What does it take to prepare a Goodwood Revival winner? We took a look at JD Classics’ E-type, which has won the RAC TT Celebration for the past two years
You have to see it to not believe it. JD Classics’ cavernous workshop is a hive of activity, our guided tour taking an age because you simply have to stop and admire the scenery. On entry we’re greeted by a delicious Bertone-bodied Aston Martin DB2/4 Spider that is being buffed to a lustrous sheen, while a Cooper-Jaguar is awaiting nose surgery following a recent prang. Nearby, an Alfa Romeo 1900 Mille Miglia veteran is detonating sound out of its back pipes like buckshot, but altogether prettier is the Tipo 33 Stradale that is in for a makeover. It will be made to work as an actual road car, something this kinetic sculpture generally failed at in period.
Moving further into the central hub, matters take a turn for the bizarre on first sight of a Fiat 600 Jolly, wicker seats and all, which is at the tear-down stage. It is flanked by a Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta Lusso that is nearing the end of a lengthy restoration and a Bentley R-type Continental that looks surprisingly menacing on black steelies minus hubcaps. This is the mere warm-up act, however.
We’re then ushered into the dedicated competition department, past the Bastos-liveried ETCC Rover 3500 and Jaguar XJR-9 sports-prototype and finally make it over to the reason for our visit: the ’62 E-type with which this Essex equipe hopes to claim honours in the Goodwood Revival Meeting’s Tourist Trophy mini-enduro. This semi-lightweight-spec racer, its WK-reg prefix a reminder of many legendary E-type racers of the period, has already taken scalps at events as diverse as the Nürburgring Oldtimer Grand Prix and the Brands Hatch Superprix, not to mention TT wins in 2015-16 with JD’s operations manager Chris Ward sharing driving duties with touring car superstar Gordon Shedden. They’re gunning for a third consecutive victory, but at the time of our visit the car appears a long way from race-ready.
Not that anyone seems in the least bit perturbed, despite there being only a few weeks to go before the meeting kicks off. Instead, everyone appears to be almost preternaturally calm. “They’re always like this,” events manager Charlotte Henry says, allowing herself a laugh. “You have to remember that there’s very little let-up all year. We’re always at some event, whether it’s Rétromobile or the Mille Miglia, the Pebble Beach concours or, of course, Goodwood. These guys just get on with it, put in the all-nighters and it always comes together. It isn’t organised chaos, it’s just organised.”
JD’s managing director David Godber concurs: “Everything we do is driven by [company founder] Derek Hood,” he says. “We’re all racers, and a lot of the guys here have spent their entire careers working in or around motor sport, or some have been with Derek for many years as the company has grown. We will be fielding maybe four or five of our own cars at the Revival, and then there are our customers’ cars, so there’s an awful lot going on in the run-up to the event. Motor sport is a great promotional tool, and yes we take it seriously – we’re out to win, but primarily we’re out there for the love of it.”
So what does it take to prepare a front-runner at Goodwood? We asked the backroom heroes who make it happen.
RACE CAR ENGINEER
Everyone at JD Classics is quick to point out that fielding the E-type is a team effort, but nobody is more fanatical about its preparation than Jake Dale. “It’s my baby,” he says, surveying what appears to be a kit of parts. “I have always loved E-types and always will, and this is my favourite car here. No question. I don’t want to think about how many hours I have spent working on this car over the years, but it’s probably in the thousands. For me, it’s a privilege. We have been progressively developing the car, but obviously there is only so much you can do within the rules.”
Warming to the theme, he adds: “The thing about the E-type is that it is clearly a road car that was adapted for racing. As such, there are compromises. Certain parts of the design didn’t work particularly well when it left the factory. It’s a fantastic-looking car, without question, but the shape isn’t particularly aerodynamic. The front-end lifts at speed but there are ways of managing that. The steering geometry isn’t perfect, either, but you get around that to some degree with a lot more toe-out. We’ve done a lot of work on the spring rates, too.
“Then there are the brakes. Getting them to last the distance is a problem. We went so far as to put cameras inside the wheel arches when we took the car to Spa a while back, to get a better feel for what they were doing. Watching the footage afterwards, it was clear that the discs barely changed from red or orange over an entire lap. They take quite a hammering. I don’t want to tip our hand about what we have done to counter this, but again it’s just degrees of refinement within the rules. This is still a historic racing car, after all.”
Are there any challenges specific to Goodwood? “Well, the long straights require you to run at high revs for long periods. That’s obviously a challenge with something that’s more than 50 years old, and we have to run certain axle ratios, but it’s more the length of the race than anything. It lasts one hour so, unless there’s a safety car period, there’s no let-up. The Jag takes a punishing, but it’s up to us to make the car near enough bullet-proof. To be honest, it’s been a case of lots of small incremental changes adding up to what we have today. I don’t think there is much more performance to come out of the suspension, though. This year, it’s more about saving weight wherever possible, or positioning it as best we can for maximum effect. We also found another 24bhp on the engine dyno, but I suspect our overall set-up is more conservative than some of our rivals. It’s more that we know the car inside out, and we know that, touch wood, it works.”
While guardedly optimistic about the team’s chances in the TT, he admits that unknown variables may come into play. “This is historic motor sport, but it’s still pretty full-on at this level. If you think we’re taking it seriously, we’re certainly not the only ones. This is the race that we all want to win and to do it once was amazing. To do it a second time was very special. Do I think we can make it happen again? I think so, but who knows? A halfshaft could break off the line, or there could be a first-corner mishap. That’s motor racing. I know the car will be quick and we have two excellent drivers, so I’m quietly optimistic.”
