Whistlestopping in Poole



It’s a relatively fast tour and you might be forgiven for feeling that Penske Cars’ premises on a small industrial estate in Poole are modest by the standards one has come to expect of typical F1 teams, but Roger Penske’s UK build operation packs a lot into its 16,000 sq ft. Where it needs to be, money is well spent, but the overriding theme is efficiency without profligacy. You would expect nothing less from Managing Director Nick Gooz´e, a man weaned in the motor racing ways of Sir Jack Brabham and Ron Tauranac. Frills are what you sew on to dresses; they don’t win IndyCar races. Loyalty, efficiency and pride in workmanship do, and you will find them in spades here.

The design department comprises nine people and a 50/50 split between CAD and drawing boards. It is Chief Designer Nigel Bennett’s domain. “With boards you can see things on wider scale,” says Goozée, “and while suspension and bodywork is done on CAD, where the maths are quicker, the smaller detail layouts are still drawn.”

Bennett conceives the designs of the IndyCar challengers, but uses former Chief Designer Geoff Ferris, a retiring personality, as a sounding board. Ferris, according to Goozée, carries a colossal workload and never relaxes. He designed Penske’s ‘charisma’ cars – the Austrian GP-winning PC4, PC6 and PC10 are deemed to be his greatest. Between 1980 and ’83 he was the Chief Designer and worked alone bar one helper, and he was the General Manager of the company, too. It was a tremendous strain, and in 1983 Goozée became General Manager and Ferris concentrated on being just Chief Designer.

Now he designs the gearbox, and Penske’s transverse unit is reckoned by Lola to be one of the reasons why the PC22s handled so well on tight circuits in 1993.

Ten years ago Penske had minimal resources compared to March. There was no wind tunnel, nor any experience with carbon fibre. Ferris’ last full car, the PC 12, was not successful and it was deemed necessary to look around. Alan Jenkins came along but his PC15 and PC16 designs were not successful either. “But Ajay opened our eyes to what we needed to be a successful manufacturer again,” stresses Goozée in the interests of fairness. “He introduced us to carbon fibre work, constructional methods, etc. He brought McLaren technology to us, and he should get the credit for that.” There were 20 people at Penske Cars then; now there are 75. “Alan had come from a very big high-technology organisation to something fairly basic . . .”

Penske Cars has always been based in the Poole area. When Roger Penske decided to go full-time Grand Prix racing in 1974 he wanted something fairly low-key to begin with, given his reputation for success back home in the United States, so he bought McRae Cars’ premises just outside Poole. At the end of 1973 Ferris had six people working for him, and the first car appeared from very limited resources.

“F1 had a different mindset,” recalls Goozee. “Everyone was up-front, especially the sponsors. In hindsight we needed more development time. We needed instant results. In 1984, for example, we bought two Marches and won Indy two weeks later. We needed that in F1.”

Penske’s corporate business was picking up towards the end of 1976, with the growth of his truck leasing business, and with First National City Travellers’ Checks uncertain about its future, he opted to withdraw. Ferris’ PC4 had proved highly competitive in John Watson’s capable hands, winning the Austrian GP and challenging James Hunt strongly in Holland before gearbox failure. It had been an honourable campaign.

Ferris admits: “I don’t miss the hassle of going to races. With IndyCar races it was a weekend away, a weekend at home. You were always travelling.”

Goozée: “What Geoff did back then on his own was with total responsibility, like Gordon Murray at Brabham. You just couldn’t contemplate that now. It’s so much more involved.”

Within the design team everyone makes inputs, but only Bennett, Ferris and one other member had previous experience of motor racing. Everyone else has been trained at Penske, a point Goozée makes with evident pride. “That creates a good spirit, although that situation can work against you – you don’t have such a transfer of new ideas – but parochiality builds intense loyalty. Few leave, but lots want to join . .”

The factory is effectively a 16,000 sq ft amphitheatre, including the mezzanines. The central car build area is deliberately surrounded by the other departments, which is good, “because everyone involved gets a clear view of the end product. They get a greater sense of purpose.”

In ’94 the upstairs composite shop will build eight chassis for the team’s three drivers, Al Unser Jnr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy. Each PC23 will go through the season with two complete sets of ‘consumer’ bodywork, rather less than one might expect, because the attrition rate is lower than a Grand Prix as the cars are heavier and more robust.

