The Frenchman Nicolas Montador is not only an excellent driver but with his WSR Off Road he is also a talented builder of off-road vehicles in the Ultra4 style. At the Fenix Rally 2023 I was able to see his latest creation in the race: the WSR 500 IFS V8. In this article I will reveal all the secrets of this vehicle to you.
Photography Paolo Baraldi, Tech Photography Nicolas Stevenin, Story Paolo Baraldi
To anyone with any interest in offroad racing over the past 10 years, Nicolas Montador's name should sound familiar. Indeed, the WSR Off Road “boss” has competed in major races including the first ever European Ultra4 race in 2012 (Since then Nicolas has competed in almost every Ultra4 Europe race) and the King of the Hammers in California; experience that he would like to have again in 2024.
A design 100% by WSR Off Road
Before starting, just for the uninitiated, the term IFS (Independent Front Suspension) simply means that the front axle has independent suspension and therefore is not a vehicle with two solid axles. There's only one, the one in the back.
This "architecture" is classic, for example, on pick-ups, trophy trucks, Baja cars and 4x4 cars such as the Toyota HDJ 100.
What seems simple on paper is less so when you have to design the entire front end of a vehicle. This prototype was completely 3D computer designed before moving on to build the various custom parts.
This method allows to develop the tubular frame and then see the behavior of the wishbones, know where to put the suspension so that the shock absorbers do not touch the tubes, basically check that everything works well on the screen before getting to the heart of the build. The same goes for the V8 engine housing, gearbox, transfer case, etc.
Nicolas Montador therefore spent many hours behind a screen before starting any work. Finally the day has arrived in which the project has been validated as well as the suspensions, all the bodies and other components of the car.
All parts of the frame have been digitally laser cut and the bending done by Nicolas in the workshop. Then, the welding and the assembly of all the components.
At the end of December 2022, this prototype finally takes shape and manifests itself in all its beauty. But it was only a pre-assembly to verify that everything was perfect. Once everything was approved by Nicolas, the chassis was painted, the various components definitively installed and the whole vehicle finalized
At the end of February 2023 the WSR 500 IFS V8 was ready to be tested and what better race than the Fenix Rally in Tunisia?
An Ultra4 rig also at home in Baja races and rally raids
In Ultra4 races in the USA, and more specifically at King of the Hammers, the "war" between solid axle vehicles and IFS is raging. Drivers like Erik Miller prefer only solid axles while others like Shannon Campbell (first to win aboard an IFS) prefer IFS.
In this list, next to the name of the KOh winner it is reported if his car is IFS or Solid axle.
2007: JR Reynolds (Solid)
2008: Shannon Campbell (Solid)
2009: Jason Scherer (Solid)
2010: Loren Healy (Solid)
2011: Shannon Campbell (IFS) First time Independent
2012: Erik Miller and Robert Ruggiero (Solid)
2013: Randy Slawson (Solid)
2014: Loren Healy (Solid)
2015: Randy Slawson (Solid)
2016: Erik Miller (Solid)
2017: Shannon Campbell (IFS)
2018: Jason Scherer (IFS)
2019: Jason Scherer (IFS)
2020: Josh Byler (Solid)
2021: Randy Slowson (Solid)
2022: Raul Gomez (IFS)
2023: Raul Gomez (IFS)
Indeed, each of the two technical solutions has its pros and cons. Rigid axles are more resistant, require less maintenance and are better in big rocky areas while IFS although they require more attention and maintenance are preferable in faster tracks in the desert.
Nicolas Montador chose to build an IFS both for the constructive challenge, to further increase his technical know-how, and to have a new driving and racing experience. After the first test at the Fenix Rally, Montador has plans for the King of Poland, Rallye Breslau in the new Ultra4 class and perhaps in the USA for King of the Hammers 2024 and Vegas to Reno.
The build quality, the level of finishes and details are superior to any standard!
What about the line of this IFS? It's fascinating! The design is stretched forward and just begs to swallow kilometers. The small rear wing adds further dynamism to the design. It's a pretty big car but it doesn't have that feeling of heaviness and huge dimensions that you sometimes see on some Ultra4s. WSR vehicles are known for this! Nicolas likes to ride "light", in fact the weight is just over 2000kg.
Technical specifications of the WSR 500 IFS V8
Tubular frame designed with CAD using Solidworks and produced in digital laser cutting. The tubes are made of 25CD4S steel in 45×2.5 and TIG welded. Some tubes are lined with an aluminum rod inserted inside to increase their strength. The hose connectors are FIA approved.
Front track: 1.95m
Overall width: 2.40 m
To "push" his car, Nicolas fitted a Chevrolet LS3 engine. The V8 has been changed from 6.2l to 6.8l. Performance is improved by replacing the crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods. ECU mapping was done by Yannick of Access Car on the Sybele Advance ECU. On the dyno the result is 620 HP and 600Nm of torque.
