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The Way It Is/ Looking for the right technical philosophies and solutions

by Gordon Kirby
Over the past four or five months I've written ten columns devoted to discussing ideas about creating new racing formulae for the 21st century. As regular readers know, I've talked to many people on this subject and since I started writing these columns both the FIA and the IRL have announced plans for new formulas for Formula 1 and Indy cars in 2011. This week, I'm going to take stock of what I've learned and present an overall synopsis of what racing's future might look like in either F1, sports car or Indy car racing.

First of all, I have to say in the last year or so I've joined many people in the sport mourning the passing of the days of innovation and moaning about the arrival of the spec car age. I wrote about these things last year in the first few 'The Way It Is' columns and have returned to the theme a number of times. Last winter, almost everyone I know seemed to have begun to begrudgingly accept that the spec car age has arrived and they have to live with it. Yet this spring both the FIA and IRL announced their own separate initiatives to create new, technologically-interesting green F1 and Indy car formulas for 2011, and many of us are hopeful that these moves will help reinvigorate the sport, particularly in America.

It won't be easy to properly reinvent either formula of course, and to achieve the goals of creating competitive, entertaining racing which appeals to the masses, not just to engineers, manufacturers and the cognoscenti. Formula 1 has achieved and maintained this critical balance for quite a few years. Contrastingly, CART and IRL failed in that quest, as did the original incarnation of IMSA, leaving us with today's bifurcated and devalued forms of American open-wheel and sports car racing, and of course, spec cars at every turn in NASCAR, Champ Car, IRL (effectively), the Grand-Am, etc.

Audi's turbo diesel R10 Le Mans car has created a buzz for the American Le Mans Series which has helped bring both Porsche and Acura to the ALMS's party over the past two years. Both Porsche and Acura were drawn to the ALMS because the series retains a whiff of technology in an increasingly spec-car age but there's no doubt that Audi's turbo diesel sets the standard. The message of Audi's success is that the ALMS and other forms of racing outside NASCAR need to focus on writing formulas that will further encourage green fuel technology.

Ilmor co-founder and F1 and Indy car engine designer Mario Illien believes the focus for motor sport should be on improving fuel mileage and efficiency while achieving additional performance and spectacle. "This could be a fantastic challenge for both the racing and the road car industries," Illien remarked.

Of course, as Illien is well aware, costs will go up if the rules are entirely rewritten or opened-up, but he also sees potential returns. "Everybody talks about costs but I guarantee you some people will spend as much, or more money, than they have done before," Illien chuckled. "The biggest costs in racing are always from rule changes, whether useful or not. This time there is a great opportunity to make the most of a rule change to benefit long term and in a big way. If the money spent on new technologies can be used and transferred to production cars, then there is a return for that investment and we can see some benefits from the racing activities on a bigger picture."

Illien has long been a proponent of hybrid engine technologies and he designed and built a hybrid for racing which was banned before it was ready to race. "I've been lobbying for hybrids for many years," he said. "Back in 2000 we had a system almost on the track but then it was forbidden."

Illien is enthusiastic about the FIA's plans for a new 'green' Formula 1 and hopes it will produce some interesting hybrid solutions. He believes fuel efficiency should be a keystone to the new formula.

"The additional performance of the race car will come from fuel efficiency of the engine and from the energy recovery systems on board," Illien commented. "This will and can open a catalogue of systems and technologies to improve the overall performance of a car with a fixed amount of fuel."

© courtesy Ilmor
Illien points out that a traditional internal combustion piston engine converts approximately one-third of the total energy of the fuel it consumes into mechanical energy, one-third into cooling energy and one-third into exhaust gas energy. "Currently, we are using the mechanical part only," Illien observed. "Therefore there is a big potential to extract additional energy from the exhaust and the heat of the engine to turn into propulsion."

He also believes in the FIA's idea of pursuing regenerative braking power. "To recover some of the kinetic energy of the vehicle during braking makes a lot of sense, too," Illien remarked. "There is an economical amount of energy we can store in a racing car because the size and weight of any such system will influence the optimum performance of the car and therefore will be self-regulating. To recover a significant amount of energy from a race car during braking is difficult because the duration of the braking is very short and the available kinetic energy very high. But if ten percent of this energy available could be recovered it would be a good start."

