National Motorsport Academy

Student Experiences: Brian Conway

Student Experiences: Brian Conway

Meet MSc Advanced Motorsport Engineering student Brian Conway! Brian first started to take an interest in motorsport when he first laid his eyes upon all of his dad’s old trophies, medals, and achievements. Growing up, he had a brilliant career in Olympic Cycling, before turning to dirt bikes due to injuries. Since then, Brian has completed a successful transition to working in automotive engineering! Read on to discover the various projects he has worked on, both with the National Motorsport Academy, and in his work. 

Brian Conway

Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself!

My name is Brian Conway. I’m enrolled in the MSc Advanced Motorsport Engineering course. I am 37-years-old and currently making a start on Module 03: Advanced Vehicle Dynamics! I think the first things that triggered my need for competition were seeing trophies, medals, and photos of my dad’s achievements when I was about 6 years old. He had a 1956 Hillman Imp rally car, which is more than likely the first time I had considered what it is to race. My personal racing background, without going into too much detail, is in Olympic Cycling. Without realising at the time, this planted the seed of aerodynamics in my head. I achieved a National Gold medal in the individual pursuit 4000m and on the same day, a silver medal in the standing start 1000m. I was due to represent Ireland in the 2012 London Olympics, but I had to stop due to medical reasons. So, with a life spent cycling, and my career up in the air, what would any normal person do in that situation I ask? Buy a dirt bike, of course! And the rest is history.

Brian trail riding

How did you find out about NMA? What made you choose it?

I think the first time I saw the National Motorsport Academy was through an advertisement on a motorsport jobs website. I was partway through a similar bachelor’s degree with a different university and couldn’t wait to start reaching out to teams for work experience. I decided to make the move to NMA because the flexibility in the online degree allows me to hold a steady job and keep the bills paid, so it was a no-brainer.

How has your time with the NMA been so far?

Absolutely great. Before I even started Module 01: Research Methods, I was made very welcome at the last round of the GT Cup in Snetterton. I was blown away by the whole setup, but more so by how approachable the staff were. Fast forward to doing the coursework, I love the level of transparency and the step-by-step approach to tackling each module. I feel what is expected is well within my reach, which is a confidence booster.

What's been your favourite module so far? Any you are looking forward to completing?

Well, I have only finished two modules so far and after each one, I feel there was serious benefit and a sense of fulfilment. The literature review was great because I got to dive into a topic to a level that I never imagined possible, and I learned a lot. It’s hard to pick just one that I’m looking forward to because all the modules are interesting, but I think Module 05: Multi-Physics Analysis for Motorsport, will appeal given I like CFD.

Tell us more about the full-time position that you hold. How did that come about?

I currently work at IAAPS in Bristol, a subsidiary of Bath University. IAAPS is home to Europe’s biggest powertrain testbed. It is one of three sites in the UK producing its own hydrogen on-site. What’s great is any company looking to test hydrogen or any blended fuel for that matter can conduct experimental work through IAAPS. So, it is literally at the forefront of where the industry is going. My background as a toolmaker caught the attention of the management. While IAAPS was waiting to receive their keys to the building, I was fortunate enough to have the skills necessary to set up the fabrication workshops according to ISO standards, whilst also having an interest in everything automotive. After working here for two years, I am now in a position where I get to conduct a full experiment from start to finish. So after setting up the required instrumentation on the test unit, I will install it on the dyno, then run drive cycles and do some data acquisition of the results (which is my favourite bit).

You have also completed a project recently for the NMA. Can you tell us a bit about it?

So, for Module 02: Design and Modelling for Motorsport Systems, I chose to develop an active aerodynamics package for the McLaren 650S GT3. I must stress that the aim of the module is not to go out and fully CAD up a system and run CFD on it. More so to utilise design tools such as QFD and the likes to bring a designer to a well thought out and complete design. But I couldn’t help myself, so I decided to reverse-engineer the McLaren. I found a 1:18 scale car on eBay, a die-cast replica seen below.

Anyone reading this is going to ask, why all the masking tape? I’ll get to that, but you didn’t ask about the vinyl wrap on the wheels and front end! It’s as simple as CFD doesn’t favour high levels of detail. But don’t take my word for it, there is a good paper by Marco Lanfrit on ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Handling Automotive External Aerodynamics with FLUENT.’ The desired shape should be something like a plain clay model, so I wasn’t interested in spokes on the rim, panel shut lines, louvres on fenders, etc… Plus, the prep should drastically reduce the time spent in the CAD phase. Once the car is de-featured, it can then be hung up and sprayed with athlete’s foot spray. I needed to hang up the car so the floor detail could be captured during the 3D scan.

There are multiple 3D scanning software systems available for free. And some modern phones have the capability to scan a model with enough accuracy to be able to do meaningful work. The raw file can be cleaned using ‘Meshmixer’, another Autodesk tool. Then I used Fusion 360 for scaling the car up to real-world size. This is important. Seen above is a line drawn from axle to axle which shows a value of 2708mm, which is very close to the real car

Also, in Fusion 360, the STL mesh is easily converted to a solid body, and then it’s simple to do further design work. A big part of CFD is being resourceful with computational power. My laptop is quite weak, so a keen eye will spot that the above pic is only half a car, and quite jagged-looking. Both decisions to run the car like this are solely to reduce the quantity of tetrahedral shapes in the final boundary mesh in which the software must calculate the flow into and out of, thus saving time again! But why are the wheels on square blocks, you ask? It just helps the mesh form in tight spaces (next to the contact patch) and helps the overall solution converge.

Above is the side fin on the splitter which I wanted to test to see a difference. This kind of feature should, in theory, enhance or produce a vortex alongside the car, which can help seal off the undercarriage further from the higher-pressure air surrounding the car, hence creating more downforce. Below you can see some results for yourself!

On the top is the original car, and on the bottom is the car with a new fin added. The magnitude of the turbulent air is on the same setting. At 20 m/s, it looks plausible that the fin may be enhancing the vortex, giving good reason to continue further work on this design. What would normally follow is analysis where the wheels spin and road plan move, but that is outside the scope of what I wanted to achieve here.

What have you learned from this project so far?

I had many first achievements in this module and learned a lot of new skills which will be used out in the real world:

  1. I used a 3D scanner for the first time.
  2. I had to learn a whole different side of Fusion 360.
  3. I had never used Meshmixer before, which does a good job tidying up the scan file.
  4. I had never considered any software other than Ansys to conduct CFD. Now I’m aware of multiple software options that can do it. The above was done with Autodesk CFD.
  5. I also produced my first electrical drawing ever as part of the assignment delivery.

How have the tutors helped you with this?

To be honest, the timeliness in just replying to my questions via email is more than enough to compliment. I never had to wait more than a few hours to get useful feedback from my tutors, for both modules for that matter. I’m also very impressed with how clear the feedback is and how approachable the tutors are. 

A massive thank you to Brian for speaking to us! You can keep up to date with his career over on LinkedIn – Brian Conway

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