Ready for Racing at Brands Hatch

Hello everyone! We’ll start this week’s blog post with our Monday, Oct. 21, tour of Ilmor Engineering Ltd., a motor developer in Brixworth located about 20 miles southwest of the Cliff Dempsey Racing shop in Corby.

Wikipedia says Illmor was founded by Mario Illien, Paul Morgan and Roger Penske in 1984, initially to design, develop and manufacture engines for what was then the CART PPG Indy Car Series, now Indycar. We arrived on time and met our wonderful tour guide, Simon Young.

Ilmor builds motors up and down the motorsport ladder, from Indycar to F1 and even Moto GP at one point. It is especially focused on the development stage, though, creating motors and making them function at their highest capability, or testing them for manufacturers to see if some idea of theirs work.

Ilmor does all of the development in house for the Chevrolet engines used in the NTT Indycar Series. Photos of the championship-winning Team Penske car were plastered all over the walls – particularly exciting for Scott (Huffaker) and me as two-time champion Josef Newgarden is a Team USA alum!

The facility is amazing, with a multitude of machining tools to manufacture parts and many different work stations for designing parts online. We learned that it is even possible to do heat testing on the parts in an online simulation realistic enough to help develop the parts that are running on race cars today.

We were lucky enough to see one of its Indycar motors on the dyno with one of the head engineers standing by. He spoke to us about the process of running-in the engine, and we got to hear it rev all the way to the limiter (a mind boggling 12,000 rpm). It’s interesting to see how much pressure the motors really are under in the back of the race cars as they twist and turn their way around race tracks. Brutal. The countless hours of engineering and research that goes into each one of Ilmor’s motors proves why the company creates some of the very best in the sport.

The next day, Scott and I got to sleep in (to a measly 10 a.m.) before we hustled out the door and were off to Brands Hatch. After spending two hours in the car (no bingo bus for this trip, sadly) we arrived to the awesome sight that is Brands Hatch. Its massive hills and undulating nature makes for an exciting scene. It was Tuesday, so we weren’t on track, but we went to help the team set up the awning and get the cars in place.

Team boss Cliff Dempsey has a method to everything he does, setup included; so we were mostly just going with the flow. After the tent was up we got to meet the extended Dempsey family: Peter Dempsey arrived with his wife and two kids. It was great to meet him as he runs a team called Turn 3 Motorsports in the Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires series, which is part of the ladder I soon hope to join. He’s very similar to his father and is great fun to be around (and a pretty good driver at that).

Later that day the two Canadians arrived with Kelly and Brian Graham. I already knew Zach Vanier from running with him in the first round of the F1600 Pro Series, and it was great to meet his fellow countryman, Jonathon Woolridge. We spent the remainder of the day talking about each of our separate series and catching up on time passed.

Brian Graham runs his own race team in the Canadian Toyo Tires F1600 Championship, using a different chassis to what I ran all year; and it was great to gain insight into what makes the chassis different.

After meeting everyone, Scott and I were taken back to the hotel to eat a quick dinner and head to bed after a very long day of travel.

An early start on Wednesday meant that our usual ritual of snoozing our alarm until the last possible second was utilized. Despite that, we made it to the lobby at 8:00 and were met by a very crisp, early-morning wind. It was the first day on track, and we couldn’t wait to get started. We quickly got signed on and learned about the track-limits system which is the most notable difference from tracks here to tracks at home.

Then we went back to the trailer and went over some video with our driver coach before heading out for our first session. As one big line of Cliff Dempsey Racing-run cars, we followed the man himself (Cliff) up the hill as he was on his moped directing us to the pit lane. It was quite a cool drive to pit line, twisting through narrow tunnels and eventually emerging on the inside of Paddock Hill bend. We sat in pit lane awaiting the green flag, all extremely eager. We were greeted, though, by an extremely cold and slick version of Brands Hatch which made learning the track extra tricky. The circuit’s hilly nature means the car wants to move around a lot as it becomes unloaded over the crests.

The track was all it was hyped up to be — the feeling of the car dancing left to right on turn-in at Paddock Hill Bend, then stiffening up as it reaches the bottom of the hill, is unforgettable.

The day carried on smoothly with us all learning more and more and continuing to find time on a track that was very new to us. It was a great atmosphere under the tent, each of us providing the usual banter (as race car drivers do). As well, Michelle Dempsey’s cooking was wonderful (as usual!) and made lunch a special treat. I’m super excited for the rest of the weekend, and can’t wait to get on track tomorrow.

Until next time,