THE CELICA

NZ Performance Car - - Meeting Leadfoot -

To most of you read­ing this, the Celica will be one of the more fa­mil­iar ma­chines in Rod’s sta­ble. Sure, he did plenty of great stuff ear­lier in his ca­reer, but the Celica re­ally ce­mented the Millen name in his­tory. To go out and smash the Pikes Peak’s over­all record by a mas­sive 39 sec­onds was a once-in-a-life­time achieve­ment, and, though I’m not a bet­ting man, I would drop $1K on a bet that this feat will never be re­peated.

To achieve it took a se­ri­ous pro­gramme, and there is no deny­ing it also took a huge bud­get with some se­ri­ous part­ners on board, in­clud­ing Toy­ota. Rod put to­gether a team of his best, as he ex­plained: “The bit I en­joyed more than any­thing was putting to­gether the group of peo­ple and sit­ting down with a some­what clean sheet of pa­per and com­ing up with what we could de­sign and build. We had been go­ing to Pikes Peak since ’81, not ev­ery year, but most. We had built a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent 4WD cars in the early in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion, NA [nat­u­rally as­pi­rated] and turbo cars, so we had a re­ally good group of peo­ple to work to­gether with.”

When build­ing a car for the Pikes’ Un­lim­ited Class, there re­ally was only one rule: the car had to re­sem­ble a man­u­fac­turer’s model. In the years be­fore­hand, the team had built big-power 4WD ma­chines, but, this time around, there was a new tool

Said Rod, “I had al­ways been a big fan of a 50/50 torque-split. If you look at a lot of the rally guys, they had th­ese ac­tive dif­fer­en­tials, ac­tive cen­tres, torque-split, and all that. I tried it with the 323 in the Asia-Pa­cific, but I still wasn’t con­vinced. My deal was, if I could pull all four tyres off the car and stack them up and not be able to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the front and the rear, then we had the chas­sis right. If they weren’t wear­ing equally, then it was an un­der- or over­steer­ing car. It’s pretty in­ter­est­ing now, if you look at all th­ese high­pow­ered Global Ral­ly­cross cars, they all have 50/50 torque-split, so I think the ac­tive diffs and all that crap [were] … smoke and mir­rors, quite hon­estly”

in the arse­nal, some­thing that would be in­stru­men­tal in the Celica’s suc­cess: aero­dy­nam­ics. “Lee Dyk­stra — a well-known guy in IndyCar cir­cles — and pro­fes­sor Joseph Cates out of the Univer­sity of San Diego, who was also well known, de­signed the aero. Yes, we wanted to keep the Celica-shape sil­hou­ette, which was im­por­tant to Toy­ota, but they took that shape and mor­phed it into what they needed to get the right aero­dy­nam­ics. It was all mod­elled on a Cray su­per­com­puter; th­ese days it would be much eas­ier [you can down­load and run more pow­er­ful pro­grams on your lap­top], but, 22 years ago, it re­quired a lot of com­put­ing power to look at what it would do.”

Be­ing forced to stick to the ex­te­rior shape meant that it was all about uti­liz­ing the un­der­side to get down­force. Two large ven­turis run from just be­hind the fire­wall, and exit the rear bumper. Re­mov­ing this air as ef­fi­ciently as pos­si­ble is the job of that large rear wing, and its pri­mary task is to cre­ate as much neg­a­tive air­flow be­hind the car as pos­si­ble. But, be­ing 4WD, it’s not all about rear down­force — frontal down­force is just as im­por­tant. This is also han­dled by large ven­turis, which take air from big front dams, through cool­ers, to exit via the rear of the front wheels.

Af­ter all the shapes had been mod­elled by the su­per­com­puter, Rod’s in-house team then pro­duced the car­bon pan­els, but time con­straints meant that, in the first year, some of the ac­tual plugs were run com­plete with ex­cess bog, some­thing Rod laughs about now.

Be­fore they ran at Pikes in ’94, the team spent time at 1220 me­tres, test­ing and refining the car’s lim­its in the El Mi­rage desert to prove the aero­dy­namic shapes, in what was, ef­fec­tively, a real-world wind tun­nel, as Rod re­called: “We then went to the El Mi­rage dry lakes in the Mo­jave Desert. We would do 100mph [161kph] passes in each di­rec­tion and mea­sure the ef­fects of down­force us­ing in­stru­men­ta­tion on the sus­pen­sion. Through­out the few days, we would do lots of lit­tle changes on the car to see what each ad­just­ment we would make to the car in terms of to­tal down­force or front and rear, and so on.” The Celica per­formed, cre­at­ing a mas­sive 907kg (2000 pounds) of down­force at only 161kph. And, from there on up, it’s not a lin­ear curve — it’s quite ag­gres­sive — and, by top speed (around 275kph), the car is cre­at­ing a mas­sive 1360kg. The Celica weighs 862kg, which means that, at only 161kph, it could eas­ily drive on the ceil­ing.

The next stage of de­vel­op­ment saw the team rent out Pikes Peak, some­thing Rod tells us you could do for three hours each morn­ing be­fore the pub­lic toll road opened. “When we started test­ing at Pikes Peak, I knew what we wanted in terms of roll stiff­ness front and rear, be­ing 4WD, and for han­dling and stuff

The man­i­folds and ex­haust are made from a su­per al­loy known as ‘ In­conel’, a su­per­strong and cor­ro­sion­re­sis­tant ma­te­rial used in ex­treme heat and pres­sure sit­u­a­tions. With 45psi of boost from the highly strung four­cylin­der, we would say the Celica qual­i­fies

like that at low speed, but I had no idea what it would mean at high speed. It took us quite a while to get the high-speed bal­ance right, which be­came the aero­dy­namic bal­ance. One of the big­gest things I had to change was my driv­ing style, as, the way the front ven­turis are shaped, I can’t have any more than about 15 de­grees of slip an­gle, or oth­er­wise it doesn’t load air prop­erly into the ven­turis and it doesn’t get the turn-in. Mod­ern race cars won’t even al­low that much slip, but they knew that we needed some slip, cer­tainly around the tight cor­ners. So, as long as, in my terms, I kept the car straight, it was very, very good.”

