Motorsport has often been the benchmark for new and innovative technologies as teams quest to beat one another. Unlike most sports, motorsport is often down to engineering as much as it is the athlete. These engineering technological advances have often fed back down into the consumer vehicle. Motorsport teams are often sponsored by production vehicle companies as they try to demonstrate their technology and reliability to the consumers. This blog will look at some of the various technologies that have made it from the high end technology driven motorsport to the consumer and what we drive in our everyday cars.
Disc Brakes (Jaguar C-Type)
One technology that we almost take for granted on all vehicles these days is the disc brake. Almost every modern vehicle produced will use disc brakes as they have superior braking capabilities and last much longer than their counterpart, the drum brake.
In the early 1950’s a small company by the name of Mintex, who had been developing automotive disc brakes off the back of their aerospace division which had utilised this technology, got in touch with Jaguar’s chief engineer to talk about the new technology they were developing. When they pitched it to Jaguar, how could they not utilise it on their vehicles but the bigger question was how could Jaguar get to Le Mans without any competitors catching on to this technology. After the pitch, Jaguar quickly tested it at a secret aerodrome with their C-Type before using the technology to come in 1st and 2nd at Le Mans from 1951 through to 1954. At the time, Jaguar had a rich heritage and was well known as the dominant force in motorsport. Following these dominant performances, automotive manufacturers looked at making this technology viable for the mass market.
1951 Jaguar C-Type (where C stands for competition). Source: Jaguar
Many manufacturers attempted to use disc brakes throughout the 1950’s but none were viable for the consumer with many being too expensive or not reliable enough. However, development of this technology continued as drum brakes were heating and warping causing uncomfortable rides due to the vibration, not to mention the fact that disc brakes had much greater braking power making them much safer for the consumer. In the 1960’s many high performance cars were using disc brakes but it was still deemed too expensive to the consumer. By the late 1960’s Ford and Austin were able to utilise disc brakes manufactured from Mintex, the original manufacturer of disc brakes for the Jaguar C-Type. The development of disc brakes continued throughout the 1970’s making them more commonplace in the mass market. In the modern day, virtually every car has disc brakes. Some vehicles have the exception of using them only on the rear but also utilsing drum brakes but this is not common.
The workings and components used for disc brakes. Source: Quora
Carbon Fibre (Mclaren MP41)
Carbon Fibre is a type of composite with extremely good strength to weight properties with respect to the direction of applied load. For similar amounts of stiffness, you can obtain a much lighter vehicle utilising carbon fibre than a steel or alloy equivalent. It was this reason that drove the construction of a Carbon Fibre chassis. Within months, many teams had copied Mclaren into moving into a predominantly Carbon Fibre construction. These days almost all components on an F1 car as well as many other motorsport vehicles are Carbon Fibre. This is not only because of its incredible strength to weight properties or the fact that you can achieve much greater stiffness than similar thicknesses of steel or alloys but also because you can mold many different shapes, allowing for more aerodynamic shapes to be achieved. So how has this fed down to the consumer vehicle?
Mclaren MP41 Source: F1 Technical
For many years now high performance sports cars have utilised carbon fibre in their body construction, the first being the Mclaren F1 in 1992 and was quickly followed by Ferrari and Lamborghini, however, carbon fibre simply hasn’t been cost effective for use on mass-produced vehicles. However, in recent times, emissions targets have forced companies into looking for ways to make their vehicles more efficient. This includes looking at battery technology, efficient engine technologies, aerodynamics but also the vehicles weight. In recent years most manufacturers have gone to predominantly aluminium architecture as it can reduce weight by up to a third of the total vehicle without causing any issues to the vehicles load cases or safety but some manufacturers are taking this to the next step in the mass market.
BMW have been the first automotive manufacturer to utilise carbon fibre in its mass market vehicles following a large investment in a carbon fibre manufacturing plant, albeit at a much lower quality than what is seen in motorsport or high performance vehicles. Currently, BMW is using a carbon fibre monocoque body with aluminium in its critical loadcase areas that sits on top of the all electric powertrain and chassis for the I3 and I8. All though the I8 is not necessarily a mass market car, it has helped provide a benchmark for BMW to use carbon fibre in future models. I foresee BMW bringing out a range of new all electric lightweight vehicles in the coming years with the carbon fibre manufacturing plant the basis of these new cars.
