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DaimlerChryslers Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan
3/8 scale wind tunnel
Wake imaging using CFD te...
Wake imaging using CFD technology
Block prototype using LOM...
Block prototype using LOM
Intake prototype using FD...
Intake prototype using FDM
This series of images shows...
This series of images shows the first superspeedway test at Talladega on October 16, 2000.
By its nature, auto racing is an evolutionary process. Throughout the history of motorsports, parts and pieces were developed and then modified and adapted to their specific performance environment. This process often takes years, and it allows racing activities like NASCAR to become the fast, durable, dynamic sporting events they are today.
But let's say you're not in the evolutionary stream. Let's say that sometime, years ago, the process of adapting in an increasingly competitive environment halted. To return, you would need to become a creator, and if the timeline of your return to the environment of "survival of the fittest" was limited to 500 days, you would need to call on every resource and idea to be successful.
Enter The NASCAR Platform Team
The Dodge Motorsports solution may well revolutionize the way the auto manufacturers look at racing technology. The bread and butter of these companies is, of course, production machinery for the consumer; racing isn't an end in itself. Chrysler has a reputation of using space-age technology and science in place of more common, time-consuming methods of design, simulation, and prototyping. Due to changes in manufacturing, it doesn't take three or four years to design a new model, build it, and ready it for sale; it often takes less than 30 months.
When Dodge's network of dealers and DaimlerChrysler management announced that the nameplate would again be part of the NASCAR scene, and put it on a 500-day execution schedule, knowledgeable individuals wondered how they could get all the work done. There were no cars and no engine, and although Ray Evernham, who Chrysler tapped to spearhead their efforts, might well be the most talented individual in the sport, he couldn't do it all himself. Enter the NASCAR Platform Team.
Just like production vehicle projects, Dodge dedicated a team of experienced engineers from each discipline who used the technology at the company's disposal to streamline development of the NASCAR program. Meanwhile, a conglomerate of NASCAR teams, including Petty Enterprises and BIll Davis Racing, came together with Evernham to form a NASCAR racing "brain trust" that delivered additional input and real-world experience. In a groundbreaking move for the sport, these three teams, plus the others who joined since the 2000 Daytona 500 announcement, all work in "platform" mode as well, freely interchanging ideas.
Coordinating the effort from the factory is Tim Culbertson, Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Program, Dodge. He has a team of engineers from a wide variety of technologies working on the effort, but deflects praise away from himself.
"Dodge engineers and all the other resources at the DaimlerChrysler Technical Center are service organizations for the race teams using Dodge vehicles in NASCAR events," he states. "Our work supports their development and on-track testing efforts, but it doesn't replace them. Our facilities supplement what they have, providing an additional resource. But working as one team and sharing all of our knowledge will hopefully give us the competitive advantage we can ride to the winner's circle."
The Tech Center
The DaimlerChrysler Tech Center is the largest known building on the planet; it is bigger then the Pentagon. The 504-acre site 30 miles north of Detroit, with 5.2 million square feet, is the working home of over 12,000 people. The centerpiece is the 15-story DaimlerChrysler World Headquarters, hubbed with the other portions of the building. These are the Design Office; scientific and environmental laboratories; a manufacturing pilot-plant operation for a prototype production line; and a 1.8 mile test track adjacent to the center.
Everything needed for production car development is available here. For example, in the Climatic Test Center, engineers create blizzard and rain conditions, as well as temperature extremes from minus 40 degrees to a blistering 130 degrees. There are test labs for electromagnetic bombardment; noise, vibration and harshness; powertrain longevity and endurance (we still call 'em dyno cells), and anything else you might imagine.
"In all my years in racing, I've never seen anything like this," says Ray Evernham. "I'm not aware of another team that has built a Winston Cup car from the ground up in 500 days. It's one thing to build a new race car from existing parts, but something else again to build a race car with a new engine, chassis, and body style. The level of support we have from Dodge is unbelievable."
Aero Testing and CFD--Going with the Flow...
While it would take until September 2000 before NASCAR approved the Intrepid R/T model, the team created a 3/8-inch model of the proposed entry before starting on anything else for the car itself. With the lab's equipment, each scale model was measured in six areas--lift, drag, side force, yaw, pitch, and rolling movements.The team tested for optimum air flow over the body and the critical positioning of cooling and braking ductwork. Once there was a suitable design, Dodge then put a full-scale NASCAR Intrepid through the Lockheed tunnel in Georgia and also prepared a car for NASCAR to look at. The Lockheed work is really only a stop-gap while DaimlerChrysler's own full-scale tunnel is presently under construction at Auburn Hills.
But the tunnel can only measure so much. Dodge used Computational Fluid Dynamics, or CFD, a powerful software tool that allows exact simulation of air or fluid flow across exterior surfaces and/or through the internal passages of components. Think of how this could influence the design of runner length and shape, valve lift, and potential backflow, and it is easy to understand the critical role CFD plays in engine design today.
In fact, CFD is now so advanced that in some cases it can eliminate the need for physical models. In the production world, it is used extensively for items like intake and exhaust manifold design, engine cooling systems, and catalytic converters. For racing purposes, it supplements wind tunnel and on-track testing and demonstrates the effects of high-speed wind on a car by itself, in drafting or in traffic, through a process called "wake imaging." It also gives an accurate look at compartmentalized airflow for brake cooling and driver comfort. The bodywork was especially important to Dodge because they wanted the Intrepid to have the styling cues essential for brand identity.
