Feature: Simulation making a difference in racing
With the way that the increased focus in developing race cars has come hand-in-hand with the way that Formula One has changed over the years since the mid 2000s, teams such as Red Bull and McLaren have some of the most mind-boggling equipment that aids the ongoing emphasis of the competitive nature of the sport.
Simulators for F1 teams are either being showcased, as the Milton Keynes squad have done via YouTube, but the clear leader in this in McLaren Mercedes, who have such a wealth of technology to make the steps forward possible. Woking’s is kept firmly under wraps in the depths of the MTC, for what is clearly an all-out war when racing is their business and the goal is to win. But then you have to think about what the other end of the spectrum is like.
At the Autosport International Show, I met with Kris, who was on the stand for the University of Bolton, which runs the Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering (CAPE) program under its head, Nick Reynolds, who is also a partner with RLR Msport. Bolton is the only university that has a fully-functioning race team that is located on campus, where those hoping to get into the world of motorsport from an engineering perspective can get real, hands-on experience, which even involves trackside operations.
This means that the pressures of getting cars using the state-of-the-art technology wherever RLR goes to compete, so it becomes a routine and part of their grounding to having that added edge to applying for jobs when they graduate.
What is even better is that all students will learn about many different aspects of what goes into the day-to-day running of the business, from engineering race vehicles, marketing and even the designs that go into the racing apparel that drivers wear today.
This means that those studying for either a Bachelors of Science in Motorsport Technology or a Bachelors in Engineering in Automotive Performance Engineering (Motorsport), could end up one day working in the world of Formula One, doing exactly what they are doing right now.
To give me a further understanding of just how simulators have such a wide spectrum up and down the technological ladder, it then came to a meeting with those that were a part of this program from a collaboration standpoint, as well as trying out their simulator in person, to get a real feel for it.
Virtual Eventz’ Andy Levis and Aeon Simulators’ Geoff Turton kindly gave me an opportunity to test out the AEON D-Series, which runs with a four D-BOX actuator set-up. This was actually a pretty intense experience, especially from what your “arse sensor” tells you, in the words of David Coulthard.
The simulator itself was running on GRID 2, with its “Checkpoint Challenge” being used to give me my first impressions. The feedback through your arms as the car goes over differing road surfaces was a jolt to the system, as well as the seat moving via the four actuators, so it gave you the feeling that you were there in the cockpit of the car itself.
As with this kind of experience, adaptability is a key part of the progression when it comes to getting the feel of what sensation your body gets as a result of the feedback via all the parameters, so as I carried on, the feedback did help with increasing the performance in the game itself.
This was done using a conventional steering wheel, but then there was a chance to use a full-size Formula One replica, complete with all the usual buttons and switches that are used by the 22 drivers we have on the grid. The wheel and simulator had to be configured to give the realistic nature of F1 2012, which was being used as a baseline for the experience that give me more of a genuine first-person perspective.
In the short timescale where I was able to use the D-Series as best as I could, it finally came down to deciding the choice of car and the track. I ended up going for the Ferrari F2012 and used it around Interlagos. In the few laps that I drove around the Autódromo José Carlos Pace, I had to adapt rather rapidly, but it was great to see how the system mirrored the button pressing when either KERS or DRS was opened.
The laps got faster, even with a few off-track moments from yours truly, I must admit that it was worth getting this rare insight on equipment that is built here in the UK, as “Motorsport Valley” has been built up by many individuals and teams over the past few decades. It scratches the surface of just what is possible when it comes to finding out about this type of technology. In many ways, I really now have a further appreciation into just how much hard work and cost goes into just what the development of the cars we will see on the grid this year and beyond.
Testing restrictions have brought around this reality, which has worked for just under the last decade, firstly being used as a means of track familiarization but now is one of the tools that really makes a difference, especially in the heat of battle. It is a sign of the times when it comes to costs and testing restrictions, but for how the sport has evolved, it is a very effective one.
Images courtesy of Red Bull Racing/Getty Images and RichlandF1
Many thanks to the University of Bolton, Virtual Eventz and Aeon Simulators for arranging the use of the simulator.
Alex Goldschmidt, a man with a view all his own. For the last 25 years, Alex has witnessed the talents of great drivers, such as Senna, Prost, Mansell and Schumacher, and enjoys the intrigue, scandal and confrontations, that occur both on and off the track. Alex also has an interest in the technical side of Formula One, as well as nostalgic moments in history, championing such people as John Surtees and Sir Jackie Stewart. With a view to making his career in motorsport journalism, he looks to provide original content to the masses, and to have great future success in his rapidly progressing career – as a reporter.