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HINDSIGHT – WM PROJECT 400


tested again when WM team manager, Gerard Clabeaux, arranged an attempt on a public road speed record. The car was trailered to a new, and as-yet unopened, stretch of the St Quentin – Rheims autoroute, near the town of Laon. The record attempt would be covered by the French TV station, TF1, with one camera on the car and another above in a helicopter. As they prepared the car,


The Le Mans scrutineering hoist reveals the WM’s exhaust blown, low drag, low downforce underwing


recall the precise figures but, with larger tunnels and a shorter flat floor than the LMP cars have today, the P400 cars had much better aerodynamic stability, especially over bumps.’


AERO ADJUSTMENTS There were two main aero adjustments that could be made at the front of the car. Firstly, different length nose splitter panels could be fitted. Secondly, the team could also adjust the extraction of the air from inside the front wheelarches. ‘This was very sensitive,’ says Soulignac. ‘It was quite similar in principle to what the LMP cars have today in that area. On our car the bodywork covered the forward part of the front wheels, but they were open at the rear and adjusting the extraction of the air in this area had a high influence on front downforce. To make adjustments, we had different lengths of small deflectors that were mounted on the inside rear wall of the wheelarch.’ As low drag was a priority


for the Project 400 car, it might be assumed that the rear wing was used as a trimming device, rather than an important provider of downforce. ‘The car could probably have run without a rear wing,’ says Soulignac, ‘but we found it was necessary to achieve a good front-to-rear aerodynamic balance.’ The wheelbase of the P87 was 150mm longer than the P86, the difference between


38 www.racecar-engineering.com • July 2012


WM engineer, Vincent Soulignac: ‘I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem to have gone 420km/h’


the two being accounted for by the fact that the P87 had the oil reservoir positioned in front of


P87 was the first WM with electronic fuel management,’ explains Soulignac. ‘It was a very expensive step for our small team and, to be honest, we didn’t have enough money to make it work properly. Engine management was a big problem for us throughout the P400 project. It wasn’t the quality of the parts, it was the cost, and we didn’t have enough funding. When you are a team of unpaid volunteers, the cost of parts is the main expenditure. At that time, the cost of technology in Group C was increasing greatly and we couldn’t keep up.’ Despite the engine problems,


on one of his few flying laps, Dorchy passed through the Mulsanne speed trap at 356kmh (221mph), some way short of the target, but heading in the


“a team supporter offered to let the team siphon 30 litres from the tank of his Renault 5”


the engine, which added 70mm. A new bellhousing between the engine and gearbox added the other 80mm.


EXPENSIVE STEPS At the test weekend for the 1987 Le Mans 24 Hours, the WM P87 was plagued with engine management issues and could rarely complete more than one or two successive laps. ‘The


right direction – a feeling further reinforced by the fact that the P87 subsequently completed a total of more than 1000kms of trouble-free testing on the short Le Mans Bugatti circuit and at Michelin’s Clermont-Ferrand test track, the latter of which included a 1km straight.


On June 4, nine days before the 1987 Le Mans race, the speed potential of the P87 was


the team realised they had left the fuel behind and, with no service stations on the new road, there was no nearby supply. Fortunately, a team supporter offered to let the team siphon 30 litres from the tank of his Renault 5. Then Roger Dorchy, the intended driver for the record attempt, was delayed in traffic and so, with the weather looking threatening, Clabeaux turned to François Migault, who had come along to watch. He was strapped in to the P87 and on the first run, intended merely as a warm up, passed through the police radar speed trap at 416kmh (258mph) and the record was broken. Although Dorchy did finally arrive a short time later, rain prevented any further running. On the second practice day


for the 1987 Le Mans race, the WM team’s own speed radar clocked Dorchy in the P87 at 407kmh (253mph), but the ACO system only credited the car with 381kmh (236mph), though that was still enough to establish a new record. Dorchy’s vow to officially break the 400kmh barrier in the race was scuppered by engine failure. The low quality of the ACO’s central fuel supply, which affected a number of cars during that year’s race, killed the P87’s PRV V6 engine after just 13 laps.


When the WM team returned


for the 1988 race, it had two Project 400 cars, including a new P88 version that featured improvements to its chassis, suspension and aerodynamics. The P88 rear suspension changes were also incorporated into the P87, allowing the use of wider Venturi tunnels. Both cars were equipped with 3.0-litre displacement engines developing over 900bhp at full boost as the team again set their sights on the 400kmh barrier…


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