Garage. Estonia 20
By the end of seventies it became pretty clear that the basic formula car of those times in USSR, Estonia 19, which hit the tracks in 1975, was not quite up to date. The E-19 driven by the TARK (Tallinna Autoremondi Katsetehas) works driver Enn Griffel won the USSR Championship in Formula 3 in its first year of competition, standing mostly against previous generations of Estonia cars - models 16M and 18. However, in the Cup of Peace and Friendship, where the car could be compared to contemporary designs from other socialistic countries, it was not successful. Let alone a couple of episodes, national team members used mostly Estonia 18M cars, which were still produced, or, sometimes, heavily redesigned versions of the 18M (BPS-Estonia of Vladislav Barkovskiy or Tallept-Estonia of Toomas Napa were often quicker than factory cars).
Apparently those redesigned versions gave a stimulus to TARK to start designing a new car: it was a rare case that factory-spec Estonia 19’s without any changes raced in the first part of the field (the same could be said about the 18M, though). Often the purpose of such changes was to gain some additional downforce: in late seventies racing car aerodynamics followed much different path than it did some years before. Wings were no more an interesting design solution, but have become necessary, and Estonia 19, which was neither good in terms of downforce nor eye-pleasing, became subject to technical and artistic surveys. Drivers started to play with aerodynamics: many E-19 chassis featured various wings, winglets, flaps, narrow, wide, low and high nosecones, engine covers, new body panels. A number of cars was modified to accept ground effect. Many attempts were made to find an additional downforce and to put in order the airflow around the body.
In 1977 Raul Sarap, TARK employee and the national team member, came up with his own vision of the E-19. His Estonia 19M was notably shorter than production car and used lightweight materials in the chassis. A more streamlined body with a low and narrow nose raised some associations with mid-1970s Formula 1 cars, such as McLaren M23, Tyrrell 007 or Shadow DN3, although it was a little smaller. The car has shown a good potential right away with Sarap winning the first race of the season in Formula Easter, but the success could only be repeated in the last, sixth, race: sadly, the rest of the championship rounds saw the car retiring. But later on the Estonian driver could show some good results again: in 1978 Raul Sarap has become a USSR Champion on a revised Estonia 19M with a rear wing and a wide nose, and was a runner-up in 1979 behind Alexander Medvedchenko from Kiev, who also drove a seriously modified Estonia 19.
The new TARK formula, a replacement for the model 19, was developed with an eye on Raul Sarap’s car, which is notable even from the outside. On the whole, the new car, designed by Mart Kongo (aerodynamics and suspension) and Juri Iva (frame) with Sarap’s active participation, was not an all-new design compared to its predecessor: basically the same Estonia 19 spaceframe, independent coil spring suspension all around, ventilated disk brakes placed around the final drive at the rear axe. Wheelbase was shortened for sharper handling. Lada 21011 1.3-liter engine, meeting Formula Easter rules, got more power giving out 85 hp, as opposed to E-19’s 78 hp, but that was not the limit - following some additional setup drivers and their mechanics could source several horsepower on top of that. Curb weight fell down to 440 kg (a production Estonia 19 weighed 490 kg, with 485 kg for 19M).
Aerodynamically, though, Estonia 20 was a big step forward. Surely, the layout was not a revelation even for USSR (similar decisions could be seen on various designs of those years), but for the first time a production Soviet racing car featured a fully enclosed streamlined body, accompanied by front and rear wings ‘from the factory’, whereas the rear wing had a variable tilt. The wedge-shaped body looked more sweeping, with a narrowed nosecone. Sidewalls were designed to direct the airflow onto the radiators, placed on both sides of a cockpit, but moved backwards (the shape of those elements was also adopted from Sarap’s Estonia 19M). The wings were placed both in front and rear, generating the additional downforce, so eagerly seeked by previous TARK cars owners.
Estonia 20 had its first race on 22 April 1979 at Chaika track near Kiev during the opening round of USSR Championship. TARK management entrusted the first public outing to Raul Sarap, who took the development car, painted catchy orange, to victory in Formula Easter proving the car’s competitiveness for the factory management and the main customer - Central Committee of the DOSAAF (the society which, among the other duties, oversaw motorsports in USSR). For the rest of the season Sarap returned to the 19M: the two cars appeared to be very close to each other speaking of their racing qualities.
In the meantime starting from late 1979 TARK made final preparations for bringing the Estonia 20 into production. By early spring the car for the national team leader, Toomas Napa, was ready. According to plan, through 1 April to 30 June 1980, for the Olympics opening, 11 more cars were assembled.
In the same season Toivo Asmer became the national Champion after winning the final, third, round at Bikernieki driving a 1.6-liter Lada 2106 engined car. During 1981 and 1982 victories at the USSR Championship rounds were mostly in the hands of Estonia 20 drivers, both in Formula Easter and Formula 3. Some decent results in the Cup of Peace and Friendship also followed: USSR team drivers gained a number of second and third place finishes in the international races, and in 1981 Toomas Napa won the Polish round at Kielce. In general Estonia 20 drivers (modified chassis included) won 8 USSR Championship titles (Formula 3 in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986, Formula Easter in 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985).
