Road-car processes race to cut motorsport costs

  • 04-Jun-2013 04:14 EDT
Prodrive05-13 MINI-WRC Meeke day2.jpg

Less testing, a quick program, and significantly lower-than-normal design and development costs saw Prodrive help Mini's World Rally Car to three podium places in its first seven events.

As every automotive engineer knows, linking motorsport and production vehicle technology can be a shade tenuous, particularly when it comes to economics. But Prodrive believes it has established a significant link via its latest value modeling process—with motorsport benefiting from production road-car experience rather than volume vehicles from track success.

As a design, development, and manufacturing consultancy for both industry sectors, Prodrive is melding motorsport engineering experience with value analysis knowledge gained from its road vehicle engineering work.

The result, claims David Lapworth, the company’s Technical Director for Motorsport, is that competition-car development costs can be cut very substantially.

Balancing efficiency and performance against cash invested is vital for every sector of motorsport: “So we believe that we have created a significant asset,” said Lapworth.

He explains that what was needed to achieve this was the translation of value analysis techniques into a very thorough process able to support motorsport design decisions, correlating with a greatly enhanced focus on the benefits of every engineering investment.

The approach can be applied across motorsport’s widely disparate aspects from Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship (WRC) to Dakar and Rallycross, and Prodrive regards the results as almost a guarantee of a competitive vehicle.

The costs:results ratio of motorsport can be daunting for series vehicle producers hoping to benefit from track glamour. But as well as those driving for outright motorsport wins, there are also OEMs just needing an image-enhancing place on the podium; for them, Prodrive’s modeling might prove a big temptation, believes the company’s Motorsport Business Director, Richard Taylor.

“Today, we can develop a competitive car and compete at the top level of a major global championship such as the WRC for less than $15 million a year instead of perhaps $30 million without our new process,” Taylor said. “That would give a rising brand an opportunity to be seen to challenge some of the most established and highly regarded volume vehicle manufacturers. A competitive Global Rallycross program including the X Games can cost as little as $2.5 million.”

The key is to translate value analysis techniques of road vehicle creation into what Lapworth terms a “rigorous process” that supports previously unattainable precise design decisions while correlating engineering investment with performance.

Some motorsport companies may protest that this is what they are already doing, but Lapworth is adamant that Prodrive’s process takes traditional approaches to a far higher plane, stating that it involves the application of a precisely focused definition of the sensitivity of the vehicle’s performance to incremental changes in the characteristics of every significant component.

First step in that process is to create a generic model of an ideal vehicle for a particular motorsport formula. Specific targets are then set for salient performance factors such as weight, weight distribution, center of gravity, aerodynamic effects, and engine power output. This phase is followed by definition of the degree of individual component contribution to each of these performance factors, allowing a deep-dive definition of the improvement contribution to whole vehicle performance.

“At this stage, we have a very precise understanding of the cost of making the car competitive and of each additional step required to achieve further performance improvement. It’s essentially a dollars per second/kilometer figure for rallying, per second per lap for racing,” said Lapworth. “The power of the approach is that this allows us to make decisions very quickly and very accurately, ensuring that time and money are only invested where they will deliver most value. Everyone in the design team understands these parameters and therefore does not waste time over-engineering, seeking costly incremental improvement in component performance that contributes very little to overall vehicle performance.”

While a major element of cost reduction comes from time saved by engineers, a significant contribution also derives from “value balancing.” Explains Lapworth: “Most constructors are under such time pressures that they base decisions on a combination of experience and what they are good at—for example, a highly accomplished chassis that you can’t fully exploit because of an average power unit. Our approach ensures that resources are focused only on the areas that deliver the biggest gain, so the relative performance of every system is balanced across the vehicle.”

It is four years since Prodrive laid the foundations of the new process as it prepared a generic rally car to meet the 2011 new WRC regulations. “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 real understanding of every characteristic that affects vehicle performance,” said Lapworth. “We then built that knowledge into a model-based process. We 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 program, yet the car achieved three podiums in its first seven outings. The design and development budget for that program was a fraction of the norm—less than 50% of the sum we 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, delivering improved performance and value, alongside improved value compared with previous-generation cars. With each new project following the same approach, the process has been refined. Prodrive can now confidently guarantee the delivery of a competitive car at a fraction of the cost of a traditional program.

Prodrive is currently using the new process to develop a Mini for the Global Rallycross series and to analyze the regulations and be in a position to very quickly develop a theoretically optimized generic car for the Dakar.

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