First VB-1 Soars With Eagles at All American Racers

All American Racers (AAR) has been in the racing business since 1965, when Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby joined forces to establish a race car company in Santa Ana, California. The cars AAR designed and built for the Indy and Grand Prix racing circuits were called Eagles.

Eagles soon became very popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Driven by hot drivers of the era like Mark Donohue, Ritchie Ginther, Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, Swede Savage, Bobby & Al Unser, Gordon Johncock and many more, Eagles let the racing world know that American builders could compete on an international basis – and win.

The crowning achievement in Formula 1 was Dan Gurney’s victory at the Grand Prix of Belgium in 1967. It was the first victory by an American driver in an American car since 1921, and it remains the only one in modern Grand Prix history.

Racing Diversity / Domination

Apart from fielding Formula 1 and Indy Car racing teams, AAR at various times also entered the Trans-Am, Can-Am, Formula Aand Formula 5000 series, as well as IMSA championships, with GTU and GTO Toyota Celicas, and GTP with Toyota Eagles.

From its inception, AAR built cars for its own racing teams, and also for sale to customers. AAR teams went on to win eight championships through the years, gathering 78 overall victories, including 82 pole positions. Eagle customers did equally well, winning championships in Indycars, Formula Ford and Formula A categories. In fact, in 1973 twenty one of the 33 cars on the grid at Indianapolis were Eagles.

In 1970, upon retiring from driving, Dan bought out Carroll Shelby, and he has been sole owner, CEO and Chairman of All American Racers ever since. Under his guidance, AAR has been continuously modernized and expanded.

AAR & Haas Join Forces

At the start of this year, Haas Automation joined forces with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. AAR became a Haas shop with the installation of the first Haas VB-1, a large travel, 5-axis vertical bridge mill. Also included in AAR’s arsenal of Haas machines are two VF-1 vertical machining centres and an HL-2 turning centre.

The 75,000-square-foot AAR complex includes five buildings which span the length of the block. These buildings house a state-of-the-art CAD design department, quality assurance, vehicle dynamics, data acquisition and analysis department, a development team and race shop, CNC machine shop, fabrication shop, 40%-scale wind tunnel, water tunnel, an 800 degree/200 psi electrically heated TEC autoclave and a complete composite material department where all AAR race car bodies and chassis are built.

Teaming With Toyota

In 1983, AAR entered into a long term relationship with Toyota. The team first entered the GTU category of IMSA Sports Car Championship, winning 10 races and progressing from there to the GTO class, capturing the Drivers Championship and the Manufacturers Championship in 1987.

AAR then designed and built the GTP Toyota Eagle, a car which became legendary for its speed, reliability and impressive winning streaks: 17 consecutive victories during 1992 and 1993, two Drivers Championships and two Manufacturers Championships, as well as impressive wins in the endurance classics at Daytona and Sebring.

In 1996, after two years of preliminary development work, AAR re-entered the CART PPG Cup Championship after a 10-year hiatus from the circuit. AAR currently fields an Eagle-Toyota in the 1999 CART FedEx Championship Series with Alex Barron doing the driving.

All-American Tradition

Throughout its 35-year history, AAR has occupied a special niche among race car companies. Not only does the company provide a link to the “glory days” of racing, but at the same time, it manages to be on the cutting edge of technology. The combination of Dan Gurney’s experience as a driver and owner, and his perseverance in building his own race cars, often against great odds (for years, Eagles were the only American-made race car on the scene), has won Dan Gurney many loyal fans around the world for two generations.

Many of the engineers, mechanics, designers and team managers now on the CART circuit went through the AAR “university” when they were young and starting out – a tradition which continues to this day.

This tradition depends on the constant search for the latest edge in technology, and the absolute repeatability that allows for the analysis of the minute modifications that can shave tenths of a second off a lap time. In a racing world where a field of 30 CART cars can qualify within two seconds a lap, a mere tenth of a second can mean the difference between Victory Circle and just another – albeit very expensive – Sunday drive.

Selecting a Prototype

This search for the competitive edge focused on Haas when the prototype VB-1 was introduced at in Chicago at IMTS ’98. By far the largest Haas machine ever displayed, with travels of 200" x 66" x 40", the VB-1 was seen by AAR as the perfect 5-axis machine for cutting the moulds and forms used to lay up the carbon fibre body panels for their present CART Eagle.

Unfortunately, at that time, the VB-1 was just a prototype machine, with plans for production only if there proved to be sufficient customer interest. AAR was interested, and the discussions that led to the eventual delivery of that same prototype machine began. The machine was delivered in mid-January.

Out With the Old

AAR was already using an existing in-house 5-axis machine before considering the VB-1, but it was seriously outdated and unreliable. Representatives from AAR had looked at competitor’s 5-axis machines, but they proved not only to be much more expensive ($1.5 million and up), they also required much more floor space to do the same size of work. As it was, AAR still had to extend the room for the VB-1 by about three feet and modify the sliding door assembly to allow for machine move-in and loading of parts on the table with a forklift.

The original outdated 5-axis machine now is in pieces on the concrete floor of the museum/storage building.

