British racing driver and automotive engineer Robin Shute was crowned “king of the mountain” at Pikes Peak for the second time in a row. A feat which he and his small team achieved by using a very unconventional engineering approach! We called him to find out more…
Robin, congratulations on your second king of the mountain. What was your journey to this achievement?
My father was a race driver in the UK, so I got exposed to motor racing at a very young age. When I was seven or eight years old, I started entering RC competitions. Later I dabbled a little bit in go-karts but never had the success I was aiming for. I took a break from racing in university and pursued alpine-ski racing but, as I graduated as an automotive engineer, I naturally gravitated towards racing again. I joined a Formula Student team and that’s when things started to take off. Not that much later I was given the opportunity to move to the US and join the Tesla chassis design department. While doing that I spent my time doing track days and generally getting experience behind the wheel of a car on track. Because I felt the hunger for competition again, I joined the SCCA Runoffs with the full ambition of winning it. I didn’t quite win it in the end, but I ended in second place. Professionally, I moved to Faraday Future and did my first run up Pikes Peak with them. My second time would be in an all-electric single-seater we had been developing to compete with Volkswagen’s ID-R. Faraday pulled the plug on the project and a lot of us still wanted to go so that’s when we bought the Wolf and that’s how this story started.
Yes, the Wolf. It’s quite different from the standard Wolf chassis you see out on your local racetrack, is it not?
Absolutely. Usually, they’re running a flat prototype-style body with a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine. For Pikes Peak, we needed a lot more. For this build, we got in touch with HPD and used a bored-out 2.1-litre four-cylinder K20 power unit. We added a turbocharger to it because we needed a lot more performance. For safety reasons, we wanted to avoid any underbody aero and put it all on the wings on top. We also removed a lot of the bodywork to save weight. After three years of development, we now have a very solid car. It weighs 650kgs wet with me in it and the engine now puts out 650bhp. That’s more than a 1:1 power to weight ratio. Needless to say, the car’s pretty fast.
You won Pikes Peak twice in a row now. What is your edge?
I believe it’s mostly in my preparation for the event. I’m also pretty good at learning something quickly. When you’re at Pikes Peak, you don’t get a lot of time in the car to test and set up. You basically show up and go. Because of this, we spent a lot of time in the simulator. First of all, it’s a great way to learn the course. We’d alter the physics parameters in Assetto Corsa to mimic our own car and develop the car without actually driving it. It’s something we had been doing at Faraday Future as well.
You have all this experience in electric cars, yet you choose to compete in a petrol-powered car. Why is that?
There were a few reasons. One is obviously budget. When Faraday Future terminated our single-seater project we looked at continuing the electric path but soon realised that it would be impossible to do it privately. Then there’s the way a battery works. People tell you that electric cars work best up the mountain because of the lack of oxygen at the top but a battery has a similar power loss. It’s just the same as I learned in my RC days. The thing that makes EV race cars so great is the availability of mid-range torque and power. So, with the Wolf we tried to mimic that as much as possible by working with a very specific engine mapping and turbo setup. Basically, we didn’t want a massive turbo because it would take too long to spool up so instead, we went with the smallest turbocharger we could get away with without compromising performance. This way we would get out of hairpins and there would be enough pressure left to spool up the turbo and get going again as we didn’t want to use anti-lag.
How much impact did the Motul products have on your performance at Pikes Peak?
Well, quite a lot. Originally, we planned to experiment with different viscosities of 300V but because we didn’t have the time, we ended up using the OEM-advised 5W30. Our main demand from the lubricant was to help with reliability, which it did flawlessly. One thing about Pikes Peak is that nothing is ever perfect. So, we didn’t want to take any chances. However, Motul also helped us push some parts of the car beyond their limits. When we were redesigning the engine, we estimated a power number that was lower than the one we actually ended up with and the lubricant was one of the reasons this happened. The gearbox is another example. The transmission we’re using is a Sadev sequential, which is rated at 500Nm but we’re putting over 600 through it. But with Motul gear fluid we had no issue at all. Another area where Motul really made the difference is the brakes. We’re running rather small Formula 3 brakes and we were struggling with brake temperature and the brake fluid boiling, which causes air bubbles. It meant we’d have to bleed the brakes after every run. When we switched to RBF700, the fluid held up and we only bled the brakes once before the race. On top of that, I noticed a significantly better pedal feel with RBF700. The pedal was much stiffer, giving me more confidence to brake later.