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ORECA's continual evolution of the Courage LC70 chassis, shown here in ORECA 01 form, has led to the company to build a number of different 'aero kits' as they develop the car year after year.
----Marshall Pruett, Posted March 18, 2011 Sebring, FL
Add one more interested party to the 2012 IndyCar Aero Kit party. French sports car constructor ORECA, known in recent years for its line of aerodynamically impressive Le Mans prototypes, has been evaluating what it would take to the ranks of aero kit constructors for IndyCar’s new 2012 chassis.
Speaking to SPEED.com from the paddock in Sebring, Florida, ORECA technical director David Floury says he’s had the aero kit regulations on his desk for some time, and believes the Hugues de Chaunac-led company is ready to deliver a competitive aero kit directly to a team or an auto manufacturer.
“We do a lot of body kit design and production for sports cars, and now with what the [IndyCar Series] is doing for next year, this is exactly the kind of thing we would like to do,” he said. “I used to work for Dallara and am very familiar with Indy cars. Plus, I love very much racing in the USA; our entire team loves the way racing is done in the US. This is very appealing for us, and with what [the IndyCar Series] will do with the new Dallara chassis and engines, investigating the aero kits are something we are interested in.”
Floury and de Chaunac met with IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard on Friday, with the open-wheel boss providing additional technical and commercial information to aid ORECA with their fact finding mission.
Based in the south of France in the town of Signes, ORECA came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, leading future three-time F1 World Champion Alain Prost to the 1979 French and European F3 titles. ORECA also had long involvements in F2 and F3000 before turning its attention to sports car and GT racing.
The company’s most famous exploits came from its long partnership with Dodge, as the ORECA-built Viper GTS’ claimed an overall victory at the 24 Hours of Daytona, earned two championships apiece in the ALMS and FIA GT2 series, and also won the GTS category at the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the American auto manufacturer. ORECA’s involvement in the WTCC led to two manufacturer titles for the Spanish SEAT marque and one driver’s championship for Yvan Muller.
With its GT programs winding down, ORECA turned its focus towards prototypes, producing a variety of fast and sleek LMP1 and LMP2 machines in addition to the spec LMPC car used in the ALMS. More than 60 cars have been manufactured from ORECA’s facility since 2009, where 200 employees provide the engineering, design and in-house fabrication and manufacturing required to build the cutting edge Le Mans Prototypes and assorted GT racing cars for the auto industry. ORECA’s racing has also fielded a Peugeot 908 LMP1 car in partnership with the French manufacturer since 2009.
“We have been developing and building racing cars for a while now, doing sports car and touring cars,” Floury continued. “Through the years we’ve really developed our skills and our facilities to be a full racing car constructor, and do all of our own design, simulation, CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and much of our own manufacturing. For the high-volume pieces, we sub-contract to reduce costs, but we are able to do it all when required. I think with what is required for the aero kit, this is something we already do now but with sports cars.”
The aero kit concept is nothing new to ORECA in the world of sports car racing, as the de Chaunac’s company has been doing a similar thing by designing and building a series of sharp prototype bodies for the same base chassis, the Courage LC70. Beginning with its body for 2008’s ORECA-Courage LMP1 challenger, major evolutions for the LC70 chassis have followed with 2009’s ORECA 01 and the brand-new ORECA 03 that claimed the LMP2 pole position on Friday for the 59th annual 12 Hours of Sebring. Provided they have enough lead-time and a team or auto manufacturer to partner with, Floury is convinced ORECA can bring a number of innovative solutions to open-wheel racing.
“We can do it for 2012 if a decision is made soon enough, but we are used to big challenges like this. On CFD, we are not only working on racing. We do a very diverse CFD service—even the hydrodynamics for the hull of a boat competing in the America’s Cup—so we are fortunate to have knowledge from other areas in CFD that have helped our creativity and ideas for solutions in auto racing. Sometimes, when you only do aero developments in racing, it is hard to think in new directions. Doing big CFD projects outside of auto racing has been very, very beneficial for ORECA’s design department.”
Floury also cites the diverse approach ORECA has taken to its design and engineering training practices as a strength the company can use on short notice. “Our design and engineering office has 12 people, and everyone multitasks. We have created a department where everyone has specialized talents, so maybe one person is the lead on suspension design, and another person is our cooling systems specialist, but everyone has [cross-trained] to learn the other areas of design so we can be very flexible and allocated more people on certain projects if one area [like CFD] requires a lot of attention. We use STAR-CCM for our CFD and also do our own vehicle dynamics simulations and have full capabilities to design and test everything to produce our cars.”
In related news, it is widely rumored that Honda has tabbed its current partners at Wirth Research to design and develop its 2012 aero kit. Nick Wirth’s UK-based firm has worked with Honda for almost a decade, undertaking development work on behalf of the Japanese manufacturer in open-wheel and sports car racing, and would be a logical fit for the project.