Because of the wide variety of materials cut on the VB-1 – various metals, mould materials and carbon fibers – a dual-nozzle vacuum system has been fabricated and installed on the centre column of the machine to remove dust and related materials. This allows the operator to run the machine without having to resort to wearing extra breathing or filtration gear. “

We use the VB-1 to cut the original moulds and to do the finish work as well,” explains Jim Becker, machinist/operator. In addition to machining parts for use on the actual racers, the VB-1 is also put to use making 40-percent components used for testing in the AAR in-house wind tunnel. These same programs can be scaled up (using the scaling option of the Haas control) to cut full-size versions of the parts once the designs have passed testing and are ready to hit the track.

Because the variation in size is a simple program command, these changes can be made with absolute repeatability of the design parameters. In addition, if the wind tunnel engineers request a minute change in the surface curvature, the program can be duplicated and modified, saving the original program as a baseline should the modification prove ineffective.

While the prototype VB-1 at AAR has travels of 200" x 66" x 40", the new production model offers larger travels (200" x 84" x 40" with 72" between the columns) and increased travels on the integrated-motor spindle head (±120° on the B axis and ±220° on the C axis as compared to the prototype’s ±180° on the C axis). The production 126" x 59.5" table allows for machining off the ends of the table, or a large subplate can be mounted to machine larger workpieces.

Additional Haas CNCs Delivered

In direct contrast to the massive usable workspace available on the VB-1, the table on the VF-1 is, well, a little small. However, AAR has found the diminutive machining centre perfect for manufacturing the many smaller components that are used in the CART Eagle racers.

AAR presently is using two VF-1s, one in the main machine shop and one in the motorcycle R&D shop. The VF-1 in the main machine shop is used primarily to machine such parts as pedal assemblies, suspension components and various proprietary items AAR uses on the Toyota engine/transaxle assembly. “

We do a lot of parts on the VF-1 out of all kinds of material,” says Frank Keiser, who operates the VF-1. “You don’t know from one minute to the next what it is going to be: aluminum, steel, almost any kind of metal or mould making material you can imagine.”

Frank likes the file storage ability of the VF-1 and the fact that it is easy to program and modify. He was drilling starter holes for the EDM wire used to cut the exhaust flanges for the CART Toyota engine. The material used is a very hard steel and he could only get about three holes drilled (through four .25" plates spot-welded together) before having to resharpen the bit. He noted that he is pleased with the way the Haas control allows for rapid tool offsets and rapid return to work. “

Of course, you get into a job like this (exhaust header flanges) and nothing goes fast. The metal I’m cutting for the flanges is H 250, it’s very hard. The Haas just keeps on working though, it’s the bits that I have to keep replacing. I can’t get but about 3 1 /2 holes with this drill . . . and that’s with cobalt drills. They’re about the only thing you can use to get through this. It is very, very tough stuff to drill.”

In the case of the exhaust flanges, eight are used per engine. But numerous header designs are built for research and development in addition to adapting engine torque curves to fit the various tracks.

Frank, also noted that the VF-1 is a very stiff machine, much stiffer and more stable than the Fadals they had been using. He also commended the control features, saying that, “I can set this machine up in about half the time it takes me to set up the others.

"I also like the way you can return to a partially completed program, like when I have to take out one of my cobalt drill bits for resharpening . . . I know which hole I’m on, so I just go to that hole, press “Start” and the Haas control picks up all of my offsets and everything and I’m back to work.”

Frank says he also appreciates the programmable coolant option. “It really helps when you’re using a number of different tools, because you don’t have to keep re-aiming the nozzle by hand every time you change to a new tool. This is especially true if you have any skin problems reacting to the coolant or constant wetness. Nobody wants to mess with unnecessary rashes or chafing. “

The Haas machine’s also easy to clean out,” he continues. “The only thing I’ve noticed is that if the chip tube were just a little bit longer, it could spit the chips directly into the Fadal . . . (laughter). We ordered the auger chip conveyor because it makes it a lot easier to clean out. This machine is real nice to keep clean. “

I also like the memory that’s in it, ‘cause I can store a lot of programs, especially when we’re doing lots of bit parts like this. We also have the floppy drive, so we can keep even more programs on file and ready to load within a matter of minutes.”

Frank said that the VF-1 arrived ready to work. “When the guys put it on the floor, we came in, hooked it up and started cutting. The first chip was when it hit the concrete, the second was when we turned it on! It’s done real good.”

Turning Cycle Parts

Over in the motorcycle R&D shop, the AAR team has access to the second VF-1 vertical machining centre and a Haas HL-2 CNC turning centre.

Presently working on a new, closely-guarded, and very revolutionary motorcycle design, the R&D team is using the Haas machines primarily to machine one-off parts (a long run might be as little as only six parts!) for testing on one of the low-slung developmental bikes. While the operators are in agreement that their next Haas turning centre will have the Big Bore option, the short runs of developmental parts are said to be the reason for not ordering the lathe with a bar feeder or live tooling.

Having seen one of the bikes fully clothed in carbon-fiber cowl and fenders, it is evident that All American Racers is on the verge of making yet another major mark in the competitive world of motorsports. And you can just bet that this bike has been designed to be very competitive in one, if not many, international motorcycle racing classes. Time will tell, but we have definitely seen the future.