BMW I3 Carbon Fibre Monocoque Body offset from the all electric chassis and powertrain. Source: Boron Extrication
With the benchmark now thrown down, it is up to other manufacturers to find viable methods of building lightweight cars to extend the range. Volkswagen have released concept vehicles but we are yet to see any use of carbon fibre from any of the major automotive players. Some car manufacturers however have opted to go down the extremely lightweight aluminium route, arguably able to achieve similar full body weights with a much stronger, more versatile and easier to repair body structure. It should also be noted that carbon fibre is not the only composite material in the modern day and certain manufacturers have utilised other composites such as sheet moulding compound for their exterior panels allowing for an optimised body in terms of lightweight capabilities and ease of repair. It will be interesting to see if other companies are willing to put the same investments into their vehicles as what BMW have and with the need for lower to zero emissions, using composite materials may be the only way.
Aerodynamics is fundamental in motorsport but it took a large leap forward during the 1970’s. It had been experimented with by the major Formula 1 teams throughout the 1950’s and 60’s by creating aerodynamic shapes and large front and rear spoilers to mimic the air flow of an aerofoil which had been used for many years in the aerospace industry to create lift. Similar thought processes and a basic understanding of fluid mechanics for how air reacts around an automobile were utilised in these race cars. In the late 1960’s teams were experimenting with extreme designs which ultimately led to some spectacular crashes.
Jackie Stewart in his Matra Cosworth MS10 at the South African GP. Source TJ13
F1 regulations then changed, many of which are still in place today. The changes meant that teams had to experiment with new designs which lead to a better understanding of groundforce (negative lift) which meant that more power could be transmitted from the cars to the road. This effectively meant the the underside of the chassis was designed as an upside down wing to suck the car down to the road. As F1 teams were experimenting with these technologies, production vehicle began to become more aerodynamic to reduce drag.
These days many motorsport teams have wind tunnels to experiment with new shapes and try to gain marginal advantages. Some automotive companies also have these available to work on their production cars. For high performance cars, downforce is still important but for many consumer vehicles it is about reducing the drag coefficient. The drag coefficient can be easily found by using advanced Computer Aided Engineering software. It can also be found by using the following equation.
Source: NASA Glenn Research Center
Similarly with weight, aerodynamics has a large effect on reaching the current emissions targets. Many mass produced consumer vehicles are now looking to reduce their drag coefficient by incorporating intelligent designs such as bodywork, flush door handles and aerodynamic body shapes when testing in CAE or wind tunnels. This is greatly influencing modern body designs. Tesla has been at the forefront of this technology to increase the range of their electric vehicles and have now brought out the Tesla Semi Truck with an extremely low drag coefficient, in fact lower than the foremely fastest road car (Bugatti Chiron).
Just like with using lightweight vehicle technology, it would not be a surprise to see companies investing in advanced aerodynamic technologies / research capabilities such as wind tunnels and new CAE software packages. It will also be interesting to see new shapes and technologies in the automotive mass vehicle market. Personally, I foresee more companies utilsing flush door handles and even reducing drag by eliminating wing mirrors and replaced with digital technologies such as cameras however currently the market is very limited due to regulations. Time will tell if the major automotive players are willing to challenge such regulations in pursuit of new innovation and technologies.
Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) has been discussed throughout this blog and it should be no surprise that this technology, which is now utilised by all automotive manufacturers, originated from motorsport.
CAE is a very useful tool that can predict loadcases and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). In motorsport, many teams were unable to invest or afford to use wind tunnels which ultimately lead to them investing in advanced computational software to predict important scenarios. Additionally, regulations only allow teams to perform set amounts of testing in wind tunnels or on the track which increases the need for test results with accuracy before the car goes on the track in a race. In motorsport, the CAE is mainly focussed on CFD and vehicle safety however it was quickly developed to also include Multibody Dynamics (MBD), durability, Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and Design Optimisation. These are crucial factors in design of modern automotive vehicles and can be utilised for testing new technologies. More importantly, CAE has become very accurate which allows designers to test in a virtual scenario before running official crash testing.
Source: Trig Innovation
Source: Euro NCAP
CAE is a skill many engineers should have if they wish to enter the automotive industry whether it be for motorsport or production vehicles, however, it takes many years to learn these skills at a highly competent level. It is also important to understand the first principles engineering as these software packages simply do not give you the answer, they give a set of results that need to be interpreted in the correct method. Stay in touch with us as we develop engineering training to better understand some of these principles and help make you a more competent and complete engineer.