1968 to 2004
In 1968, Derek Mathews set up in a small workshop and business, Ark Racing in Croft Street Willenhall. He had already been preparing cars for private individuals to race and by starting Ark Racing had now secured a workshop in a thriving industrial area.
His initial projects included a Sprite for John Banks, an ex-driving test and sprint exponent. By the end of 1969, his first season, Banks had recorded eleven top three placing from twenty-one outings in his 1300cc Sprite.
Following this success the racing team turned their attention to improving the Sprite for European races. In his workshop was an old Ford twin cam engine, and plans for a very special Sprite began to evolve and work began on the ARKSPRITE TWIN-CAM-70l.
After competing satisfactorily in a number of club GT events, the car was entered for the 1970 750 Motor Club Birkett 6 hour relay race at Silverstone. A good result meant the car was deemed ready for its first International event and the Ark team set off for the 1970 Nurburgring 500km race. They finished 2nd in their class and on 11 November were ready for the six-hour event at Jarama Circuit in Spain which saw them finish 2nd in class.
In 1971 the team returned to UK racing and entered the ARKSPRITE into the Birkett Relay, a six-hour race on 15th August. They were victorious. It was the first time in the 21-year history of the Birkett Relay that the wining car had covered more than 500 miles (over 800km). They collected the Cars and Car Conversions trophy for the overall winner, the Speedwell Cup for the first car to exceed 500 miles, and prizes for leading at the end of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th hours. The car completed a number of times following this success and was finally sold.
In 1978 the car was seen again rebuilt as a Reliant Kitten Special GT, with a 200bhp BDA engine. The Sprite then competed in the Historic Sports Car Club RIB Mining Championship for Group 6 Sports cars. Derek Matthews saw it at Mallory and commented that it did not look very different from the car he designed and built twenty-five years previously.
In 1970 Ark Racing had been asked to design a 2 seater sports car. The build had a number of contributors with Ark making the front suspension, brakes, body. The car made its race debut at Oulton Park on the 16th October in the Humble Group Trophy race for GT cars over 10 laps of the 2.76 miles circuit. When the car was entered as the DM6 (Derek's sixth car), it succeeded in taking 5th place overall, a class win and fastest lap for the class.
In October 1974 the car which was now called the "Vogue" had been upgraded to a 1800cc 4-cylinder, 16 valve Ford Cosworth BDG engine with Lucas injection installed, and was entered for a Formula Libre race at Thruxton in the October, The car failed to make the meeting but for 1975, Richard Jenvey the Bridgnorth Modsports Lotus Elan driver put together a deal with Lester Ray to drive the car with Derek Matthews continuing the preparation.
From here the car was successfully raced in UK and European circuits progressing through a number of rebuilds. In 1977 Ark Racing left this partnership and moved on to its next project, to build a Lotus Elan to compete in Modsports racing
The Lotus Elan had 17 outings, only once finishing outside the top three in its class on one occasion. In addition the driver John Evans set a new lap record for his class at Castle Combe, and again finished 2nd in his class in the BARC Blue Circle Modsports Championship. 1975 was John's best ever season with the Elan, winning its class and the outright championship of the BRSCC Modsports Series, and finishing 2nd in its class behind the overall champion in the BARC Series, achieving outright wins at Mallory Park on three occasions, Silverstone twice and once at Thruxton. Except for three retirements he never finished out of the first two places in his class in the other 18 outings.
1982 - The CEEKAR
Group C was introduced by FISA on the 1 January 1982. Formally defined as a class for two-seater sports cars, built as single examples destined solely for competition. The aptly names CEEKAR was built to race in Group C World Sports Car Championship/ World Endurance Championship. In 1985 the team planned to compete in all World Endurance Championship races.
After a good season the final race of the 1985 World Endurance Championship race took place at the Shah Alam circuit in Malaysia on the 1st December. In the 800 Km race, drivers Max and David brought the car into a high place overall and 4th in class. The 1985 season had been one of the World Endurance Championships fairy tales. The small team of Willenhall's GENTLEMEN DRIVERS' set out to take part, rather than to win with the CEEKAR-FORD, and finished up third in the Group C2 Championship of Teams.
When the ‘CEEKAR' was built in 1983 it was fitted with the 4-cylinder Cosworth Ford BDX engine of 2 litre capacity, a reliable package. For the 1986 season the team decided to fit a Cosworth Ford DFV engine of 3 litre capacity even though this meant a major rebuild of the rear of the car, it was highly cost-effective way of competing in international sports car racing.
The Ceekar DFV finished 17th place overall/seventh in class at the final race at Spa circuit.
Ark Racing continued to design and build components to supply to the world of competitive racing. The focus remaining on bespoke parts to enable customers to gain competitive advantage on the start line and in the field. Derek Mathews remained at the helm until his retirement in 2004.
2004 - Present
In 2004 a new management team took over Ark Racing headed by Nick Beere; with eyes on the future of the sport they started to introduce a number of technological applications and new machines. Like Mathews, Nick had had his teeth cut in competitive racing as a privateer and driver in hill-climbs sprints and trials. The new team also brought a range of skills and experience from their automotive backgrounds. They were intent on taking Ark Racing from its niche as ‘the best kept secret in motorsport engineering’ to a respected leading supplier of parts to racing teams.
The period from 2004 has seen many important and exciting changes within the business with diversification from pure lightweight starter motor manufacture into special flywheels, alternators, clutch systems and fabricated parts for a bewildering range of sports and racing cars, dating from a 1905 Sunbeam to present day Formula 1, 2 and 3 machinery. Also during this time a number of one off projects have been undertaken, including ‘off car’ starters for GP2 and other series, and provision of special starters for the JCB record breaking diesel car. An interesting additional project has been the provision of starter motor systems for the engines of unmanned drone type aircraft.
Alongside all these projects Ark has become involved in developing a race support programme with a major single seater series, involving time related servicing and spares support facilities trackside and at base.
Continuous development on the reliability and life under arduous conditions of our starter motor and alternator systems has seen major improvements in service intervals and units which previously lasted months now running reliably for years.
To compliment the new broader and expanding activities of the company much of the machinery inherited in 2004 has been replaced with ‘state of the art’ 4 axis CNC controlled milling and turning equipment, allowing CAD, modelling and design interchange with customers. These facilities have allowed the company to lower its dependence on time consuming castings needing after machining processes, and now most of our parts are machined from billet with the much improved quality control and speed that this allows.
In 2006 the company under took the support and preparation of a single cylinder motor cycle for a customer competing in the Supermono series, after several moderately successful seasons, this has led to Nick developing his own bike and competing in 2010 in a successor series. In order to compete in the series, as the bikes do not have an on board starter it has been necessary to produce a free standing roller starter and this has become one of the projects for 2010, in the not too distant future this unit in 3 configurations will be offered alongside the existing Ark products.