Computer testing enabled Volkswagen to make its record-breaking run
Volkswagen has touted the importance of computer simulations in achieving its record-breaking Pikes Peak performance.
A month ago, Volkswagen’s electric I.D. R Pikes Peak beat the Pikes Peak track record by 16 seconds, a record not just for an electric vehicle but the all time record too.
The Pikes Peak hill climb places a heavy restriction on its test drives. Whereas most Formula 1 teams can perform many tests laps of the racetrack before hand, I.D. R Pikes Peak had to complete the race without performing a single full practice lap.
This meant that testing the EV beforehand was of the utmost importance.
“We relied heavily on computer simulations, in particular, in the initial phase of development of the I.D.R Pikes Peak,” explained Dr. Benjamin Ahrenholz, head of calculation/simulation at Volkswagen Motorsport.
The computer was used in multiple areas. “We used simulation programmes to calculate the components of the I.D.R Pikes Peak facing heavy structural wear and tear, for example, the chassis, monocoque, rear subframe and rear wing,” said Ahrenholz.
The aim of the computer-aided engineering (CAE) was always the same: a component should be as light as possible, but easily master the pressures that occur during the race. Relevant simulations were performed using the finite element method (FEM), during which the extremely complex structure of the components of the racing car was split up into a multitude of small components with predictable behaviour – the finite elements.
“This enabled us to simulate which components of the I.D. R Pikes Peak might need to be strengthened, where we could conserve material and thereby weight, or where the construction might need to be changed,” described Ahrenholz. When necessary, the computer used topology optimisation to make suggestions for an improved design.
Dr. Benjamin Ahrenholz’s team was helped by the fact that the 19.99-km track already largely existed as a computer model.
The upper section of the track in particular posed challenges for the Volkswagen Motorsport engineers. “The road surface there is so uneven that the load on the chassis is much greater than on the extremely level strip of the lower section of the racetrack,” said Ahrenholz.
“We weren’t entirely sure what would await the I.D. R Pikes Peak in the upper section beforehand, which is why we factored in a certain safety margin.” The CAE procedure also enables not pushing individual components to the limit, with a few mouse clicks, but definitely time-consuming recalculations.
Another computer-based technology was used during the development of the aerodynamics for the I.D. R Pikes Peak, computational fluid dynamics (CFD, part of computer-aided engineering).
The computer programme calculated how even the smallest modifications to the body and the spoilers of the I.D. R Pikes Peak affected the drag coefficient, downthrust or the inflow of coolers. “In this way, we simulated hundreds of different configurations before we tested a 1:2 model in the wind tunnel,” reflected Ahrenholz.
The moment when the I.D. R Pikes Peak rolled out of the paddock for the first test drive on the actual racetrack in the US state of Colorado was exciting for the head of the simulation/calculation department at Volkswagen Motorsport and his team.
“A degree of uncertainty always remains when a racing car has been completely redesigned,” said Ahrenholz.