CHICAGO (June 22, 11:45 a.m. EDT) — Jeff Ryan measures his company's speed to market in hundreds of miles per hour.
The vice president, general manager and technical director for Penske Racing Shocks, Ryan and his team fine tune integral components on top cars used across the motor-sports industry, and for the company's high-speed clients, that also means relying on DuPont's Vespel polyimide material.
“We use it in a multitude of different things, sometimes for friction control in bushings, sometimes as a replacement for aluminum,” he said during a May 5 telephone interview from Penske's headquarters in Reading, Pa.
While shocks seldom are seen, they are a vital connection between the driver and the road, providing the feedback needed for a driver's fast response, Ryan said.
Ryan estimates the resin-improved shocks can shave up to a half-second off each lap.
“We need to give a shock to anything that better connects the driver to the tire,” he said. “The better he understands that feedback, the further he can take the car. Each person will have a different threshold of how scared they are out on the track and how fast they can push the car.
“We can put them right at their edge of comfort.”
Penske Racing Shocks adapted a Vespel with a graphite filler in 1990 as a replacement for brass bushings. The brass components wore out at 500-600 miles — adding new concerns for the final laps of a long race.
The resin replacement is good for an entire season, Ryan said.
“It's never let me down,” he said.
“On a race car, obviously, you don't want anything to break during a race,” said Scott Stenta, technical specialist for DuPont (Booth S2655) Vespel.
Penske machines its own components in-house from DuPont bar stock, with each component made to each driver's specific demands. And those drivers run the gamut from high-profile champions to weekend stock car racers.
The company also produces shocks for owners of DaimlerChrysler AG's Dodge Viper and General Motor Corp.'s Corvette who want to boost their sports cars. Penske is in talks to make a version for Ford Motor Co.'s GT sports car, due out later this year.
Vespel also is used in a variety of standard automotive components, typically replacing metal washers, bearings and bushings in functional systems, Stenta said.
It is in production for the steering and suspension system on tractor-trailer trucks as well, providing an improved driver response on the big rigs, just as it is designed to do on the race track.
Off the road, Penske now is producing systems for unmanned robotics and other defense industry systems.
About half of the Formula One cars at the start of any race are running on Vespel-enhanced Penske shocks.
Nearly all of the NASCAR vehicles use them, and about half of the vehicles lined up for the May 25 Indianapolis 500 ran on Penske parts.
“You have your good weeks and your bad weeks,” Ryan said. “Memorial Day weekend starts with the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in the morning, the Indy 500 in the afternoon and then the [NASCAR] Coca-Cola 600 in the evening.
“On a good day, the shocks are on all the winning cars. That's our Triple Crown."