Powertrain Test Facility--Power in the Making...
Evernham himself admitted that the engine was the crucial item in the development process. After all, the Ford and Chevy teams had been going non-stop since Chrysler left; would Dodge be able to find the extreme endurance and horsepower NASCAR racing required? That question was answered by mid-summer, when, after only 300 days, a completely new engine began dyno shakedowns. It will be refined until it runs over 600 miles without difficulties.
Ted Flack's 30-year involvement in both production and racing environments at Chrylser made him perfect to head up the NASCAR program. He began with a clean slate and started design work after getting an idea of what exactly the NASCAR teams wanted.
This process would entail some of the most advanced computer and design technology in the world. The primary component is known as CATIA, which is a CAD/CAM program that allows amazing visuals, design adaptation, and interfacing. Engineers did the initial design in this format, and, aided by CFD, created almost exactly what was required within NASCAR's legal engine limits and eliminated the need for post-molding fabrication on the block. Once the design was agreed upon, they employed Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which uses .0001-inch ABS polymer rods that are fused together one at a time, similar to a hot melt glue gun. The computer program running the FDM machine downloads dimensions from the CATIA program and builds a scale model or 1:1 prototype piece. The first engine block, an exact scale model, was created this way, and allowed engineers and the teams to examine potential problems before any metal was ever used.
At the same time, other components are created by another modeling process called Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM). This is also downloaded from CATIA, and creates models and 1:1 reproductions by laser cutting and fusing .004-inch-thick paper together; as a result, these appear to be created from wood. Though both FDM and LOM fabrication can take days to create a large part, it's not as difficult as milling and hand-fabricating prototypes, and, since it's exactly dimensioned from the design software, eliminates potential human error.
DaimlerChrysler also has a proprietary software program called the DaimlerChrysler Data Visualizer (DCDV). From materials data downloaded from CATIA, engineers rotate and dissect portions of the car or engine. They can see inside to discern rocker arm to pushrod geometry, shock absorber rates, coolant flow, and areas impossible to view otherwise.
"Everything we've learned in decades of racing and building cars for consumers was used to develop the Intrepid R/T for the Winston Cup series," states Flack. "When the first engine block was finally cast in metal, it was almost anticlimactic. We had been looking at the block for so long on the computer screen and in models that it became real to us."
Another revolutionary step was hardwiring the DCTC's CATIA system directly to the NASCAR shops in North Carolina. This way, the teams could offer input as the design progressed, and both groups literally worked "side by side" 700 miles apart. For instance, the teams realized, based on prior experience, that the location of an engine mount would present service and maintenance difficulties. Engineers used CATIA to relocate the mounting point on the block without losing any real time or expense.
Real World Testing--Winston Cup Teams
As all armchair mechanics can tell you, nothing is certain until it's in the real world. Obviously, testing information is proprietary. What we did learn was impressive. By late August, the Intrepid prototype chassis had logged over 1,600 high-speed testing miles at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky, Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, South Carolina, and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Bill Elliott, Casey Atwood, Kyle Petty, Steve Grissom, Stacy Compton and Dennis Setzer drove while tests, including analysis of nose and tail sections, were performed prior to the presentation of the car to the sanctioning body. They tested multiple combinations of shocks, springs, tires, and sway bars to determine which combination best fit the new design. As Evernham mentioned, everything has been developed from the ground up; nobody was joy-riding in the test sessions. Moreover, since Atwood would contend for Rookie of the Year honors with his 2001 debut, Evernham wisely put together a series of race dates late in the 2000 season as practice in the Winston Cup environment before Daytona.
Once, "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" was a given, but the political climate and cultural changes make that a questionable philosophy in some segments of society today. Still, NASCAR has become the most popular form of motorsports in North America, and to that end, Dodge's dealers were right to commit to the Winston Cup program. With the new R/T lineup (which is the largest number of performance-oriented offerings since the twilight of the supercar, 1971), the two are a perfect fit.
When talking to Ray Evernham, one gets the impression he really enjoys the challenges this opportunity brought him. With Jeff Gordon, he achieved an amazing level of dominance. Now as a team owner, he'll go to the next level with a combination he can proudly call all his own. No doubt the other NASCAR teams involved feel the same.
For DaimlerChrysler, it's a return to the heritage of performance that made Chrysler great. With the spectacular Viper programs both here and abroad, the successful NASCAR SuperTrucks, the new Hemi in Pro Stock drag racing, and much more, the Winston Cup commitment brought them full circle. It helps make Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance the dominant forces in automobile racing, and there are added benefits perhaps not seen from the living room couch on Sunday afternoon.
"What our own people and the race teams have already done gives me confidence that we will meet our goal and have a very competitive and beneficial racing program in 2001," remarks Lou Patane, Dodge Vice President for Motorsports Operations and Mopar Performance Parts. Patane was speaking about the Winston Cup effort, but the statement certainly applies across a vast array of sanctions and series.
"The program has drawn on all the talent and experience we have in racing and building vehicles for consumers," he continued. "It's also giving our young people an experience that will change them forever and make them even more valuable as they focus on making better production cars and trucks."
In the next 30 days, the Dodges will hit the high banks in Daytona. It's great to be back...