With the news today that Perrinn is set to have a pair of LMP1 chassis on the WEC grid next year, with an as yet unannounced customer team, DSC caught up with the car’s designer Nicolas Perrin, to understand the process of Open Source, get more information on the car, and the potential for the project in the future.
So Nicolas, how long have the negotiations with the customer team been going on?
“We started discussing with the client just a couple of months ago, it’s gone very fast. These people were clearly already organised to go racing in 2018, and obviously the Ginetta car has created some movement in the market. They saw our car, they knew about our project and when they contacted us we found the right arguments to convince them to use our chassis.
“The team is going to make an announcement in the coming weeks before we test. The timing is that we will start building our cars soon, the homologation and crash tests will come in early October. That’s the normal time frame for an LMP1 team, and the assembly of the first car will happen in November, ahead of the first test early in December.
We started discussing with the client just a couple of months ago, it’s gone very fast
“There will be an initial test in December, more of a rollout for the team to unveil the car to their sponsors. But after that there will be more technical testing in early 2018 with the car.”
What can you tell us about the subcontractors involved in this car? Who will be responsible for the tub, engine and transmission?
“The composites are going to be done by a company called ACE Technology, people we’ve been working with in the past. They are LMP and Formula One experts. The transmission is X-Trac. The engine I can’t talk about yet, but it will be announced before Le Mans.
“The model is that we are sub-contracting as much as we can in building and assembling the car. There’s an engineering company in Northamptonshire that will take care of the building and assembly of the cars. Obviously though, Perrinn remains in charge of the design and management of the programme.”
While we know you can’t tell us any more about the customer team, can you confirm whether or not hybrid is an option, and whether the car can house multiple types of engines, including turbo-charged engines?
“The car was originally designed to house four different engines, including turbo-charged engines, it’s not a problem. We are used to working with different engines.”
“The team will not have a hybrid system for next year, the team would have the option to add a hybrid system to the chassis though, we have designed the car to be able to have a system at the front, but we’ve elected to start without one for next year. Moving forward from there we could integrate the system later.”
The team will not have a hybrid system for next year, the team would have the option to add a hybrid system to the chassis though, we have designed the car to be able to have a system at the front, but we’ve elected to start without one for next year
“We have a company that’s ready to put a hybrid system in the car that has people capable and have done it before. It would be a traditional battery, electric system.”
“We looked again this year, because the customer was asking what the benefit of the hybrid would be in the car. We looked closely and to actually make it beneficial requires more resources They have slowed down the hybrid cars even though they are faster than any other cars. For us it would be more complicated to gain a benefit, so I think the plan is to start without a hybrid system and re-evaluate what a hybrid system would give us. For the moment it wouldn’t give us an advantage.”
And in terms of numbers, you mentioned in the announcement that there is the chance for you to build more cars for next year, should a customer come forward. How many?
“We are building the equivalent of three cars with this customer, one which is for spares. We are able to produce these this year. If another customer comes along we will welcome them and could stretch the programme. I’m sure we would be able to build more cars.
“We’ve got two cars confirmed on the grid next year, I think we could definitely manage four cars on the grid next year with no problem. This is a full-season effort, including the Prologue, and we would be able to supply four cars for that.”
What’s the spares package and customer support system going to look like?
“It’s slightly different to what Ginetta is offering. We are telling the teams that they need to buy and transport their own spares, which is normal in LMP1. We will have some people, depending on the needs of the team, who can help with engineering support on track. I will be going to every event too, and we have people ready to join us as well. Normally the LMP1 teams are operating independently though, with their own spares and support.”
This now means that so far we have Ginetta, BR Engineering, ByKolles and Perrinn all potentially fielding cars next year. How many cars do you feel will be on the grid for next year?
“I’m hoping that there will be at least six, and it looks like there will, which would make it a decent field. We want to compete against other chassis and we also want to show to the ACO what P1 Privateer is capable of to make sure we have a place between LMP2 and LMP1 Hybrid. It’s difficult with only one car this year. I’m hoping next year that there will be a proper category in place.”
In a business sense, how many customers do you need to make this venture profitable?
“Perrinn is a unique organisation in the way we’ve built it, with contractors and suppliers. We are able to make it work with one customer. There’s no profit at this point, but we are able to sustain it and build a platform for later on. We are going to focus on this customer and make it work, it’s a different way to do it with Open Source.”