The department personnel are multi-talented, as part of Goozée’s management style. “When the patterns have been completed, the staff switch to making brake ducts and speedway wings, that sort of thing. That way we don’t have to make people redundant, they can carry on working through the factory. It keeps up the general interest.”

Within composites is guru Don Berrisford, using all his years of experience at McLaren. He runs the department with Kevin Emmett, acting as troubleshooter. Nobody is better experienced, and he has made further bequests to the racing industry as sons Gavin and Paul work respectively in McLaren’s R&D department, and with TAG. Berrisford started the composites department at McLaren with the M26 back in 1977. It used aluminium composites, and carbon fibre wings and underwings. “We had to learn the hard way; nobody wanted to tell you,” he recalls. “I like to think our approach is very practical. We need to make our cars very strong – there’s no lack of technical ability but our approach is very practical really. Here each man probably does three jobs. It’s very good, like an old-fashioned Fl team.”

The pattern makers produce the chassis and bodywork buck from mahogany because Bennett likes to look and to fiddle with it and adjust it so it looks good to him. Goozée, laconically: “In technical terms we’re not far off the expert methods. Our composites now are the equal of most of our contemporaries.”

Each buck takes around six weeks to build with four people working on it. “Usually we allow 15 weeks between the buck and completion of the first chassis.”

The PC23 for 1994 is a minor derivative of the PC22 with new engine mounts to accept the revised Ilmor D V8 and a modified rear bulkhead, so it’s not so radical. That’s helped with programming.

Interestingly, Berrisford lays a few carbon fibre myths to rest. “It actually improves with age, because the resins harden. And although you maybe don’t specify gauges, like you did with aluminium in the old days, you can specify lay-up, thickness and direction. The composite side of the IndyCar regulations is worked out by Lola and Penske in conjunction with Kirk Russell from CART. Records are mandatory for each chassis. Drawings, curing times, etc. Just like aircraft. It’s actually a bit like building a spaceframe, you know. You can localise strength then fill in bits here and there.”

One big advantage with carbon fibre is repeatability. “In the old days you could make a set of eight aluminium wings, and there’d be 40 per cent difference between the best and the worst. Then we tried carbon fibre and from then on wings have always been carbon fibre. The drivers immediately found that the cars would repeat. Whatever you dialled in to one chassis would stay the same when you dialled it into another.”

Bennett and his men spend 22 weeks of the year in the Southampton University wind tunnel. Their 40 per cent wind tunnel models are fully adjustable works of art. At Southampton Dr. David Hurst heads the department and it runs a scholarship scheme which supports a selected student in his or her final two years. “They spend their holidays here and join in the wind tunnel tests, and that could lead to employment here,” says Goozée. “We are also starting an apprentice scheme. We have one already, and we plan to have another two in 1994.”

Penske Cars operates on tight, clear lines. Goozée, works manager Martin Webster and all the heads of department have a production meeting every Wednesday morning to specify deadlines. Webster is his right-hand man, “the hub of company” according to Goozée. “He came in as a fabricator, and runs the factory and staff. He gets lots of flack from me, which he takes very well.”

By the following Monday there is an achievement list which the staff gets from its respective head. There are very tight deadlines to meet. The November 26 car deadline, for example, was set early in September, and Goozée proudly but quietly stresses that they’ve never missed a completion date for a new car, and can tell the team precisely when to expect its next batch.

The minutes from the meeting act as a template for the coming week. All of the staff have grown up through the company, from the shopfloor, and they know the business intimately. There is no hierarchy; everyone knows their individual responsibility. “It sounds trite,” admits Goozée, “but you can see it works.” He pauses, then adds almost regretfully: “We are a very disciplined society here, I’m afraid.” Like all good race shops, though, it’s the sort of discipline that comes from within individuals, not the kind that needs to be imposed.

Penske Cars will try to produce a PC23 every three weeks, until they have a stockpile of the scheduled eight chassis, and will hope to avoid debilitating accidents such as those Paul Tracy indulged in during the early part of 1993, which wreak havoc with such production plans. “Then” says Goozée, “it’s like trying to run with a dog biting your leg.” D I T