The new for 2017 LMP2 category has created a huge amount of interest and comment, from the big step up in performance, through the business model applied to restricting the number of chassis suppliers, andante the ongoing sensitivities between the ACO and IMSA over the DPi concept.
One aspect of the ‘global’ formula though that has attracted much positive comment has been the Gibson V8 engine that is the ‘spec’ power plant for all bar the DPis.
The 600 bhp 4.2 litre 90 degree V8 GK428 is produced (and serviced) at Gibson Technology’s Repton plant in Derbyshire UK and it’s been a very busy time for all involved since the tender for the engine went their way.
DSC caught up with Gibson Technology’s Commercial Director Jim Hibbert to find out the scope and scale of the current operation.
“We got the contract in late 2015 and the clock has been ticking very loudly ever since then.
“The first major milestone publicly for the programme came on August 15 last year when we had to have an engine for each of the four chassis suppliers. We made that and the test programme really has been in fast forward ever since.”
The business model for the engines is that Gibson retain ownership, with teams buying hours on an engine in blocks of either 25 or 50 hours of running.
“That though won’t necessarily be with the same engine throughout,” said Hibbert. “We constantly monitor each of the engines with all of the teams and have sufficient spares in the system to rotate out an engine when there is the opportunity to put it into the rebuild programme.”
So just how many engines are there?
“Currently there are 48, and there are just about 30 Gibson-powered LMP2 cars across the FIA WEC, ELMS and over in North America. We committed to an initial batch of 20 immediately and as interest in the class ramped up we pretty quickly doubled that up.
“We then took a decision, with some real commitment shown by Bill (Gibson) to add a further smaller batch to add flexibility and resilience into the system. We were surprised how fast the new class took off, and it has presented some challenges, but we’re on top of them and, so far, there have been very few major issues.”
In fact those ‘issues’ can thus far be counted on the fingers of one hand with one misfire in testing, a ‘finger trouble’ related problem (also in testing) and an engine issue at Silverstone the sum total known to this writer at present.
With the 50 hour (pre-rebuild) life of the engines equating to c.8,000 km of running the challenge is on for the level of quality assurance required to make the numbers add up.
“It’s a big step forward from where race engine technology was just a decade or two ago, the engine life now is almost three times what it was at the end of the 20th century, and it has to be to make the programme work commercially.”
The key has been a close involvement in testing, beyond the regular dyno tests to on-track testing, and now, of course, racing too:
“Even before the European season got underway we’ve had over 100,000 km of running with the engines, including of course both the Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours, both very testing events.”
Gibson will have on-site support at all IMSA races and will send their service truck to all European WEC and ELMS events, with technical support and spares at all of the flyaway races too.
“We take this contract very, very seriously indeed. These are professional motorsport companies operating at a world class level and we want to be a very strong link in that chain providing a product that they can utterly rely on and an appropriate level of advice and support.”
One of the biggest tests of all though will come in just 6 weeks time when no fewer than 25 Gibson-powered LMP2s gather for the 2017 Le Mans 24 Hours.
“We’ll be there in force for that one of course,”says Jim. “We’ll have ample supplies and spares for everyone on site and whilst we don’t expect problems, we always plan around the unexpected! We want to be part of happy headlines, everybody does.”