Masters of endurance

Gibson Technology has left its mark on the development of motorsport on multiple occasions over the years. Today, the Derbyshire manufacturer is one of the leading race engine suppliers for the FIA World Endurance Championship

Along and successful history of innovation in motorsport has catapulted Gibson Technology amongst the leaders in the design and manufacture of race engines for endurance competitions. Known for much of its existence as Zytek Engineering, the Repton-based company changed its name to Gibson Technology in 2014 to honour its founder, Bill Gibson, when Continental Engineering Services bought the electric vehicle side of the business – Zytek Automotive.This left Gibson as the only shareholder in Zytek Engineering, the part of the company that deals with the design and manufacturing of race engines.

Gibson Technology’s Operations Director, John Manchester points out at the latest highlights enjoyed by the business:“After the changes, we secured a contract from the FIA to supply engines to all of the LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype) cars from 2017 until 2020, and at the beginning of 2018, we signed new contracts with two LMP1 teams – Oreca/Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed, to provide them with engines for the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) 2018-19 Super Season.The former will have two cars at the event, while the latter will compete with one.”

compete with one.” Zytek was founded in 1982, and at first, it specialised in designing and manufacturing engine management systems. A year later, it introduced the first ever digital control system to Formula One, used by the Toleman-Hart team. In 1984, the system proved its merits, as it helped the legendary Ayrton Senna to finish second at the Monaco Grand Prix – an early highlight of what was destined to be an illustrious career. “Zytek Engineering was founded in 1987 producing engines for Formula 3000 and secured an exclusive contract to provide all the engines from 1996 to 2004,” John notes.“Then, in 2002, we created a chassis division and began building our own cars, alongside the engines. About that time, we also moved into the electric vehicles market, and we produced the first hybrid to run at Le Mans in the early 2000s.This side of the business grew to a point when it was at least as big as the motorsport division, if not bigger, before being sold to Continental Engineering Services.”

In 2016, Gibson Technology was selected as the single engine supplier for LMP2 class sports cars, and it certainly lived up to the expectations by providing 31 cars with Gibson engines throughout the 2017 season. This included a record number of 25 cars using a Gibson engine that started the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923, and often referred to as the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency’.“Twenty-one of our cars finished the race, and the four that did not were not due to any technical issues with the engine. I think that over the course of the event, including the free practices, the qualifying sessions, and the race itself, our engines ran a combined length of about 140,000 kilometres, which was a fantastic achievement for us,” John comments.The year ended with a special recognition received by the British manufacturer. In December, Gibson Technology won the ‘Race Engine Designer of the Year’ award for its GK428 L P2 engine at the Race Technology Magazine’s World Motorsport Symposium, once again cementing its pole position in manufacturing race engines.

lived up to the expectations by providing 31 cars with Gibson engines throughout the 2017 season. This included a record number of 25 cars using a Gibson engine that started the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is the oldest active sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923, and often referred to as the ‘Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency’.“Twenty-one of our cars finished the race, and the four that did not were not due to any technical issues with the engine. I think that over the course of the event, including the free practices, the qualifying sessions, and the race itself, our engines ran a combined length of about 140,000 kilometres, which was a fantastic achievement for us,” John comments.The year ended with a special recognition received by the British manufacturer. In December, Gibson Technology won the ‘Race Engine Designer of the Year’ award for its GK428 LMP2 engine at the Race Technology Magazine’s World Motorsport Symposium, once again cementing its pole position in manufacturing race engines.

John then discusses what qualities an engine needs, in order to be successful in endurance competitions:“Obviously, the biggest challenge is to get the engine to survive for 24 hours, especially when there are only scheduled pit stops, just for refuelling and a change of tyres and drivers. Reliability is paramount.We put in an enormous amount of work into quality control, to ensure that our engines can offer this reliability. At the same time, we need to guarantee that the performance will remain at the highest level possible. Once we are assured of that, we would conduct a durability run.There is a minimum of 50 hours between engine rebuilds, and given that the engine is at full-throttle during 70 per cent of one lap at Le Mans, it is subjected to a huge degree of stress.As part of the development and validation process the engine is run for 24 hours of Le Mans simulation laps on our testbeds, then it will be stripped down, and will undergo a detailed analysis, then reassembled, and go through another 24 hours durability cycle. Effectively, most of the parts would have been subjected to at least 48 hours of Le Mans simulation before we can say that they are validated and ready to go in the race car,” John explains.

“Technology in motorsport has changed enormously, if we were to compare it to what was available 15 years ago,” he reckons.“Now we use computer-aided design systems to carefully analyse every single part we want to make.We put different components through finite element analysis, and use 3D modelling to run multiple stress tests. Similarly, material technology has improved vastly.We have a lot of advanced materials at our disposal, which are achieving things that would not have been considered possible only a few years ago.We are also capable of generating a lot of programmes on CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) systems, simply because they are too complex to be programmed manually.”

As the new WEC Super Season is set to start in May 2018, the challenges ahead of Gibson Technology are to supply Oreca/Rebellion Racing and DragonSpeed with competitive engines in the LMP1 class.“In motor racing, you have to be ambitious and competitive. Essentially, we are facing some very good manufacturers, but we want to prove ourselves and win races. Our ultimate ambition is to win Le Mans. I realise that it is a long way off, and a lot of things can happen during the race, but we have to have the mentality that we can win every race we enter,” John concludes

Gibson Technology
Products: High performance race engines