Tell me more about Open Source, as this appears to be a key element to this LMP1 effort?
“The stability for the next five years is great, but I think that Perrinn exists with a different strategy to the others with Open Source. The FIA and WEC completely welcome Open Source and see it as a chance to grow the fanbase and grow it beyond what we normally see with a single company. Effectively we want to be able to create resources and talent with it, so I believe it will create a situation where we can react to regulation changes, develop the cars faster.
The FIA and WEC completely welcome Open Source and see it as a chance to grow the fanbase and grow it beyond what we normally see with a single company
“We want to make Perrinn successful at Le Mans in medium to long term.”
So this effectively means that you will have more of a focus on multiple partners all adding their expertise into developing the car?
“This is the key to what we are doing. We see that more and more in motorsport, at Le Mans it’s all about development speed, one thing is the speed at the start, but if you are able to develop a car to make it faster then you will win. With Open Source we can develop the car quicker and get past contractual difficulties.
“I think that it will allow the project to become a global project, there’s a lot of companies that would be happily involved in a project, but it’s hard to find out how to. With Open Source it means nobody owns the Intellectual Property or the assets, which appeals to more people to get involved, because they feel like they can gain more. They still want leadership, which is what we will do at Perrinn, but we will allow much more freedom for people to take our car and develop their own versions, give their own ideas and make sure the resources are focused around this project.
“The great examples are the supply chain, which will be more competitive, because in an Open Source environment, a lot more suppliers can offer spares and services, which makes the costs go down because there are more people to supply the same parts. It ends up with a much more healthy and competitive environment.”
Does this mean that a team, or aspirant manufacturer could effectively come and buy a baseline car from you, and develop it themselves? How will this work in terms of homologation then? If multiple teams can effectively take the same car and run varying evolutions of each year?
“The homologation is only looking at certain parts of the car, the crash boxes and the tub, but if you modify other components you don’t need to re-homologate the car as such, so it depends what you are modifying.
“In the software industry it’s called branching, where companies can come and take our master model and create their own branch from the project. If they have to re-homologate the car they can do it themselves and there’s a cost; it’s a choice they have. The starting point though, is much easier to access with Open Source.
It’s completely alien for most people in our industry, I’ve been studying how people do it in software, and we are basically using that methodology and philosophy
“We will carry on developing our own baseline for teams who don’t want to develop the car themselves, which will hopefully be the spec used by most people. The version which is seen as the master version we hope will be the Perrinn one, but we will see what will happen.”
Is part of this you making a real move to attract a manufacturer to take your car, and build on it, to learn about the sport and spend less while doing it?
“Absolutely, this is a possibility, any branch is a benefit for us, because it’s our brand going further and people still will know where the car comes from, even if it is rebranded or homologated. If we do it in a clever way we should be able to merge back developments into the master car, and effectively evolve the whole project.
“It’s completely alien for most people in our industry, I’ve been studying how people do it in software, and we are basically using that methodology and philosophy. There’s a reason why every smart phone today is built on Open Source software.
“Open Source is a licence. Everything that Perrinn is involved in is shared in Open Source, we are not keeping the Intellectual Property, we are not licensing it. Some organisations may take our technology and develop it under a non-Open Source licence, that’s not what we would like to see happen, but it can. If you do it in the right way, the car will keep developing in a positve chassis.”
Open Source is the number one criteria for choosing our car
So if Perrinn doesn’t own the IP, then are you effectively offering a service for someone to come to you, and for you to supply with them an LMP1 car using the tools and partners you have, so they don’t have to do the leg work?
“Correct. We obviously own the tooling, physical hardware, we own that, but we don’t put any mark up on design or on the actual drawing, the access to it will be on the internet for free. I have an example, because we have suppliers in South Africa who want to supply parts because they have seen the design and know that they can. There are companies too, that want to show that they can do it for free.
“I will explain it better when the team that’s bought our cars is announced, but Open Source is the number one criteria for choosing our car. It took them time to understand the potential, but once they grasped it, it will give them a potentially winning car in the future because they aren’t the only one pushing it forward, Perrinn will co-ordinate everything, and merge the ideas to create a better car every year.”