John Barnard was one of the world's great racing car designers from the mid-seventies through the turn of the century. Barnard designed successful, ground-breaking Parnelli and Chaparral Indy cars and equally successful McLaren and Ferrari F1 cars.

"I do think the first step is to avoid wasting energy," Barnard said. "The first problem you've got is there is so much energy wasted. The energy expelled during braking, for example, as well as the heat expended by the engine."

Barnard points out that the technology to convert waste energy into power or electricity is becoming more and more common in road cars but remains untouched by racing cars.

"You've had electronic retarders on lorries for donkey's years and there's all sorts of stuff like that that could be incorporated," Barnard said. "Just now, BMW have launched the new 1 series which has got the stop-engine technology for city driving so that every time you stop the engine stops. I think it's got electronically-clutched alternators so that they only generate when you're braking. So when you're trying to lose energy they are producing energy into the battery.

"That's just coming on road cars now and where is it on a Formula 1 car?" Barnard asked. "Nowhere. I think that's terribly wrong. I think racing should be pushing the limits on all those technical issues. If they had done that I think these technologies would have accelerated much faster than they have done.

"I think most of the technical people would have done it a long time ago," Barnard added. "In Formula 1 in about 1996 when there was a chance of an engine rule change, certainly nine out of ten of the technical people would have gone for it then. There was talk of an engine change to 2.4 liter V-6s, but again, politics came into play and that change went out the window. Those sort of things could have happened a long time ago, which I think would have borne fruit for the whole ethos of saving energy."

Illien has thought for many years about green fuel technology and has some very clear ideas about where he believes Formula 1 should go with the FIA's planned move to a new formula for 2011. He has no doubts that the existing piston engine will continue for many years as the prime source of power for both racing and road cars and is extremely skeptical of how hydrogen fuel cells might be adapted to racing.

"I think the hydrogen fuel cell is a very long way away and we will have reciprocating engines with beautiful sounds for many years to come," Illien said.

Barnard believes, like Illien, that the internal combustion engine still has many years life left in it. He thinks fuel cells will provide the best answer for road car manufacturers, but again like Illien, sees another ten or twenty years passing before the relevant technologies and delivery system infrastructure are in place to make fuel cells a practical alternative.

"I still don't buy into the electric car because they still haven't solved the battery problem," Barnard commented. "I think ultimately you're probably looking at fuel cells as the real energy source. In Europe, I wouldn't mind betting it'll start coming along in ten to fifteen years. In places like the States where the country is so big and the infrastructure required would also be huge, it might be twenty years. But there's a lot of pressure coming down all 'round the world for politicians and industry to do something."

Honda Performance Development boss Robert Clarke has no doubt that racing must adopt green fuel technology if the sport is to continue to thrive. "I think it's quite clear that if motorsports is going to continue in the future it has to become real and relevant and contemporary in the use of green fuels," Clarke remarked. "At the Detroit Auto Show this year every manufacturer was talking about what they're doing in this area. They all have their favorite fuels and none of them have a single direction. They all have their pros and cons.

"Every manufacturer has put a stake in the ground about what they believe is the right direction and they're all different. So if you want mass participation and competition, you're going to have to embrace multiple fuels."

Of course, the biggest obstacle to delivering alternate fuels to the marketplace is a lack of service stations and systems to dispense the fuel. "The fact is that the infrastructure for any of those does not exist at a level than can support mass supply," Clarke said. "That's the fundamental problem. Some of them, like fuel cell technology, is not developed to the level that it can support mass production. But still, for all of them, the infrastructure is a major issue."

In the United States, ethanol is the most available and deliverable alternate fuel and Honda has embraced the IRL's move to ethanol, building a new, 3.5-liter ethanol-spec engine for this year. "I think the IRL has made a good move," Clarke commented. "At least they're doing something, but it is limited in scope. As I say, we view ethanol as one of the transitional fuels. Ultimately, we're going to have to move to something else beyond ethanol."

