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Rolex 24 at Daytona & Jim Downing Interview
Submitted by SuperUser on Tuesday, January 29, 2002 - 12:00am

There is an with Jim Downing over at Grand Am dot com. he answeres questions about his 4 rotor Kudzu cars, car setup, engine setup and the race tracks. It is an interesting read.

Coverage for this years Rolex 24 at Daytona on Rotarynews will be provided by Dave Girvan ( There should be at least
two four rotor Mazda Kudzu's running this year, along with various types of RX-7's. Dave has an all access pass and will be able to get real close to the
action. So, stay tuned to Rotarynews for all the action!

Paul Metzger-Oke Asks - What do you think of the Rolex Series going to Mont-Tremblant this year? Have you ever raced there before? Will you be racing there in September?
Jim Downing Answers - Well, I think it?s really neat that we?re going. I?ve never been there but my wife, Connie, when she was a motorsports journalist for Wheel Spin News in Canada, went there many times. She was even there when the great Brian Redmond did his back-over flip in his Formula 5000 car. I understand its been upgraded dramatically since then and is a lovely, safe new track. We?ll have to see whether I go or not. I?d love to. It?s a good excursion for those of us that love Canada.

Ray Smith Asks - What are your plans for the 2002 racing season for the 63 car?
Jim Downing Answers - We?re taking it one race at a time. We?re obviously going to do Daytona, and then look up and see what?s next.

Paul Asks - Why do you run the four-rotor engine instead of the five rotor as you did a few years ago?
Jim Downing Answers - We?ve never run a five-rotor engine. We have run the three-rotor engine and of course we wanted more power, so we ran the four-rotor program for Mazda?s GTO effort in 1990 and ?91. When that was over we acquired all the rest of the engines and moved up to the SR I -- well it was WSC then the SR I class with the four-rotor. It?s because racers like more power.

Jeff Fernald Asks - What is the horsepower output of your SP rotory engine and at what RPM does it achieve this?
Jim Downing Answers - We have peak horsepower at 8200 and it?s about 600. The problem with rotary, and why they don?t keep up with say a Lazzono Ford Riley & Scott, at that point is torque. The old saying goes, ?Horsepower sells cars and torque wins races.? They have somewhere in the neighborhood of 560... 70... 80 foot pounds of torque, or pounds feet as the technical people like to call it, whereas we?re running in the 410 range. So we have good horsepower and top-speed, but we don?t get off the corners as well

Mark Vavra Asks - How many years have you been coming to the 24 hours at Daytona (in any capacity) and what are your favorite aspects of the event?
Jim Downing Answers - My first venture was with the Mazda factory team in 1978 in an RX3 GTU car. I guess that?s been 23 years or so. I may have missed a year or two in there, but I can?t remember. The fun of it is that almost anybody can win down there. You do a good job in the shop and you prepare properly. And then you get drivers that know how to stay out of trouble and you can a have a very good result. As you know, we did last year with the great help of the Dyson team near the end of the race. That?s the unique aspect of the 24-hour racing; it sort of proves how good your guys in the shop are and how good the guy that designed the car is.

Matthew Roth Asks - How does the HANS device actually work?
Jim Downing Answers - The HANS device is held on by the shoulder straps and then two little tethers go into your helmet. In a hard wreck, those tethers keep your head close to your body, taking the strain off your neck. In a bad wreck, your head can weigh 1200 to 1400 pounds for a very short period of time, and that causes a severe whipping action, which puts load on your vertebrae. The HANS just reduces that load well below danger levels, as we?ve found out, even with Chris Pook?s son last weekend in a huge wreck out in Phoenix. He is perfectly okay. He does not even have a cracked vertebrae, opposed to what the initial report said. That?s how it works.

Carl Anderson Asks - What was the chassis difference between the SRP and SRPII Kudzu's that ran last year?
Jim Downing Answers - The SRP cars that I run, the four-rotor, are just beefed up a little bit for the greater horsepower and torque from the three-rotor. They are fairly similar in both construction and philosophy, but obviously we run bigger tires and have to have rear suspension and mounting points on it. Just a little bit more robust to take the power.

Ian Linn Asks - What was your progression (different series) through the ranks of sports car racing that brought you to racing the pinnacle - prototypes?
Jim Downing Answers - Well, I started like so many young people in my teens I raced gymkana in almost anything I could get my hands on. When I was 21, because you couldn?t race before you were 21 back in the dark ages, I bought an Elva Courier for $200 that had been totaled, spent a year and a half putting it back together, and started racing on a shoestring. I joined IMSA in 1974, and did that for 11 years at the invitation of John Bishop. When I called IMSA, they were so friendly and helpful that it convinced me that I should give it a try. As a young person coming out of very, very amateur racing, it was a big step. I discovered that in the first year of racing in the old RS series, which is similar to our Cup races now. I got more experience in one year than I had in the last six years in club racing. I went on from there and got sponsored by the Mazda factory for the next 20 years.

Tobin Smith Asks - I can't recall ever seeing anyone going into turn one too hard during the Rolex. Just how hard can you hit that corner without fear of driving through it? That has to be one of the most hair raising parts of the track.
Jim Downing Answers - You are approaching it at your highest speed, in my case we?re somewhere in the 186-187 range. I suppose the only thing that is worrisome about it is that if you should have brake failure braking at the last minute, it?s very difficult to recover. Once you?ve committed to the turn, you almost can?t even go straight and have a way to coast down to speed if you had a mechanical problem. That?s the worst thing. The rest of it is you making sure that you?ve learned where to brake properly, and if you do that, its really not that big of a deal.

Jim Battersby Asks - I race a 1964 MGB with the Rocky Mountain Vintage Racers. Even though we don't achieve the kind of speeds you do, would it be advisable to use a HANS device in our competition?
Jim Downing Answers - Well, as we?ve all learned from the in-depth Earnhardt report, Dale?s change of speed, they call it delta V in scientific terms; the change in velocity from when he hit the wall was only 43 mph. That?s as though he ran straight into the wall and stopped at 43 mph. You can easily do that in an MGB. You can even do that in a Formula V. Most of the time we don?t stop that quickly. We bounce off of things. We hit tires. Or we glance off a guardrail. But any of us that have had serious wrecks know that if you go straight in, you can hit at significantly higher loads than that. It?s sort of proved out by all the short tracks around the country where people have been seriously injured or killed. Where their top speeds are typically 90-95 mph. If they get cue balled into the walls where they hit at an acute angle, their change of velocity can be significantly higher than 43, which can easily kill you.

Jim McDevitt Asks - What type of preparation do you do concerning being well rested for the length of the race?
Jim Downing Answers - Most of us work out for months in advance. In bad weather we go to our local health club or YMCA and run on a treadmill and do various task specific exercises that have to do with racing for racers. You just do as much exercise as you can leading up to it, and the day before, you don?t do anything so you?re well rested. Then you just use common sense - eat properly and rest when you?re not driving.

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