Path Finders

The alliance of Messrs Riley and Scott back in 1990 has created a company which has ruffled the US racing establishment, reports Mike Cotton

To some, Riley and Scott might sound like a vaudeville duo, but an outright victory in the Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona will have gone a long way to dispel such base ideas. If Wayne Taylor gets his way he’ll be at Le Mans in June trying to achieve a famous double victory with backing from Oldsmobile — and there are some very good precedents for that.

Bob Riley and Mark Scott didn’t set out with dreams of painting Stars and Stripes on the international racing scene, as, say, Briggs Cunningham did in the post-war years.

Nor do they serve Ford or General Motors, although the most successful IMSA World Sports Cars competing in the 1996 series are going to be powered by Ford and Oldsmobile Aurora V8 engines.

In a way their achievements could be more meritorious. because R&S looks set to join the likes of Lola and Reynard as specialist constructors. bucking the trend by being located at number 310 Gasoline Alley, Indianapolis.

And with Oldsmobile committed to developing the four-litre dohc V8 for next year’s Indy Racing League there is a real chance that R&S will make a single-seater their next project, strengthening their relationship with the GM subsidiary.

Bob Riley and Mark Scott have worked together for 10 years, starting with the BMW GTP car and a joint venture running the Buick lndycar effort Other successes, before they founded the R&S company in 1990, were in a variety of formulae including Trans-Am, NASCAR and Indycars. The third member of the team is Bill Riley, who joins his father’s company as the WSC Project Engineer.

English-born Mark Scott was one of McLaren’s F1 engine builders in the 1970s, and in 1976 he turned mechanic and worked on James Hunt’s World Championship-winning car.

Later, after a spell in New Zealand where he worked on the Tasman cars driven by Keke Rosberg and Bobby Rahal, Scott returned to Coinbrook and worked on cars driven by Niki Lauda and Ayrton Senna

He moved over to work for McLaren North America in 1984, and first worked with Bob Riley on the 1985 BMW GTP car undertaken by McLaren’s offshoot. Five years later they joined forces and established the Riley & Scott company in Indianapolis.

Bob Riley came to prominence as a project engineer on the Saturn booster rocket programme, prior to joining Ford and working on the NASCAR Thunderbirds. He designed Formula Vee, Super Vee and Atlantic chassis, and claimed credit for the Coyote that carried AJ Foyt to his fourth Indy 500 victory, in 1977.

Later, Riley was responsible the Ford Mustang GTP, a front engined machine that confounded its critics by winning its debut race at Elkhart Lake in 1983, when Klaus Ludwig and Tim Coconis swept through to lead a rainy event.

Since then, Riley has been an advocate of power steering on his racing cars. “The Ford did not have power steering but it did have a lot of downforce, and no one could turn it,” he recalls. “Finally they took out the bellypan under the engine; it reduced the downforce, but they could drive it. I’ve never been beaten up so bad over a design in my life!”

The Mustang was a political animal forced on Michael Kranefuss, and of course the freakish debut victory was never repeated. Far more satisfying for Riley was the Chevrolet Intrepid, R&S’s first product, which really made its mark in the IMSA Camel GTP series in 1991 when Wayne Taylor and Tom Kendall seriously challenged the dominant Nissans, Toyotas and Jaguars.

This was the period when the three big manufacturers reached a parity of sorts, so Taylor’s victory at New Orleans really ruffled some feathers. Kendall crashed heavily at Watkins Glen due to a mechanical failure, however, badly injuring his legs and taking some shine off the season.

The Intrepid was highly regarded as a sports racing car, having plenty of downforce and excellent handling, so the R&S which made its debut in last year’s Daytona 24-hour race was a worthy successor, even if it did retire early in the race, stranding James Weaver on the infield and earning itself the doubtful title “24-minute special”.

Rob Dyson, owner of a string of local radio stations, was Riley’s first customer for the flat-bottomed World Sports Car. Although he could easily afford to buy a $1 million Ferrari 333SP, Dyson believed that the WSC formula should be true to its objective – i e affordable – and he decided to back the Indianapolis-based team.

Certainly. Dyson was not happy with his Ferrari 348-powered Spice, a chassis modified for the new formula introduced in 1994, and in July he sent the Spice to R&S to see if it could be improved.

“Rob was pretty happy with the changes we made, and while he was here I was showing him the model” (for the purpose-built WSC chassis) and telling him what a nice job we could do for him with a whole new car,” says Riley. “Rob really took a chance.”

What Dyson was shown, and encouraged with a firm order, was a quarter-scale model. Aerodynamicist John Ronz, well-known for his aircraft designs, was brought in on a consultancy basis and with the use of a computerised fluid-flow simulation was able to pinpoint the areas of high and low pressure.

Thus the radiators and ducting could be located with extreme accuracy, but above all the R&S has more downforce than any other World Sports Car in existence today. The design of the rear wing is a critical component in a car with restricted airflow, says Riley.

Surprisingly the R&S has a steel tube frame, so beloved of American designers, though with composite panels bonded to the tubes (Ferrari habitually made their F1 and sports cars along similar lines in the 1960s and early 1970s, riveting aluminium sheets to the tube-frames long after the rest of the world had adopted monocoques). “It’s not an unusual structure,” says Riley, “several fighter aircraft use a similar structure. By using the tube frame and composite pangs we have a car that has the same stiffness as an all-carbon tub.

“We gave up perhaps 40Ib in weight by not going all-carbon, but it comes in about $50,000 cheaper. We are trying to sell these, and we knew we had to be conscious of cost savings where we could.”

