NASA Introduces Affordable Prototype Class

NASA-Prototype-1For those that dreamed about piloting a prototype car around some of the countries most famous racing venues, it’s called the Elan NP01 and it’s one of the cheapest Prototype cars you can buy. Of course, cheap is a relative word and in the spectrum of Prototype racers. But, the NP01’s $64,995 asking price is a steal.

The car was purpose designed to compete in NASA’s newly created NP series, which will begin in 2016. Design work on the car was a co-op between Elan Motorsports technologies and NASA. Buyers have the option of purchasing the car as a kit or forking over some extra coin for an Elan-assembled unit. NASA estimates an assembly time the NP01 to be between 75-100 hours.

NASA-Prototype-4

Engine and Drivetrain

Affordability in prototype racing is a unique an innovative concept. In order to accomplish it, the car’s powerplant is a tried-and-true sealed Mazda 2.0-liter MZR engine with approximately 185-horsepower. Astute readers will recognize that engine as being used in the last generation MX-5 – where it carried a horsepower rating of 170. The slight boost in power is likely thanks to an uncorked intake and exhaust system.

The sealed engine carries with it a sealed ECU which takes tuning off the table, a move likely intended to keep this a driver’s class. Lastly, a dry-sump oiling system protects the engine from the massive G-forces the car will undoubtably be capable of. While the output may seem conservative, the car’s slippery aerodynamics and featherlight weight allow it to easily reach a top speed of 155-mph. Shifting duties are handled by a Sadev, 6-speed sequential gearbox. The engine’s conservative output will ensure a healthy lifespan for the sequential box.

Body and Chassis

NP-chassis-1-300x231The composite body is centered around a single-seat driving configuration and in order to keep repair costs down from the inevitable bumping and rubbing of competitive racing, the body is composed of easily replaceable sections. There are also integrated head and tail lights and both front and rear windshield wipers. A functional front splitter and rear diffuser are included and the rear wing is a fully-adjustable unit.

Under the surface, is a 1018 tube frame with integral rollcage structure and side intrusion protection bars. The wheelbase is just over 100-inches and the weight is listed at 1550 pounds.

Suspension, Wheels and Tires

toyo-proxes-rrThe car’s suspension is composed of single adjustable (another cost-cutting measure) shocks actuated by 17×19-inch O.Z. Racing wheels. Spec rubber consists of 235/40/17 Toyo Proxes RR slick. Handling stopping duties are massive set of 315-mm vented rotors clamped by 4-piston aluminum calipers.

There’s a theme forming here; and that theme is “bigger is better.” However, in a unique way, it’s not for the sake of overkill, but durability. The tires are wide for a car of this weight class and the brakes are absolutely massive. Both of those facts contribute to a car that conserves expendable components, lowering the cost to operate significantly.

NASA has always been more about the driving. This new program follows suit quite faithfully. For more information on the car, visit NASA’s dedicated website here.

About the author

Evan Perkins

Evan Perkins is a seasoned automotive journalist with a passion for road racing. Evan has logged seat time in more cars than he can count and has a deep-seeded love for all genres of the motoring world.
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