- Motorsport expedition to China demands new strategy
- Data acquisition with tape measures, a track logger and video material
- Narrow turns and high-altitude air require high downforce
A venture into uncharted territory on Tianmen Mountain – Romain Dumas (F) will make a record attempt with the fully-electric Volkswagen ID.R on ‘Heaven’s Gate Mountain’ on 02 September. The 99 turns, which have not been driven at this pace before, are still completely unknown in the motorsport world. Since no data record of the route was available and no data could be gathered via test drives with the ID.R on Tianmen Mountain, simulations have played an important role – but not in the familiar manner of the driving simulator. The set-up of the ID.R took place on the basis of a purely technically created simulation, with which the computer took over the main work.
“The record attempt in China on Tianmen Mountain is a very special technical and sporting challenge,” says Francois-Xavier Demaison, Technical Director of Volkswagen Motorsport. “Nowadays, it’s normal in motorsport to be able to access very accurate data in order to perform detailed simulations, optimise the vehicle set-up and give the driver an opportunity to learn the track. However, since the Tianmen road is not usually accessible and we did not have any usable data, we had to take our own different path to prepare as best we could and collect, process and evaluate the data ourselves.”
Track visit in winter laid foundations for the simulations
For the record attempt on Tianmen Mountain, Volkswagen Motorsport began with an empty data set. “We drove up Tianmen Mountain in winter with a track logger, took photo and video cameras to get a detailed idea, and even used a tape measure at times on demanding sections,” says Stéphane Folio, Performance and Data Engineer at Volkswagen Motorsport. “We have meticulously collected data on the grip level and on the road, which forms the basis for our entire preparation for the actual record attempt.”
The engineers drove the 10.906-kilometre route several times at the beginning of 2019. They obtained data and information on track conditions, which formed the basis for an abstract 3D model that was used to determine the most important parameters. At very challenging locations – such as turn 88, which is particularly narrow with a radius of around six meters – the engineers resorted to a measuring tape in order to obtain values as precisely as possible for the requirements of the car.
Experience from rally and Rallycross world championships helped in the simulation work
With the greatest possible attention to detail, the 3D data from the various driving lines on the track was combined to form an accurate three-dimensional centre-line of the road and was supplemented by the respective track width. In addition, other parameters were included, such as the anticipated grip level. Experience gained during the successful years in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and the FIA World Rallycross Championship (WRX) helped in this regard. “On Tianmen Mountain, the Big Gate Road is made up of blocks of concrete and offers about the same level of grip as the hill climb on Pikes Peak,” explains Folio. “We were able to build on our simulations from our experience there.”
In the absence of the usual 3D data, which already exists in the greatest of detail and with fine terrain models for the hill climb on Pikes Peak (USA) and the Nürburgring-Nordschleife (D), work in the driving simulator with Romain Dumas behind the wheel was not possible. The computer and simulation software became the ‘digital’ Romain on the abstract calculated model of Tianmen Mountain, as Stéphane Folio describes it: “From the numerous data we have collected, the software calculated not only the ideal line for the driver, but also helped to find the ID.R’s optimal configuration and base set-up for the record-breaking drive on Tianmen Mountain. “On the basis of the software simulation, we have chosen the required battery configuration, the optimal aero package and the basic chassis set-up,” says Folio.
Experience from all record-breaking drives comes to bear on Tianmen Mountain
The ID.R, in its present form on Tianmen Mountain, represents a continuous development based on the experience gained during the record-breaking outings on Pikes Peak, on the Nürburgring-Nordschleife and at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. In terms of charging and battery technology, chassis set-up and brake configuration, the findings and discoveries from recent months have materialised in the current set-up of the vehicle. Volkswagen has learned a lot since June 2018, especially in the management of the components for the electric drive. Improvements to the chassis and Potenza tyres from partner Bridgestone – especially developed for the ID.R – provide for the best possible mechanical grip, in addition to aerodynamic grip.
For the record attempt on Tianmen Mountain, the Volkswagen engineers, on the basis of the data from the simulation on the optimum balance of driving behaviour and best possible time to be achieved, decided on the high-downforce version of the ID.R, similar to that used for the outing on Pikes Peak. “For the first time since our record on Pikes Peak, we are also using a high-downforce aerodynamic package on Tianmen Mountain,” says Cédric Delnatte, Technical Project Manager of the ID.R. “With increasing altitude, the air density decreases, so we compensate for the associated loss of downforce with a large rear wing and a wide front spoiler. This not only increases the cornering speeds, but also gives Romain Dumas additional safety as a driver on the extremely narrow road up Tianmen Mountain. Since the preparation time of just two test days on the mountain is extremely short, a vehicle design that gives the driver security is the best choice. It also promises the best possible time.”
Volkswagen on Tianmen Mountain – a unique record attempt with the ID.R electric racing car
The Chinese mountain Tianmen, about 1,300 kilometres as the crow flies from the capital Beijing, is host to one of the most spectacular roads in the world: the Tianmen Shan Big Gate Road close to the city of Zhangjiajie. With 99 hairpin corners, it climbs about 1,100 metres in elevation difference. On 2 September 2019, Romain Dumas (F) will seek to set a benchmark with the Volkswagen ID.R on the 10.906-kilometre route. An official fastest time for racing cars does not exist there yet. The ID.R, the racing ambassador of the future ID. product family, is powered by two electric motors with a system performance of 500 kW (680 PS). The record attempt on the spectacular mountain road to the mythical ‘Heaven’s Gate’ supports Volkswagen’s electric model offensive in China.