Barnard hopes the arrival of turbo diesel Le Mans cars from first Audi and now Peugeot is a harbinger of more green technology in racing. "You're getting diesel cars at Le Mans now which I guess is just the beginning because I don't think anybody in racing is using any of the energy-saving technology," Barnard said. "As I say, you've already got BMWs out there with alternators that only work under braking conditions and I should think you could almost bolt that on a racing car tomorrow. That's only a very small thing but there are all sorts of elements like that."

Certainly, the arrival of the Audi and Peugeot turbo diesels has created more interest in Le Mans and ALMS racing and Barnard hopes other sanctioning bodies will do more to encourage more fuel-efficient engines.

"I know the car companies are doing lots of development with the diesel," he said. "Even small outfits like Judd are doing diesel development. It's all there to be done. It comes back to the governing bodies embracing it and making it happen."

Even though Porsche has yet to embrace Audi's turbo diesel, or green fuel approach, Porsche was also attracted to the ALMS because the series encourages efficiency in performance and fuel use. Dr. Frank-Steffen Walliser is Porsche's general manager of motorsport strategy and Dr. Thomas Laudenbach is in charge of powertrain development in Porsche's motorsports department. The pair of engineers work closely together on Porsche's racing programs.

"I think for sports car racing in particular, and racing in general, it's important to be relevant," Walliser said. "For me, sports car racing offers from history everything that is necessary for such a formula and in comparison to other racing series we have different concepts on the grid."

Added Porsche engineering partner Laudenbach: "The ALMS has different cars and different concepts. Therefore, I think having different relevant fuels fits well into sports car racing. I think the ALMS may be the most important series to support the drive to new fuel types because you have all the different concepts."

Honda's Clarke agrees with Walliser and Laudenbach about the appeal of the ALMS's very open engine rules. "In the ALMS, you can pick your engine formula whether it's normally-aspirated, or turbo charged, or supercharged, or whether it's an in-line four or V-6, or V-10 or V-12," Clarke said. "To be also able to pick your fuel just adds to that appeal."

One of the reasons for Sebastien Bourdais's success is that he is an intelligent, engineering-minded driver. The three-time Champ Car champion was one of Peugeot's led drivers in the company's Le Mans program this year and Bourdais believes the time has come for green fuels in racing.

"I think it's true that it would be best to find some kind of formula where on the environmental and societal side racing would really contribute to green technology," Bourdais said. "It's getting harder to find sponsors in Europe in the past few years and it's also beginning to happen in the United States, because they don't want to be associated with something that's got a bad reputation. So it's time to find the right formula, but what it is, I'm not quite sure.

"Diesel is much cleaner than gasoline when you burn it this way, but it still isn't green," he added. "Anything that's really green is going to give you a huge power loss and you need to have a much bigger engine to get something done. So it's very unclear right now what the right format would be."

Bourdais is wary of equivalency formulas which invariably result in different engine and car performance characteristics. "It's a complicated problem," he remarked. "I think you need to identify the technology you want to work with. Even in the ALMS the diesel cars just don't have the torque of the gasoline cars. At the top end, it's reversed, and it creates some problems that you don't really want to have to deal with. So I think it would be much better to have one source of energy. Then everyone would work with it and focus on it."

Is it possible therefore, to write a set of rules based on a certain amount of energy which would allow a variety of different fuels with a reasonably level, competitive playing field? "It's easy to calculate the energy of any given fuel," commented Honda's Robert Clarke. "But each fuel has its own characteristics. So, yes, you can calculate the power potential of any given fuel and design a regulation around that.

"The trick is to keep the ultimate performance of those products at an even level. The problem is that with each having a different characteristic as far as the potential torque that they could develop, cooling and such, they're never truly equal. One may have an advantage over another and there's no way around equivalency rules. It's up to the sanctioning body to continue to dial them in and adjust them in order to get them as close as possible."

With more than thirty years of frontline experience under his belt, John Ward is one of American racing's most travelled race engineers. Ward designed Indy and IMSA GTP cars with Dan Gurney for All American Racers and has worked as a race engineer for a number of top CART and IRL teams. Ward currently engineers Adrian Fernandez's Acura ALMS car and is a big proponent of finding ways to re-introduce technology into today's spec car-dominated world. He's thought long and hard about how to achieve this goal.

