I’m not a racer. Not a real one, anyway. I am a frequent flyer at local arrive-and-drive karting tracks, but that’s a different story. As a racing fan, NASA’s Elan NP01 caught my attention a few months ago. While recently at Gateway Motorsports Park on business, I was very happy to have a chance encounter with one. Up close and personal.
Being relatively new on the scene, I’m pretty sure that the NP01 is generally unknown by the average motorsport fan. This Mazda powered prototype, however, captured my interest when videos circulated on social media.
The car was developed when NASA approached Elan Motorsports Technologies to design and build an affordable prototype race car. It fulfills its mission through tube frame construction (no carbon) and smaller body bits that are less costly to replace than large panels. If the Elan name rings a bell for you, it’s because the Braselton, GA company was founded by Don Panoz of ALMS fame.
No, I didn’t get to drive it. I’m sure I would require a good deal of training before I’d be capable of wheeling this beast around a track with any degree of finesse. Still, climbing into the cockpit (which required its own set of instructions ) was an interesting experience.
Having properly installed myself, I noticed a few things. This was my first experience getting in anything other than a production-based race car. The seating position is more laid back than I’d expected and the driver’s feet are at about the same elevation as the waist. Shifting (the gearbox is sequential) is accomplished with a stick on the right, while brake bias is adjusted with a knob on the left side of the dash. I also noticed that the splitter was fairly beat up, with a spare in waiting. Just one of the many expenses related to our beloved sport.
Powered by a 185 HP, 2.0-Liter Mazda MZR Engine, the spec sheet shows the car to be capable of a top speed of 155 MPH. I’m told that it’s capable of nearly 2 Gs in the corners with the right tires. I’m also told that the steering is pretty light under a load. Interesting facts, but I doubt I’ll ever have firsthand experience.
Some of the several options offered for the NP01 are choice of dash, cool suit system, defogging and headlight package. This particular car did not have the lighting package, as the owner has no plans for endurance races.