Clutch Crusher - 2004 Taurus Sports Lola B2K/10B Caterpillar
At the turn of the millennium, top level endurance racing was facing another big paradigm shift. Just eight years prior, the hugely popular World Sportscar Championship had collapsed due to the failure of the 3.5L Group C formula. The power vacuum which resulted from this pushed pure prototype racing into relative obscurity, allowing production-based Grand Touring cars to take over.
Owing to specialized weaponry forged by Porsche, Toyota and in particular Mercedes-Benz, GT1 became untenable by 1999, as costs had risen past the stratosphere and the spirit of GT-racing had long since been lost. After a transitional period featuring both closed top LMGTP cars developed from the former GT1 monsters, and a resurgence of factory-sanctioned pure prototypes
No other team represented the 1999 split more than Audi, which ran both LMP and LMGTP cars side by side.
As Toyota and Mercedes dropped out at the end of the year for wildly varying reasons, and Audi decided to drop their unsuccessful R8C coupe in favor of the open R8R, the era of the Le Mans Prototype had begun in earnest.
To mark the occasion, British specialists Lola Cars introduced an updated version of their B98/10 WSC prototype. The company had only just changed hands from founder Eric Broadley to Irish former racing driver and businessman Martin Birrane, who bailed the firm out after the dramatic failure of the Mastercard-Lola Formula One effort.
The most obvious sign of Birrane's takeover was a change of designation, with the traditional "T" prefix being changed to a "B", reflecting his last name. The B98/10 was the first car to carry this moniker, and turned out to be a popular solution for privateers in the turbulent times of the late 1990s.
Designed to accept any conceivable engine, the car was incredibly versatile and reasonably competitive. In fact, the chassis were equipped with engines like a Roush-Ford V8, a turbocharged Ford V6, a Chevrolet V8, a BMW straight six, a Judd V10, a twin turbo Lotus V8 and the venerable Porsche twin turbo flat six. With the B2K/10, Lola hoped to build on this success, keeping their customers happy for years to come.
Essentially an evolution, the B2K/10 refined the aerodynamics of the basic B98/10 bodyshell, including a rather large and awkward looking blunt protrusion on the nose. This was in fact the footbox, which was raised compared to that of the older car. The strange look was compounded by the addition of a central light added for endurance races to provide better visibility.
Despite the big lump on the front, care was taken to keep the nosecone largely free from intakes to maintain a smooth surface. Instead, the decision was made to draw a large part of the cooling air from underneath the car.
The square, boxy sides of the B98 were also redesigned, incorporating large channels running from the front to just behind the front wheels, allowing air to flow through the car. The radiator intakes were enlarged as well to ensure better reliability. The chassis maintained its multi-functionality, though only the Roush-Ford V8, the Judd V10 and Porsche flat six were used.
Although a relatively simple, affordable and sufficiently fast option, the car was not without its flaws. The peculiar decision to draw cooling air from underneath tended to cripple the B2K/10 on hot tracks, and aerodynamically it was becoming increasingly obsolete compared to its more advanced opposition.
Despite this, six chassis were sold to teams at both sides of the Atlantic, and although the type never won a race, it did score a number of podium finishes. One of the last teams to buy into the Lola program was British squad Taurus Sports Racing, lead by experienced team boss Ian Dawson.
Dawson had started as a mechanic at the young age of 19, working for Ralph Broad's Broadspeed organization. Later on, he helped build Formula Two cars with Ron Dennis' Rondell firm before going on to become chief mechanic at Team Lotus for Jackie Ickx and Mario Andretti in Formula One. In 1981, he came to prototype racing by managing the factory Lola T600 project, giving him a good link to the company.
As the Group C era dawned, he founded the small Grid team with Guiseppe Risi, and later joined Richard Lloyd's GTi Racing. Following this, he held senior management positions at Zakspeed USA, Buick-March, Saleen Motorsport, the ill-fated 1992 BRM revival, and Klaas Zwart's Ascari LMP project. In 2000, he scored an LMP675 class win at Le Mans with Multimatic Motorsports' Lola B2K/40.
Ian Dawson bought the first ever B2K/10, chassis HU01, from American Le Mans Series competitors Team Rafanelli in 2003 as the Americans switched to a Ferrari 550 Millennio. Taurus then entered it into the 12 Hours of Sebring powered by a Judd GV4 4.0L V10.
