Analyzing and Driving the NASA/Elan NP01: The Ultimate Affordable Prototype
When you talk about prototype racing, images come to mind of the exotic, fast and unaffordable P class cars that race in IMSA,the P1 and P2 cars at Le Mans or the Daytona Protoypes of Grand Am. A lot of us have dreamed of racing one of these cars. However, Prototype racing is one of the most expensive racing classes and is usually reserved for corporations and OEM manufacturers that pump millions into racing programs as either part of a huge marketing campaign or as an extension of an R&D program.
Prototypes are complex and exotic machines that requires a highly trained group of mechanics, fabricators and engineers to set up, dial in and even just keep running at a venue. Prototypes are also extreme performance machines that only the best of the best can extract the maximum potential from. Because of this, the few privately owned prototype racers either languish in the car collections of the wealthy or putt around occasionally in vintage racing events.
This is all about to change with the introduction of the NASA/Elan NP01. The NP01 is a Prototype racer built to be affordable to those with more modest means. It is also built with durability, repairability, ease of maintenance and set up in mind. Perhaps the best thing of all was it was designed to look good, like a real prototype racer should.
The NP01 is similar in concept to the Radical SR3 and the 999 Motorsports Supersport MK2 in that it is an affordable prototype racer. The Radical is styled in the form of the open cockpit Prototypes and the Supersport in the form of GT class racers. The NP01 is reminiscent of a contemporary Prototype which to us is a hands down winner in the looks department. With an introductory price starting at $64,995 for a complete assemble yourself kit to $85,000 for a fully optioned out, ready to drive model the NP01 is a winner in the price department hands down. The Radical and the Supersport both start in the $109,000 price range. The NP01's price is much like the SCCA Enterprises Spec Racer Ford with a lot more performance in a much better looking, more contemporary package.
The NP01 will currently compete in NASA's NASA Protoype Series. It will probably eventually be eligible to race in several other classes from different sanctioning bodies. The NP01 is built for NASA by Elan Technologies, the builders of the DeltaWing and Panoz race cars among other things. The NP01 is engineered from the ground up as a no compromise dedicated race car. The main thing engineered in the NP01 is that it was also designed to have the same to cost to race as a Spec Miata!
In addition to fully functional front aero, the NP01 has what we thing is very important for drivers safety, a full front hoop roll structure and an enclosed cockpit. We have seen a couple of nasty fatal accidents when a roll hoop equipped car slid upside down in soft dirt where the roll bar dug into the ground until the driver was decapitated. A full cage and enclosed cockpit will go a long way in preventing this from happening. Despite looking small and compact we found the cockpit to be quite roomy and spacious and in our ride and drive, the cockpit accommodated quite large drivers comfortably.
The NP01 rides on economical and easy to get 235/40-17 Toyo RR tires. With its light 1450 lb weight and good suspension geometry it will be possible to get as many as 4 race weekends out of one set of tires depending on the track. Imagine doing your whole season on only 2-3 sets of tires!