Analyzing and Driving the NASA/Elan NP01: The Ultimate Affordable Prototype

by Mike Kojima

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!
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Tuesday, December 01, 2015 8:05 AM
What kind of lap times was it running?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 10:08 AM
It was the abbreviated west loop missing magic mountain so no comparative lap times.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 11:43 AM
Bummer, thanks for the great article!
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 12:19 PM
This car is something that is a long time coming.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 1:02 PM
whats so special about these MZR/Duratech engines that so many prebuilt racecars and kit cars run them? I mean at 185 hp, power output is pretty pathetic, especially when you take into account that fancy intake mani, super extra long primaries on the headers, dry sump oiling... A K20 does better stock with a restrictive intake and crappy header and a cat. If they think VTEC is an issue for whatever reason, just throw some VTEC killer cams in there and its gone. If its used as a race engine, there's really no reason for the small cam lobe anyway.
And at 5k for a rebuild, doesn't sound like its any cheaper than a K20 either

sorry if it sounds like a rant (it is a little bit), but I'm genuinely curious what makes these engines so special?
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 2:06 PM
The main reason is that the MZR is built like a brick shithouse. The MZR can support diesel operation and it is beefy. The Berganholz bros got more than 1200 hp from this platform in drag racing. The engine is also detuned for the power level desired for the class.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 3:20 PM
Also... Mazda and Ford support the aftermarket and racers - if you're part of Mazda's support program you can get a crate MZR longblock, brand new, for a few grand. Is it possible to get a new crate K20 longblock? Not "rebuilt by some aftermarket people", not "low miles JDM motor" but a legitimately new engine, built by an OEM with their level of QC. That engine is, I'd wager, a stock longblock, albeit a sealed one. Nobody who's making a bunch of customer race cars, at a price point, really wants to do an engine development program inhouse; if you can't get a fully built longblock, you either have to budget to build it out of new parts (you cannot make a legitimate business case for scavenging junkyards when you have customers wanting things to just work) or budget to have someone reputable build it.

Also, a prototype with a stock longblock MZR/Duratec and limited underbody aero just happens to fit into SCCA's P2 class too, along with probably some others (albeit with other tires) Performance then would probably roughly similar to Euro S2000 which makes it easier for organizations to find a race group for it, increasing sales appeal.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 3:32 PM
I was thinking SCCA C sport racer too or even S prod.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 5:56 PM
I'm sure you can get a new crate K24 block... but the new ones have that stupid exhaust manifold built into the block thing... and I have no idea how much it costs. And yes, I know jdm/junk yard or some random tuner shop engine's aren't viable for a project like this. Although Ariel was able to work out getting new engines for cars.

I doubt the MZR in this case is a stock longblock based on the rebuild price. if a brand new long block is a few grand, a rebuild shouldn't be 5k (few is 3ish in my book)

based off both of (Mike and Dan) you answers its cause its durable and how friendly Mazda and Ford is to race teams. I'm assuming them being race team friendly has much more to do with things then it being durable.
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 6:21 PM
Don't forget that NASA is a for profit organization, so whoever wanted their name on this car and came up with the money to make it happen (and a feasible product) won. And don't forget Mazda's involvement with NASA already with the Cup race, seems like a shoe in to me. Why cultivate new relationships with a manufacturer when you've already got ties with the likes of Mazda?
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Tuesday, December 01, 2015 8:02 PM
Mike: C Sports Racer and DSR actually turned into P1 and P2; P2 is closer to stock literbike motors (with restrictors in some cases) and mostly stock auto engines with underbody aero limited to a rear diffuser. This thing would probably fit decently in P2; one of the frontrunners in 2014 at the runoffs was running a Duratec converted Lola Sports 2000 car. P1 is the old hot DSR cars with tunnels and all, plus the old Atlantic based CSR cars.

I really am curious what you'd make of a Stohr; Dauntless Racing in Northern California bought the rights to them. I know you guys aren't as much of an SCCA bent though.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015 7:37 AM
@ warmmilk: the car weighs 1450lbs. No need for a 240whp built K-series. Look at how lightly constructed most of the parts are: more than just the motor's beefiness to worry about. 185hp is right for this car, and I doubt anyone would complain about it being underpowered.

My buggy weighs about 1300lbs with an SR20DET in it, and it's way overpowered. Overpowered for a dirt toy is fun. Overpowered for a pavement wheel to wheel racer is expensive and won't make for a tight field.
Wednesday, December 02, 2015 12:43 PM
my question wasn't so much about why this engine is in this car specifically, more about why its so popular in so many of this type of cars. Which was more or less answered by Dan DeRosia when he pointed out that Mazda and Ford are very race team friendly with prices and support.

My comment about the power wasn't so much about this application, more just looking at the engine itself
Wednesday, December 02, 2015 4:36 PM
I just want one. So well engineered to be cost effective, and I'm sure capable of impressive lap times.

Anyone know the proposed class weight?
Boxed Fox
Boxed Foxlink
Thursday, December 10, 2015 10:58 PM
The three features that make me love this car more than any other prototype or sports racer: Roof, windshield wiper, doors.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015 9:51 PM
From their website:

"Chassis #18 was just reserved! Introductory pricing at the $64,995 price point will end when the 25th chassis is reserved. At that time, future NP01’s will be available for $69,995."

Below $70k for this beast? That's a great deal. If I could, I def would!
M Willis
M Willislink
Tuesday, January 05, 2016 3:09 PM
Hmmm so now it is up to $72,500 with #23... I guess economy of scale is inverse for low volume production... or else they are selling faster than expected and are using price to set equilibrium for supply(desired) and demand???
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