When Christian Rado first approached Bob Norwood about creating a new, ground-breaking Pro FWD Toyota Celica, Norwood had already given such a project a great deal of thought. The FWD Class rules allowed for a certain amount of innovation, and Norwood had some new approaches he was eager to put into practice.
With the project given the green light by Rado, Norwood started brainstorming with his engineers and the car started taking shape. One of the key areas for Norwood to put his radical thinking into practice was the chassis and, in typical Norwood fashion, the 2004 NORAD Toyota Celica is a radical departure from anything that has been constructed to date.
Starting with a clean sheet Norwood had several aspects of the car to consider before he started bending and welding tubes.
"We had to come up with a design that was within the structure of the rules and would still allow us to introduce some new approaches to FWD drag racing design." Norwood explained. "My first consideration was suspension design. I really felt that a lot of traction could be gained by utilizing a true four-link suspension at the front and it would also allow me to integrate a pro-stock 9-inch Ford rear-end. This will allow us to adjust the traction characteristics of the car and also give us a bulletproof final-drive assembly. At the rear, I wanted to use massive tunnel to give the car aerodynamic stability and this would dictate the suspension design to a certain degree. I also wanted the car to be as rigid as possible; I'm still amazed at the amount of flex in some of the cars that are competing in our class."
The huge 16-inch front slicks meant the front section of the chassis would have to be narrow to allow for the steering axis and as a consideration to the crew in the light of minimal service time between rounds Norwood also wanted the engine and transmission to be serviceable in situ and easily changeable in the event of a total failure.
"Drag racing is hard on parts and the easier it is to service the car the better." Norwood, master of understatement, explained. The chassis also had to be SFI 25.1E certified; unfortunately for Norwood, this meant that the original plan to utilize a center-drive position had to be ditched as there are no SFI specs for a center-drive full-bodied chassis.
"I was a little disappointed to say the least," Norwood said. "I really feel a center drive position would be far safer and would also allow for better driver visibility. In the end we have no choice but to comply with the existing regulations but this is something that I think needs to be re-thought."
The rules also dictated other facets of the cars design. The wheelbase of the car has to be within six inches of the stock chassis. In the case of the NORAD Celica this means that the wheelbase will be stretched to 108.3" for maximum stability.
Ground clearance must be a minimum of three inches to a point twelve-inches behind the centerline of the front wheels. Rearward of that point, the ground clearance must be a minimum of two-inches. In the interest of maximizing the aerodynamic properties of the NORAD Celica, the chassis was designed to comply to this rule with millimeters to spare.
The final consideration for Norwood's design team was the weight of the car and as we will reveal, extraordinary lengths would be called for in an effort to get the weight of the race-ready car as close as possible to the 1,650-pound minimum.
As with every other aspect of the car's construction, the team started by outlining the requirements of the rules on paper. Then the ideas the team wants to include are added and a heated discussion invariably follows in which the engineers involved in the project figure out what is realistic and how it will be done.