Legendary F1 And Indycar Engine Designer Illien To Tackle Peking Paris Classic Endurance Rally
Mario Illien, the famous racing engine designer, is set to take on a very different challenge from ones he might be used to, competing in the 2019 Peking Paris Rally in a 1955 Citroën 11B. Illien and his Ilmor engine concern are famous on both sides of the Atlantic, powering no fewer than 44 Formula 1 and 326 Indycar race wins, as well as claiming multiple F1 world championships in the late 1990s. Illien’s now taking 36 days out to compete in this year’s 13,840km classic endurance rally event, with his daughter Noele navigating. Illien is now a classic endurance rally fan having been something of a late convert, after being pushed into competing in his first Peking Paris in 2013 by Nicole. He has also enjoyed recent events in South America, the Classic Safari and Singapore Mandalay with his wife navigating.
Illien aged 30 moved to the UK to join Cosworth Engineering, where he met fellow engineer Paul Morgan. They decided they could design and build their own faster engines, and so formed Ilmor Engineering. By 1986 Ilmor was competing in Indycars, and three years later was powering F1 machines; Leyton House then Tyrrell. For 1993 Ilmor got its big F1 break when it formed a partnership with Mercedes to provide Sauber’s engines. This led to Mercedes Ilmor engines powering McLaren from 1995, where it won scores of races as well as two drivers’ world championships, in 1998 and ’99, also taking the ’98 constructors’ title. After Mercedes bought out the remaining shares, Illien retained his special projects division working with Honda on its IRL Indy engines, even diversifying into MotoGP with his own bike and engine. Ilmor today employs 100 staff and makes IndyCar engines for Chevrolet. It also helped Red Bull and Renault develop their F1 power unit in 2015 and is now helping Honda with Red Bull’s units. Ilmor also produces engines for NASCAR, World Rally Cars and Australian Super Cars.
Once Illien turned his hand to classic endurance rallying old habits died hard, as he channeled his energies into refining his aging Citroën. “I took everything to pieces, suspension, engine and gearbox, everything was rebuilt,” Illien said. “I reinforced some of the parts and then set about the engine. I modified it to make it a bit more modern, for example putting an oil filter in the motor as those old engines didn’t have filters, you had to change the oil all the time, there was even dirt in the crankshaft and camshaft!
“I put new rods and modern pistons in it, different liners and modern bearings. I like to draw the bits and pieces then make some of them myself. On the event, like everybody, we had a few issues but we managed to repair things and keep going, we managed to avoid the tow truck so far! Once I got started in endurance rallying I must say I really liked it. You know, sometimes you have to fix things with nothing, maybe a piece of wire or string, you have to find solutions to keep going, which I find quite challenging.”
Images courtesy of Historic Endurance Rallying Organisation