In front of you – literally just in front of you – is the famous red, white and blue helmet of one Nigel Mansell, Formula One World Champion and Grand Prix Master. Behind you – literally right behind you – growls 600 brake horsepower of racing V8, ready to be unleashed. And wedged between the two is you, cocooned in carbon fibre, shrouded in fireproof Nomex and Kevlar, strait-jacketed by a six-point safety harness cinched so tight that every breath is curtailed. Between your knees sits a grab handle around which your fingers are wound tight. Above sits a bright red button that will, should you press it, inform the man in front that it might be best to slow down for a bit. Welcome to the hottest seat in motorsport – the two-seater Grand Prix Masters race car. It’s going to be one hell of a ride…
The success of the GP Masters World Series is not just down to the legendary names who have battled it out on race circuits of South Africa and Qatar and will soon be competing at the home of the British motorsport at Silverstone on 12th – 13th August. A major factor behind the thrilling action and spectacle are the superb single- seater race cars that ensure every driver has the chance to express himself behind the wheel. Powered by an 80-degree 3.3-litre V8 Nicholson McLaren Cosworth engine, the GP Masters car produces in excess of 600bhp and has reached speeds close to 200mph – as demonstrated in Qatar in April at what was billed the "hottest grand prix in living memory" with a recorded cockpit temperature of 77 degrees.
Mounted to an advanced carbonfibre chassis and with a six-speed sequential paddle shift gearbox, the 650kg cars offer phenomenal performance. What’s more, to ensure that driver talent outweighs technological trickery, electronic aids such as traction control have been outlawed, while a stable aerodynamic platform allows maximum driver input, involvement and overtaking. 2 The result is a car about which the drivers have raved, praising its stability and speed. But it’s one thing hearing from an experienced Grand Prix driver how well a car is handling. What you really want is to be able to hop on board and see for yourself. This is where GP Masters’ Engineering Manager Nick Carpenter comes in. Carpenter had experience working on a two-seater race car for a previous manufacturer and realised that the GP Master’s car was ideally suited to the task.
"Because our race car has a really strong and spacious carbonfibre chassis, we knew it would be possible to extend it enough to allow a second, separate passenger compartment without harming the car’s integrity or performance in any way," explained Carpenter from the design offices of Delta Motorsport in Northamptonshire (UK), where the GP Masters cars were designed and built. Not satisfied with ensuring a second person could be comfortably and safely housed behind the driver, Carpenter was also determined to guarantee the passenger the best possible view of the unbelievable action taking place all around.
Previous two-seater race cars have been criticised for offering the passenger little more than a view of the driver’s neck. The new GP Masters two-seater draws the passenger back and upwards in their own separate cockpit, meaning they sit higher than the driver and have a full panoramic view as the action unfolds. Remarkably, the two-seater car is only 40cm longer than the original car, a fact that means it will retain the super- sharp handling characteristics of the single-seater. Carpenter achieved this by designing an entirely new bulkhead behind the driver and then reducing the capacity of the fuel tank, meaning the second seat nestles neatly behind the driver without significantly altering the weight distribution or centre of gravity of the car – vital factors in ensuring the two-seater experience is as authentic as possible.
"Although the new car is slightly longer, it is exactly the same width as the race car and even factors such as weight distribution will not change significantly," reveals Carpenter. "By taking all this into consideration at the design stage and creating bespoke parts for the car rather than performing a crude ‘cut and shut’ on a single- seater, as other people have done in the past, we have produced a car that will accurately reflect the performance capability of the race cars."
Even the overall weight of the new car, arguably the single biggest inhibitor of out-and-out performance, will not be that much greater than a single-seater GP Masters car because the large 120-litre fuel tank has been replaced by a 60-litre version to accommodate the passenger compartment. 3 In fact, because the wheelbase of the car has been increased by 400mm Carpenter expects the drivers will find the two-seater even more stable and predictable when being pushed to the limits.
"Basic rules of engineering tell us that a longer wheelbase makes a car less twitchy and easier to drive on the edge of adhesion," says Carpenter.
"So I would imagine that passengers in the GP Masters car will really be able to experience the highest levels of car control and handling from the likes of Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi and Co." Work on the two-seater began after the hugely successful inaugural GP Masters race in Kyalami, South Africa in November 2005. The chassis patterns were signed off for manufacture at the end of March 2006 and between May and July the new car was built at Delta Motorsport.
"There is probably 90% carryover of parts from the single-seater car," explains Carpenter, "but the 10% that are new just happen to be some pretty complex and important ones like the chassis, driver back bulkhead, passenger bulkhead, new headrests, bodywork, new engine air intake and so on." To give the passenger as much room as possible, Carpenter’s design pulls the driver slightly forward and fractionally more upright, although that still means anyone in the back will find their cabin to be cosy at best.
Once onboard, there will be no more than 25cm from the passenger’s helmet to the front edge of the cockpit surround and another 25cm to the driver himself. Importantly, the passenger’s shoulders sit 100-150mm higher than the driver to allow increased views and Carpenter has also lowered the cockpit surrounds near to the central bulkhead for improved forward viewing.
"In terms of the passenger experience we really believe this will be the best two-seater Grand Prix car you could imagine," says Carpenter.
"We’ve sat them up high to get the best possible view – unless they are so scared they’ve got their eyes shut! And from a safety perspective we have gone down the more time-consuming and expensive route of building a bespoke car which, at the end of the day, means the passenger will be as safe as a driver would be in a standard car. There was never going to be any compromise over that."
All of which means the GP Masters two-seater is set to deliver an astonishing display of performance and power. Carpenter’s predictions suggest that even with two people on board and a full tank of fuel the car will storm to 100mph from standstill in around 4.5 seconds and continue on to 150mph in under 10 seconds. Then its enormous racing brakes will be able to haul it to a standstill from 150mph in just 4.3 seconds, and all within 150 metres. 4 And while the acceleration and braking will be enough to leave you breathless, Carpenter expects it will be the cornering that will leave most passengers dumbstruck.
"We will set this car up with quite high downforce levels and consequently it will be able to pull some serious G- forces in the quick corners. Until you have experienced 2.5G lateral acceleration you simply cannot imagine how it will feel. One analogy I use to explain it is to tell people to lie with their head off the edge of their bed; the force on their neck muscles is then one G. If they get someone to push down hard on their head, they would probably then exert two or three Gs of force.
Now sustain that several times every single minute and do it repeatedly for an hour and you can see what the drivers go through in an average race." Because of the physical demands created, current plans are to offer passenger runs of no more than a handful of laps – any more and people will simply not withstand the forces within the cockpit. But even so, Carpenter believes, this will be more than enough to reveal what it’s like to be a GP Master, if only for a brief interval:
"I honestly believe this will give the lucky passengers an incredible insight into what it is like to travel in one of the world’s fastest race cars with some of the world’s best racing drivers. It really will be the ride of their lives and without doubt the hottest ticket in town!"
Ticket hotline number for race weekend at Silverstone (12th/13th August): 08704 588300 or go to www.gpmasters.com Weekend grandstand ticket (£60 adults, £30 children) , Weekend general admission tickets (£35 adults, £17.50 children)
- Nav SIDHU, London - also photo