"We all see a crisis with global warming and the need to try to reduce emissions," Ward commented. "The big questions are, how are we going to do this and how are you going to pay for it? You would do it mostly through the manufacturers, but I also wonder if they would be willing to take the hit if something goes wrong.

"Let's say they chose a path in selecting a fuel that becomes not competitive and company B chose a better path. Either the equivalency didn't work, or one did a better job than the other. Will a big manufacturer take a hit on that? They might just pull out."

Having watched deeply damaging battles between manufacturers in both IMSA and CART, Ward cautions against allowing the manufacturers to wield too much influence. "If you allow the manufacturers to determine the rules, they're going to narrow it down so nobody will be too adventurous," Ward warned.

In theory, by bringing green fuel technology to the forefront of racing it would help focus the debate and R&D on the subject in the automobile industry. Racing would also help provide a solution. It wouldn't be about the NASCAR model of close competition and a 'show'. This would be more about the old days of road racing, like the CanAm, or the great days of long-distance sports car racing and IMSA GTP with interesting and different cars, engines and technology.

Over the years it can fairly be said that as far as pulling crowds the IRL, Champ Car and Grand-Am have shown the NASCAR model of fender-to-fender racing does not work anywhere near as well in open wheel or road racing. But other than ALMS, all the sanctioning bodies are afraid of pursuing anything other than the NASCAR model.

"People say it would become like a giant science experiment," Ward commented. "It wouldn't be entertainment like NASCAR is entertainment. It wouldn't necessarily be about close competition. It would be about interesting cars and technology and how they stack up. It wouldn't work based on the NASCAR blueprint. But for sports car racing, I reckon it would work."

A strong, smart sanctioning body, the likes of which we've never seen outside NASCAR, is essential to making it happen. "The key is that somebody's got to pull it together and get the nucleus started," Ward remarked. "And that's going to be tough. I reckon it's as simple as defining the amount of energy you have to do to complete the race. You want some obvious safety elements defined in the rulebook but you need a minimum amount of rules governing the safety and the chassis. You need to keep it as open as you can but focus on energy useage."

Mario Illien said he believes many new businesses would come into racing if hybrid technologies were to be adopted by the FIA or any other frontline sanctioning body. Illien thinks pursuing hybrid technology will be good for racing and will attract new industries to racing as energy-storing systems and hybrid components are developed and manufactured.

"There's an awful lot of electrical and electronic hardware required to recover energy and store it in this challenging environment," Ilien remarked. "Everybody in racing wants an advantage over their opponents to be able to win. Therefore, you must move fast and you have to be creative and innovative to get that unfair advantage."

John Barnard agrees. "I think Mario is absolutely right," Barnard concurred. "The sport would benefit because lots of companies would start using their R&D budgets to go racing because there's nothing like racing to get you an answer quickly. As we've always said, it's the next best thing to going to war in terms of making people have to do it. Again, I think it should have happened a long time ago."

The IRL's racing boss Brian Barnhart is both enthusiastic and reserved in his hopes for the Indy car of 2011. "It's certainly worth a look into the future and to become more relevant," Barnhart said. "Relevant technology is important and as you've pointed out, not everything from the NASCAR model applies to what we're doing. You do have to have relevant technology in our type of racing.

"But again, achieving a balance is always the hardest work. You can never be all things to all people, and in the end it's all about balance. This is our way of looking at the style of our cars and it's all about innovation and relevant technology. This is our future and we're excited about it.

"The trick as always is going to be the practical implementation of concepts," Barnhart added. "There are always balances that will come into that and that will be the big challenge for us."

The fact is over racing's one hundred-plus years of history equivalency formulas never have worked. One way always turns out to be best and everyone finally goes down that route, sometimes seriously upsetting the apple cart. In the meantime, those manufacturers on the losing end of equivalency formulas often are driven from the sport, sometimes forever.

"Of course, it's the sanctioning body's responsibility to continually tweak those equivalences, and that's a problem in itself right there," Barnhart commented. "You just can't keep moving the goalposts on people. You get to the point where you upset them enough that they decide to leave, to take their ball and go home.

"As you've already pointed out, no matter how hard a sanctioning body tries, they're never going to be completely equal. There are going to be different torque bands, different power curves, different fuel efficiency, different weights, no matter how much you can calculate the energy in any given fuel. So is that something you really want at the Indianapolis 500? I'm not sure that we need to follow the ALMS model."

