Reynard 961 & 971
With every major European junior formula well and truly sewn up, Reynard entered the '90s with one mission – to annihilate Lola in North America's CART series. And it did just that...
Words: Keith Howard. Photography: Rich Graves Photography
Setting aside the BAR F1 experience, Reynard Racing Cars Ltd, later Reynard Motorsport Ltd, had the Midas touch. From its first foray into Formula Ford 2000, with Adrian Reynard himself driving, to when it shocked the motor-racing world by going into receivership in March 2002, it proved itself the doyen of production race-car manufacturers. In F3, then F3000, Atlantic and latterly CART, it made the cars to beat.
Reynard's biggest challenge was taking on Lola and Penske from the start of the 1994 CART season. There was no championship for the Bicester firm that rookie year but from 1995 until 2002 the constructor's title became Reynard property. Two crucial years in the company's Indycar onslaught — 1996 and 1997— are remembered here by Malcolm Oastler, Reynard's chief designer at the time, and Barry Ward, transmission designer on the early CART cars, who assumed overall design responsibility from 1998.
BW: "We came into CART at a point when teams were keen for change. I think in any formula the teams get restless if there is one dominant supplier, as Lola was. CART was the ultimate production racing-car market to move into. The company did a lot of ground work beforehand, and we hired Bruce Ashmore who'd been chief designer at Lola. He brought experience, and we formed a very good relationship with [team owner] Chip Ganassi. That meant we had track data, and we could speak to the engineers and drivers."
MO: "The '96 season was interesting because the 961 wasn't very good to start with. A rule change had made the diffuser exit smaller, and that changed the aerodynamics quite a bit. This didn't have much effect on the low-downforce car but on the high-downforce car, in hindsight, it wrecked the flow off the front wing and round the front of it. We ran masses of front flap angle to compensate, which upset the cooling so the car ran really hot. But we made some changes during the season with cheap add-on bits and developed our way out of the problem. We made the front wing hugely more effective, the car became much more pitch-sensitive and the coolant temperatures went down by 10 degrees."
MO: "The '96 Lola was a better car than ours. We got through the '96 season on the basis of having Firestone tyres and Honda engines, plus a bunch of really good teams and drivers. But in '97 the aerodynamics were all sorted, we had the new transverse 'box and a new tub. All the '96 car's compromises were fixed and we destroyed Lola with that."
BW: "Fitting the inboard transverse gearbox to the 971 in place of the previous outboard 'box wasn't a night and day improvement, but it was a logical progression. It allowed us to centralise the mass in the car, so we didn't have a big lump of metal hanging out the back, which was good for handling. The aerodynamic rules — the way the diffuser tunnels were being lowered and aerodynamic possibilities being limited from the rear wheel centre line backwards — were also moving towards the transverse 'box being an advantage. It allowed us more aerodynamic flexibility and opened up another development avenue."
Keeping the customer satisfied
MO: "With customer car racing there was always the problem of who gets development bits. There would be horrible political situations where you had three new parts and had to decide who got them. The bloke who didn't but who was a loyal customer and paid his bills felt disenfranchised. So we came up with an arrangement whereby everybody had the opportunity to be a works team. If we had a new part we'd tell everybody that it was coming and the first batch would be half price, so that we shared the development cost. If we got 10 orders then we made 10 pieces. It probably cost us a one-race delay to make 10 rather than three but then we were geared up with tooling and could make dozens of them. It worked fantastically well and demoralised the opposition: for practice at Ohio in '96, 15 Reynards rolled out with new rear wings. The Lola and Penske guys thought: how can they do that?"
Secrets of success
BW: "I believe that the men at the top of the company set the tone. Adrian, Rick Gorne and Malcolm were an awesome partnership. Adrian was a bold entrepreneur, prepared to attack new markets; Rick was a fantastic salesman who would build relationships with team owners and gain their confidence; and Malcolm was a great engineer who generated good cars. And they made themselves competitive by going out and finding the right people. Reynard was also good at not having superstars, so ego never got in the way and Adrian and Rick were good at keeping it that way. It meant you could just get on and focus on the engineering."
MO: "Reynard in the '90s — the work ethic, the motivation, the teamwork, the level of customer service and liaison — was stunning. Everything got better organically: the aerodynamics, the quality and the service. We couldn't do anything wrong. Personally, I think the fact that Reynard died in 2002 is not such a bad thing. Better that than having it struggle along with a Zimmer frame today when there's no money to be made building production racing cars."