Latest News (November 2004)
Turner Automotive Design is pressing ahead with exciting plans for a GT model of the LMP. The fixed head coupe could form the basis of a race programme planned by the company's boss, Steve Turner.
The plans could see the company produce a uniquely affordable GT car - something the market desperately lacks currently. Turner hopes that the new car can be developed to race in the USA in the NASA Super Unlimited Class.
East Fortune Raceway in East Lothian is one of those magical places that you encounter from time to time. It's yet another old airfield trying to be a race track. The bumpy, ridge strewn concrete surface gives way to smooth tarmac in places but most of the track requires a firm grip of the steering wheel and gritting of teeth. It's a good little circuit too. It boasts a nice layout not dominated by straights like many airfield venues.
Bikers race here a few times a year but plans to expand its usage are scuppered by locals who enjoy the peace of the Scottish countryside and don't want it shattered by race cars. Visions of it becoming a popular, respected venue are likely to remain as dreams and it will be left for a privileged few to enjoy.
It was at East Fortune that I met Steve Turner one glorious spring morning. I breezed into the empty circuit to hear the wail of the LMP as Steve warmed his creation up with a few laps around the track. Parked up in the paddock, I took in my surroundings. Crops swayed in the gentle breeze around the circuit and on the far side I could see the buildings that make up the Museum of Flight where Concorde now rests.
In front of me stood Steve Turner and his father, proudly tweaking their creation - the LMP. Formerly known as the Coram LMP, the car is now in the hands of Steve in the guise of 'Turner Automotive Design. Coram was dissolved last year after Steve and his business partner called it a day. Steve then bought the rights to the car himself to continue the project.
To get to this stage took over £90,000, sourced from Steve and his former partner and various grants from Government and local business development initiatives. Steve's still looking for further investment to finalise the car and get it into production.
It's a remarkably simple car to look at, like many of this ilk. A spaceframe chassis houses a Kawasaki ZX12 1200cc engine (~178bhp) and the glass fibre bodywork is bolted atop. The styling is best described as crude but effective. There's nothing fancy about it, but it's clean, well proportioned and distinctive.
Having had a good look around the car, Steve was trusting enough to suggest I suit up and try the LMP for myself. He and I are of similar build so it was simply a case of donning my helmet and boots and strapping myself in.
The driving position and ergonomics are spot on. The sequential gear change falls to hand to your left and the position of the pedals and steering wheel can't be faulted. It's quite a harsh clutch so slipping away without stalling required care. Having got up a bit of speed I could bang it into second then third gear and set about familiarising myself with the circuit before venturing further up the gearbox.
I trundled around the bumpy circuit, fully aware of every ridge and crevice. The suspension is fully rose jointed resulting in a pretty harsh ride but one totally in keeping with the character of the car. Steve's done much of his testing at East Fortune and it's certainly a good environment to test the longevity of parts. Many of the components of the suspension are sourced from high performance road cars (ball joints from Audi Quattro) with the intent of ensuring strength and longevity.
After a few laps I felt more confident knowing which way the circuit was going and could start exploring the higher end of the rev range. Hearing the Kawasaki engine howl behind me as I buried my foot deeper in the footwell. Banging up and down the gearbox with the sequential shift was a joy and I began piling on the speed.
Pushing the car faster and faster down the main straight I pressed harder and harder on the brakes each lap and wrestled the heavy steering around the tight bends and greater and greater speeds. This is a very physical car to drive. You need to work the brakes hard, grip the tiny steering wheel tight and muscle the car (despite the quick rack) around the circuit all the while being shaken to the core through the taut suspension. The engine was thought to be around 20bhp down on full power (around 158bhp) due to the air intake not being of the optimum setup but it remains more than ample. The car weighs little resulting in a fine power to weight ratio allowing acceleration of the hurtling variety.
Piling into the tightest bend on the circuit showed the good balance of the car (said to be 48:52/F:R). I couldn't induce any understeer, the Toyos simply gripped the warm tarmac and threw me around the corner. Applying an ample amnount of throttle as I eased out started to reveal some tyre squeal but I suspect I'd have needed another 20mph before approaching the limits.
Having been treated to 20 or so laps I can report back that it's a hugely fun car to drive. It's fairly easy to get the hang of, yet requires plenty of hard work to drive. That may indeed be a sign of further development being required to tune the chassis setup - currently it doesn't compare to the slickness exhibited by the Radical or XTR2 - but the positive side is that it's a very rewarding experience behind the wheel.
So, good news so far. The bad news is that the LMP has missed the boat. When Coram was formed, it had the intention of building the LMP at a time when the Radical and XTR2 were still on drawing boards. The bike engined track stormer was a great idea and being first to market in this industry was as important as in any other. Radical's design proved particularly successful and they pretty much cornered the top end of the market. Westfield managed to get a slice too and a number of simpler designs have mopped up at the lower end with self-builds playing a major part too.
Steve's plan is to sell the LMP as a finished car for £28K. That I suspect is too much, too late. It's a good car, but when bike engined track fun can be built from scratch for a few thousand or second hand Radicals can be had for £30K the TAD is going to struggle to attract customers. If there's no other financial model that fits the project I have a nasty feeling this could be the only LMP we'll ever see. I hope I'm wrong as no one likes to see hard work go unrewarded. Like East Fortune Raceway though, I suspect the LMP will remain a joy that few will get to experience.