Peter Weston has been technical director and race engineer for Dyson Racing for over a dozen years and has worked with AER in that capacity for ten of those years. In addition, he is also the UK based technical liaison between the team and AER and brings both an internal and external perspective of the Basildon company to the table. His duel perspectives on AER:
“What makes AER good are the people who work there. There are companies that do well with strength in numbers, but then there are the tight-knit companies that rely on the right people in the right positions to get the job done right. Some companies are insular and defensive, but that is not the case at AER. There is a broad open mindedness of how to tackle and fix problems. It is easy to be defensive when you have put so much work into a project. As a car designer, I know what it is like to spend six months designing a suspension, only to have the driver come in after its first run and find fault. It is the same thing with an engine. Your goal is to design the best engine for the situation but track running will always uncover areas that need improvement and you cannot fold your arms and not take in the driver’s and team’s input. So you have to be of two personalities and be able to stand outside of yourself and objectively look at what you just spent untold hours on. And that is what AER is very good at. I have dealt with engine companies that were belligerent and high handed when you would suggest changes. Not AER. As a race engineer, when you are at the track with AER, you work hand and glove with the engine guys and they are all part of the team pulling in the same direction. Communication is both open and open-minded: it is a two-way street. They are accommodating to work with and the dialog is collaborative. They are racers who know that the judge of everybody is the stop watch.
“When you work with AER at their shop, you also get an appreciation of how much detail they are handling on their various projects and how much on-site knowledge there is. When you are there for twelve hours a day, you see the passion that goes into their work and their pride and sense of accomplishment.
“The broad knowledge of the individuals who are there is impressive. It is a fertile environment for working off each other to come up with creative solutions. There are a lot of teams and companies that have large panels of experts and every expert is an expert in a narrow field, but then you end up with a group of narrowly focused people not working with each other and you need a lot of experts to cover all the bases. Plus you run the risk of overly specialized experts becoming dogmatic and not working well together. But at AER, the whole group there is so broad based in their knowledge, which is really the golden egg. As an example, Formula One engine manufacturers are now making their new engines to a fuel flow formula which AER has already done with their new LMP1 P60 engine. The Formula One guys are doing the exact same thing, but with ten times the number of people and probably one hundred times the budget. Masses of experts are not always the most efficient way to tackle new technologies and come up with innovative answers.”
James Weaver drove for Dyson Racing for twenty years. An iconic driver in sports car racing, James was known for his precise feedback and was one of endurance racing’s better development drivers. He continues his productive relationship with AER as technical liaison between AER and Dyson Racing.
“The pace of development at AER is quite extraordinary. They are very good at taking what happens at the race track, analyzing it, and learning from it. The attitude has always been of wanting to do better, so even if you were on pole or won the race, they would take a look at everything and at the next race, the engine would be better again. I think one of their biggest advantages is they have their own in- house electronic company, Life Racing, and electronics are really the heart of a turbo engine.
“As a driver, when you are at the track, your engine support engineer is your best friend, especially when you have a turbo engine. If the track support is no good, you get nowhere with a turbo engine. It is just very complicated, like three dimensional chess trying to figure out what you need to do to get the best performance from these engines. There are dozens of ways of doing it, and if you do not have a close relationship with the engineer, you are going to be lost. AER always has the best track support.
“AER is a very efficient company. They are always up on the balls of their feet and there is no political hierarchy or dead wood. They are all engineers, and from a driver’s point of view, if you want to go fast, you want the best engineers. Plus they are good people to be around – super bright and they are always coming up with new ideas. I would leave the track at nine or ten o’clock and they would still be there. That is one of the major dynamics of modern racing: with all the computers and electronics, there is so much you can do and you are always looking for that advantage. That is one of the things that AER is good at – they always work harder and do more.
“They are a resourceful company. When you look at the engineering strengths, all the ideas, the electronic division, Life Racing, and how it all is knitted together, it is massively impressive. I think if the corporate board of one of the manufactures AER competes against were given a tour of AER, they would not believe that such a lean company produces such devastatingly effective engines.
