When MCA Suspension took the top spot in 2016, the team achieved something many believed was impossible. They reset the WTAC lap record in a 2WD car – the first time a car other than a Mitsubishi Evo has been in the top spot. We can confirm that Tim Slade will be back behind the wheel to fend off what will no doubt be tough competition in 2017. We have a chat with the the MC in MCA – Murray Coote on his racing history, the build philosophy behind the car and preparations for WTAC 2017.
WTAC: First of all congratulations on the win in 2016, I’m sure it’s been a long time coming. Let’s start with a bit of history, how did you first get involved with time attack racing?
Murray Coote: Thanks. I started rallying with my brother as a navigator around 1964 when I was 14 years old. I competed for around 10 years as a navigator, but always wanted to drive in rallies. After getting married we had two incomes, so I bought a Datsun 1200 sedan, fitted a main hoop from waterpipe and started another chapter. In those days the regulations were very free, and it was possible to build a competitive car at a very reasonable cost, and still staying inside the regs. Around the late 1980s, that all changed. I had earned some help from Mazda which went for approximately 10 years, but when that association finished I found everything was far too expensive to compete at a top level, so from around 1992 I retired from rallying. I was by now involved with my son, Josh when he started to show interest in motorsport at an early age.
So, fast forward to early 2011, and after having a chat to Ian Baker, I started thinking that WTAC was a formula that again attracted me, mainly because it was a category where you could express engineering at a high level, without the huge expense (comparatively speaking). This was different to other race categories. Also, a result is possible with a single lap, which makes it possible for a privateer entry to get a top result even with some problems that would negate a result if actually racing.
WTAC: The ‘Hammerhead’ aero design of the car was considered quite extreme when the car debuted, how did you arrive at that design?
MC: We decided to enter 2011 WTAC in Pro class very late in the year. My friend Barry Lock was in charge of the aero design, and after some calculations and drawings, came to the conclusion that for things to work well, there was quite a bit of custom fabrication. There was not enough time to carry out the work so, I put the whole project on hold until the next year. A few days later, Barry phoned and explained a way around the time problem, and this was how the front side wings came about. These wings were to make up for the loss of downforce that would happen without the custom fab work required to work with the front diffusers that would have been under the front under tray. There was no point in having front diffusers if there was nowhere for the air to escape. So hence the name “Hammerhead”, because it had the appearance of a hammerhead shark. The free rules allowed us to get around the time issue.
WTAC: And obviously you have been very hands on in this build. What parts do you do and who else is involved?
MC: I enjoy almost all mechanical aspects of the car. I do the engine, gearbox, differential setup, arm angles and general geometry and other suspension set up work. I do not get involved personally in the engine management or aero aspect of the car. I am interested in both these aspects of engineering, but I realise I don’t have the ability or time to apply the level of expertise required to do these two aspects of the car. I have good friends in both these fields, and I must trust them 100% to do what they do. I have a loyal and enthusiastic group of helpers from both the workshop and general motorsport that help during the year, and during the event.
WTAC: The team has been through a few different drivers over the years – Earl Bamber, SVG, and now Tim Slade. How has it been working with different drivers through the car’s development over the years
MC: Because of my involvement in testing and running cars in both rally and circuit racing over the years, I have come into contact with lots of drivers. I guess there are some drivers that perform best in a fully professional team set up, and there are some that are also happy to perform in a more amateur environment. All three drivers fit into that category, and they have been a pleasure to work with. They have all extracted the most out of what has been available at a given time.
WTAC: The Nissan S-chassis has always placed behind the Mitsubishi Evo until 2016. You certainly made history in 2016 with the first ever RWD victory. Do you believe that RWD is the way forward in WTAC?
MC: I believe that with the budget that I must confine myself to, 4WD would be something that I could not engineer to a level that would satisfy me. The most difficult part is the weight. It must be very close to the weight limits set out for the category to get the most from 2WD. The 4WD set up has obvious advantages with traction out of corners, but, the 2WD format is relatively simplistic compared with 4WD, with only 1 differential to set up and maximize. The 3 diffs in 4WD cars, front, center and rear, will affect the balance and handling of the car enormously, and all these diffs must be set up so they talk to each other properly. On top of the diffs you now require an engine to maximize the effect of the added traction that is available and also to counteract the extra weight of an AWD car. This means you should target at least 1200HP, which is getting very serious stress, both on engines and transmissions/driveshafts. It is reasonably straight forward to achieve 800-950 HP these days, which is about as much HP you can use in a 2WD car on the tyres we use. So, with limited testing and small budgets, I reckon 2WD is the way to go.
WTAC: What are your plans for the car going forward and goals for WTAC 2017 and what is your target time?
MC: I am lashing out with the engine this year and fitting +1mm exhaust valves. The car is currently stripped down to the basics and we will reassemble everything with some weight removal in mind. Much of the car has evolved over the years, so there is some room to move in the weight area. I am hoping to lose around 20kgs. Also, because the aero rules are relatively unique, with many freedoms, there are areas in design that are still developing. This means I have to keep an eye on anything that comes up that will possibly improve the car. I hope to get the car together by July/August.
WTAC: And what do you believe the key fundamentals are and in what order ie power, aero, driver, tyres etc
MC: The main criteria involved in getting a fast Pro class car are driver, power to weight and aero performance/balance. If one of these three things are largely compromised, it will result in disappointing results. I take the attitude of things and set up aspects of the car being “not wrong”, rather than attempting to get all things to their maximum potential. I try to get the car to the point of 100% of the car 70% right. Most mortals will not get the time or have the money to surpass that figure. I also think if you can achieve that, you will be in the top 2% anyway. I find too many people are focusing on the last 20% and haven’t got the basics right first.
WTAC: And no question this whole exercise has been very valuable for your MCA suspension brand? How would you compare this to other forms of motorsport?
MC: I do think this event offers a person or business very good exposure compared to costing. It is a real show of general all round engineering, and you don’t have to do 100 laps to show it. I enjoy the competition and technical challenges, and it offers MCA Suspension an avenue to show some of our capabilities.
WTAC: And if you have some advice for up and coming time attack racers what would that be?
MC: I would suggest they look at the category they feel they want to compete in and analyse in a practical, not emotional way, the “hard” points that will give the best result. Potential competitors may well get the best “bang for buck” result by focusing on driving style to start with.
WTAC: Thanks Murray, we can’t wait to see the car run at WTAC 2017!
Jump on board for a lap in the MCA Suspension Hammerhead with this in car video: