The motorsport experts at Spark Racing Technology needed aerodynamic expertise with fast turn-around times for the FIA Formula E racecar’s new front wing design.
The Proving Ground for Electric Vehicles
Motorsports provides the high-tech proving ground for commercial vehicles. Electric cars will be the future of personal mobility in our cities and on our highways. So a move to high-performance and high-tech electric Formula-class racing is a natural step and has already begun.
A futuristic design for Formula E racing fits perfectly with this destiny for electric car technology. At the same time, the aerodynamic performance of electric racecar designs must be very efficient and still meet safety and manufacturability requirements.
What kind of team and what kind of technology are needed to meet the challenge of combining design, manufacturability, safety and aerodynamic performance into a new Formula E racecar? That would be a team of specialists in their domains who have a close working relationship and a team that is equipped with top-of-the-line tools.
The FIA, Spark Racing Technology and AOTECH pulled together such a team.
The Federation Internationale de l’Automobile, or FIA, is the governing body for motor sports. Additionally, the organization has a focus on “safe, sustainable and accessible mobility for all road users across the world”. A key technology for sustainable mobility is electric vehicles. Indeed, electric vehicles are the future of personal mobility. And the FIA wanted to update the racecar design for the third season of the Formula E racing series in a way that would visually reflect this futuristic idea.
AOTECH and Spark Racing Technology team up for a new design
The designer of the Formula E racecar, Spark Racing Technology, needed to create a new design for the racecar’s front wing. They wanted a futuristic design and they needed a design with performance that matched or improved on the previous generation racecar. Additionally, with the scheduled lead-times required to deliver cars to the racing teams for the 3rd season, the design project only had a two-month timeframe for completion.
To meet this pressing schedule, Spark Racing Technology turned to the aerodynamics experts at AOTECH. The team members from AOTECH and Spark Racing Technology were top experts in their fields, and they brought to the project the added benefit of professional familiarity from their past work experiences together.
The schedule demanded tight coupling of design updates, simulation, analysis, and feedback for design changes. The Spark Racing Technology and AOTECH teams setup their design-CAD-simulation processes in such a way that allowed for smooth transfers of design data, analysis results, and proposed changes.
The aerodynamics manager at AOTECH is Monsieur Christophe PERRIN. Christophe PERRIN targeted motorsports as a career from a young age. He attended a French engineering university, ESTACA, notable for engineering studies in automotive and aerospace engineering. ESTACA is the same university attended by Frédéric Vasseur, the founder of ART Grand Prix and the 2016 Racing Director at Renault Formula 1. With his career goal in mind, M. PERRIN studied aerodynamics.
His career target did not elude him as he found a place within the ART Grand Prix team for Formula 3 racecar design in 2006. Formula 3 racing allows for a completely free range of aerodynamic designs and requires many varied design constraints. Therefore, Formula 3 racing design offered M. PERRIN a broader field of opportunity to practice his skills in motorsport aerodynamics. He became responsible for aerodynamic design at ART Grand Prix.
The ART Grand Prix team achieved years of success. Their designs won year after year. In the Formula 3 Euro Series, the ART Grand Prix team was “undefeated in team and driver championships between 2004 and 2009”. The aerodynamics team at ART Grand Prix added CFD software to their analysis toolkit in 2008.
PERRIN moved to AOTECH when the company was founded in late 2010. AOTECH specializes in simulators for motorsports and external aerodynamics studies. AOTECH racing simulators are used, among other projects, to provide training for new drivers in the 24 hours of Le Mans. In aerodynamics studies, the company caters to many racing customers. Today, AOTECH adds commercial automotive manufacturers and tire manufacturers to their client list.
Since its inception, AOTECH has been using Siemens PLM Software’s STAR-CCM+ product for external aerodynamic CFD studies. A key benefit to the company is the STAR-CCM+ product’s support for a smooth workflow for external CFD analysis.
Difficult Design and Performance Requirements
Like Formula 3, on which M. PERRIN worked for years, the aerodynamic designs for Formula E have different objectives from the aerodynamic design goals in Formula 1 racecar design. For Formula 1, the primary design consideration is down-force. For Formula E, the aerodynamic design targets a ratio between drag and down-force. This is the aerodynamic efficiency ratio.
This goal made the aerodynamic performance of the Formula E racecar’s new design extremely important. The wing’s performance for both down-force and drag was a critical issue. It was possible to create a new, imaginative design, but it may have had a lower aerodynamic performance. The goal of the Spark Racing Technology and AOTECH cooperation was to deliver on both styling and performance.
The project faced four key constraints. The first constraint was time. The project’s schedule was very compressed. The second constraint was collaboration among the team of experts from the very different domains of design and aerodynamics. The third constraint was the aerodynamic performance and styling of the design. The fourth constraint was the manufacturability and safety requirements for the final design.
These constraints set the stage for the collaboration between Spark Racing Technology and AOTECH. They created a smooth process for the design. The process flowed from the Spark Racing Technology designer to the CAD model to surface-cleaning and meshing, to the simulation, and finally to the post-processing analysis. AOTECH used the toolset in STAR-CCM+ and STAR-View+ for each step outside of the CAD modeling process. This included the pre-processing, meshing, simulation, post-processing and analysis.
The front wing simulation contained 200 million cells and represented a complex aerodynamic simulation problem. The team needed half a day to clean & prepare, re-mesh the model and launch a simulation. The STAR-CCM+ simulation ran for another day on the company’s 128-core cluster. Three hours were needed for post-processing and analysis with STAR-View+. The two teams reviewed the simulation results and the implications for the design. Indeed, with a smooth workflow and technology toolset, the collaboration and communication for the next revision of design changes proved to be one of the most challenging phases.
Working non-stop through the 2015 end-of-year holidays, the AOTECH team finished the analysis for Spark Racing Technology in February 2016. The futuristic design met the projects aesthetic and performance goals in addition to the manufacturability and safety requirements. The expertise of the teams, the collaborative relationship, and a smooth technical process formed three pillars for success. Production began and cars were delivered to the teams for the third season of the FIA Formula E racing series.