CHRIS GOODWIN: IT TAKES A HUMAN TO SET UP A SPORTS CAR.

09.08.2018

Sports cars are perfectly set up as they roll off the assembly line or out of the workshop. They feel like they’ve been made for you to drive them on the road or on the track. But long before the first production model is completed, development drivers are hard at work, rigorously testing in mules and prototypes to make sure your car feels perfect. Ex-McLaren development driver Chris Goodwin (now working on the Aston Martin Valkyrie) might be the best person to ask about how to set up a sports car. Sports cars are perfectly set up as they roll off the assembly line or out of the workshop. They feel like they’ve been made for you to drive them on the road or on the track. But long before the first production model is completed, development drivers are hard at work, rigorously testing in mules and prototypes to make sure your car feels perfect. Ex-McLaren development driver Chris Goodwin (now working on the Aston Martin Valkyrie) might be the best person to ask about how to set up a sports car.

 

 

 

CHRIS GOODWIN: IT TAKES A HUMAN TO SET UP A SPORTS CAR.

How did you become a development driver?

 

The root of it all was basically failing at university (laughs). My father was a racing driver and was doing endurance racing and I worked on the race car, so from a young age I immediately got to grips with the mechanical side and learnt all the workings of a race car. Later I went to a racing school and started racing in various categories myself, but it wasn’t until I won a championship that things really started to take off.

The manufacturer that I won the championship with approached me and asked me to develop the car for the following year, and it started from there. Later on I just contacted teams with the message, ‘I can set up your car for you faster than you can, and I will save you time, money and fuel – all you need to do is pay me the equivalent of a set of tyres’. So that’s how it all started, and I got to drive an enormous number of cars that way.

So a development driver, not a racing driver?

 

I’ve done my fair share of racing too, absolutely. I did Le Mans a couple of times, and I was racing for Vauxhall in the BTCC. I always thought I’d be a full-time racing driver, until Ron (Dennis) gave me a proper cold shower by calling me into his office and saying. ‘Chris, this racing career, it’s not for you. But I want you to come work for me instead’. It was a hard blow but it was for the best.

 

 

 

CHRIS GOODWIN: IT TAKES A HUMAN TO SET UP A SPORTS CAR.

You were central to the foundation of McLaren Automotive. How did that evolve into the value the brand has now?

 

When I had my first proper meeting with Ron, I was wearing wellingtons and we were standing next to the big hole in the ground in Woking that would later become the MTC (McLaren Technology centre). The first car I worked on was the Mercedes-SLR, which wasn’t made under the name of McLaren Automotive. It wasn’t called that until the launch of the MP4/12C. That car was a phenomenon in its own right, as it was ground-breaking in every way. The suspension setup with the cross link system hasn’t been used in any other car up until today.

 

With all the telemetry and data engineers, where does the human link come in?

 

There is a lot you need to measure, if only just to validate the feeling the car gives you. Most normal passenger cars can be set up by using data alone. But when you’re dealing with performance cars there is a whole extra layer of things you just can’t measure. In general, people with “less experience” of driving cars – without meaning any disrespect to the engineers – they tend to measure a lot, everything. But as a driver, you can sometimes discover things a lot quicker by analysing the feel of the car. That’s where motorsport comes in. In a race you might only have five laps of free practice, while there are four things you still need to change. In that situation there’s no time to make lots of measurements, because the next time the car goes out onto the track, you’ll be racing towards the chequered flag.

 

 

 

CHRIS GOODWIN: IT TAKES A HUMAN TO SET UP A SPORTS CAR.

Pictures : Frederik Herregods

 

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