Cutting Race Car Development Costs?

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A new approach to the design of competition cars can slash the cost of developing a competitive vehicle by up to 50 percent. Developed by Prodrive, the approach focuses engineering resources to maximise the benefits of every Euro spent. Prodrive says the technique can be applied across any formula and will ‘almost guarantee’ a competitive vehicle.

“We believe we have created a significant asset,” says Prodrive’s motorsport technical director, David Lapworth. “Whether our client wants to win straight out of the box or challenge the established brands with a headline-grabbing performance, we can now provide a high-confidence solution for a fraction of the costs required for a traditional approach to race or rally car development.”

The heart of the process is a rigorous definition of the sensitivity of the vehicle’s performance to incremental changes in the characteristics of each significant component. The first step in the process is to create a generic model of an ideal vehicle for the formula. Specific targets are then set for key performance factors such as weight, weight distribution, centre of gravity, aerodynamic forces, engine power, etc. The next stage of analysis is to define the degree of contribution of each component to each of these performance factors, allowing a rigorous definition of the improvement to whole-vehicle performance that will be generated by incremental improvement in each component.

Much of the cost reduction comes from the time saved by Prodrive’s engineers, but a significant contribution is also derived from what Lapworth calls ‘value balancing’. “Most constructors are under such time pressures that they base decisions on a combination of experience and what they are good at,” he explains. “That can mean, for example, a highly accomplished chassis that you can’t fully exploit because of an average power unit. Our approach ensures that resources are focussed only on the areas that deliver the biggest gain, so the relative performance of every system is balanced across the vehicle.”

The foundations of the process were developed in 2009 as Prodrive prepared a generic rally car for new World Rally Championship regulations in 2011.  “At that stage, we didn’t know which car we were going to put the design into, so we spent time ensuring we had a rigorous understanding of every characteristic that affects vehicle performance, then building that knowledge into a model-based process,” says Lapworth. “We ended up in talks with three vehicle manufacturers and chose to work with MINI.  The result was that the MINI World Rally Car was delivered very quickly, with far less testing than any previous programme, yet the car achieved three podiums in its first seven outings and very nearly won on its third event. The design and development budget for that programme was a fraction of the norm, indeed less than 50 percent of what we had previously spent on developing the Subaru Impreza WRC.”

The process was then applied by Prodrive to the design of Aston Martin Racing’s GTE entry for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship, helping the constructor to deliver improved performance alongside improved value compared with previous generation cars. With each new project following the same approach, the process has been refined meaning that Prodrive is now confident it can guarantee the delivery of a competitive cars at a fraction of the cost of traditional programme.

Prodrive is committing to  to Rallycross and Dakar developments, according to Prodrive’s motorsport business development director, Richard Taylor, who led the company’s multiple world championship-winning Subaru World Rally Championship team. “We see RallyX as an increasingly important formula that is catching the attention of manufacturers and major global brands looking to use sport as a marketing platform,” he says. “It’s exciting to compete in, great to watch and costs are reasonable.”

Taylor says that Prodrive has already started to analyse the regulations for RallyX and for Dakar very carefully, looking for the subtle nuances that open opportunities for competitive advantage. “Over the coming months, we are developing theoretically-optimised models for both, which will allow us to develop a competitive car very quickly,” he concludes.

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Always finding ways to keep his hands full, Krado loves to tinker with his car whenever he has the free time. Usually ends in tears or a multiple fluid facial.

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