Driven by Phil Andrews (GB), Justin Keen (GB) and Larry Oberto (USA), the car was a bit of a deception for Taurus Sports, as they were classified 16th, some 60 laps behind the winning Joest Racing Audi R8 of Marco Werner (GER), Frank Biela (GER) and Philipp Peter (AUT).
Following an embarrassing spin on the formation lap at Estoril, two encouraging results at Monza (3rd) and Spa Francorchamps (4th), interspersed with brake failure at Donington, Dawson elected to take a radical new direction for 2004.
Taurus Sports' new plan involved resurrecting a technology not seen since the Delettrez Diesel reappeared in 1951.
Full of ambition, he wished to bring back diesel technology to Le Mans. Diesel engines had last been seen in 1951, propelling the returning Delettrez Diesel first seen in the 1949 race. Though it had been overlooked for the better part of half a century, the theoretical advantages of diesel technology in endurance racing were undeniable.
Since a race like Le Mans didn't revolve around outright single lap pace, but rather running for as long as possible and staying out of the pits, a diesel engine's superior fuel economy would be an enormous advantage.
Provided the tires could keep up, the increased distance the car would be able to travel on a tank would allow it to leapfrog even faster petrol cars, as they wasted time in the pits. Additionally, the lower revs and higher torque of a diesel would presumably make it more durable than an equivalent petrol engine.
However, the plan relied on finding a engineering partner and a suitable base engine to build the team around. Eventually, Ian Dawson established contact with none other than Caterpillar, the biggest manufacturer of diesel engines on the planet. Realizing that the creation of a bespoke racing design could potentially cost millions in tooling costs alone, he proposed using a road car engine as a base.
In the end, the 5.0L TDI PD V10 from the Volkswagen Touareg was chosen as a base. In road-going form, this engine produced 309 horsepower and a substantial 750 Nm (553 lb ft) of torque, at the time making it the single most powerful diesel fitted to a production car. Though impressive, this was nowhere near enough to be competitive at the top level of LMP racing.
Under the direction of Caterpillar UK's Dave Smith, the big lump was turned into a viable competition engine. Smith was limited in his resources however, having the use of only a small team of dedicated engineers. With this in mind, he contacted tuning firm Mountune to assist in the preparation, manufacture and testing of the V10.
Through hard work by both Caterpillar and Mountune, the PD was adapted for racing by converting it to a dry sump oiling system, bigger Garrett GT1852V turbochargers, lower compression forged pistons, and a custom-made Pectel fuel injection system. Aside from the performance additions, the engine was put on a diet by removing the balancing shafts, though this was a bit of an uphill battle.
With 210 bar (3045 psi) of pressure in the cylinders, and up to 2300 bar (33.358 psi) being exerted by the fuel injection system, the engine had to be incredibly strong to withstand the enormous strain, which meant it was always going to be heavy.
In addition, the block's road car origins were working against it, with several auxiliary components being less than ideal for competition use. In the end, this made the car far heavier than the 900 kg (1984 lbs) minimum weight limit.
When all was said and done, the heavily reworked powerplant produced 530 horsepower and a truly monumental 1050 Nm (774 lb ft) at just 2500 rpm, and redlining at just 5000 rpm. On the Mountune dyno, the engine had actually produced in excess of 1200 Nm (885 lb ft), but this presented a pretty huge problem.
By comparison, the Judd GV4 originally fitted to the car pushed out just 450 Nm (331 lb ft), less than half of what the Caterpillar could do. As a result, the standard Hewland six-speed sequential shift transmission had no real way of dealing with the new motor's smokey savagery.
The Hewland's gear ratios were far too long for the V10's short rev range, and the clutch had the devil's own job of coping with the landslide of torque constantly slamming into it. Because of this, the drivers would have to be extremely careful with their shifting. The car lacked a paddle shift system, instead relying on a traditional gear lever, making the job that much more difficult.
Though the project had only really started in January of 2004, the team was able to prepare the car in time for the traditional Le Mans test weekend a month before the race in May. With British GT driver Calum Lockie (GB) and sportscar racer Phil Andrews and WSC veteran Chuck Goldsborough (USA), the Lola managed to set a time good enough for 50th place.
This was nothing to write home about, but it at least pre-qualified the car for the race proper, which in itself was an achievement for the young project. With the first big hurdle successfully negotiated, the team looked to the next big challenge: actually battling the rest of the field for a spot on the grid.
