Article by Michael Cohen
Photos by Gary Ambrus and Michael Cohen
Eight consecutive ALMS GT 1 manufacturer and team championships, seven straight drivers’ championships, six GT 1 class championships at the 24 hours of Le Mans, first overall at the 24 hours of Daytona, seven class championships at the 12 hours of Sebring……amazing accomplishments……all achieved with Chevrolet Corvettes built and prepared by Pratt & Miller Engineering of New Hudson, MI.
Board member Diana Eblenkamp arranged a tour of Pratt & Miller’s facilities on Saturday March 5. We were greeted in P & M’s airy, modern race car and trophy filled lobby by Diana and Doug Fehan, GM Racing Program Manager and architect of all the victories listed above.
Doug was our congenial, patient and informative tour guide. He led us through all of their design, manufacturing and assembly operations as we watched crews preparing two yellow Corvette C6R’s for the March 19, 2011 Twelve Hours of Sebring, as well as the constructing of two new Cadillac CTS V’s for the upcoming SCCA World Challenge GT series.
Doug explained that to build the C6R, Chevrolet ships a bare aluminum Corvette chassis from Bowling Green, KY; all other pieces of the car are constructed in house with the exception of the engine and paint which are outsourced. Virtually every part from the brakes, springs, shock absorbers, instrumentation, engine, transmission, gearing wheels, tires , body panels, seat, carbon fiber pieces gas tank roll cage and more are all unique; many are designed in conjunction with Chevrolet and then prototyped , built and assembled by Pratt & Miller. Additionally, driver safety is a highest priority for both Chevrolet and P & M and the company has developed a unique driver’s side protection system much like the soft barriers used at a race track. When completed, the cars may look like Corvettes, but in fact they are purpose built race cars which cost $1,000,000 each to construct.
As we walked through the building it became obvious that the facility was immaculate. Everything was spic and span and highly organized – all parts were labeled and catalogued. The highly skilled employees were friendly and proud to be part of such a successful and exciting organization.
Every operation from the design and manufacture of parts, to simulated wind tunnels which determine the best configuration for the rear wing to generate maximum down force in the corners and minimum down force on the straights is done with ultra sophisticated computers. Shock absorbers are designed and modified via computer simulations which test their performance in every corner of every track where the car is scheduled to race.
The vehicle transporters are as immaculate and state of art as is the rest of the P & M operation. Each of the two transporters to be utilized for the 2011 ALMS season carries one race car plus enough spare parts to build three more cars. Additionally, there is an office as well as a computer game room where drivers can shut the door and practice driving on computerized race courses. A third transporter carries the paddock tent, a machine shop, tools as well as eighteen flat screen TV’s. Each transport driver is responsible for loading his rig. He works off a check list and it takes one week to complete the task.
Cameras are set up around the track and continuous action is sent back to the eighteen TV’s which are monitored by the crew and race support staff. During a race there is three way communications among the crew/support staff, the driver and back to P & M headquarters in New Hudson. The staff at New Hudson can immediately provide technical assistance if needed.
In addition to their race activities, Pratt & Miller designs tactical military vehicles and provides top level security systems for the military. They also have a vehicle restoration department where customers can have their vehicle completely restored or customized.
The tour was exciting and informative. It put into perspective just how sophisticated auto racing has become and what it takes to create winners.