Dan Drinan prepares Michael Andretti’s March 86C Cosworth DFX at Indy, 19 May 1986…

Its the final few days of preparation before carb day and the final chance to test the car before the Memorial Day classic on 31 May. Michael’s cheque for qualifying third on the grid is on the wall.

Bobby Rahal won in a similar March with Michael sixth from grid 3 having led 45 of the 200 laps including the first 42. In a rout for March, the Bicester concern had cars in nine of the top ten placings, the only interloper was Al Unser Jr’s Lola Cosworth in fifth.

Rick Mears, Kevin Cogan and Rahal battled for the lead. In an emotional win, Rahal got the jump from Cogan after a lap 194 restart and took the victory for his team owner Jim Trueman who died of cancer eleven days later. Rick Mears was third.

Michael Andretti, Indy 500 1986, March 86C Cosworth (B Harmeyer)

With an opening photo like that the focus has to be on that magnificent engine and it’s conversion from F1 ubiquity to CART interloper.

John Barnard’s appointment to replace Maurice Philippe as Designer for the Vels- Parnelli F1 and Indy team was at the behest of his former Lola colleague, Jim Chapman, then VPJ Team Manager.

Barnard achieved much with both VPJ and Chaparral before returning to Europe and staggering F1 success with McLaren, but its his role in development of what became the Cosworth DFX V8 turbo which is of interest in this article. His primary job at VPJ was to design and develop the ground-breaking Parnelli VPJ6B and 6C which introduced the turbo Cosworth DFX to Indycar racing. Over the next dozen years the DFX dominated, winning 151 races, including 10 consecutive Indy 500s between 1978-87.

When Barnard arrived at VPJ in Southern California in 1975 he was thrown into the deep end, fettling the team’s F1 car and designing the drivetrain for Parnelli Jone’s off-road Ford truck- you can’t argue with those extremes of variety.

Danny ‘On The Gas’ Ongais, Parnelli VPJ6B Cosworth , Indy 1977 20th from Q7 (B Harmeyer)

Al Unsers VPJ6B rear, Indy 1977. Note turbo plumbing and wastegate outlet (B Harmeyer)

Through the early and mid-1970s Indycars were allowed to run unlimited boost with the ageing four-cylinder Offenhauser pushed beyond its limits. “I was on USAC’s rules committee and we kept blowing up engines,” says Parnelli Jones in a Gordon Kirby article published in MotorSport. “You could not buy an engine from Drake Engineering (manufacturers of the Offy) and run 500 miles. You couldn’t even run it 100 miles because of porosity in the engines. We had a machine to impregnate the engines so we could keep ours together, but you had to pull it all apart and blueprint it after you bought it…Then USAC cut the fuel mileage back to 1.8 mpg and I said to Vel, ‘We’ve got those little Formula 1 Cosworths. I think they could work’.”

In amongst the team’s F1, USAC and F5000 programs Barnard was beavering away ‘converting’ the F1 design into a USAC car by means of a variety of changes including turbo-charging the Cosworth DFV F1 motor.

John Barnard picks up the design changes: “It was actually a completely new chassis. We put coil springs on the rear, but I kept the torsion bars on the front. The Brit strengthened the car by double-skinning the monocoque and designing a much stronger front bulkhead. “That proved very useful,” Barnard says. “In ’77 we were practising at Indy and Al ran over Janet Guthrie’s turbine wheel, which came out on the track, and had quite a big accident. But he walked away. I was glad I had double-skinned that front bulkhead.”

The resulting VPJ6B was a much smaller overall package than the existing Offy and Foyt/Ford-powered chassis then racing.

Ongais again in 1977, note front suspension linkages, torsion bars the spring medium up front (B Harmeyer)

Unser 1977, Q3 and 3rd in the race won by AJ Foyt’s Coyote Foyt/Ford V8 turbo and Tom Sneva McLaren M24 Cosworth who started from pole (B Harmeyer)

Barnard also designed many key components for VPJ’s DFX development program. “There was a lot to do on the engine — inlet manifolds and all sorts of things. I was drawing conrods and pistons, an oil pump system, fuel injection and God knows what else. It was fantastic for me because I had never really got into engines much, but we had our engine shop so we could do this stuff to every part of the car and engine. It was fantastic, just like having a toy shop.”

