Chilton on McMurtry's incredible Goodwood record: 'We could have gone even faster'

Hill Climb Racing News

Max Chilton and the stunning McMurtry Spéirling fan car rocketed into the history books at Goodwood – he explains how they did it

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

The McMurtry Spéirling, driven by Max Chilton, managed to break a 23-year-old record at Goodwood

Jamie Bufton Photography

When Max Chilton readied his electric, 1000bhp/tonne McMurtry Spéirling fan car for take-off last Sunday afternoon, he had an inkling he might make history, but he wasn’t certain.

It might have sounded – and almost looked – like something out of recently-released Top Gun Maverick, but the incredible amount of speed and g-force he was about to experience, en route to smashing the 23-year-old Goodwood Hillclimb record, was all too real.

Driver and team have been on “Cloud Nine” in the days since claiming the honour: the video of the 39.08sec run has been trending at No1 on YouTube, McMurtry’s website has crashed with the sheer numbers of visitors, and Chilton has shot from being a Formula 1 and IndyCar also-ran to the centre of motor sport’s consciousness.

However both driver and team aren’t satisfied, saying: “This is just the start – we can go even faster.”

The car began its development roughly six years ago as a showcase for the patented green technologies of billionaire engineer and serial inventor David McMurtry, who began this car firm with former Mercedes HPP engineer Thomas Yates.

Chilton only came onboard last year – ironically first setting eyes on the Spéirling (Irish for ‘Thunderstorm’) at the 2021 Festival of Speed, when McMurtry engineer and business development manager Dave Turton spotted the former F1 driver walking past and asked for his advice on the cockpit layout.

“Sometimes you get these smaller niche brands and the product’s not that great quality because you can see where they’ve not got the finances to do it properly,” says Chilton.

“But from the moment I saw it I was like, ‘Wow, it’s beautifully made and engineered.’ I always think you can tell a lot from the inside of a race car. As soon as I got inside, I could see it was just beautiful carbon work, no sharp edges, every little element had been thought about aesthetically. It gives you the confidence that they’ve also thought about the engineering.”

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With his IndyCar career coming to a close, Chilton eventually became McMurtry’s test and development driver along with hillclimb ace Alex Summers. He describes the incredible sensation of driving the car – with fan system engaged – in full anger for the first time.

“I really was blown away,” he says, agreeing with the poor pun offered to him by Motor Sport. “The thing just shocked me straight away, once the fan, power and torque was all on full, is that it was definitely more advanced in some ways than an F1 car.

“Its slow-speed grip and acceleration is just out of this world. There’s nothing that comes close to it – that’s why we started testing at Silverstone because it’s so quick, we needed a big track that we could start pushing the limits on.

“The most backwards thing is that because it generates two tonnes of downforce at zero mph and stays there at whatever speed you’re doing, it doesn’t brake like a normal single-seater. There’s still a bit of technique left for me to get better at that, it’s all a bit odd. There’s still loads of time in it, we haven’t really exploited it fully yet.

“It’s a young team, some of them are ex-F1 engineers, it’s about the way they think. This is banned F1 technology, no-one’s had a fan car competing for 40 years. They’ve put it in the 21st century, and its performance is outrageous.”

Stubby shape designed for F1 performance

Turton laughs when asked by Motor Sport about the Batmobile-like profile, saying the aerodynamic architecture has simply been borne of necessity, as he explained the unique test and design journey that the Spéirling has been on.

“If you want to circulate a grand prix track in a high-performance electric car as fast as possible, you need to build out from the driver,” he says.

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

Not your average competition car profile

Jamie Bufton Photography

“You put the driver in a carbon-fibre monocoque with a closed roof that keeps them safe and gives you the aerodynamic efficiency.

“You then fit the battery around them in a low-drag position that minimises the wheelbase, so that’s why the batteries are in the sidepods of the car and underneath the driver’s legs in a ‘u’-shape – that’s to get it in the dead zone between the wheels so there’s no penalty either on drag or the length of the car.

“You place the tyres in a position where the track width is very narrow to reduce frontal area, saving on energy requirements and therefore battery weight.

“Therefore the wheelarches have this LMP-esque bubble architecture, while everything else is about minimum surface area.

“We have gained a rear-wing in the development phase, which was suggested by Max, but it actually only adds about 10% overall downforce. It’s mainly a stability and tuning tool, the rest comes from the fan system, which is the secret weapon.”

Two tonnes of downforce from onboard fan system

The fan produces 2000kg of downforce and 3g of grip through the corners, meaning that at up to 150mph the Spéirling can match the acceleration and cornering speed of an F1 car – quite staggering.

The car has been pounding round Silverstone, Donington and Castle Combe but the McMurtry team has very much been feeling its way through the process – understandable for such an idiosyncratic vehicle.

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

Small car’s design is built out from the driver, with minimal drag one of the main aims

Jamie Bufton Photography

“With a car designed to no rules you get a lot more freedom of how you test and what you want to test,” Turton explains. “You’re not taking a previous car and tuning it, you’re literally creating the future as you go so there’s probably more challenges, less prior cars to draw experience from.

