"We started by getting the seat position where we needed it and then we custom-fitted everything else around Christian." Team fabricator Tony Palo explained. "It's crucial that Christian feels 100 percent comfortable and all of the controls need to fall readily to hand, especially the safety equipment such as the parachute release and the fire-extinguisher system. The steering wheel, pedals and shift button positions were all dictated by Christian."
Once Christian was measured and the fitting process was complete, the team concentrated on keeping the center of gravity as low as possible to minimize weight transfer and enhance traction.
"We have concentrated on keeping weight to an absolute minimum by using lightweight materials such as titanium and carbon-fiber as much as possible," said Norwood. "Any weight we have to carry, we try to position as low as possible."
A perfect example of this is the floor-mounted Tilton engineering pedal assembly. It weighs the same as a normal pedal assembly but the bulk of the weight is placed close to the floor. It's probably moved the center of gravity by a minute degree, but when you add it all up, the lower center of gravity will make a difference to the car's performance.
Another example is the positioning of the Penske front shock absorbers. The shocks are laid parallel to the ground under the front axle and are actuated by a custom-built set of rocker arms. To further decrease the weight, a set of custom-wound Titanium springs were manufactured by the Renton Coil Spring Company to NORAD specs.
"Renton has been awesome to work with." Norwood stated. "We needed titanium springs for the front Penske's as well as the odd-ball Fox shocks that we're using on the rear suspension. We supplied patterns and they wound the springs from titanium alloy to the exact specifications we needed."
The rear suspension is a unique system devised to allow enough room under the rear of the car for a massive carbon-fiber tunnel that was CAD designed by aerodynamics expert Dejan Matic to greatly enhance high speed stability without killing the top-end speed.
Motorcycle-style "swing arms" are mounted to the rear of the driver's compartment and a pair of lightweight Fox shock absorbers sourced from Fox's Mountain Bike catalog keep the rear-end under control. Not only is this system very rigid, it's also remarkably light. Once again, the center of gravity is kept as low as possible. The swing arms were fabricated in-house and NORAD's ace machinist, Tommy Todd, manufactured the spindles from heat-treated billet steel bar.
The steering rack was also selected with weight in mind. Supplied by Flaming River Products, the lightweight Mustang-based rack is mounted to the rear of the front-axle assembly with a set of custom-machined billet aluminum brackets. The rack was also put on a diet by the NORAD crew to shave a few ounces from the overall weight. To finish the steering assembly, a pair of Jerry Bickel universal joints were mounted on a custom shaft.
Finally, the floors in the NORAD Celica are entirely manufactured from carbon fiber except where the rules dictate that steel must be used. As with every other aspect of this ground-breaking machine, the quality is top-notch and the execution is impeccable.
Norwood's philosophy throughout this project has been to leave as little on the table as possible. In a sport where thousandths of a second can make the difference between winning and losing, Norwood is prepared to go to extreme lengths to save a few ounces or add a few mph.
"At the end of the day, I'm trying to push the limits in front-wheel-drive drag racing." Norwood said.
"The 2004 season will be very competitive and there are a lot of new cars coming out with a lot of new ideas incorporated into them. My job is to try and make sure that Christian Rado is leading the pack when the season comes to an end. If I compromise, I'm just shooting myself and the whole team in the foot. We're determined to win and if we have to push the limits to do that, then so be it."