But there was little support from Keith Duckworth for turbocharging the DFV. Duckworth famously didn’t believe in turbos. “I remember him giving me a lecture about turbos,” Barnard adds, “and another one about why 4WD wouldn’t work. I remember Vel reporting that Cosworth told him he was a bit of a twit trying to get all this horsepower out of an engine that was designed to generate 500bhp, and there we were getting more than 800,” Barnard says. “Vel told me, ‘Those bloody guys at Cosworth don’t mind selling me pistons and heads all the time. I’ve spent $100,000 with them just on pistons.’ But they told him we were idiots for making a turbocharged version of their engine.”

Unser and Andretti ran a few practice laps at Indianapolis that year in an early version of the VPJ6, and the first complete 6B made its debut in Unser’s hands in 1975’s season-closing race at Phoenix, finishing fifth. “Once we got in the right ballpark with wheel and spring rates we had pretty good balance, and it got better and better,” Barnard remembers. “We continued to muck about with the engine. It was an ongoing programme. I was making wastegates and all sorts of things.”

Unser scored the Parnelli-Cosworth’s first win in the Pocono 500 in June 1976, then won again at Milwaukee in August and Phoenix at the end of the season. “We proved that the engine worked and we brought Duckworth over to Pocono because we wanted to get a distributorship for the Cosworth Indy programme,” Parnelli recalls. “So Duckworth came over and damned if he didn’t turn around and steal Larry Slutter and Chickie from us.”

Ongais 1977 (B Harmeyer)

Unser 1977, gorgeous bit of engineering kit. Won the first Cosworth DFX  Indy win aboard a Chaparral Lola in 1978- 11 of the 33 starters were Cosworth powered  (B Harmeyer)

Barnard took a dim view of Duckworth’s manoeuvre. “As soon as we won Pocono, Cosworth saw the light. It wasn’t long afterwards that they nicked Larry Slutter and set their own engine shop up right there in Torrance, which to be honest I thought was pretty mean. “I was told by somebody at Cosworth many years later that the turbo Indy engine programme — the DFX as they called it — was their most profitable programme of all. So I wasn’t impressed with the way they did that. Vel and Parnelli were the ones putting their hands in their pockets to develop this car and engine, and I don’t think they ever got the proper credit.”

After all the money and effort VPJ had put into developing the engine, not being able to turn it into a commercial enterprise was a big blow, playing a role in the team’s demise a few years later. “Of course,” Jones says, “we were in a catch-22 because you had to satisfy your sponsors and we needed to order parts from Duckworth. We could have sued him, but we decided to try to work with him.”

For the 1977 season both McLaren and Penske built new Fl-based cars with DFX engines and Tom Sneva won the USAC Championship aboard Penske’s Cosworth-powered McLaren M24 and Penske PC5. Johnny Rutherford also won four USAC races in the works McLaren DFX while Unser and new team-mate Danny Ongais each won a single race, with Big Al taking the California 500.

Barnard quipped “I didn’t start the Cosworth programme,” he adds, “but I had most of the input making a car work around that engine. Looking back, I learned massive amounts and enjoyed it, too. It was bloody hard work, but I was a young man and ready to do whatever it took.”

Unser 1977, classic aero of that just before ground effect period. The F1 Lotus 78 raced throughout 1977- the first of the Lotus g/e’s (B Harmeyer)

Bibliography/Credits…

MotorSport article by Gordon Kirby 2013, Getty Images- Bettman and Bob Harmeyer

Tailpiece: Cosworth factory DFX studio shot…

Finito…

Comments
  1. David Thompson says:

    “There was a lot to do on the engine — inlet manifolds and all sorts of things. I was drawing conrods and pistons, an oil pump system, fuel injection and God knows what else . . . we had our engine shop so we could do this stuff to every part of the car and engine. It was fantastic, just like having a toy shop.”
    And this was BEFORE CAD/CAM, wasn’t it? Amazing.

  2. Stephen Garrett says:

    Hi,

    interesting article, but isn’t it John (not Gordon) Barnard?

    Regards,

    Steve Garrett

    ________________________________

    • markbisset says:

      It is indeed Stephen,
      I played football at the Gordon Barnard Reserve in North Balwyn, Melbourne and got my Barnard’s muddled- fixed it up a few days ago or have I missed undoing a Gordon in there somewhere…
      Mark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s