ENGINE SHOP MANAGER
Friendly, quick to smile and clearly a man who is in his element building race engines, ‘Piff’ is nonetheless unwilling to reveal too much about the precise spec of the E-type’s straight-six. “It isn’t as though we have made masses of changes,” he says. “It’s just that we have our own way of doing things and I’d rather not let on too much. I know a lot of guys in the same line of work and, while we don’t really talk about specifics, we get ideas off each other. I know that there are some E-types out there that produce more than 400bhp; quite a lot more. I would say ours is making upwards of 375bhp and leave it at that. We could get more power out of it. It’s very easy to go for big numbers, but for me it’s all about drivability. There’s no use having a lot of horsepower if you cannot transmit all that power to the road. Once drivability is compromised, you’re done. Torque is king, after all.”
Indeed. “We’ve had customers come to us with supposedly race-ready cars which have a lot of horsepower, but there’s nothing before 4000rpm so they cough and splutter off the line, by which time they have already been left behind. You don’t want to be kept waiting. Power is not so important, really. It all comes back to drivability. That and reliability. At Goodwood, you’re pulling 7000rpm for 12-15sec a lap, and that’s over a one-hour period. We’ve spent a lot of time on cam work, the manifolds, the cylinder heads and so on. It’s mostly small changes that add up to a lot. It’s up to us to make sure it holds together, and I have no reason to believe that it won’t.”
Few drivers are as happy steering a historic racing car on its bumpstops as Chris Ward. Fewer still have such a strike rate at Goodwood.
“I came from a background racing modern cars,” he says. “The attitude in historics is very different, whether you’re a mechanic, a team manager or a driver. It’s much more relaxed. Having said that, it’s still incredibly competitive. We all want to win. You only have to look at events such as the Spa 6 Hours, the Silverstone Classic and, of course, the Goodwood Revival to appreciate just how competitive it is. There is a high calibre of driver at the sharp end, too, many of whom are ex-Formula 1, Le Mans veterans and so on, but driving a historic car requires certain skills that you don’t get on the modern side. You drive an old car by the seat of your pants. You feel everything through your contact points. Essentially, you’re going back to basics, understanding the car and adapting your driving style to it. There are no paddle shifts, no massive amounts of grip and aero giving you downforce. You are the anti-lock brakes, you are the traction control and so on, which is why I derive so much pleasure driving the older cars.”
And the E-type? “It’s superb, but feels very different at the end of the race than at the start as the fuel load comes down. Obviously, it’s a racing car that is derived from a road car, so you cannot just go barrelling into a corner and expect it to stick. There’s a lot of weight up high on a full tank so the roll centre is increased. It’s a challenge that you have to manage, especially as you’re on relatively skinny tyres.
“The driver really makes the difference, and I think the spectators respond to that. They can see the driver inputs; can see the car moving beneath them, and react accordingly. Motor racing should be about the spectacle.”
As for the chances of hat-trick, Ward is all guns blazing. “Of course, Gordon and I are out to win. For me, taking a third victory in the Tourist Trophy would be a career highlight, no question. But it isn’t just about us being the heroes, if you like. This really is a team effort, and another win would mean so much to everyone at JD. We have a great car and the desire is there so there’s every reason to believe that we will be competitive.”
SENIOR RACE ENGINEER
A JD Classics lifer, Phil Mouser is convinced that races are often won in the workshops. “I’ve been here 18 years, but my background is in the modern stuff,” he says. “When I was much younger, I worked for Nissan Motorsports on touring cars and fast road car conversions. I must admit that I wasn’t sure I would take to the older cars, but now I wouldn’t go back. I tend to be obsessive about things, which is rewarded here. For me, attention to detail is everything. You don’t want to arrive at a circuit without the car being fully dialled-in, and that’s something that I like to think we’re very good at.
“I think people tend to think of historic racing as being gentlemanly and a bit sedate, and it is definitely more laid-back in many ways, but on track it’s pretty full-on. We do a lot of testing, and sometimes you make a breakthrough and other times you end up going backwards. It’s all about finding solutions; joining all the dots. Where we score isn’t just in building a great car, though. That attention to detail also stretches to things like driver changes. We won the Gerry Marshall Trophy race at the Members’ Meeting with our Rover 3500. One of the Camaro teams had an excellent chance of winning, but took more than a minute to perform a driver change and dropped out of contention. We have practised driver changes, albeit not to F1 level, but we know we can swap drivers, get them belted in and back out again in 13sec. There is little point spending time finding a tenth here or a tenth there only to then lose all that and a lot more in the pitlane.”
It helps that the drivers are of similar build, mind. “We’re fortunate in that Chris Ward and Gordon Shedden are so similar in that regard. It means that we don’t have to make lots of adjustments as one driver gets out and the other gets in. You don’t want to be messing about with adjusting seats or putting in bits of foam or whatever as it’s a narrow pitlane with a lot of traffic. Chris and Gordon have different driving styles, but they’re very competitive and work well together in terms of set-up and so on. They push each other, and they push us, which is how it should be.”
Surrounded by English Wheels and panel presses, Nick Circian takes great delight in showing us how to tease sheets of aluminium into compound curves. “This is what I love to do, but I suppose I am primarily considered a trouble-shooter,” he says. “I work on a lot of the competition cars, and I have produced quite a few bits for the E-type. A lot of that is in the form of detail parts such as the air scoops, brake ducts, inner arches and so on. These are often quite intricate to make, but it is something I enjoy. Obviously, it’s a historic car so we cannot – or wouldn’t want to – make massive changes. It’s all about optimising what we have. Each time the guys test the car, they come back and analyse the data to see if we can gain some extra performance from a particular area.
“The E-type has been developed within the regulations, but there is always room for improvement. Right now, we’re working on saving weight wherever possible. It is called a semi-lightweight, but really it isn’t as light as a lot of the other cars out there that were purpose-built as racing cars rather than road cars modified for racing.”