04
Oct
09

Sunday night sports-cars: Intrepid RM-1

1991imsamointrepidmwIntrepid RM-1 at Mid-Ohio (?) in 1991 – Mark Windecker photo

In 1990, privateer team owner Jim Miller contracted Bob Riley to build an IMSA GTP car that could win races against the factory-backed Jaguar XJR-14 and Nissan NTP-90 cars that were dominating the series.  Over the winter, Riley and his son Bill designed and built the Intrepid RM-1 with the IMSA GTP series specifically in mind.  They chose a normally-aspirated Chevrolet V-8 and Group C-style limited-section underbody to take maximum advantage of the IMSA handicapping rules, but in particular they designed the car specifically for North American tracks.

Many of the day’s GTP cars were designed to run at fast European tracks like Le Mans (for obvious reasons), or inspired by cars that were.  This was before Le Mans introduced two chicanes onto the Mulsanne Straight, and before Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash in 1994 prompted track owners to add chicanes damn near everywhere to slow the cars down — top-end speed was critical to winning in Europe.  Riley noted that most of the tracks on the IMSA tour were short, bumpy circuits where downforce was more important than sheer velocity, and designed a light GTP car with maximum aero grip in mind.  The Intrepid’s steep nose and three-section wing generated a lot of drag but a phenomenal amount of downforce — so much so that the car subjected its Goodyear GTP tires to more load than they were designed to carry.

1991-intrepid-watkinsImage from RacingSportsCars; link goes to gallery

Unfortunately, the Intrepid also created more downforce than its rear suspension uprights could handle.  At Watkins Glen in 1991, after qualifying half a second off the pole, Tommy Kendall’s #65 Intrepid lost its left rear wheel as the track’s high speed banked corners created more vertical load than the car’s components were ever expected to see.  Kendall broke both legs but survived the crash thanks to the carbon-fibre monocoque, and sat out the rest of the season but would race for Jim Miller again in 1992.

Despite the high drag — and consequent low straight-line speed — that came along with the Intrepid’s massive downforce, the cars consistently qualified well even on high-speed tracks like Watkins Glen and Road America.  Their best result came at Mid-Ohio in 1991, where Kendall put his car on the pole and teammate Wayne Taylor qualified second.  Taylor finished in second place, while Kendall came in third.  (Davy Jones, starting third, won the race in a Jaguar XJR-16.)

800px-Intrepid_and_JaguarPhoto by “Darren”, taken from Wikimedia Commons

After designing the Intrepid RM-1, Bob Riley went on to produce the Riley-Scott Mk. III, a mainstay of the World Sportscar Championship that succeeded GTP/Group C.  After the Mk. III, Riley obtained a chassis constructor’s contract for Rolex Grand-Am Daytona prototypes, and one of his cars won the 2007 Rolex 24 at Daytona.  The concept of a high-downforce car designed specifically for American tracks rose to prominance in 2009 with the Acura ARX-02a, which followed in the Intrepid’s footsteps by qualifying on the pole at the 2009 12 Hours of Sebring, ahead of the Le Mans-competing Audi R15 and Peugeot 908.

References:


1 Response to “Sunday night sports-cars: Intrepid RM-1”


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