"Damp air on wet gravel. Molasses-gloopy tar hangs in the air, acid grass cutting through the base notes. Up on the hillside, hooded jackets and umbrellas sprout from under the canopy. Orange-suited marshals fuss around their posts: taking half a "
Four men, an unassuming workshop… and some of the fastest cars in UK hillclimbing. Welcome to DJ Racecars.
Let’s start with the shock and awe. Del Quigley slips behind the wheel of a single seat racer and rips from a standstill to 160mph. 740 bhp kicks from an oversized V8 and throws 450kg down the runway. The data team raise an eyebrow. This all-British machine is faster than any Formula 1 car they’ve ever tested.
Walk up to Del’s Peak District base, though, and there’s no big-budget swagger. All you’ll find here is four engineers and the parts they never stop finessing. It’s a purist ethos which has carried the DJ Racecars to a quarter century of British Hillclimb Championship success and a number of innovations. DJ brought the first carbon fibre tub to UK hillclimbing, developed the category’s first pneumatic gearshift system and created the first racer with Suzuki Hayabusa motorbike power, grabbing an engine just four days after the bike’s 1999 launch.
The firm has since found success with the Cosworth XD, a 2.65-litre V8 that powered the entire Champcar field between 1996 and 2000. ‘We designed our current Firestorm racer around that engine,’ Del explains, ‘the fuel rails, crank sensor and carbon fibre intake are all our own work, as is the aluminium bellhousing. It weighs 3.9 kilos and it’s created from a 50kg block of billet!’ DJ also elected to redevelop the XD as a naturally aspirated engine, removing the turbocharger and running a 15,000rpm rev limit. The result was 560bhp but Del didn’t stop there. Boring out the engine to 3.3 litres and running on methanol, he’s now achieved 740bhp…
Don’t let the numbers fool you: DJ are more interested in innovation than headlines. One previous project saw the team create aluminium cam covers to install an ex-DTM engine as a stressed chassis member and they’re currently working on the implementation of drive by wire throttle systems. ‘It’s all about refining our concepts,’ says Niall Carmichael, a DJ team member who works with Del on mechanical projects.
‘My role is everything and it’s so satisfying going against all odds to get something out of the door. What first drew me here was the amount of involvement with real cars. Working here, I can go design a part in CAD, make it, then see it racing that weekend!’
Open wheels and open cockpits define the DJ Racecars philosophy but that didn’t keep them from working on one very special saloon car. Back in 2007 – when Top Gear fever was at full pitch – a producer asked DJ to provide a carbon fibre wing for an upcoming episode. ‘We went down to fit it,’ Del remembers, ‘and the next day they asked us to provide a pit crew for the Britcar 24 Hours!’ The episode, where Jeremy, James, Richard and Stig race a BMW twice around the clock, is one of the show’s most iconic – and DJ were there every step of the way. ‘They were exactly like they seem on screen but it was 24 hours of brutal work. It’s the most intense thing we’ve ever done!’
Back in the present, Del and Niall have their eyes firmly on emergent technologies. The pair recently developed a prototype for Formula Student’s new autonomous vehicle class and can’t wait to tap the potential in electric drivetrains. The firm developed a battery-powered concept for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb six years ago and, though the project was cancelled, Del would still love to take on Colorado’s premier race. Spy the design and you’ll understand why.
‘It was quite a straightforward project for us,’ he explains, gesturing to CAD images of the car. Commissioned by a major auto manufacturer, it looks like a cross between an F1 car, a Le Mans racer and a high fantasy spacecraft. ‘There’s no exhaust and clutch with an EV, plus you can distribute the batteries and the weight wherever you want… We’d love to build something similar: it’s unfinished business.’
From entirely hollow, weight saving steering wheels, through ultralight carbon fibre wings and flywheel-mounted starters, to the serpentine exhaust headers mounted to the workshop’s proof-of-concept chassis, every little thing in the DJ Racecars workshop demonstrates Del and Niall’s focus on thoughtful engineering. ‘Parts have to be light,’ Del concludes, ‘but they need to be elegant too. We keep thinking we can’t reinvent the wheel… but then we do!’
We can’t wait to see where this motorsport micro-firm goes next.
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