Features - Interview

NOVEMBER 1, 1989

Kenny Anderson


There was a big technical reshuffle at Ligier in 1989 and an American - Ken Anderson - found himself in charge of the engineering team at Magny-Cours - all the way from Florida. Gone are the days of Ligier being a purely French team. Today it has Englishmen, Americans, Belgians and even a Brazilian...

There was a big technical reshuffle at Ligier in 1989 and an American - Ken Anderson - found himself in charge of the engineering team at Magny-Cours - all the way from Florida. Gone are the days of Ligier being a purely French team. Today it has Englishmen, Americans, Belgians and even a Brazilian...

Anderson became involved in motor sport in the rough-and-tumble world of motocross at 15. When motocross underwent major changes in suspension technology Anderson went to work for the Fox company in California, which specialised in long-travel motocross shock absorbers.

He met Roger Mears and the pair went from motcross to off-road and desert racing. When Mears tried his hand at Indycars in 1982, he contacted his friend to make some special shocks for him. That first year at Indy lasted about 100 yards when one of the Whittington brothers drove into Mears before the green flag! Through Roger Mears, Anderson met Rick Mears and Roger Penske and in 1984, Penske made him an offer he could not refuse and he joined the Penske Indycar team.

"I worked my way up at Penske," he explains, "and got more involved in race car design when Alan Jenkins was there. I designed our own shock absorbers and we sold the rights for them to Monroe for Indycars."

In 1985 he was involved with shock absorber work for Williams. Penske did a trade-off with Williams, the use of the Didcot wind tunnel in exchange for Penske's shock absorber technology.

By this point Anderson had learned more about design in general and Ligier, searching for personnel to rebuild the team after the disasters of 1988 approached Anderson.

"They said they were trying to put together a good strong team of specialists," he explains,"and had heard I'd been successful in suspension.

"No one person really designed the Ligier JS33. It exists as it does now because of the pre-qualifying races scare. It was like putting a gun to your head and saying we've got to have a brand new car, completely-designed and ready to race on February 15. It was a case of one guy going off in one direction doing the chassis another going that way to do suspension. Andy Willard did the chassis and bodywork on CAD/CAM. It had to be done that way because of the timescale. The suspension was part mine, but Richard Divila had a lot of input on that.

"Basically Guy oversees the whole project. We've been so flat out, we really haven't had time to say 'Okay, you're the boss man'. We're all pulling our share of the load.

"Ten years ago Ligier was as good as anybody. The problem was that all the F1 teams were in England, within a few miles of each other, and everybody moved around a bit. There was such a pool of knowledge being circulated among them. There was only so much Ligier could come up with by itself. I think the team was a little lost with how people were doing things.

"The French have fantastic technology with such companies as Aerospaciale, but F1 race car engineering is just a little different, there are compromises and ways of doing things. We are able to react much quicker than the aerospace industry. You have to be on your ties a little more. The team is definitely on the up now. I'm sure there is some resentment about bringing all the new guys in, but Guy realised that in order to be on top he needed to bring people in."

Anderson had never been to France although he had spent time in England. How did he adapt so quickly?

"Once you move out of America it is such a big step, that one country or another isn't as big a deal. Most of the people in the shop speak good enough race-car English to get the point across Someone who speaks it very well is within grabbing range.

"The team has fantastic facilities at Magny-Cours. That was one of the main reasons I came to Ligier. The shop has everything and Guy is committed to doing it right. I don't think anybody except Ferrari has the facility we have with the test track right outside. It's a fantastic track, with lots of different corners and different layouts and it is literally a case of opening the garage door and driving the cars out.

"The French have some good ideas too. While the English and Americans tend to work very long hours. You work 8am to midnight every day but after 4-5 days you are operating at 50%. At Ligier we were late on the first car. The chassis showed up on Saturday night and Ligier had it worked out with three shifts a day, with overlapping eight-hour segments. Everything was done exactly one week to the hour after the chassis arrived.

"The thing about F1 is that every team is its own separate entity. At Penske we were probably closer to an F1 team than anyone other Indycar team, but in America the teams tend to buy Marches and Lolas, whatever the flavour of the week is. Apart from being in all different colours they are all very much the same. I like F1 because every team has a separate identity. With 20 teams you have 20 separate design teams and so the influx of ideas is much more exciting. I certainly wouldn't say Indycars were any easier. In many ways they are more difficult, because everyone does have the same car.

"I really truly believe that technically there are pretty well equal. Aerodynamically, an Indycar is probably much more efficent, simply because it has to go down the straightaway at Indianapolis at 235mph.

"Oval track racing is much more difficult than people think. The cars just turn left. But they are turning left at 99% of the car's potential every lap. A little bit of understeer for every corner takes you right back.

"The F1 cars are a lot tricker in terms of composite, magnesium and stuff like that. They are also 200kilos lighter. The fact that you don't have to be that light in Indycars, means you don't have to spend the kind of money you see in F1.

"The whole Indycar series is meant to try to be affordable -- not for the average person -- but I think F1 got a little out of control with turbo engines, two-lap special qualifying engines, 5-bar boost an all that. It got so out of control.

"If you didn't have a major manufacturer willing to put up US$50 million a year, it really was over the top. Now its back to normally-aspirated you don't have this tremendous horsepower difference anymore. People in CART strive to make it as fair as they can.

"I certainly appreciate the technical aspect of F1, the best car is going to win. On the other side of the fence, it has to be exciting to keep people's attention on the television and it all comes back to sponsors. NASCAR is the best series in that respect. They just won't get someone go out of control. I think last year with the McLarens everyone would turn on for the first 20 minutes. After McLaren had a lap on everyone they would switch channels. Ultimately that isn't so good for the sport. You have to strike a balance."

So which does he prefer? CART or F1?

"I certainly enjoyed my time at Penske and I accomplished what I wanted to do there. F1 is a new challenge, and anyone offered the chance to do it with the sort of facility at my disposal has got to see it's a good deal."