As both an insurance policy and a yardstick, Taurus Sports entered a standard Judd-powered car to accompany the diesel. This car, chassis HU05, was then given Didier Andre (FRA), Benjamin Leuenberger (SUI) and Christian Vann (GB).
It clocked a 3:50.703, good enough for a strong 19th place overall. The time was as much as 17.865 seconds behind the pole-sitting Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx Audi R8 of Jamie Davies (GB), Guy Smith (GB) and former F1-driver Johnny Herbert (GB).
Shockingly, the Caterpillar car was a further 23.677 seconds removed, despite the services of newcomer Anthony Kumpen (BEL). As a result, the diesel started 48th, right in the middle of the GT field.
Though the pace still wasn't there, the race was seen as more of a proof of concept for diesel engines at Le Mans. Thanks to the efforts of Caterpillar and Mountune, the Lola was the first turbodiesel car to start at Le Mans, a commendable achievement in and of itself.
Taurus Sports gambled on a "tortoise versus hare" scenario, hoping to make up places by staying out of the pits rather than actually overtaking on track. With a projected fuel efficiency advantage of 25% over even the leading Audis, this seemed like a sound strategy.
Unfortunately, the team would never be able to properly implement the game plan. With just 35 laps completed, the clutch finally gave up the struggle against the 5.0L V10 juggernaut. The immense torque nearly pulverized it, leaving the Lola stranded by the side of the track.
Its petrol-powered sister would ironically also suffer a clutch failure, but went on to finish a respectable 20th, 79 laps down on the victorious Audi Sport Japan Team Goh Audi R8 of Seiji Ara (JAP), Rinaldo "Dindo" Capello (ITA) and Tom Kristensen (DEN).
Following the disappointment at Le Mans, the team took to Silverstone for the 1000 KM race, round 3 of the 2004 European Le Mans Series. The Judd car was abandoned for the event, but the Caterpillar continued with Phil Andrews and Callum Lockie retaining their seats. Anthony Kumpen on the other hand was replaced by Richard Jones (GB), a highly experienced endurance racer.
The trio extracted a time of 1:50.691 from the sluggish car, once again placing it in the middle of the GT field. In fact, the time was 16.658 seconds behind the works Zytek 04S of Chris Dyson (USA) and Robbie Kerr (GB).
Curiously, the gearbox and clutch held out perfectly during the race. However, another problem presented. Due to the properties of diesel fuel, it tended to froth while going through the high-pressure refueling system typically used in motorsport.
The team had asked the FIA for permission to add an anti-frothing agent to the fuel, but their request was denied. During the race at Silverstone, this decision came to haunt them, as it turned out to be impossible to fully refuel the car. As a result, a projected 40 lap stint was brought down to 32.
The team wasn't bothered by the issue for very long however, as the big V10 overheated on lap 105, ending Taurus Sports race around half distance. Though the car had lasted much longer than expected based on the Le Mans result, it was far from a positive result. Clearly, a lot of work needed to be done to make the engine a real contender.
After Silverstone, the car was slated to appear at the Spa 1000 KM, but turned out to be a no-show. Plans were drawn up for the following season however, as Dave Smith and his men had identified a slew of weak points to be improved for 2005.
This included a simplified electronic common rail fuel injection system, an easier to handle paddle shift system, a lighter cam chain system to replace the standard heavy gears, a stronger five-speed variant of the Hewland transmission and an improved 1700 Nm (1253 lb ft) capable carbon-ceramic clutch designed by AP Racing, with provisions for an even more potent 2000 Nm (1475 lb ft) version.
Sadly though, none of these alterations were ever made. Due to the engine failure at Silverstone, Ian Dawson had burned through his shoestring budget. However, his creation still found use in a very different role.
The chairman of oil firm D1 Oils was sympathetic to Dawson's plight, and offered to pay him to use the Lola to test different blends of fuel, including bio-diesel made from Jatropha nuts, and a whole host of different blends produced abroad. In this capacity, the car covered countless miles at Snetterton Circuit. And with that, the pioneering oil burner faded into obscurity.
But one man did remember it very vividly, Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich had enthusiastically congratulated Ian Dawson on his daring initiative at Le Mans, and starting thinking of one of his own. As the head of Audi Sport, he had virtually limitless resources at his disposal. This would lead to the creation of the V12-powered Audi R10 TDI, the first in a long line of dominant diesel Le Mans racers.