But the test­ing wasn’t just for Rod’s team; it was also used by BF Goodrich, which brought along five dif­fer­ent com­pounds to trial. Back then, the sur­face at Pikes was rough gran­ite. It was a tyre killer and run­ning only 10psi of pres­sure didn’t help. BF took away all the data and put to­gether a com­pound es­pe­cially to pro­vide max­i­mum grip and last the 19.98km and 156 cor­ners. Even with a spe­cially de­signed com­pound, it was still up to Rod to min­i­mize tyre spin, some­thing that was not easy with a wild (early 1990s-tech) laggy turbo and 635-odd kilo­watts. “Up near the top, they are get­ting pretty shagged,” he said. “With this sort of power on gravel roads, you spin the tyres real quick. Just learn­ing how to man­age that — there is 18 times you go back into first gear through the hair­pins, so get­ting off the hair­pins, which, in most cases, is a steep up­hill, you just have to be very care­ful on the throt­tle. Short shift­ing and get­ting it back in top gear as ef­fec­tively as you can, it’s easy to drive the thing wild and quite side­ways; it’s quite fun ac­tu­ally, but it’s not fast.”

The en­gine was the one area in the en­tire build, bar the tyres, that Rod’s team didn’t need to worry about. Rod ex­plained that the back­ing of Toy­ota, which made its very suc­cess­ful four­cylin­der turbo en­gines avail­able to the team, was a huge step up. Th­ese pack­ages had run in the IMSA se­ries with Dan Gur­ney and oblit­er­ated the likes of the V12 Jaguars and Porsches. They had also dom­i­nated in things like the 24 Hours of Day­tona. The mo­tor had a spe­cially cast block run­ning up­wards of 895kW in qual­i­fy­ing trim — TRD had de­vel­oped a mon­ster. Rod men­tioned that he

Pro­duc­ing so much down­force meant Rod had to bot­to­mout the shocks and ba­si­cally run the Celica on the bump stops at high speed, re­ly­ing on the tyres for some sus­pen­sion

re­cently chat­ted to the en­gi­neer in charge of the en­gines and was told that only one in five blocks cast ever made it into a car.

Would you be­lieve that that record-set­ting en­gine is still in the Celica to this very day? That was some­thing which cer­tainly sur­prised us, when you think just how highly strung it is. Said Rod, “When they ran th­ese en­gines, they never pulled them out if they were good. They had a his­tory; if they were re­li­able they were re­ally re­li­able, and if they were go­ing to fail they would do so very early on. So, they went on the ba­sis of just putting new mo­tors into those cars, and if it was good it was left in there.”

In the Celica, the en­gine was push­ing 45psi and 633kW, with Bosch en­gine man­age­ment the size of Michael Jor­dan’s shoe­box and a large-frame Gar­rett turbo. Dur­ing test­ing, TRD sent a team of tech­ni­cians to Pikes so they could fine-tune the set-up to cope with the al­ti­tude and still make the num­bers. Over the course of the run, the car would lose around 150kW due to the thin­ner air.

Well, we all know the rest. Rod went on to stamp his name into the his­tory books with a run of 1min 4.060s, and then, in 1996, he man­aged to shave a fur­ther .006s off the record. Thir­teen years later, the Celica still couldn’t be touched. Even when the team de­vel­oped the Ta­coma two years later — a car that Rod ex­plains as be­ing light years ahead of the Celica — it was not able to touch

the record, al­though it did take back-to-back Un­lim­ited Class vic­to­ries. It wasn’t un­til the course was 100-per-cent tar­mac in 2007 that the record was bro­ken, by Mon­ster Ta­jima.

It’s a lit­tle old-school tech now, but the Celica’s still got it. It’s a con­stant top-10 place-get­ter at the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed when it’s up there, and, here on Rod’s drive, it also re­mains king. And, de­spite what you might think, it’s not like Rod prac­tises in it ev­ery week. The only time it’s out is dur­ing the Lead­foot Fes­ti­val, and, even then, he doesn’t want to be too hard on the old girl, as he is try­ing to make it last a long time. But with the 100 years of Pikes com­ing up next year, there is talk of the car head­ing back, though Rod is not sure whether he can get the old gang back to­gether for one last hur­rah, and the Toy­ota would need work that might af­fect its mana as an un­al­tered piece of his­tory.

Rod comes across as some­one who does noth­ing by halves, and he is never just there to fill a place on a grid, so an ap­pear­ance would not just be a leisurely drive up the moun­tain. Even in his grace­ful old age, you can see the fire in Rod’s eyes — the same fire that I bet was there when he started run­ning hill climbs on Auck­land’s North Shore in the 1950s. If he does de­cide to go, you can be sure that he will be there to run some com­pet­i­tive num­bers.

Made en­tirely from car­bon, the ma­jor­ity of the body comes off in one piece to re­veal the tube frame

Sus­pen­sion- wise the Celica re­mains in gravel trim from ’ 94. The only changes have been to a road- rac­ing slick. Rod told us it could use a bit more roll stiff­ness to op­ti­mize the han­dling on tar­mac

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