“You have to go back to first principles: “What we try to achieve with this component? What are the loads? What are the temperatures? What are the materials and techniques you need to achieve it? Every single part of this car is bespoke because it’s only way to achieve our aims.

“We did high-speed testing at Silverstone with the premium asphalt, and got data from the twisty sections at Landau with a more bumpy surface.

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

Car can produce 3g of grip, when not doing burnouts for the crowd

Jamie Bufton Photography

“We did use a simulation to get the car in the right ballpark for the set-up, but at Goodwood nothing can prepare you for what the drivers have to go through to deliver that lap time. You can’t replicate the fear factor in a simulation!”

Turton and his team have shown gratitude to that final crucial component, the driver.

“I think both Max and Alex have elevated themselves to new heights,” he says. “We’re very grateful for what they did to push the car into that new operating window.

“It’s fair to say until Sunday morning when Max went underneath the outright record of all time, I don’t think anyone could have expected him to go quite so quite so well.”

Both driver and engineer concur that emotions were snowballing throughout the weekend, but no-one on the team was prepared for what unfolded.

“The tension was definitely building,” says Turton. “Max made fantastic progress within the first two days.

“He did 49sec in the first run on Friday, 45sec in the next, then 41sec. Alex Summers then stepped in on Saturday, and he went 0.16sec off the outright record. That was quite an emotional moment, because we thought: ‘Crikey, this is on!’ You’re just talking about small changes from there.”

“I knew we were going to be quick, but I really didn’t think we were going to break the record in the first year,” says Chilton.

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

Spéirling is an electric car which “appeals to the senses”

Jamie Bufton Photography

“I was quite nervous, I’d only slept for one hour on the Saturday night. I felt quite a lot of pressure to break the record, because the team did a PR announcement earlier in the week saying we’re going to try and break it.

“Every fan was coming up to me going, ‘You’re gonna break the record.’ And I was like, ‘Well, maybe.’ So I felt it. I said to my wife on the drive down, ‘I can’t stand this, I’m just going to go for it.'”

Chilton unofficially broke the record on his practice run in the morning, but it wasn’t seen by many as “everyone was looking at the Red Arrows”. After telling his team he would take things slightly easy in a bid to just best Heidfeld on the official effort, Chilton then had a change of heart – and went even faster.

“Sometimes if you don’t commit it becomes more risky, so I thought: ‘I’ll give it the beans.’

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

Chilton says he can’t quite believe the reaction to the Goodwood record

Jamie Bufton Photography

What resulted was the staggering 39.08sec time, smashing Heidfeld’s 41.6sec record – he explains the run.

“I just went for it – the flint wall section was my strength, I don’t know why, I just felt comfortable through there,” he says.

“I’ve seen people commenting there was more room in it, but that’s because the track is crowned, it really starts falls away at the side. I was trying to drive it like a Scalextric car, staying in the middle as much as I could.

“If I was in a normal racing car I’d be cutting the corners, hitting the grass, using all the road, but with the way the Spéirling works with a skirt and the way it sets itself down, you can’t risk breaking the seal because you’ll have no downforce.

“The top of the hill is a little bit more bumpy but you just have to trust two tonnes of downforce!”

From the archive

After six years of work, Turton says him team could scarcely believe what had happened.

“There were definitely a few tears shed,” he said. “We realised at that point that the car and the company, with the help of Goodwood, has been catapulted to this new level of people really appreciating what we’re doing.

“It’s an electric car that appeals to the senses, and can prove EVs and compact vehicles.”

Chilton says he finds the reaction to his and the team’s achievement difficult to take in, particularly in light of career which he often spent mired at the back of the grid.

“It’s something I’m very proud of,” he says, clearly still on a high. “I said to my wife, I never thought my most famous point in motor sport was going to be on the Goodwood Hillclimb.

“I’ve never had this amount of reaction to something. I’ve had thousands of messages. My online following shot up by thousands too. I’ve been on a BBC’s A Question of Sport a number of times, I’ve led the Indy 500, on those occasions I got like 50 followers.

“It’s a cool moment, and just a pleasure to be a part of.”

McMurtry Spéirling at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2022

McMurtry has made history and wowed fans in equal measure – but says this is just the start

Jamie Bufton Photography

Now Chilton and Turton see almost limitless opportunities for McMurtry and its Spéirling. The latter is interested in aiming for a top speed for an electric vehicle under 1000kg (currently held by Lord Drayson’s adapted LMP car at 204.2mph) whilst the former wants to see what it can really do at Silverstone with more development – and there’s a road car version to develop too.

“One really good outcome of this whole project will be if the Spéirling can become a poster car of the next generation, and help inspire future engineers” says Turton.

“We are super early in the development there, and we’ve just smashed a record,” Chilton emphasises. “There was more time in it, my run wasn’t perfect and we’ve got some bits that we know we can add on now and find quite a few number of seconds.

“We’re still in the early stages, which is the bit that’s amazing.”