INSIGHT: Ron Tauranac on Chapman, Brabham

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INSIGHT: Ron Tauranac on Chapman, Brabham

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Ron Tauranac on Chapman, Brabham


Q: It’s probably just as well that you didn’t, or you might not have gone through with it.

RT: That’s right, yeah. Well, right through life things have happened like that. Like when I sold Brabham, Colin Chapman got on to me and offered me a job there. I accepted, and he came down in his plane and flew the family up to find a school and a house for the kids, and all that was done. Then on the Monday morning, after we’d spent the weekend up there, he rang up and said, ‘Can we put it on hold for a little while?’ He had to sort something out with his staff, because I think the chap there that had come from BRM wanted the job of top designer.

So I just said to Colin, ‘Well, if you can have second thoughts, I can.’ And he thought that was a ‘no’, so we did nothing more until he asked if I could come and race engineer one of his cars at Mosport in Canada, which I did. And then by chance, Larry Perkins drove up with a car and a trailer in my driveway and asked if I’d have a look at it and see if I could recommend some improvements.

I wandered around it and said, ‘Well, I think it would be easier to start again,’ and he said, ‘Well, let’s do that!’ My wife wanted to get me out of the house, because I’d always worked seven days and five nights and now I was home most of the time, except for a bit of consulting work. She saw a factory advertised and that was the start of Ralt, so all of these things are a little bit by luck.

Tauranac chats with Colin Chapman, journalist Jabby Crombac and Ronnie Peterson at Mosport in 1972. Tauranac had been offered a job by Chapman only to have the offer withdrawn, prompting him to start Ralt. At its peak, Ralt was among the biggest open-wheel constructors in the world. Image by Motorsport Images

Q: So there is no regret that things didn’t work out with Chapman?

RT: No. Who knows, you never know what the other side of it would have been. But I think it was far better to do my own thing and do Ralt, because that became bigger than Brabham, really. I think at Brabham we made about 550 customer cars, and then at Ralt, over 1000. I think the total of the two was up around 1650.

Q: Is there a common philosophy across your cars?

RT: There are a few things, yeah. Particularly after the first Ralts, I realized that control of the tire contact patch was very important. Even if you really didn’t know where you ought to make it move, it had to be rigidly attached to the car, and be very consistent with its movement.

So that made it consistent in handling, and gradually I realized that it was important that, because of the varied caliber of mechanics, that you needed to make the car consistent in its setup. So if you altered, say, the camber, it didn’t want to alter the toe-in. And if you altered either one of those, say on the rear suspension, you didn’t want to alter the corner weights.

Corner weights weren’t that important back in the Brabham days. It was only when the cars got much stiffer and the ground effects came in that it became very important. So that’s when, in the Ralts, when you designed it you realized you didn’t want to screw up the corner weights. Everything was independent adjustment.

The other thing in the earlier days was where you put the roll center and the roll center movement. It needed not to jump around and not to move laterally across the car unless you particularly wanted it to do it. And in doing that, I tried to make the car so that if you liken the handling of a car to a globe, you could be anywhere around the top and it was still going to work alright. Whereas if you made it like an ice cream cone, you might get much better handling if you’re on the peak, and if you fell off the edge because of someone not setting it up right, it didn’t handle. So that was my philosophy. Not to make the quickest possible car with Michael Schumacher driving it, but to make something that everyone could drive.

Q: Do you think your approach might have been different had you focused on designing and building F1 cars rather than customer cars? Would you have been less conservative?

RT: I don’t know. The Formula 1 cars seemed to work all right, and there wasn’t a problem there, and our Indianapolis car worked fine. That was always built in a big hurry — we didn’t know we were going to do it until Christmas, whereas other people started the year before. So we had to rush over there with the car.

The first one I did, (Mario) Andretti drove. His mechanic … I think the chap that had the Brabham, crashed it and it needed a repair. And Andretti’s mechanic offered to repair it if they could make a copy. So they made two copies, and that became Andretti’s car that he won [the] Indy [championship] in. And it went on from there.