The tried-and-true formula – updated

Romain Dumas has had a busy schedule lately. After slicing and dicing his way to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Frenchman flew halfway across the world to take top honors at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC). While Dumas’ Superman-like efforts are not to be denied, none of it would’ve been possible without the incredible machines placed under his command. Case in the point – this mountain-munching Norma M20 RD Limited.

Unlike the heavy-hitting technological powerhouses found in the Pikes Peak Electric Division, the open-cockpit Norma prototype is a little more old school – low weight, sequential gearbox, gas-burning engine in the middle. It’s the same car that Dumas wheeled to his first PPIHC win in 2014 – extensively upgraded for 2016, of course.

Updates include refined aerodynamics, a new turbocharger, more power, and a retuned chassis, all of which contribute mightily to the car’s hill climb prowess. But the most significant change is the addition of a new AWD system, a critical component for any competitor looking to post a fast time at America’s Mountain.

So then – what the heck is a Norma, anyway?

Continue reading to learn more about the Norma that conquered Pikes Peak this year.

The Path To The Top Of The Mountain

Check Out The Norma That Conquered Pikes Peak This Year
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This year’s PPIHC-winning M20 RD Limited was produced by Norma Auto Concept, a French race car manufacturer based out of Saint-Pe-de-Bigorre. Founded in 1984 by Norbert Santos and Marc Doucet, Norma’s competition history includes multiple bids in endurance racing (24 Hours of Le Mans, 24 Hours of Daytona), as well as a two-year stint in the Formula Renault series.

However, Norma found its greatest success in hill climb events. In addition to back-to-back championship titles in the FIA European Hill Climb Championship (2014 and 2015), Norma can now boast double victories at Pikes Peak.

Norma had its first Colorado triumph in 2014, when Dumas managed to crest the summit in 9.05:801, besting Greg Tracy and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV Evolution III (Electric Modified class) by 2.387 seconds.

At the end of the singular up-hill blast, Dumas posted a time of 8:51.445, the second-quickest time in the event’s history

Dumas took the overall win at the helm of the 2014-spec Norma M20 RD Limited, an entry in the Unlimited class that was specifically created for competition at Pikes Peak. After skipping out on last year’s event, Dumas and Norma returned for 2016 with the same car, but stuffed it full of improvements to make sure it stayed ahead of the pack.

The road to victory was paved with challenges. The 2016-spec M20 had its first roll out less than a month before the event was scheduled to kick off, and the Norma team worked tirelessly to get the car ready.

Testing was conducted at the Pau-Arnos Circuit and Pole Mecanique s’Ales. Once the car arrived in Colorado, practice sessions looked to be quite competitive, but the Norma experienced engine failure just before race day. Thankfully, the Norma team worked overtime to rebuild it, and by Sunday, the M20 was ready.

At the end of the singular up-hill blast, Dumas posted a time of 8:51.445, the second-quickest time in the event’s history, handing him his second overall win.

Making It Go

Check Out The Norma That Conquered Pikes Peak This Year
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Powering the Norma M20 RD Limited is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine from Honda (the K20). Honda Performance Division was called upon for tuning duties, while Emap was tapped for engine and electronics management.

Norma added a new turbo and a new exhaust, raising peak output to 610 horsepower

Last year, the M20 produced 450 horsepower at the rear wheels. This year, Norma added a new turbo and a new exhaust, raising peak output to 610 horsepower. That means the M20 is blessed with a 1:1 power-to-weight ratio (the car weighs just 610 kg, or 1,344 pounds). Impressively, that figure is identical to the 2014-spec, but now, the car has a high-performance AWD system.

This is the first time the M20 has had the advantage of all-wheel grip, but at Pikes Peak, it’s become a necessity. The course offers less-than-ideal surfaces and abundant hairpin turns, which means getting the power down can be tricky, even when routed to all four corners.

Handling cog swaps is a sequential six-speed gearbox with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Making It Stick

Check Out The Norma That Conquered Pikes Peak This Year
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Under the body panels, you’ll find a carbon fiber monocoque and chromoly tubular steel frame. The 2016-spec car gets better weight distribution, plus a new (and adjustable) aero package made from composites. The rear wing, however, is unchanged.

The suspension is a front and rear double-wishbone pushrod set-up with inboard dampers, plus front and rear adjustable anti-roll bars. PKM Consulting handled the shock tuning.

The brakes are now an electronically controlled power set-up developed in-house by Norma. The 13-inch wide wheels are made from magnesium and feature center locks.

Keeping Dumas in place is a six-point safety harness.

Conclusion

Unlike other Pikes Peak entries, the Norma M20 RD Limited doesn’t come with too many surprises up its sleeves. It’s got all the stuff you’d expect, nothing more, and nothing less.

But it’s that transparency that makes it so appealing. Unlike the electric wizardry found in other divisions, the Norma gets the job done with internal combustion practicality.

But the EV assault has only just begun, and the results next year might look a little different. Will the Old Guard hold fast, or will the battery-suckers reclaim that coveted spot at the top of the mountain?

What do you think?
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