discover why attention to detail is crucial in the world of motorsport engineering
In the heat of battle on the racetrack when cars are being pushed to their limits, it is vital that each component is up to the task.
Clearly engines and chassis have to be fine-tuned to deliver optimum performance, but they could not deliver without the same levels being achieved by individual
al parts and systems such as the exhaust, for example.
SS Tube Technology is a specialist exhaust supplier to the motor racing industry and a pioneer in the field.
Its unique selling point is its use of computer aided design (CAD).
It means bespoke exhaust systems can be built’ on a computer screen to precise specifications, down to the nearest fraction of a millimetre, before any metal work is considered, cutting down on time — design to finished product takes less than 40 hours – and, crucially, cost. Managing director Stuart Barron explained:
“The manufacturer supplies a CAD file of the exhaust ‘envelope’. Once we have got that then we can a generate a plan far more quickly than they can.
“We want to work with the chassis designers at a very early stage so we can optimise the position of the exhaust within the dynamics of the car.”
This level of technology means they are just one of two suppliers to the American lndy Racing League — oddly the other one is situated right on the doorstep at Indianapolis but teams seem quite happy to deal with SSTT on the other side of the world.
Mr Barron said: “I reckon we have got 70 per cent of the market. We work very closely with Honda Performance Developments in California which supplies the engines.”
The transatlantic connection is not as odd as it sounds. Many British engineers find their way onto the American track scene and with Oxfordshire being at the heart of ‘motorsport valley’, Mr Barron has a lot of contacts across the Atlantic.
SS TubeTechnology also has a representative in Indianapolis who helps with sales. That said, only about 50 sets of exhausts are provided to the Indy Racing League a year but results speak for themselves. SS TubeTechnology exhausts were fitted to the first five cars in the 2009 lndy 500 race, and eight out of the top ten.
Mr Barron said: “It is about quality. The minute you don’t supply quality and service, then you are out of the business.’ Closer to home, SS TubeTechnology works with Formula One teams — commercial confidentiality prevents them being named here — although a typical Fl cars exhaust costs about £4,500, hardly your average Kwik-Fit job.
“It is difficult getting into Fl but the business is regular as it lasts ten months of the year, whereas other forms of motorsport have a shorter season.”
Deadlines can be very tight in this business and It operates very much on a ‘just in time’ basis. Mr Barron believes the situation has worsened during the recession as people leave expensive decisions until the last minute.
“The deadlines are almost impossible and we do a huge amount of overtime.”
Other contracts for SS Tube Technology include the American Nascar series, where cars hurtle round an oval track at speeds of up to 180mph often four abreast; some of the Le Mans sports cars and the DTM touring car championship, where it supplies the Mercedes works team. About 70 per cent of work is exported.
Mr Barron, 61, has been in motorsport for most of his working life. He started working for tyre manufacturer Firestone and got into the racing division before joining the Brabham Fl team in a management role and then another racing manufacturer, Ralt Cars.
That business was sold to March Engineering and Mr Barron moved into the performance exhaust business with Good Fabrications based in Long Crendon, near Thame, where he became managing director following the untimely death of Steve Good in a helicopter accident in 1999.
For various reasons it did not work out and he spoke to a former investor in the March Engineering business, Steve Ward, who had just bought the Sutton Farm site at Sutton, near Witney. SS Tube Technology was established in a former grain store in 2000.
Such is the nature of the industry, in many cars no two exhaust systems are the same. Even when the chassis is identical, engines can be different, and vice versa.
As you might expect, the exhausts are not made of ordinary steel, but a material called Inconel 625, which was originally developed for aircraft and is still used on jets.
The advantage is that it is very strong, can cope with extreme temperatures but can also be used at thicknesses of just half-a-millimetre. That is vital as the exhaust can be just two millimetres away from a major component.
With this attention to detail, it is little wonder SS Tube Technology is a leader in its highly-specialised field and, even in these difficult economic times, business is extremely healthy.
The firm is looking to add to its 15 staff, particularly as it is opening a new heat shielding section with stainless steel micropore fibre being developed to keep heat levels down around the exhaust. Again CAD will be used to design the system.
SS Tube Technology has been chosen as the exclusive heat shielding supplier to the Indy Racing League next season.
Mr Barron said “We have a good customer base and a product which is at the cutting edge of technology in this sector.”