Pre-season testing is always one of the busiest times for a motorsport engineer. Here, NMA Tutor Tim Mullis gives us an overview of pre-season plans in the run-up to the 2019 European Le Mans Series with RLR MSport.
So, the winter break has come and gone and our thoughts and efforts are now turning towards the start of the European 2019 season. I’ve been involved with LMP3 cars since the category was launched in 2015, running cars in the European Le Mans Series. Thankfully the ELMS has an ‘off season’ and although the cars are eligible for the Asian Series which runs from November to February, I haven’t been involved. So, my first outing of the year will be a test in a couple of weeks in Spain.
What is new for 2019? This year, rules and regulations are largely unchanged. The provisional sporting regulations have been released already and include only minor changes to pitstop procedures. Although the regulations run to 124 pages, the changes are helpfully marked in red so they can be seen easily but overall there is little to worry about until other things change which are outside of your control.
Over the years the ELMS calendar has remained quite stable. We tend to visit the same tracks at the same time each year. This year though we have a new circuit added and will be travelling to Barcelona in July instead of the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Apart from missing out on the Austrian scenery, what does a change of circuit mean for a motorsport engineer?
Simply, a complete lack of data and information! We haven’t run the car at the circuit, so we have absolutely nothing to base decisions on other than guess work. Luckily, we have visited the circuit with another car so some of the decisions can initially be made based on an educated guess. The running from previous seasons has given us information on fuel usage, average lap times and pit in/pit out times. Of course, all these things can be measured during the first track session, but we still lack the historic archive of data to check against.
FCY and Fuel Forecasts
Some information such as the time taken to do a lap under FCY (full course yellow) or safety car we may not find out until a race situation, meaning we can’t have full confidence of any strategy proposed. We also won’t have an idea of how incidents in the race will be dealt with – is a safety car more or less likely than an FCY? It is also important that we attempt some low fuel runs to ensure we know how far into the fuel load we can run. Combinations of corners can cause not only fuel surge and associated misfires but an early ‘low fuel’ indication on the dash – there is nothing more worrying than a low fuel report from the car 3 laps before it ‘should’ happen! On a positive, the LMP3 class is restricted to running only two ratio sets: a ‘long’ and a ‘short’ so we don’t have to worry about selecting individual ratios. The chassis setup probably won’t be very different from a ‘standard’ setup too which should make life easier.
The Human Element
This year, the major difference for us is a complete change of driver line up – 3 new drivers! As motorsport engineers, we’re all totally in our comfort zone dealing with the mechanical side of things. Motorsport engineering is based on tried and tested methodologies with proven processes and expected outcomes until you introduce the unknown human element. With last year’s championship winning combination having disbanded and gone their separate ways, only one known driver remains with the team, running this year in LMP2 – the fastest class in the ELMS races. It’s been a huge task, getting a package together of three drivers with the desired categorisation and budget but we’re there and ready to get going.
Much of the early test days will be devoted to driver familiarisation, both with the car and the circuits but also with the regulations. As race engineers, responsibility for much of the ‘operating procedure’ lies with us – reminding the driver what to do at specific times. Regulations in ELMS dictate much of the pitstop procedure, nothing can happen before the engine is off and if the engineer hasn’t reminded the driver to do it, he may well be trying to release his belts first. It is all well and good to tell the driver he needs to turn on the FCY limiter, but with a new driver in the car unfamiliar with dash layout it would be helpful to also advise ‘yellow button, right hand side, bottom row’. These are the type of instructions we didn’t need to issue last year, the drivers were familiar, especially at the end of the season, but we must be prepared for them now.
The 6 Ps According to the Motorsport Engineer
Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away with the cars but we mustn’t forget the mundane preparations as well. The computer that we last used in October will no doubt want to download and update Windows right at the last minute – a time consuming and difficult process at a circuit without WiFi! Also, there’s those old printer cartridges which you know will only be fit for creating the graphical equivalent of Morse code….With around a month to go until the first race, now’s the time to think about all the things that make life easier and less stressful when you’re in the middle of another country, working in a tin box ,without the comforts of home or amenities of a workshop or office. Here are 6 things I’m doing pre-season:
- Prepare: Laptops, lap-sheets and software
- People: Make contact with new team members to say hello
- