the M880 with the Motec dash, you have a massive amount of processing power. We have the ability to look at just about every mechanical, electrical and hydraulic function on the car. If we have a problem, we can hone in on it quickly and get it fixed. It's easy when you know exactly what's going on at any given time."
Norwood has spent a lot of time tuning with various engine management systems. Motec tops his list. Says Norwood, "It works. Plain and simple. Many systems will struggle to control big injectors, but using the Motec boxes I can make a car fitted with 1600cc injectors idle like your mom's minivan. The software is easy to use and the definition of the maps is excellent. Tuning with the Motec is a dream."
The Celica is also fitted with Motec's CDI 8 ignition unit. Compact, powerful but also not inexpensive, the Motec CDI unit is worth the additional cost to Norwood. There are some powerful boxes on the market but Norwood says they're either unreliable or cause so much RF interference that the system is constantly dogged by problems. The Motec CDI outperforms them all and is capable of producing a much hotter spark. We'll go into much deeper detail on the capabilities of the Motec M880 in a future article that will focus on the testing and tuning of the NORAD Celica.
Norwood is just as enthusiastic about the capabilities of the J&S knock control system. Unique in its ability to monitor each individual cylinder for detonation, the J&S system will also trim the timing for each cylinder. By allowing the tuner to run much closer to the edge of detonation, the J&S is a sensible safeguard.
"Once you've set up the system, you can forget about knock," explains Norwood. If there's too much timing or one cylinder is running warmer than the rest, the system will retard the ignition timing on that cylinder just enough to be safe. The J&S system is like an insurance policy that buys you a little more room to play with.
At the time of writing the NORAD crew finished the Mil-spec harness, and the dry-cell Odyssey battery is ready to be installed.
With just a few weeks to go, Norwood and his crew have their hands full. The lights will burn late into the night at the NORAD facility as they finish the construction phase. Our next articles will focus on the testing, tuning and race debut of this amazing project.