3D printing is used often nowadays to help race cars make it over the finish line – preferably in first place and breaking records to boot. Famous automobile manufacturer Volkswagen, headquartered in Germany with multiple subsidiaries and over 130 production plants around the world, has turned to 3D printing before to manufacture components for its vehicles, but is now taking on an even bigger challenge – competing in the world’s most famous hill climb race with the brand’s first fully-electric race car.
On June 24th, the 2018 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) will take place in Colorado Springs. The annual invitational sends automobiles and motorcycles on a steep hill climb – all the way to the summit of Pikes Peak. The event, brought to the world by Gran Turismo, is also known as The Race to the Clouds, and having been to Pikes Peak myself, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, I understand why.
Volkswagen Motorsport, a works rally team of the automaker, has a goal of breaking the record in the electric prototype class, which is currently 8:57.118 minutes. To achieve this, the team engineered the aerodynamics of its electric racing car, the I.D. R Pikes Peak.
“The start line is located at an altitude just above 9,000 feet, with the finish at 14,115 feet above sea level,” said François-Xavier Demaison, Technical Director at Volkswagen Motorsport and the Project Manager behind the development of the I.D. R Pikes Peak. “The low air pressure up there means that the aerodynamic conditions are different to those at a racetrack on flat land.”
Top speeds of about 155 mph are reached during the windy 12.4-mile drive to the summit, which is decently low for prototype vehicles such as the I.D. R, which could drive at far faster speeds in theory.
“For this reason, we concentrated mainly on achieving optimal cornering speeds,” said Demaison. “The entire chassis is designed to generate as much downforce as possible, without causing too much aerodynamic drag.”
Most other racing disciplines have strict regulations when it comes to redesign, but not so for The Race to the Clouds. Fairly open regulations allow engineers more freedom to ramp up the design of their race car’s rear wing and chassis.
The Volkswagen Motorsport team tested a variety of race variants on a half-scale model of the I.D. R in a wind tunnel, before adding the final touches to the full-size chassis on the rolling-road wind tunnel located in the Weissach development center for Porsche.
Demaison said, “It was greatly beneficial to be able to use resources from within the Group.”
The team used a 3D printer during production to quickly manufacture new components for the vehicle.
Dr. Hervé Dechipre, the CFD engineer at Volkswagen Motorsport responsible for the aerodynamics on the I.D. R Pikes Peak car, said, “We printed about 2,000 parts. In doing so, we saved a lot of time.”
The sleek race car has two electric engines that generate 500 kilowatts of power, which helps get around the cooling issues that vehicles with combustion engines have to deal with. This also allowed the team to lower the size of the chassis intakes, which can impede a car’s aerodynamic abilities. Unfortunately, the thin air at altitude during the upcoming race will negatively impact how efficiently the car cools.
“We could not manage this solely with the data from the wind tunnel, where it is not possible to recreate the thin air. The simulation was a great help in determining the dimensions required for the cooling system,” said Demaison.
The most visually striking part of the chassis on the I.D. R Pikes Peak is its over-sized rear wing.
“The altitude on Pikes Peak means that the air we are driving through is on average 35 percent thinner,” explained Willy Rampf, a technical consultant to the project with years of experience with Formula 1 racing. “As a result, we lose 35 percent of our downforce compared to a racetrack at sea level. The huge rear wing allows us to compensate for some of this lost downforce. The imaginative aerodynamic development means that we will still achieve maximum downforce greater than the weight of the car during the hill climb.”
During comprehensive tests, the team’s findings from the development phase were optimized with plenty of detail, and the first test run of the original race route should take place at the end of this month. After that, the Volkswagen Motorsport team and driver Romain Dumas will begin the final preparations before the race in June.
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