|The CHeAPARRAL 2J-2 “sucker vette” story is about a group of engineers
who work for Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. This team challenged
themselves by putting to use many of the math, physics and other
scientific principles they've learned over their lifetimes to build a unique
car to compete in the national Grassroots Motorsports Challenge. Wild
ideas, sound engineering and resourcefulness led to a winning design and
later opened doors to meet a couple legends in the automotive world, Jim
Hall and Jay Leno (check out the "Leno and Hall" tab). As many race car
buffs will notice from our team name, our wildest idea was reapplying the
concept of active downforce, originally pioneered by Jim Hall and
Chaparral Racing in the 70’s. But we had to figure out how to adapt it to a
production car while only spending hundreds of dollars, and do it in a
couple of months!
|As Procter & Gamble engineers (our day jobs) we take pride in developing fairly complex machines that give us competitive
advantage and provide value to our customers. In many cases, we take standard machines and “soup them up” in performance,
usually adding higher speed and better reliability. Since many of us are also “gearheads” and enjoy performance vehicles, both
cars and motorcycles, this Challenge seemed like a great fit and a lot of fun. So for about 6 months in 2007, our night job (and
almost all of our spare time) became the Cheaparral project.
The original idea started out to build a high performance car for very little money, something along the lines of the Ariel Atom.
Our objectives were pretty simple; to have fun, learn new things and at the end, sell the car and donate the money to charity.
When we found out about the Grassroots Motorsports Challenge, the team became excited about the competition aspect, and
adopted this as our new project objective. This annual event, sponsored by Grassroots Motorsports magazine is held every
October in Gainesville, Florida. The event includes a quarter-mile drag race, an autocross race and an appearance judging
contest. Rules, schedule and spending limit (same dollars as the year; in our case $2007) all existed, making our task easier to
The team of 11 engineers started breaking down the problem to determine what aspects of the competition to focus on. Besides
the obvious ways to get more performance; less weight and more power, we wanted to build in some Wow factor. Based on the
scoring system, we felt the autocross race and hence handling/cornering was the key thing to go after. Our first job was to find a
base car for very little money (remember our $2007 budget) that could fit our needs. After an exhaustive search and many dead
ends, we finally stumbled onto a wrecked and totaled 1986 Chevy Corvette that we were able to negotiate down to $1,400. The
first task was to get it into running condition again inspected and re-titled, then evaluate its performance to figure out what
changes were needed. Over the next four months or so we transformed this onetime wreck into a curve carving monster. To
make a long story short (for a fuller story click on the “Plan of Attack” article in the May 2008 GRM magazine; link is upper right
on this page), the car dropped 400 lbs of weight and got twin turbos that added 60% more power. But the big deal and major
WOW factor was the addition of an active downforce system that could generate 1000 lbs of additional tire force to the ground,
enabling the car to handle an incredible 1.4 g’s of lateral acceleration in corners. Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2J race car may have been
the inspiration, but a lot of perspiration went into executing the idea on a shoe-string budget. The thing that made it all happen
was finding an Army surplus cooling blower from an Abrams tank, which coupled with a 40-horsepower engine from a snowmobile
found on eBay, generated the required vacuum under the car.
Based on some parking lot testing, we knew we had a pretty good car. And we also found a very good driver, Danny Popp. He’s a
local Corvette mechanic who races semi-professionally, and was crazy enough to agree to drive this howling beast. Now it was
time for Florida and see how we would fare against the other 50 teams from across the country. Our team goal was to finish in
the top 10, while getting a lot of attention, and maybe a magazine write-up. We certainly got the attention, and surprised everyone,
including ourselves, by winning every event, including the overall championship!
The uniqueness of the car and it’s success generated a lot of interest; resulting in 3 magazine articles, a local newspaper story,
local evening news coverage, as well as many blogs on car web sites. The plan from the beginning was to auction off the car for
charity. But before we did that, we thought the car could be a good tool to use for getting more young people interested and
excited in science and engineering. So the car went on the road for a few months visiting a number of schools, where we showed
the students how math and physics were used to design the downforce system, and then actually demonstrated it at work in the car.
Then to top it all off, the car was invited to visit Jay Leno’s Garage, as well as Jim Hall at his Chaparral Racing Museum. Not only
was it an honor to meet both of these legends; but they eagerly test drove the car, afterwards complementing the team’s great
work, and then put their signatures on the vette’s fuel door (which we hoped would help raise its auction value).
Fulfilling our last objective, the car was auctioned off on e-Bay late last year with 100% of the proceeds going to the local United
Way. We thank everyone who helped make it the second most viewed (over 114,000 viewers) auction during its listing time! It was
with mixed feelings that we said "Good-Bye" and "Good Luck" to the new owner. We thought that was the end of the Cheaparral
Months later, the new owner decided to focus on a new business opportunity, and offered us the opportunity to buy it back before
putting it on the open market. We reacquired the car to ensure it has a fitting retirement (plans still being discussed). In the
mean time, the car will once again be used as a tool to energize young folks on technical and engineering careers as it visits a
number of schools this fall. A list of dates and locations is posted on our "Other Events" tab.