LMP for the rest of us – a closer look at the West racecars

SCCSA Twilight race meeting, November 2012In concept, there’s certainly nothing new about motorcycle engined racecars – for as long as people have been racing cars, home workshop types have been stuffing high revving motorcycle engines into them to great effect. But what separates the new generation of West racecars from the rest is just how effective they are. Mechanically speaking there’s nothing especially groundbreaking about a West and this is a case where the whole is definitely worth more than the sum of its parts. However it’s the careful design by extremely talented racecar engineers, and the gradual testing and refining of the concept that makes West’s as devastatingly quick as they are.

SCCSA Twilight race meeting, November 2012So how quick are they? A properly sorted West will run around a 1.05/1.06 lap time around Mallala, which is pretty impressive considering the current F3 lap record is 1.06.4, and the V8 Supercar lap record is 1.08.1. That’s only 3-4 seconds slower than the outright lap record, 1.02.6 set by Paul Stokell in a Reynard Formula Holden.

SCCSA Twilight race meeting, November 2012But the real kicker is the price – you can pick up a new West for under $100,000, with competitive used cars trading at around $50-80,000. That may sound like a lot for a motorbike engined car, but just compare its performance – you’d be lucky to get a 1.10 out of a Carrera Cup 911 for $150,000+. Paul Stokell’s Nations Cup Diablo GTR only managed a 1.08 back in the day, and god knows how much that would cost you. Essentially, you’re talking serious racecar speed for Lotus Exige money. You can live out all your Le Mans fantasies for about what a lot of people spend building a decent WRX.

SCCSA Twilight race meeting, November 2012There are two models of West – the silver one above is known as the West WR1000, and is powered by either a 1000cc Suzuki or Kawasaki bike engine producing 175hp at 12,500rpm. The WR1000 weighs 395kg, and will get you from rest to 100km/h in 2.8 on the way to a top speed of 255km/h.

SCCSA Twilight race meeting, November 2012The model we’ll be taking a closer look at is the West WX10, which was driven at Mallala by multiple British F3 champion and former Indy car driver, James Winslow. The WX10 is powered by a 1340cc Suzuki Hayabusa K10 crate engine making 197hp at 10,800rpm. It’s slightly heavier at 403kg, but it will see 0-100 in 2.5 seconds and top out at 275km/h.

DSC_0331The true brilliance of the Hayabusa engine is its bang-for-buck reliability. Other than a West developed dry sump lubrication system and engine management, the Hayabusa engine keeps entirely stock internals, which means you’ll easily get two seasons of racing between rebuilds. Now the true value of the West is beginning to show.

DSC_0355The 6 speed sequential gearbox is also stock standard, and different gear ratios can be obtained by changing the rear sprocket, go-kart style. The box is usually good for over 3 seasons of racing between rebuilds, so not only is the West easily half the price of anything else comparably fast, but it’s extremely cost effective to keep racing. The Porsche guys often spend tens of thousands rebuilding engines and gearboxes every season, but in a West you’re only really up for tyres and general servicing, saving considerable dollars.

DSC_0330Gear changes are actuated by a West developed sequential air-shift system working off paddles behind the steering wheel, which provides flat upshifts and auto blip on downshifts. The air-shift system stores air pressure in, of all things, a paintball air tank which must be re-charged before each race. In addition to faster changes, the air-shift system is also a lot easier on the gearbox than electronically actuated solenoids, further increasing gearbox life.

Interestingly on the weekend I viewed the car, James Winslow’s biggest criticism was the gearbox and air-shift system. It seems that James was braking so late and hard that the gearbox simply couldn’t change back down through the gears fast enough to match the braking force. The problem was most prevalent at the northern hairpin, where cars go from flat out in 6th back to 1st.

DSC_0380The chassis construction itself is a carbon fibre reinforced semi monocoque steel space frame. It has a carbon encased impact attenuator mounted directly on the front of the chassis, forward of the front suspension points.

DSC_0327 DSC_0367As you would expect, suspension componentry is of the highest standard, with fully adjustable Ohlins dampers actuated off rocker arms. On this version the rear dampers were mounted inboard to save unspung weight, and some versions have the front dampers mounted inboard too. Not surprisingly, more detailed suspension information about the West is hard to come by!

DSC_0383 DSC_0388The cockpit is surrounded by a 1″ thick carbon honeycomb impact tub for safety. This particular car was fitted with the optional data logging sensor pack – you can see the potentiometer mounted just below the steering column, and the band running off the column just before the data display to measure steering input.

DSC_0370As you would expect, the bespoke West pedal box features a brake balance bar and is fully adjustable for perfect driver fit.

DSC_0336The control wheels are forged Jongbloed racing rims, in 13×8″ front and 13×10″ rear fitted with Avon slicks. The American made wheels are hot forged under 10 million pounds of pressure, and have a special aero design to force cool air into the brakes, which then exits through the vents above the guard.

DSC_0369The radiators and oil cooler are mounted in the side pods, scooping fresh cool air in with nowhere else to go.

DSC_0385But the West’s trump card is unquestionably its aerodynamics. Based on up-to-the-minute Le Mans and LMP prototype technology, West have spent significant time and energy perfecting the aerodynamics to provide maximum downforce with minimum drag, and I guess that’s where the money goes. You could theoretically mechanically build this car in your back shed, but you couldn’t even get close on the aerodynamics front and it shows in outstanding performance. Nearing their 275km/h top speed, these West’s have the sheer grip to pull over 3g through fast corners.

DSC_0366West’s are manufactured in the US and then exported as a knock-down kit where they are assembled by West Racecars Australia. You can either purchase your West outright, or lease it on a per meeting or per season basis as a fully prepared arrive and drive package. The cost of this is reasonable, and as you would expect sits somewhere between a similar Formula Ford and Formula 3 program. However, West’s seem to be easier for the gentleman racer to master making them a popular choice, especially given their speed. In the field at Mallala there were no less than three well known former Porsche drivers racing West’s.

DSC_0357The other thing that struck me is the sheer quality of the build. First rate major components are used, but it’s also the little things that set the West apart – aircraft grade hardware is used for everything, and the little details like every weld being millimetre perfect. They are most certainly a precision instrument.

DSC_0342DSC_0347So all that’s left now is the track test, right? Sadly, no. I’m working on it, but it’s an unlikely scenario. However if anyone from West happens to read this and is open to the idea, I’d love to talk!

Words and photos by Andrew Coles

West Racecars Australia

west-race-cars-wx-10-at-pri

 

In my research for this story, I came across a vehicle known as the WX-10 -T. A 2008 collaboration between West and KleenSpeed Technologies, the WX-10-T is an all electric powered West. Possibly more relevant to today’s world, the prospect of electric race cars excites me somewhat – not only is the technology clean, but you also get 100% of torque from 0 rpm.

wx10-t-13

The WX-10-T is powered by a 150kw electric motor. The battery packs are interchangeable for longer races, and are designed to be swapped for fresh ones in a 45 second pit stop. If this is the future of electric cars, I think I can handle it!

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4 Comments

  1. Tom Gilbert December 14, 2012 Reply

    Where do I sign?!

  2. Glenn December 14, 2012 Reply

    Well worth the read ,you have put a lot of effort into putting accurate and interesting information into all of your articles for like minded car people of any age and I for one am thankfull that there are still people like you who can be bothered to get out there and bring this information to the masses .
    Good on you,
    Glenn

    • Andrew Coles December 21, 2012 Reply

      Thanks Glenn, I'm glad to hear that people enjoy reading them! I've just gotta work harder now to take them to the next level :)

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