Jul 24, 2012
SA entry into Le Mans 2014 on the cardsBack
Cape Town|Dakar|Johannesburg|Motorsport|Africa|Cement|Formula 1|Industrial|Toyota|Toyota Motorsport South Africa|Wilson|Africa|France|Malawi|Mozambique|South Africa|Ecurie Zoo|South African Institute Of International Affairs|Car Chassis|High-tech Industrial Venture|Ecurie Zoo|Barney|Billy Mills|Colin Davis|Desir|Eddie Keizan|Greg Mills|Mike Pilbeam|Peter De Klerk|Sammy Davis|Sarel Van Der Merwe|Woolf Barnato|Nokia E75 Smartphone|Toyota Hilux|The 24 Hours|Formula 1|The Formula 1|Fluid Dynamics
© Reuse this
The drive behind this dream is Greg Mills, hobby racer, as well as director of the Oppenheimer-family-funded Brenthurst Foundation, which has the aim of strengthening Africa’s economic performance.
At Brenthurst, Mills’ responsibilities include running a number of presidential-level advisory groups, such as in Mozambique and Malawi. Mills joined the foundation after ten years as director of the South African Institute of International Affairs.
“Motorsport, at least at the top level, is seen today to be largely out of the reach of the ordinary guy,” says Mills. “Many people see it as a carbon-fibre, high-tech industrial venture, rather than a sport. We aim to prove two things with this effort. First, that with the right amount of application and determination, anything is possible. And second, that Africa should not be seen solely as an exporter of raw material and talent, but also a source of technology and innovation.
“There has never, to my best knowledge, been an all-South African entry at Le Mans. There have been a number of South African-linked drivers, such as Peter de Klerk, Sarel van der Merwe and Desiré Wilson,” he adds.
Africa has performed admirably in another motorsport venture, the Dakar Rally, coming third in 2012, and Mills says he hopes to underline and build on this success.
Mills and Pilbeam visited the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, organiser of the Le Mans 24-Hour, earlier this year to gain clarity on the race’s fast-evolving regulations, and to lodge notice of an African entry.
Mills says the venture had already made “much progress”.
Necessary finances have been raised for the engine development, the gearbox and engine installation, as well as the complex aerodynamic upgrades.
“About 80% of the advantage with modern sports cars comes from aerodynamics,” notes Mills. “This demands a lot of theoretical experimentation, using computerised fluid dynamics, as well as practical wind-tunnel time and testing.”
The design of the Africa car should be completed by the end of this year.
After examining a range of engine options, from five-litre V8s to smaller four-cylinder turbos, the team has decided to use a version of the (Dakar) Lexus 4.6-litre engine, which offers a good balance between horsepower, torque, reliability and local content. Lexus is a Toyota brand.
The engine is being developed by Ecurie Zoo, a band of technically minded volunteers in Johannesburg, says Mills. This team, along with some others, specifically recruited, will provide the necessary technical support. A number of South African expatriates working in the racing field overseas have also already volunteered their services, he adds.
Mills notes that Toyota Motorsport South Africa is also assisting in the engine development, through Hallspeed, which is ensuring the Dakar 2013 Toyota Hilux bakkies are race-ready.
The Le Mans team is, however, not sponsored by the local arm of the Japanese manufacturer.
Work on the engine fits in “with our overall ambition of making the effort as African as possible, with an all-African driver line-up and use of South African engineers and mechanics”, says Mills.
The driver line-up is not confirmed, he adds, and is unlikely to be until the end of next year.
“But, I can say it will be all-South African, and a blend of youth and experience.”
“Mike Pilbeam too, while not a South African, has a longstanding connection with South African motorsport, dating back to the 1960s – from his time with BRM, through the Wheatcroft Formula Atlantics in the 1970s, to Opel touring cars in the 1990s,” elaborates Mills. “He also has extensive contemporary Le Mans experience, having designed sport cars that have run there virtually continuously through the late 1990s and 2000s.”
To cement the continental link, the African Union (AU) has agreed that the car will be decked out in its colours at Le Mans in 2014.
Erastus Mwencha of the AU is one of the patrons of the initiative, along with former Formula One driver Eddie Keizan and Colin Davis, the Cape Town-based son of the 1927 24-Hour winner Sammy Davis, and a Le Mans regular in his own right in the 1950s and 1960s.
When it comes to costs, Mills says the team is trying to keep the budget as tight as possible.
“It would be a small fortune if one had to go and buy the car off the shelf. The cost cap for the LMP2 class is E355 000 for the car and E75 000 for the engine. But, we are doing it for a fraction of this, notably by carrying out much of the work in South Africa, and partly by modifying an existing chassis. Part of what we are trying to prove is that it can be done for less and that South Africa’s technical ingenuity can play a big part in reducing these costs.”