“In some ways, they personify the English mentality of piling in there, rolling up your sleeves up and doing whatever needs to be done. You have a lot of very experienced people there and you also have some very bright recent University graduates and nowadays, University graduates are massively clever. They are so very good, so computer literate, bubbling with ideas and at AER there are no corporate or political constraints. It is a very creative atmosphere.
“It is a dedicated family with a strong work ethic. When there is a thrash going on, they are there all weekend and no one from the design office goes home before eight o’clock. When they first ran the new LMP1 P60 engine, at nine o’clock in the evening, pretty much the whole company was in the dyno room to watch it go. It was quite emotional for everybody to watch it start up and run.”
Richard Eyre owns a wide spectrum of historic race cars: Formula One, Formula Two, Formula Three, IMSA GTP, FIA Group C, and Formula 5000. His collection ranges from the Keke Rosberg World Championship winning FW08 to Lotus Cortinas and Minis. He use to race, including a couple years against James Weaver in Sports 2000 with Richard winning the Sports 2000 title in 1982 with thirteen wins. He vintage races all over Europe with his historic cars including a 1991 Jaguar XJR-16 that Davy Jones raced in the IMSA GTP series. With four wins in ten races, it had the best record of any Jaguar IMSA GTP race car that year. Richard has added to its record with two wins and additional podium finishes.
As they use to say in the Packard advertisements, “Ask the Man Who Owns One.” Richard had his XJR- 16’s engine rebuilt and upgraded at Advanced Engine Research. “When you are racing historic race cars, you need a strong comfort level in the work being done on the car. AER is an established company that has experience over a wide range of projects and is technically up to date. Their expertise takes in both the old and the new.”
An engine “freshening” on Richard’s Jaguar is not your typical rebuild. It takes 250 hours and the engine is upgraded with current technology. A modern ECU is programed and tailor made for it. Knock control systems are installed and contemporary fuel injection and drive-by- wire is fitted to the engine. And the insides are massaged with very low friction valve gear, nickel coated pistons, Nikasil coated liners and the latest MAHLE bearings. All these improvements make for a safer, smoother running, more reliable and longer lasting engine. No small consideration for high-dollar and rare historic race cars.
AER’s expertise extends beyond 750 horsepower Jaguars. They have also rebuilt other Group C sports car power plants including engines for Aston Martin’s AMR1 and in open wheel historic racing, Cosworth’s Formula One DFYs. Like fine wines, older race engines can improve with time: thanks to modern technology.
If you ask the managers at Advanced Engine Research to point to a proud highlight of the 2013 race season, there would be consensus that is it was designing, manufacturing and providing track support for the engines in the GP3 series. AER produced the engines for twenty-seven cars in the sixteen-race series. There were no failures over the course of the season, giving them 432 successful race finishes.
AER has a foundational history producing engines for race series going back to its beginning years. Building on that successful record, they have positioned themselves as a leading producer of engines for single make series. In addition to the three-year contract with the GP3 series, AER will be designing and supplying engines for the 2015 Indy Lights Series under a four-year contract.
The GP3 series came to AER looking for an engine that was lighter, had more power, and lasted a complete season without a rebuild. AER builds a 3.4 liter, naturally aspirated, 400 horsepower, all aluminum engine for fitting in the Dallara chassis. It is a fully stressed engine that works well in the feeder series ultimately leading to Formula One. All GP3 races follow the Formula One calendar. Past GP3 champions and graduates who are currently competing in Formula One include Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez, Valtteri Botas and Daniil Kvyat.
“We’ve been very impressed by the performance and reliability of the AER engines in 2013,” noted Didier Perrin, GP2 and GP3 Series Technical Director. “We start the 2014 season with no concerns and our mind clear regarding the engine, which is an ideal focus. We are very happy with AER, a company with great experience and a proven history.”