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Chaparral
2j

AT ROAD ATLANTA, VIC ELFORD appeared in the 2J Chaparral, the revolutionary 'ground effect' vehicle produced by the fertile brain of Texan Jim Hall. The ride had become available for a number of reasons, not the least of which was because original driver Jackie Stewart had become unavailable. In addition, and of considerable importance, was the fact that the car needed extensive testing and sorting by someone who would be prepared to stay at Rattlesnake Raceway to give the project the time it deserved. Elford seemed to fit the role admirably. Any chance he may have had of a Formula 1 ride had disappeared and, with Porsche having already salted away the Group 5 and 6 crown, little remained for him to do! Needless to say, he jumped at the opportunity to drive the car, and subsequently planned to spend the rest of the season in Ametica to do the Chaparral programme justice.

After Elford had taken the pole position at Road Atlanta, I managed to corner the personable Londoner for his reactions on driving the world's largest vacuum cleaner, and his comments cast a little more light on the phenomenal roadholding capabilities.

CAR: I'd like to get your impressions on driving the Chaparral. I'll leave it to you where to start but, perhaps, the handling would be the most obvious.

Elford: Well, the main difficulty was actually psychological, because the suction device-the way it sucks the car on to the ground increased the cornering power and cornering ability to such an extent that you know that it's just not possible that the car can go around any corner at that speed! The cornering speed is an unreal feeling, it's unbelievable, and adapting to it mentally is very difficult because no other car has ever gone round corners as quickly as this one, I'm sure, and that goes for any car!

Have you ever driven anything that anywhere remotely approaches this cornering power?

No-nothing at all-even a single seater doesn't stick to the road as well. Maybe a Formula 3 car does, but that's very under-powered so it's not going fast anyway. There's no other car I've ever driven that even approaches this sort of feeling.

What about the automatic transmission?

It works very well. I drove it down in Texas before the race for about 70 laps, and it was working well, but a bit stiff and heavy to operate. As you know, it's a three speed automatic box with a manual change. I think, though that it was just a problem with the actual linkage, because it's smoothed out now and the change is very comfortable and very easy. .

Having driven the two new radical machines this year­Don Nichols' AVS Shadow, and now, the Chaparral is there any basis of comparison between the two?

None whatsoever! The only way the two are remotely connected is that they are both new conceptions of automobile design. That's all!

What about the car's stability - the ability to resist taking off on, let's say, blind brows, that sort of thing?

The stability is the product of the downthrust on the tyres, so it helps in the circumstance you mentioned. I can't compare it with any others because I haven't driven any of the other cars on this track. Through the two very fast swerves coming back toward the pits-nine and 10 I think they are it's very, very stable indeed. I followed one of the faster cars through there earlier, and it was definitely a lot more unstable than the Chaparral. On braking, this down thrust helps a lot, because, though it gives you more weight to stop, it also gives you more pressure on the road to stop it with!

I imagine it would also relieve a bit of the weight transfer - from the rear to front on braking, wouldn't it?

It seems to, yes. You do notice there has been a transfer of weight slightly when you put the throttle back on again, then the car leans slightly backward, so obviously there was a weight - transfer on braking, but it's not as noticeable as it is with most cars, Another great thing about the car's handling characteristics is that it doesn't allow the handling to change as you go through a corner.

In other words, it remains constant. . .

Yes, it remains absolutely constant, whether it's set up to understeer or oversteer - whichever way it's set- it remains like that at all times, whether it's a slow corner or a fast corner or a fast swerve or anything, It remains absolutely constant.

You mentioned getting acclimatised to the car psychologically. Are there- any physical aspects of the car that you have to get used to?

Not really. The higher g force on your body in a corner is a minor thing actually, but the steering is a great deal heavier than on a conventional car. I don't even know what the limit of adhesion is - I haven't been brave enough to find out yet- I think it's going to take a long time. With any conventional car, once you approach the limit of adhesion, the whole car starts to feel unstable, however good the car may be. There is no apparent feel. of this with the Chaparral at all. I'm sure I must be approaching the limit of adhesion in some places- I know I am because the back does start to come out on the way out of corners, but only a few inches. When it reaches this point, however, it's still absolutely stable. There is no feeling of fear involved, or apprehension that you might have to start twiddling with the wheel. Because of this stability, the fact that the steering is a bit heavier than most cars doesn't really matter because you haven't got to play around with it. You just go down. the straight and turn it slowly and steadily in one sweep into and through the corner and then come out straight again. You know you don't have to start playing a couple of inches from lock to lock as you do with any other car when it's on the limit.

How long will it take you to develop the confidence to get the best out of the car?

In terms of time, I wouldn't even like to guess or give an estimate. In terms of experience with the car, I would guess one race would be sufficient because I've learned to drive new cars fairly quickly. But I think unless you spend a great deal of time in a car in testing, then you learn more in one race than you can learn in a whole week of running around on your own. I really believe this, When you've got competition that's when you find yourself side by side with other competitors, or trying to catch up with them, or trying to get away from them that's the time when you concentrate more on the competitive side than on the physical driving side, and it's then that you find the limits.