Collecting and evaluating data
“Between the race events, simulation is one of our core tasks and is the most important tool for our drivers and technicians to prepare for the next race,” says Tristan Summerscale, Formula E project leader at Audi. The team runs the racing cars in Formula E on behalf of Audi. The Formula E championship holds its races at one-day events around the world, on specially designed city circuits in metropolises such as Berlin, Paris or New York.
After an E-Prix, the official name of the Formula E events, the racing cars from all of the teams are loaded and transported together to the next venue. “Since the hardware of the vehicles may not be changed during the current racing season, we can only make our cars more competitive if we constantly improve our preparation, set-ups and software,” Summerscale explains. For this reason, we carry out intensive analysis after each race.
The most important factors influencing the performance of Formula E cars, which are mostly uniform with the exception of the drivetrain, are: the suspension set-up, tyre performance and battery management for the electric drivetrain. All of the information that gets digitally recorded during practice, qualifying and the races of the two Audi Formula E racing cars gets evaluated in great detail. “The key to data analysis is to exactly identify each weak point and use it to develop the right improvements to gain more speed for the next race,” says Summerscale.
Virtual race on repeat
At Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, preparation for the next race in the driving simulator begins with the follow-up to the previous Formula E race. “We enter the data of the chassis set-up that was actually used and the tarmac and air temperatures that were present into the simulation. With this, we let one of our drivers virtually complete our last race and the qualifying session,” says Summerscale.
“If we then determine that there are deviations between the real obtained circuit data and the existing simulation models for the vehicle or tyres, then we update the specific sub-models of the system accordingly to bring them even closer to reality,” states Summerscale. Each of these so-called correlation iterations leads to further refined simulation programmes and makes the virtual work even more realistic for qualifying and race preparations. “On circuits where we have driven several times and have collected a lot of real data, we achieve an even more exact match with reality in our driving simulations.”
Exploring chassis and tyre strategies
Because of the standardised aerodynamics of all the vehicles, two other factors are of particular importance in Formula E competition: the selection of the best possible suspension set-up and the optimal handling of the tyres. For both of these aspects, Audi can run through all of the possible options in its dynamic driving simulator: springs, dampers, stabilizers, camber, every component of the suspension set-up is explored just as intensively in the virtual test as the complex interaction of these parameters.
The level of the tyre simulation is even more important. Because in qualifying for the race, each Formula E driver only has one lap to set the time that determines his position on the grid. For this, the groved tyres, from the exclusive Formula E partner Michelin, must deliver maximum grip with pinpoint accuracy. Achieving this is in the hands of every driver and his technicians. Warming up the fresh, cold tyres must also correspond to the tyres’ air pressure.
Using the tyre model that is integrated in the dynamic driving simulator, working in advance of each E-Prix, Audi also examines the influences on vehicle behaviour caused by the various temperatures and pressures that affect the tyres, both internally and externally. These fluctuate constantly between driving on a straight and going through corners and largely determine how well or poorly the tyres can provide grip. If the sensitive tyres have been abused and worn out too quickly, then it’s not a problem in the driving simulator: just a click on the computer is enough to restore the tyres once again.
Vorsprung also through the simulator
Just as the ever-ongoing development of every racing car is never finished, Audi is constantly pushing ahead with improvements to its driving simulator. For Tristan Summerscale and his team, this is a key tool for more victories and titles. The Formula E project leader at Audi says: “Every single element of the 2,000-piece puzzle making up our Formula E car that has been optimized a little bit helps us to move forward. In the same way, each of our advances in the driving simulator makes a contribution to perhaps achieving the decisive tenth of a second in the end.”
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