As we all know, aerodynamics is by far the dominant factor in modern race car design and there doesn't appear to be any way to limit that influence other than banning the use of wind tunnels, which is not about to happen. Over the past twenty or more years all forms of racing have been infected by the increased influence of aerodynamics and a steady reduction in the cars' abilities to race closely and pass freely. So it's critically important to get the aero package right for the F1 and Indy cars of 2011 so they can race and pass and allow us to enjoy a show of driving. Sadly, I have to ask, is this an achievable goal?

And too, it's equally important to have a path or method of controlling the aero packages as they evolve and improve with time and development. All this is much easier said than done.

A few years back, Barnard was asked by the FIA to formulate a package that would cut down force in half and encourage more passing and closer racing. Drastically reducing down force would result in much increased straightaway speeds so Barnard's recommendations included cutting horsepower by an equal amount and also increasing drag.

"I started looking at drafting some rules whereby the overall size of the box was increased and all these barge boards were eliminated," Barnard said. "One of the things we thought we had to do was increase the tire size so you were back to running enormous rear tires like we did in the eighties. You would get some grip back from that but you would also add drag because one of the problems in knocking all this down force off is you lose drag with it.

"You can't just chop down force, you've got to add drag and one of the ways was to go back to big rear wheels and tires. I think there's still a combination that can be done like that. You've got to chop down force and increase drag. It's as simple as that."

Most Formula 1 teams like to boast how much they've improved their CFD (computational fluid dynamics) programs in recent years and Barnard says there shouldn't be any problem in using this technology to design a workable and effective aerodynamic package which would produce good racing.

"You've got your computing capability now and it must be possible to sit down and do a package that has enough drag to avoid tremendous top speeds together with reducing down force so that your cornering speed comes down," Barnard commented.

Nor does Barnard have any doubt that horsepower must be substantially reduced in company with changes in the aero package. "The other thing is to go back to the engine and reduce horsepower," Barnard observed. "Today's F1 engines are rev-limited to 19,000 rpm and how fantastically impractical is that in terms of applying it to road car technology? If you're dealing with half the horsepower there are a lot of things you can't do aerodynamically. You can't drag around these barn door wings and barge boards and so on. It's a combination of attacking all areas."

Again, it's the test of the sanctioning body to step up and do all these things correctly as NASCAR has done for its much more technically restricted constituency and market. And just to throw a complete whammy into all this, I have to introduce an idea presented by Michael Schmidt, Germany's leading F1 writer for Auto Motor und Sport. Schmidt believes an annual expenditure cap is the only way for the FIA to manage or control F1 in the 21st century.

"I don't believe in all this green fuels and hybrid stuff," Schmidt said. "I think it would be too complicated for the FIA to manage and it could ruin the show or the spectacle. But I think the FIA could manage a financial expenditure limit of let's say, $100 million per team. Keep the box and the formula wide-open, but limit the amount of money a team could spend on racing. Let them spend as much as they like on pr and hospitality and entertainment, but put an enforceable cap on the money a team can spend building, developing and racing their cars."

The fact is historically no sanctioning body has been able to write, adjust and effectively enforce equivalency formulae or properly control the rise of new technology. The SCCA failed spectacularly with the original, unlimited CanAm, IMSA failed equally with the old GTP category, and of course, a failure to write the correct engine and technical rules also was essential to CART's demise.

"It's a no-win situation," Robert Clarke observed. "You're always going to have political positioning by the manufacturers, trying to get an advantage. But that's the nature of the sport, and it's part of the fun, I guess. To me, it's all part of the equation.

"The struggle is not just the politics but the struggle with the sanctioning groups that deal with the equality of the different formula or fuels. There's no perfect answer and that's a struggle."

As Clarke closed the conversation in this space a few months ago. "Today can be a very exciting era for motorsports," Clarke said. "We can screw it all up and ruin it, but there's a great opportunity in all this for the sanctioning body capable of doing the job right."

Indeed, it will be fascinating to see if either of the FIA, ACO/ALMS, or IRL can to rise to the challenge of solving racing's great 21st century riddle.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2007 ~ All Rights Reserved

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