Simulators – time to get real

June 24, 2014

Simulators – time to get real

June 24, 2014

simulator1For many of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans class teams, the first race at the historic Watkins Glen circuit means learning a new track.

But it shouldn’t take long for the factory squads from BMW Team RLL, Porsche North America, Corvette Racing, SRT Motorsports Viper, and the Falken Porsche and Risi Competizione Ferrari to find the quick way around the 3.4-mile circuit.

Data and imagination are the keys to unloading a car with a set up that will likely require only minor adjustments, and that means extensive use of simulators.

As a factory driver with the SRT Motorsports Viper factory team, Kuno Wittmer keeps it real both on and off the track. To optimize time away from the track, one of his assignments is to spend hours locked in a high tech simulator at Multimatic outside Toronto. There, the popular Montréal native can cover more options in a day than the entire team could hope to achieve in week of on track testing.

Armed with data from prior races, tests, wind tunnels and highly detailed track diagrams, Viper engineers are able to produce incredibly accurate simulations of track configurations, surfaces, loads and even grip levels.

“We can make changes so quickly on the simulator, it’s just few keystrokes and we have changed a shock setting or even springs,” said Wittmer.

“At the track those changes would each take chunks of time, but we can try 25 or 30 set ups a day on the simulator.” As a result, teams can predict lap times, gearing, aero package, chassis settings and start to develop a race plan based entirely on simulations.

Simulators help both drivers and engineers prepare for a race. Engineers crave data and the ability to evaluate a wide range of options quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, drivers like to learn the track layouts, including bumps, visual reference points and braking zones.

Either way, teams reduce the number of expensive track test days which include costs for track rentals, team travel, equipment usage and risks of weather, crashes or time lost to fix balky cars, change engines, transmissions, electronics or bodywork.
Wittmer’s Viper squad uses test days to validate simulator results data. A test at Watkins Glen International last month still left time for a possible return to the simulators with the newly acquired data.

Simulators are not limited simply to race set-ups. Porsche made extensive use of simulators in designing and engineering the new Porsche 919 Hybrid for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Corvette Racing credits extensive simulation work in designing and racing the new 2014 C7.Rs. In fact, one example of the technology transfer from track to street comes in the development of sophisticated simulation tools.

Michelin, the technical partner for the top Porsche, BMW, Corvette, Viper and Ferrari TUDOR Championship teams and the 2014 Audi, Toyota, Porsche and Nissan Le Mans teams uses advanced simulations to help determine tire sizes, shapes, compounds and constructions, tire selections, and anticipated tread wear rates.

And while the super-sophisticated factory simulators are the ultimate, a variety of simpler, less expensive options are also used by teams and drivers. The Extreme Speed Motorsports team carries a simulator aboard its race transporters.

While former American Le Mans Series teams and drivers make first visits to Daytona, Watkins Glen and Indianapolis, the simulator doors swing both ways as the former GRAND AM teams encounter Sebring and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Mosport) for the first time.

Action Express’ 2014 ROLEX 24 at Daytona co-winner Christian Fittipaldi said, “I will use the simulator for Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. I’ve never been there before. The video games are so good they really help you get an intense feel for the layout.”

Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner talents were put to work on the simulator for McLaren when he won the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award in 1996. Away from the track today, the two-time Le Mans GT class winner runs Base Performance Simulators in the UK where teams and drivers can test “virtually” or even purchase their own system.

“Formula 1 teams have had simulators for the best part of two decades and I happened to be a test driver when they first came on the scene,” Turner said.

“Those teams spend millions of pounds on the developing their simulators as an engineering tool, using complex models to test new concepts and set-ups. As all good ideas eventually do, the use of simulators has now trickled down into the mainstream of motorsport.

“The main difference between these simulators and the F1 versions, are that these are designed as driver development tools rather than for evaluating ideas from a design office. Most drivers don’t have the luxury of being in a racecar day in day out, so using a simulator is a simple and cost-effective solution making improvements to your driving between races.”

Yet simulators are not for everyone. “I can’t do it. I get motion sickness,” says Wittmer’s Viper teammate Dominik Farnbacher.

Mark Reuss, the Executive Vice President and head of Global Product Development for General Motors, told a recent technical conference that GM can simulate the subtleties of every track for every series and every car they race, including the Pratt & Miller simulations with Corvette Racing focusing in the TUDOR Championship.

And….Corvette Racing’s GTLM class victories in its last two TUDOR Championship races with the new C7.R were very real.

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