NASA announced the relaunch of the NP01 program after a search for a new company that could handle manufacturing, sales, parts and service all under one roof.
SEBECO Motorsport has taken over the program from Élan Motorsports Technologies. In addition to taking over the program, SEBECO Motorsport also has been charged with making the cars better, including adding more power, better aerodynamics and improved grip. SEBECO co-owners Ben Cooper and Ed Sullivan have been hard at work with computational fluid dynamics software and in the dyno cell exploring ways to make the NP01 an even more potent racecar.
We wanted to know how things were progressing, so we asked Cooper and Sullivan to help bring us up to speed on the new developments with the NASA Prototype, a one-of-a-kind car in the world of motorsports.
Q: So, in your baseline testing, the NP01 had 407 pounds of downforce with 24 percent front balance. Your aero kit increased those numbers to 905 pounds of downforce with 52 percent front balance, with just a 5 percent increase in drag. How did you accomplish that?
BC: When the NP01 was designed, it needed to fit several criteria, chief among those was budget. For a spec series, I don’t think it made sense to add cost with aero parts during the initial design and build. That made it much easier for us to improve the car’s aero performance. I spent five years in the wind tunnel at Williams F1 in the late 90s into the early 2000s before moving to the U.S. to work in IndyCar and IMSA sports car racing, so I can’t help looking at all racecars with aero in mind. The NP01 offered up some pretty obvious areas for development. The aero kit will consist of a rear diffuser, new rear wing pylons and front splitter ramps. All of these parts will fit existing spec cars with minimal modifications.
Q: You had some help from Morlind Engineering’s Rob Lindsey, the lead engineer on the NP01. How helpful was it to work with someone with such a deep knowledge base of the car?
BC: After I had designed the aero upgrade parts, Rob came up with a CFD run list and he ran three cases for us: a baseline run, addition of rear diffuser /rear wing pylons and, finally, the splitter ramps. He’s very good at modeling the car and analyzing the data so we could very quickly settle on a spec to start track testing with. Rob is a good friend whom I’ve known for years, so it was great to have him involved in the car he designed so well at Élan. I’m sure he’ll be involved in the future, too.
Q: You also worked with Élan Power on its dyno. Can you give us a glimpse of what you learned in terms of adding power to the 2.0-liter Mazda MZR?
BC: Chris Smith and Jonathan McLeod at Élan Power are really great to work with. They’ve built so many MZR-based motors it made perfect sense to continue the relationship with the NP01. Last year, Élan Power MZRs won eight national championships. Their record speaks for itself.
In NP01 spec trim, the 2.0 MZR engine isn’t stressed much, as evidenced by its longevity. The new spec cam, which was designed for us by Chris, adds 25 horsepower, and along with a valve spring upgrade and a modest increase in rev limit, we expect the motors to still have a long life. The test motor was a higher-mileage unit, and in baseline configuration it still made 185 horsepower, which is a testament to Mazda and Élan. We will be putting this new spec motor through its paces before offering the upgrade to customers. New cars will be supplied with the upgrade along with the aero package.
Q: You have just finished assembly of chassis No. 35. Was there anything that surprised you during the build process, or anything that stood out about the car?
ES: Honestly, no. It’s a very well-thought-out car. There are a few minor things we will change to make working on the car a little easier in a few areas. All in all, we are very impressed with the car, and excited to continue its development. One area we will be looking to upgrade is the gear shift with an optional paddle-shift system. Once we’ve got some mileage on the aero and motor upgrades, we’ll start looking at focusing on that. We also have a few ideas to improve airflow through the cockpit of the car to help keep temperatures under control.
Q: Have you had the privilege of driving one, yet?
BC: Yes, Élan asked me to do some of the early testing on the ST1 package in 2017. Having only raced open-wheel cars in the past, I found the NP01 very easy to adapt to. I’ve not driven the spec version, but I’m looking forward to putting miles on our factory car, chassis 000.
ES: Not yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing how four wheels feels on a race track feels. My Yamaha R6 has been my preferred track day ride in recent years.
Q: When do you think you’ll have the recipe for the enhanced NP01 buttoned up?
ES: We’re happy that we now have the new spec finalized. We just need to put mileage on the motor and fine-tune the aero. We have more front aero balance than we need, so we anticipate trimming the front splitter ramps to suit. We will offer the aero kit before the cam change upgrade, but we have everything drawn and the patterns machined. Now it’s just a case of making molds and parts, but we will be taking orders very soon.