Engine firm has a hand in land speed record and new Norton
Meynard Competition Technologies (MCT) in Leafield is fronted by smart ornamental ponds inhabited by large carp. You’d never know that these were once generator cooling tanks for the radio transmitters sited here during the war. The building that housed the generators still stands nearby.
Engine builder MCT supplies the Superleague Formula with V12 engines (a pool of 32 units for 18 cars) and is also manufacturing the power unit for the newly-revived Norton Commando motorcycle. “It’s low volume by production standards – 1000 units – and it’s a two-cylinder, air-cooled, good, classical engine,” says MCT managing director Kevin Lee. “We’re trying to bring a touch of refinement to it with fuel injection, trying to fix the oil leaks and things… Basically, it’s a modern twist on a classic.”
The company, which is wholly owned by Meynards, the American DIY firm, is also supplying the Bloodhound SSC Land Speed Record car with a V12 engine to run its fuel pump. “It is in effect a Superleague Formula engine,” explains Lee. “However, they wanted more horsepower than the standard 750bhp and asked for 800bhp. That really shouldn’t be an issue, though; because of the ram effect of speed it will almost be forced induction. We’ve also got way more freedom with the exhausts and inlets because of the size of the vehicle.
“What we’re not certain about at the moment – and frankly nobody knows the answer – is the effect the g-forces will have on the oil systems and things like that. It’s going to accelerate faster than a bullet out of a gun, but on the other hand it only has to do it for 20 seconds.
“Our engine is only part of the problem though, as the Bloodhound has three different engines on board – our V12, a Eurofighter jet engine and a hybrid rocket that Bloodhound SSC is designing itself with the help of a mad rocket scientist from Manchester who has the best moustache in the world!
“The pump will sit roughly where the clutch normally would and will pump a tonne of liquid hydrogen peroxide into the hybrid rocket in 17 seconds. It then gets to the end of the run and has to do it all again.”
The company has the capacity to undertake more work and is handling a proposal to produce an engine for what Lee believes is another new race series. For an outfit that used to service two cars and two engines, it’s been a busy few years.
Kevin Lee is well used to the challenges of life in motor sport. “In September 2005 I got a call from [Formula 1 team manager] Daniele Audetto, who was in Japan at the time with Aguri Suzuki,” he says. “He asked if it was possible to set up a Formula 1 team to go racing next season. ‘You mean testing?’ I asked. ‘No, racing…’”
Lee, who had started work as an apprentice mechanic during the late 1970s, ended up becoming chief operating officer of F1 team Super Aguri. “We like to think we did a fairly good job of putting together a team in such a short time, and we became competitive fairly rapidly,” he recalls. “We probably did no worse than the likes of HRT is doing at the moment.”
A large part of Lee’s history is tied in with Tom Walkinshaw Racing. In 1979 when TWR was running the BMW County championship with 12 identical 323s, it needed an extra pair of hands over the Easter weekend at the Brands Hatch meeting. A friend got in touch with Lee, who came to help and stayed, going on to work on the Mazda RX7 racer in Group 1 (equivalent to today’s BTCC) and in Group C, via the European Touring Car Championship where he was part of the TWR Jaguar XJS team that won the Spa 24 Hours and the 1984 championship.
Between 1985-91 he went from being number one mechanic, to chief mechanic, and finally team manager with TWR’s Group C Jaguars. Lee nonchalantly summarises what they achieved in that era: “We went through a couple of Le Mans wins, a couple of World Championships and we were involved with the IMSA team that won Daytona.
“In 1991 we finished the last race of the Group C season and Tom picked a group of about 30 of us, including myself, Ross Brawn, Pat Symonds and a guy called Rory Byrne, and plugged us into Benetton F1. Tom did the deal to steal [Michael] Schumacher – working in Group C we saw Schumacher come through the ranks and we knew how good he was – from under Eddie Jordan’s nose.
“Three years later, I think Tom had some disagreement with fairly high-level Benetton guys and he wanted an F1 team of his own, so I left at Tom’s request.” Walkinshaw acquired Arrows and Lee became one of the management team, based at the same Leafield site as MCT.
When Arrows ran out of money Lee had a stint working for Toyota in Cologne, before returning to the UK to set up a new motor sport venture. “There was a group of four or five of us based in an office at the Silverstone Innovation Centre and we were trying to put together a motor sport project of some description. We were looking at a touring car team, at the other extreme there was an F1 plan and, in the middle, the one that probably got the closest to fruition was a sports car programme. At the time we had a crazy idea of doing a Le Mans car with a diesel engine. A ridiculous idea…”
In September 2005 he got the call from Audetto and Super Aguri, again based at Leafield. When this met its demise Kevin strolled across the ‘Goods In’ alley to have a chat with MCT, which was by then sharing the site. He emerged from the meeting as MD, the start of fresh chapter in Leafield’s story.