With engine installed the R&S Mk3 costs approximately $255,000, about one-third of the price of a Ferrari with a single engine (though Ferrari’s deal goes up with the compulsory spare engine, which is factory maintained).

Says James Weaver: “The car would not have been built if Rob hadn’t commissioned it. He already had a high regard for Riley, and when Ferrari came to IMSA it gave the WSC the reputation of being a $1 million formula. Rob felt that unless someone tried to beat Ferrari in a car that was affordable the championship was going nowhere.”

The final design of the R&S was established in Lockheed’s wind tunnel, and there is one thing that James Weaver and Wayne Taylor agree upon. “It has so much downforce, it is so easy to drive.”

The front and rear suspensions are inboard and pushrod operated, and unusual in having separate spring and damper units. Riley explains that “it has a constant-rate spring but a variable rate shock.” So when the spring is compressed it has a longer-stroke damper, and vice versa. “I would say that was the big feature of the car, frankly, and we kept it a secret.”

Secret. yes, until it was time to sell a few cars. Rob Dyson’s team gave the five-litre, Ford V8 powered R&S Mk3 a superb debut season marred only by the brief showing at Daytona. Clearly it wasn’t ready for a big endurance race but according to Weaver, “it rode the bumps of Sebring like a Rolls-Royce — Riley is a genius with suspension” and it was rapidly developed.

“It took two races to sort the R&S out, but we were on pole for the third round at Atlanta, set the fastest lap and won. From there, we never looked back,” says Weaver, who had five wins and second places from the nine shorter distance IMSA rounds.

Even so, Weaver still managed not to win the IMSA title, narrowly losing to Fermin Velez in the Scandia team’s Ferrari 333SP. Weaver went to Daytona in February determined to score points, if not to win outright, but was thwarted.

Dyson had qualified two R&S Fords but decided to start only one of them, and it broke its transmission 75 minutes into the race. The spare was then driven from the garage, soon sidelined by uh, oh! power steering failure.

Eventually it did get going. 95 laps behind the leaders, only to retire with a blown piston two hours from the finish. Even so, under IMSA rules it was classified 20th overall and fifth in the WSC category, so Weaver and Butch Leitzinger were able to claim their points.

There were three more R&S cars in the field, though. Actor and TV star Craig T Nelson, Owner of the Screaming Eagles team, put his new Ford-powered Mk3 into the care of the new FIM team in Atlanta, remnants of the Harry Brix sports car team where Dave ‘Beaky’ Sims is the technical director. Alas for Nelson, the car retired with an incurable electrical problem.

Lee Payne, from Kansas, ran his R&S to fifth place overall, with co-drivers Franck Freon, Don Kitch and Ross Bentley, powered by last year’s five-titre pushrod Oldsmobile V8.

Attention was focused, of course, on the Doyle Racing Oldsmobile Aurora V8-powered R&S driven by Wayne Taylor, Scott Sharp and Jim Pace. Taylor started from the front row, beside the pole-sitting Momo Ferrari 333SP started by Gianpiero Moretti, and these two cars dictated the pace from start to finish.

Sometimes the Ferrari led, clearly the faster car on the banking with its superb V12 engine. sometimes the R&S which was rather better on the infield section.

The Oldsmobile Aurora V8 was particularly impressive in Taylor’s car, and in the lead Aurora GTS-1 which won its category in seventh place overall.

It’s a brand-new, aluminium 32-valve four-litre engine rated at 550bhp in the WSC car, upsized to 4.5 litres in the Aurora GTS-1 coupe model and rated at 590bhp. This is the engine destined for next year’s IRL series and especially for the Indianapolis 500, which is going to be stock-block orientated.

The Momo Ferrari needed a new exhaust silencer on Saturday night, then the other one failed, and Taylor’s R&S moved into a five-lap lead. It looked secure, until a second-gear tooth failed inside the Automotion gearbox. Straight away the Danka-sponsored R&S lost four seconds a lap, and the Ferrari started the long haul back.

When Taylor climbed out three hours from the finish he confessed he was “knackered. Losing second gear is killing us. Our advantage was in the infield but we haven’t got that any more. We’ve still got a lot of rpm in hand but we don’t want to use it unless we’re in danger of losing the lead.” But the Doyle Racing team (nominally headed by Dan Doyle, president of Danka Business Systems) was lucky. While Jim Downing had to stop his Mazda Kudzu for a gearbox rebuild when his second gear broke. Taylor kept going without losing time in the pits.

Ferrari’s fightback was delayed first by some loose bolts allowing the transmission oil to run away, then by Bob Wollek colliding with Ulrich Richter in the Stadler Motorport Porsche 911 Carrera RS which went on to finish fourth overall, behind Downing’s Mazda.

Still chasing, Massimiliano Papis drove the Momo Ferrari onto the lead lap 10 minutes from the end and established an incredible new WSC lap record for the 3.65-mile combined circuit at 1m 41.951s, merely seven-tenths of a second slower than Didier Theys’ new qualifying record in the same car.

Taylor, Pace and Sharp won the Rolex 24 by a margin of 64 seconds, making it the closest finish since the event was first run at 24-hour duration in 1966, and straight away Taylor aired his optimism for an entry at Le Mans.

Qualifying would be difficult with events either side of the test day, and Watkins Glen immediately precedes the 24-hour race. Taylor would need the full support of Oldsmobile and R&S in building a spare Mk3 and adding the ACO’s race to the programme, but the Americans are so buoyed by the Daytona success that anything seems possible now. One R&S and two Aurora GTS-1 entries are on the cards.