At the highest level of professional motor racing, CAD and high-performance workstations play a role far greater than we may imagine. John McIver went trackside at the recent Australian Grand Prix to observe the close association between the Jordan Formula 1 team and Hewlett-Packard.
Hewlett-Packard has a
sponsorship involvement with a number of Formula 1 motor-racing
teams, with the Jordan and Jaguar teams being the main
beneficiaries. Unlike the other teams, however, HP's involvement
with Jordan is more a formal business association than a
sponsorship arrangement. Jordan uses a substantial quantity of HP
equipment in its engineering operations and HP in turn provides
substantial resources to maintain that equipment.
In fact, Jordan is the only team which has a full-time employee, provided by HP, dedicated to working with the team and travelling with them to every race. HP believes it gains from this arrangement by being able to test its equipment in a very stressful and demanding 'real-world' environment. It believes the benefit to the end user is hopefully a better product.
A Formula 1 racing team can be considered to exist in two specific physical locations. There is the factory, where the team is based in between racing seasons, and where all the design work on the car takes place. There is also the team as it exists 'on-the-road' during the racing season. With a race typically every two weeks during the season, the team as a mobile entity needs to act as a functional unit while far removed from the factory.
In the case of the Jordan team, its main factory is located near the Silverstone race track in England. During our visit, the team itself was located in Melbourne, Australia. It would be hard to envision a more distant location from the factory than that. Despite this substantial distance, the factory and team expect to work closely together during the entire period of the race. This typically occupies a few days for setting up, then two days of formal testing and qualifying, followed by a day for the race itself. The factory is also the location where most of the design work is performed on the car. Car design for a new season is expected to take around six months, usually beginning during the latter part of the previous season.
Jordan uses Hewlett-Packard Visualize (J Class) Unix workstations for the design task, running SDRC I-DEAS CAD/CAM software. Since the team was formed in 1991, it has never had, or used, a conventional drawing board. All design work for the car is done electronically using 3D solid modelling, and this has always been the case. Almost four dozen CAD stations are now used in the factory for design. The team makes the maximum use of the advantages 3D CAD can offer, having recently commissioned a large stereolithography system for rapid creation of prototype 3D parts. This is primarily used for building components for aerodynamic testing, where the ability of stereolithography to incorporate design details which would be difficult to fabricate in other ways is seen as a major advantage. 3D models from the CAD system are also used as the basis for FEA (Finite Element Analysis), for component stressing and CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics), and for theoretical aerodynamics computer analyses. As would be expected from its highly computer-intensive nature, the CFD application runs as a single application on a cluster of these workstations. The factory also acts as a data warehouse, and has a 'Seven Post Dynamic Test Rig', of which more shortly.
At the race track, the
team will be housed in a dedicated garage area. There are usually
three cars at a meeting, one for each of the two team drivers,
plus a backup car. Computer support for the engineering side of
the Jordan team comprises six PCs. Two computers are dedicated to
each car, plus a third for the car's engine. The engines are
provided by Honda, with several Honda technicians on hand to
maintain the powerplant side of things.
The PCs are all nearly identical, each being housed in a six-foot high, standard 19-inch equipment rack. Typically, the rack will house a standard Hewlett-Packard PC, in a conventional desktop case, a large colour LCD display and a colour inkjet printer. A seventh equipment rack exists to house any ancillary equipment, such as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and other power conditioning hardware.
As much of the team's time is spent travelling, the use of equipment racks helps protect the equipment in transit. LCD displays are now used extensively as they are more robust than a conventional monitor, and a lot smaller physically. When it comes to sending equipment by air freight, any size and weight advantage equates to substantial cost savings. Although the team carries a backup car, there is no backup computer. If a system goes down, tasks are then shared between the other five systems. As the computers are standard desktop Hewlett-Packard PCs, the local HP Dealer should also be able to help with support in an emergency.
Unlike the computers back at the factory, the team computers run Windows NT. This has been found to be more flexible and easier to support when operating at some distance from the factory. Applications software is generally sourced from third-parties. In the case of data acquisition and analysis, the primary requirement of the computers during a race weekend, Jordan uses TAG software, developed by the supplier of its car's engine management system. Only a small amount of custom programming is undertaken in-house.
The cars themselves each have two computers on-board, primarily to perform engine management and data acquisition tasks. When undergoing maintenance in the pits, the cars are connected to a local computer network in the team garage, with each of the two on-board computers provided with its own IP address on the network. The car's data acquisition system is able to record about 130 separate data channels.
When the car is running on the track, a telemetry system continually returns live data to the pits. This system only returns a subset of the available data - just the most important information. The full data set is accessed when the car returns to the pits, where the data is downloaded in bulk to the network. This can result in a data block of anything up to 64 megabytes.
During a race weekend, a dedicated ISDN line is permanently in place between the factory and the team. This permits the full facilities of the factory to be accessed at any time if required. The team also employs a laser link at the track, between the pit wall and the garage. During the race, the team manager will be located on the pit wall, some 20 or 30 feet away from the garage area where the main computer systems are. He will have a computer at his disposal, but regulations dictate that no cable is allowed to cross the pit road, which lies between him and the garage. In order to meet this requirement, but still maintain a link to the main computer network, optical (infra-red or laser) links are now employed by many teams.
Having described what hardware is available to the team, we can now look at the very interesting area of how it can be used to the team's best advantage. Typically, whenever the car is running on the circuit, the data acquisition system is operating. After a race testing or qualifying session has been run, the team will analyse the recorded data and usually select the best few laps the driver was able to achieve. This information is then immediately sent back to the factory via the ISDN link. These can then be used as the input data to the 'Seven Post Dynamic Test Rig', mentioned earlier.
The Seven Post Dynamic Test Rig is a testing unit, typically comprising seven high-performance hydraulic actuators (and hence its name). A full-size race car is attached to the rig, with one actuator dedicated to each of its wheels and the remaining three representing the effects of the negative lift forces generated by the car's wings. The actuators can be computer controlled to represent the dynamic motion, as far as the car's suspension is concerned, of the car as it moves along a roadway.
It's perhaps important to be aware at this point of another regulation pertaining to Grand Prix racing. Testing time during a race is limited, and only 12 qualifying laps are permitted for each car. It takes time to optimise a car's suspension settings to achieve the best possible performance for a given track, and the time available at a race is very limited. Although the Seven Post Dynamic Test Rig is primarily a design and research tool, it also has a considerable capability to substantially extend the time available for suspension optimisation. The data recorded from the car's best laps is used as input for the test rig, representing the dynamics of a lap of the actual race track. The test rig can then be run continually, for many hours if necessary, driven by this data, in search of some optimum suspension settings. It effectively gives the functional equivalent of many test miles around a real race track. The optimised settings can then sent from the factory back to the track, ready for the next day's testing, or the race itself.
As a digression, it is interesting to note that the full suspension travel of the Jordan Formula 1 car is of the order of 5 millimetres, and that the tyre deflection on the car can be greater than this.
Finally, one of the key issues of running a successful racing team is experience. With this in mind, all the data acquired during a race weekend is returned to the Jordan factory and stored on-line in a data warehouse. Historical performance data can therefore be made immediately available to the race engineers from the factory for any previous race, at any track, for any previous year, should it ever be required.