Norwood is happy to reveal all. The engine is mounted longitudally, like a rear-wheel-drive car. This means the front of the chassis can be as narrow as possible and makes room for the big tires. Behind the engine is a five-speed Lenco with a 1:1 transfer gear to send the drive back towards the engine. A short driveshaft transfers the power into a funny-car-based rear-end assembly that is mounted on top of the transmission. From that point there are two options: either a pair of CV driveshafts to the front wheels or, as Norwood will use on this car, a solid front axle.
Norwood is happy that this setup will handle any amount of abuse without failing, saying that it just takes common sense. The Lenco is capable of handling up to 2500 hp. The rear-end assembly will handle that and more, and the axles are the same. He's trying to take transmission failure out of the equation.
The air-shifted Lenco will also make life easier for Christian Rado. Once the car is rolling Rado will push a button for each shift. Faster, smoother shifts are possible because of the internal adjustments in the clutch packs of the planetary Lenco.
Unfortunately, the Lenco will absorb a higher percentage of power in comparison to a conventional transmission, but Norwood is confident the power loss is not an issue. The four-cylinder 3RZ engine that powers Rado's current car is a great engine for a lot of reasons. It has a perfectly square design, so it can really rev. It's a large engine, at 2.7 liters, with the potential to be a 3.0-liter, and it's virtually bulletproof.
Norwood explains, "Currently, Chris' engine develops more than 950 hp at the wheels and he is really not revving it nearly as much as it could be with a few minor changes in the valvetrain. I have started a development program on the motor and I am confident that we can make at least 1,300 hp, so I don't think we will miss a few percent of drivetrain loss within the transmission."
Another key to the performance of the NORAD Toyota Celica will be weight. Norwood is fanatical about bringing the car to within a few ounces of the class rules.
Norwood's fabricator and future joint crew chief, Tony Palo, is the man responsible for shaving off every possible ounce in the quest for more performance.
Palo, former longtime crew chief for Kenny Tran, will go to any lengths to save weight. He's looking at every single aspect of the new car. If he can save a few ounces by using a thinner tube or a gun-drilled bolt, he will. If it's not a load-bearing part, it's going on a diet. If he can use titanium, Inconel, or composites, then that is the way it will be. If he can make it smaller and lighter, he will.
Every extra pound is costing time on the track, and the members of Team NORAD are not going to leave anything on the table. Their aim is to end up with a car that is below the weight limit so that they can then add the weight where they want it to fine-tune the chassis.
This single-minded sense of purpose is echoed by Keith Goslin, Rado's current crew chief and future joint crew chief of the NORAD Celica. Says Goslin, "When you are constructing a car from scratch, especially one as radical as this one, it's important to make sure that driver safety and comfort are at the top of your list of priorities. We are going to extreme lengths to make sure that this car is not only the fastest car out there, but also the safest. I have been with Chris for a long time now and I know exactly what he wants from a car. It comes down to the small stuff: seat position, angle of the pedals, location of the switches and so on. We will make the transition as smooth as possible so that Chris has a much easier learning curve when he straps into the new car. As radical as the design is, we still need to make sure that Chris feels at home from day one."
Christian Rado is eager to see the finished project. He feels it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that will change the sport. His expectations are high, but he believes the team has got a talented group of people working to make the dream a reality. All he wants to do is strap in and haul ass, so it'll be a long wait for him until testing begins in January 2004.
We've merely skimmed the surface of the planning and construction of the NORAD Pro FWD Toyota Celica. Thanks to Bob Norwood and Christian Rado's open-door policy, over the next few months Turbo magazine will chronicle the design, construction and testing of what should be the most radical leap forward in front-wheel-drive drag racing yet.
Strap in and hold on. Working on the leading edge usually produces fireworks.