The stainless steel exhaust was made completely by WSR Off Road.
These changes deliver 100 HP more than the 6.2-litre and more torque at lower engine speeds. Basically the power curve is ideal between 2500 rpm up to 6200 rpm.
The Allisport radiator is positioned at the rear and a home-made vent channels the air to help cool better. There are three more oil coolers for: the steering, the engine oil and the gearbox oil.
The 320lt fuel tank. it is Advanced Fuel Systems branded with FIA standard. It sits behind the bucket seats and comes back a bit from below, with an L shape. The pump is a Bosch 044.
All hoses (oil/water/brake) are from Goodridge and assembled by WSR.
Leaving aside the TH400 or 4L80, Montador preferred a 6-speed SCL 924 sequential gearbox + reverse by Sadev.
For the transfer case, the work was more complicated. The one proposed by Sadev was not suitable and therefore Nicolas turned to Shabs Piercy of Syncro Gearboxes. This Welsh company specializes in Land Rovers LT230, R380, LT77, LT85 95 etc and gearboxes. It offers spare parts, sprockets but also an Evocase SS transfer case (for Single Speed).
The collaboration between Shabs and Nicolas gave birth to the "Nicocase". Nicolas says: “we have shafts that turn in the right direction for the bevel gear pinions”. Remember we have a rear engine!!! We avoid the wear of the bevel gears and the power passes better”. This box is made from mass cut 7075 (aircraft grade) aluminum and all gears are made by Synchro Gearbox.
The drive shafts are manufactured by WSR.
IFS front end:
Nicolas' talent can be found entirely in this part of the car. It doesn't necessarily sound complicated but the articulation, architecture and position of each piece is done to the tenth of a mm. One mistake and the risk i sto have the suspension broken or ripping everything out and having a difficult car to drive with disastrous suspension. Geometry variations between compression and maximum extension should be avoided as much as possible.
So Montador put all his know-how into making these arms (upper and lower) that support the Pro Series Spidertrax 40s 6×6.5″ hub carrier. The axle shafts are 33 spline, the body of the differential is from Gear Works with ARB differential and the homokinetic joints are the RCV series 30.
Prototype steering is provided by a hydraulically assisted rack and pinion (1.5 ratio), comes from Howe Performance with Howe governor and pump. From stop to stop there is only a turn and a half. In practice Nicolas prefer more but in sprint races it's better not to have to go round and round of the wheel.
Here we are on a traditional solid axle with a locked differential (the left and right wheels are joined and therefore always spin at the same speed). Like up front, we have Spidertrax, 40-spline driveshafts, and Gear Works axle and differential body.
For the brakes, WSR chose Wilwood Aero6 calipers (6 pistons) with 355mm discs.
One of the other great jewels of this car are the suspension. They must be able to handle fast tracks and areas with big obstacles at very high speeds. For information, the maximum speed of this car is indicated at 207 km/h.
As usual, Nicolas installed Fox shocks. There are two shock absorbers per wheel, a coilover shock absorber and a bypass shock absorber. The bumpstops complete the equipment.
I thought to myself that ever since I've seen cars prepared by Nicolas, and therefore more than 10 years have passed, the evolutions of the shock absorbers are truly incredible. Just remember that a few years ago we found big 2.5” diameter shock absorbers, here we have 3”x14 (4-way) front bypass and 4”x16 rear (5-way) bypass. And 4 inches is 10.16 cm!!!
Do you want more data? For example the wheel travel, brace yourselves, is 650mm at the front and 850mm at the rear!
The interior of the car:
So forget the classic rallies and historic categories in front of a whole series of needle indicators, here is a 2.0 car with advanced electronic management. Now everything is done with simplified interfaces, buttons that can have multiple commands depending on whether they are pressed one or more times, through a whole series of sensors it is possible to set warnings that will keep the driver informed in case of overheating, drop in oil pressure, etc.
Everything passes through an AIM Dashborad which is a screen placed in front of the pilot and here duplicated for the co-pilot.
Note that the dashboards are protected by Cruz Armor protective films, a WSR exclusive.
We also find a communication system by Rugegd Radio VHF radio, two GPS, one Garmin and one Lowrance.
For safety, there are three fire extinguishers on board the car, one of which is automatic with nozzles.
The bucket seats are obviously FIA approved, as are the 6-point belts.
And while we're at it, the pedalboard is worth a look.
Wheels and tyres:
Nicolas is loyal to his partner KMC Wheels, he chose Grenade 234 9×17 with beadlocks. For the tyres, two types of Bf Goodrich are supplied in 39″ or 40″ Krawler or Baja T/A.
WSR OFF ROAD
4 rue de la richarderie, Marines, France
+33 6 07 90 35 72