Le Mans Radical
Plasma-sprayed ceramic coatings helped reduce the weight and increase the durability and efficiency of an LMP2 Le Mans race car.
When the Radical marque made its debut at the 2006 Le Mans 24-hour race, it was with a car that used technology originally developed by the nuclear energy industry to make it lighter, more durable and more efficient. Prepared by Rollcentre Racing, the LMP2 (prototype class) car used Zircotec’s ceramic coatings plasma-sprayed onto carbon composite panels (see Zircotec’s Composite Coatings ) as well as in the more conventional application of our Performance White™ exhaust coating.
Rollcentre boss Martin Short had already used the Zircotec high temperature coating on the exhaust manifold systems of a pair of Dallara-Judd V10 sports cars previously run by his team and had been impressed.
“Engine bay temperatures were reduced and we did not have a single exhaust manifold problem,”
he says. The advanced performance coating, already relied upon by five Formula 1 teams, helps to retain heat within the exhaust system, increasing engine power and protecting the bodywork and local components from extreme exhaust temperatures.
The Zircotec coating process, originally developed to help manage extreme temperatures in nuclear power stations, was used in two ways. The 421 Inconel exhaust system was plasma-sprayed with a ceramic thermal barrier to reduce thermal radiation. Due to LMP2 regulations the system is largely confined within the A frame, so heat build up could damage the local components and body panels and increase intake air temperature, which would reduce engine efficiency. The Zircotec coating manages all of these issues by dramatically reducing the amount of heat escaping through the side wall of the exhaust system.
A second challenge was that the hot exhaust gases are released from the pipes in a recessed area of the bodywork at the rear. It would be desirable to use carbon body panels in this area as they are much lighter, and easier to fabricate than stainless steel equivalents, but without a suitable thermal coating their use is impractical in this harsh environment.
Rollcentre switched from stainless steel to carbon panels plasma-sprayed using Zircotec’s high temperature coating specifically designed for this type of application. Unlike other ceramic coatings, the plasma-sprayed coating is capable of lasting several seasons, will not burn or flake, and retains its performance even in the harshest motorsport environment.
Plasma-sprayed ceramic coatings allow a motorcycle race team to handle hot exhausts with bare hands.
Bike racing brothers, Gary and Mick Smith were worried about the heat generated by the exhaust system on their Supermono class Honda racing bike. There was concern both for the rider and for the machine’s performance and durability, due to the exhaust being sited close to both the rider’s legs and to the bike’s radiator. A traditional asbestos wrap would solve the problem, but it would not be durable and its bulk would restrict airflow and make fast pit stops more difficult.
At the Autosport International Show at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, Gary and Mick approached Zircotec.
“We had read a few things about Zircotec in the show preview,”
recalls Gary, who discovered that the company’s plasma-sprayed ceramic coatings provided an excellent heat barrier solution to the team’s problem (see Zircotec’s Performance White™ coating). Their new, single cylinder, 450cc Honda-powered bike was scheduled to appear at the forthcoming London Motor Cycle Show so Zircotec agreed to apply the high temperature coating to the Milltek Sport stainless steel exhaust system in time for the event.
“We had it back in two days,”
says an impressed Gary.
The entire system was coated including the header and the megaphone. As well as protecting both rider and machine, the zirconia based ceramic coating allows members of the team to work on the bike the minute it comes into the pits. The laser guided thermometer that they use to check the temperature of the engine, radiator and tyres has indicated that while the exhaust can have an internal temperature of around 150ºC, the outside temperate can be low enough for it to be picked up.
“You can take the exhaust pipe off without using gloves,”
says Smith, who believes that this is one of the first, possibly the first, uses of the high tech performance coating on a motorcycle.
Zircotec ceramic coatings are light weight and highly durable, lasting up to three seasons in many motorsport applications. They can also help engineers deliver more power by reducing engine air intake temperatures.
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