Hubba, hubba, hubba.
Back in the early days of Formula One, Enzo Ferrari used to refer to the privateer teams originating from the UK as garagistas. He had little time for these ‘amateurs’ operating on modest budgets. An attitude that was to change over the coming years as the garagistas started to give the Prancing Horse and other works teams a run for their money.
And that spirit of the garagista has never died in the cradle of motor sport. Today here in the UK there are countless examples of individuals and privateer teams who, through their ingenuity, technical ability and sheer doggedness, have scaled almost unimaginable heights. Colin Chapman, founder and driving force behind Lotus being a prime example. And the Shaughnessy brothers, Ben and Aarron, are carrying on that tradition at Alto Performance Racing.
At this point we’d direct your attention to the picture at the top of this page. Yes it’s a motorbike. But what the more observant amongst you might have noticed is that it’s a very different motorbike. It has no front forks. Duh we hear you ask? Well check out the video above and you’ll see how the Alto Performance Racing Rage uses a swing arm to attach the front wheel. Looks a bit strange doesn’t it? But strange, it seems, is good. In fact very good.
The first bike they built in 2007 was developed over the following two seasons. In 2009 they ended up only 11 points shy of winning the National Thunderbike UK championship due to three DNFs. They say no one remembers who came second.
But in 2009 they did!
Now the Shaughnessys don’t lay claim to inventing the hub steering concept. That can be attributed to one Carl Neracher in 1918. In fact the well known Italian manufacturer Bimota dabbled with the concept for some time in the 1980s and 90s. But like so many Italian bike and car manufacturers of the time, and indeed later, their financial situation was parlous to say the least. Ironic really when you remember those demeaning words of Enzo Ferrari…Anyway the hub steer concept caught the eyes of Ben and Aarron who thought this was a great idea just waiting for someone to develop it properly.
But why go down this route in the first place? Ben explains.
“Instead of employing the classic fork, it is a technologically advanced aluminium central hub that means the wheel pivots on the spindle. This separates the steering system from the damping system to offer perfect handling in all situations. It also means the trail and the steering angle remain constant in all conditions creating more neutral front wheel handling when cornering and a more constant braking sensation. The steering concept is possible thanks to the DiFazio System created by the English designer in the 1970s. Anti dive is also a by-product as the brake and forces are removed from the suspension and instead are transferred into a more central area on the bike. We can using the brake anchor points make the bike dive, be neutral or rise under braking”.
So now fast forward to 2014 and the launch of the latest version of their racing prodigy called the Rage. Not content however with ploughing the hub steer path, this bike also introduces several other innovations. Check out the radiators mounted at the bottom of the engine. Ben’s self taught knowledge of aerodynamics (by the way he mentors in his non-existent spare time at Cranfield University) gave him one of those eureka moments that led him and the team to the realisation that this was the most logical home for these. And so it has proved.
In fact the more you examine the Rage, the more your appreciation grows for attention to design detail and execution lavished on the bike. You’d think in fact that it was a works entry with a large development team and a budget to match. But no. Alto Racing may have riches in abundance when it comes to ingenuity, but the reality is they are a very lean machine.
“Since the beginning not one member of the team has been paid a penny. Not a single penny. Any winnings are invested in developing the bike or in machinery needed in the workshop,” explains co-owner Ben.
Talking of which Ben is the chief mechanical engineer/designer. Brother Aarron covers all things electronic and electrical, including programming their traction control and their ECU. They do though always pool ideas and “discuss” them fully as only two brothers can!
“That and the support given to us by our sponsors is what keeps us racing”. Blood, sweat and tears is an oft used phrase. But in Alto’s case it’s true. For the want of a bigger budget their development timeline would be shortened dramatically. It would also enable them to complete the next development stage about which we have been sworn to secrecy. But it will be another truly significant step and one that will further cement their crown as the leaders of innovation in British bike racing. Any other sponsors out there?
“We know there are several people out there keeping a close eye on us. We’ve even had offers for the bike, as well as people asking us to build them a replica. But at this stage we are focused firmly on completing the next development stage,” says Ben. “Once we’ve done that and proved it successful, maybe we’ll take the odd order or two. Who knows?” We suspect if that were the case there may be quite a long line of customers lining up outside…
Meanwhile, they are pursuing a weight loss programme for a bike which already is no heavyweight. See that switch housing in the shot above? Well at Alto they think nothing of designing and machining their own brackets from aluminium billets (which incidentally are offcuts donated by a local specialist material supply firm). That way they can maximise strength and minimise weight.
That’s the kind of seriously obsessive attention to detail that even F1 design guru Adrian Newey would take his hat off to!
Time alone will tell how successful this latest development programme will prove, but we suggest you keep watching this space on NGKTorque as we track the team’s progress for the rest of this season. In the meantime if you’d like a closer look at Alto Performance Racing’s Rage bike, come to the NGK Pavilion at the Goodwood Festival of Speed where it will be on show.