But the car had a number of drawbacks. Frame design, basically still a modified one from 1960’s, was not rigid enough, which became even more pronounced with the first Soviet slick tyres (Prostor) became available. The E-20 also lacked good brakes. The rear ones, placed around the gearbox, suffered from overheating because of the cooling issues (difference between the front and rear brakes temperatures could reach 100 ℃). All that combined posed a challenge in finding a good brake balance. Still, those drawbacks were somehow outweighed by the fact that all drivers were in very similar conditions: serious chassis modifications were not common.
However, the TARK designers have addressed those issues. Estonia 20 has been updated under the guidance of Juri Suurkusk. The main difference of the E20 second series was a hard connection of the engine and the frame, which allowed to raise the frame rigidity by 15%. The car had no visual differences to the first series. Production of the new car, internally dubbed Estonia 20M (they were still called simply Estonia 20 everywhere else), has started in the first quarter of 1983. An interesting fact: one of the second series E20’s became a 1000th racing car produced at TARK in 1985.
Production lasted until the end of 1985, when the all-new Estonia 21M took over - a ground-effect car designed by no one else but Raul Sarap. A total of 263 cars were made, some of them are still around.
During the Moscow Classic Grand Prix events the spectators could see one of these cars driven by Alexander Potekhin. This driver’s regalia are long to count: 1990 Cup of Peace and Friendship winner (Formula Easter), two times USSR champion (Formula Easter and Formula 1600), two times Russian champion (Formula 1600), four times vice-champion in USSR (Formula 3, Formula Easter) and two times Russian vice-champion (Formula 1600), international master of sports, participant of many international competitions. Nowadays a technical director for ArtLine Engineering technical bureau, which produces ArtTech racing cars for more than 10 years already.
The Estonia 20 currently driven by Alexander Potekhin in its first life was a car of Vladimir Krivodub from Moscow - a development driver for NIISHP (Tire Research Institute), who entered formula racing after some years at the wheel of a touring Lada 21011. The car, which left the factory in 1982, was initially equipped with a 1.6-liter Lada 2106 engine meeting the national Formula 3 requirements. Driving this Estonia Vladimir came fifth in 1982 USSR Championship in Formula 3 category, with one second place under his belt. During the following two seasons he retained the car to compete in Formula 3, but with little to no success, and in 1985 changed it for a new 21M. Until recently the car was an exhibit in Autoreview magazine museum in Moscow, but now, being a part of Evgeny Shamanskiy collection, it competes in Moscow Classic Grand Prix and a revived Cup of Peace and Friendship for two years already.
The car was upgraded rather extensively. A new engine was prepared, meeting the Formula 1600 regulations. Lada 2105 cylinder block was equipped with a Lada 2103 crankshaft, self-made shortened pistons with displacer (compression height has been reduced from 37.9 to 30.5 millimeters, while cylinder bore increased from 66 to 80 millimeters), compression rate grew up to 11:1. The power was never measured in the said configuration, but it is estimated at around 140-150 hp.
The car received a new gearbox, with two different version being used during the season. The first one was assembled in 2015 from scratch to TARK specification, but midway through 2016 the car’s own gearbox, restored and developed, took its place.
This E20 features new wiring, hydraulics, clutch cylinder (‘It is impossible to take start in the right way with an original one from TARK’ - Alexander Potekhin). To deal with the braking issues during the season the car has got ventilated disks all around, five different versions of calipers were tested. Standard 13-inch wheels were replaced by the new OZ Racing of the same size, which have changed the looks of the car rather notably. Although this decision meant some difficulties.
‘We tried three variants of shock absorbers and coil springs to get that minimal ride height’ - Alexander Potekhin explains. ‘Front suspension kinematics were reviewed for the same reason. The thing is that modern tyres are about 40 millimeters higher that contemporary Prostor. That is the reason for the lack of brakes, larger ride height and insufficient downforce.’
As a result, the last round of 2016 season saw the Estonia 20 of Alexander Potekhin, being the oldest car in the pack, winning a wet second race, beating more moders Estonia 21M, 21.10 and 25 cars.
The car development continues. Additionally, 2017 will see more of Estonia 20’s in Moscow Classic GP. Alexander Potekhin prepares a second E20 with a 2015 engine and already mentioned scratch-built gearbox. Several more cars are known to be alive, from race ready to incomplete. We hope that sooner or later they will also be the participants of the new historic series.
We thank Ilmar Pardane, Alexander Potekhin, Alexey Rogachev and Alexander Sadovskiy for their help in this article preparation.
The article features photos from KM Vision Photo and personal archives of Mikhail Gorbachev, Kaspars Dziedātājs, Mart Kongo, Sergey Pashatskiy, Andris Štāls and Eesti Mootorispordi Muuseum.