Accelerating racecar innovation

  • 23-Sep-2014 09:38 EDT
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Andrea Toso (left), Head of R&D and U.S. Racing for Dallara, accepts the 2014 BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award for the Dallara IndyCar Simulator from Steve Holman, Chairman, Louis Schwitzer Award Committee of The Indiana Section of SAE International. (Michael Levitt, LAT USA)

Prior to this year’s Indianapolis 500, the 48th annual BorgWarner Louis Schwitzer Award was awarded for innovation and engineering excellence in race car design. Claiming the award, for the second time, was Andrea Toso, Head of Research and Development and U.S. Racing Business Leader for Dallara. He was recognized for his work on the Dallara IndyCar Simulator, which was installed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past spring. The simulator allows drivers and teams to evaluate the on-track performance of new racecar components and system designs. The simulator consists of a patented 4-m (13-ft) OD motion platform containing the cockpit from a Dallara Automobili DW12 racecar complete with full driver controls, active seatbelts, 180-degree video screen, Dolby surround audio system, and realistic sound and heat generators. Automotive Engineering recently spoke with Toso about the IndyCar Simulator and his career in motorsports.

What is the most difficult part of designing a highly complex simulator such as this?

There are a few simulators commercially available, and some race teams do buy these simulators for training, but at this high of a level you cannot buy a simulator. So you have to buy graphics software, develop your own vehicle model, develop controls, develop cueing software to move the platform to follow the commands from the driver. This is the most difficult part—integration. Integration of components, systems, software in real time. Everyone can buy single elements, but to integrate them together is the most difficult part.

You have served as a Formula SAE design judge for 10 years; how do you see that event preparing young engineers for the profession?

Quite simply, when I have to recruit new engineers I don’t look for the highest grades. I don’t look for whether or not the student completed their courses in due time or with extra time. I prefer that they’ve done the SAE event. The greatest learning provided by attending this SAE event is losing. To most racers, losing means coming in second or ending with a DNF. Young engineers don’t know how easy and frequent it is to fail in normal life. If you do that through an experience like a Formula SAE event, that’s great. They learn how to work in a team, how to be managed by one of their peers, and they have to deliver something that is working—at the end of the project, at a certain date, within a given budget. These are the challenges that we engineers face every day. I like the SAE event experience to the point that if there is an IndyCar race or an SAE event, I no doubt attend the SAE event.

Your background is in aerospace engineering, did you intend to pursue an aviation career initially?

Motorsports was an unexpected opportunity. I joined Dallara 25 years ago, and this has been my first job. I studied aerodynamics, flight mechanics, lightweight materials like composites, and vibration. When learning every day to build lightweight structures, aerodynamics, vibration, suspension, it comes from aeronautics.

Do you now encourage students to pursue aerospace engineering as a major?

I would encourage aerospace. Mechanical engineering is now done through the materials, alloys, heat treatment, emission design, which is good. But 10 years from now the world will be more about lightweight structures, aerodynamics, fuel consumption, and I think, without disregard for mechanical engineers, aerospace engineering is more suited.

Making motorsports more road relevant is a big issue now, how do you think that could be achieved?

Number one is safety. We feel a lot of pressure to improve safety every two weeks. Both active and passive [safety]. Passive has to deal with the structure of the car; and active is how the driver drives safely, maneuvering to avoid an obstacle. Number two is fuel consumption. There’s pressure from the automotive industry to reduce our fuel consumption. Powertrain losses due to friction, aerodynamic drag, weight of the car, these are the three factors.

What’s the mix between wind-tunnel testing and computer simulation when it comes to aerodynamics?

The trend is clear. More and more you do CFD, less and less you do wind tunnel. If I had, say, $5 million, I would invest in refining the CFD rather than improving the wind tunnel. But the wind tunnel is still necessary because you need to prove the CFD. If you have a wind tunnel, you would invest in CFD. If you don’t have a wind tunnel, I would be hesitant to completely trust CFD.

What are some of the shortcomings that remain for CFD?

Airflow around a car is rather easy to model. What we see coming is to study the internal flow in the engine compartment and cooling the occupant. Consider a driver racing a 24-h event. The comfort of the driver makes a big difference in the performance of the car. If the driver is tired or overheated, he makes a mistake.

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