Mills says the team has not received financial support from the South African government, but adds that it has not asked for any –yet.
It is a global spectacle, with 250 000 spectators attending the race and 600-million people watching it on television worldwide.
There is an interesting early African connection to the race, notes Mills.
South Africa’s Woolf Barnato, son of the diamond magnate Barney, won Le Mans between 1928 and 1930.
The Mills connection to motorsport dates back to the Barnato era.
Greg’s grandfather, Billy Mills, was a South African record-breaker and Grand Prix driver in the 1920s and 1930s.
Greg himself was a South African karting champion in the 1980s, but had to suspend his racing activities in order to complete his university studies.
Nowadays Mills is a regular competitor in local and international historic racing series. In 2011 he participated in a curtain-raiser to the Australian Grand Prix in a race for Formula 5000 cars – in a car rebuilt in South Africa – running strongly in the top ten.
“Motor racing is usually viewed as a sport of drivers,” observes Mills. “But it demands a massive team effort to get them onto the grid. This particular initiative is more than that. It is intended to represent what is possible out of Africa.
“In so doing,” he adds, “it is a vivid illustration of Pliny’s 2 000-year old phrase, Ex Africa semper aliquid novi – out of Africa always something new.”
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter© Reuse this Comment Guidelines (150 word limit)
Other Automotive News
Updated 4 hours ago Thailand Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association (Tapma) president Achana Limpaitoon has expressed interest in partnering and forming joint ventures (JVs) with the organisation’s South African counterparts to grow the automotive manufacturing industries of both...
Updated 18 minutes ago Nigeria-focused oil and gas explorer Oando Energy Resources (OER) on Wednesday announced that it had completed the acquisition of the Nigerian upstream oil and gas business of New York-listed ConocoPhillips for a total cash consideration of $1.5-billion as well as a...
Updated 24 minutes ago The disciplinary hearing of telecommunications giant Telkom’s suspended CFO Jacques Schindehütte was set to resume next Wednesday. Telkom said it hoped the hearing would result in a definitive resolution on the matter of Schindehütte’s personal conduct after a...
Updated 41 minutes ago While unauthorised expenditure by South Africa’s municipalities has declined year-on-year, irregular expenditure has recorded a R2-billion increase as municipalities failed to follow legislated procurement procedures, the latest Auditor-General South Africa audit...
Recent Research Reports
Real Economy Year Book 2014 (PDF Report)
This edition drills down into the performance and outlook for a variety of sectors, including automotive, construction, electricity, transport, steel, water, coal, gold, iron-ore and platinum.
Real Economy Insight: Automotive 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the automotive industry over the past 12 months, including an overview of South Africa’s automotive market, trade figures, production and the policies influencing the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Construction 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the construction industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the sector and includes details of employment in the sector, infrastructure and municipal spending, as well as insight into companies’...
Real Economy Insight: Electricity 2014 (PDF Report)
This five-page brief covers key developments in the electricity industry over the past 12 months, including details of State-owned power utility Eskom’s generation activities, funding and tariffs, independent power producers and prospects for the sector.
Real Economy Insight: Road and Rail 2014 (PDF Report)
This six-page brief covers key developments in the road and rail industries over the past 12 months, including details of South Africa’s road and rail network and prospects for both sectors.
Real Economy Insight: Steel 2014 (PDF Report)
This four-page brief covers key developments in the steel industry over the past 12 months. It provides an overview of the global and South African steel and stainless steel markets, South Africa’s major steel producers and events that have shaped these markets.
This Week's Magazine
Multinational semiconductor chipmaker corporation Intel announced its national campaign to further acquire partners to drive its She Will Connect programme, an initiative that aims to expand digital literacy skills to young women in developing countries, further into...
South Africa's MeerKAT radio telescope array programme should get back on schedule within a few months. This assurance has been given by SKA South Africa (SKA SA) associate director: science and technology Prof Justin Jonas. Early last month, Science and Technology...
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA’s) Metrorail service will remain a subsidised service following its current multibillion-rand rolling stock, station, depot and signalling upgrade programme. PRASA group CEO Lucky Montana has allayed fears that...
The uncertainties around the remediation of affected areas as addressed in the Contaminated Land Provisions in the National Environmental Management: Waste Act No 59 of 2008 will possibly spark litigation and disputes between landowners and businesses, contractors...
South Africa is currently the largest component of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB’s) active portfolio in Southern Africa, comprising 62.5% of the bank’s $7.9-billion exposure to the 12-country region – the second largest beneficiary is Mauritius, which...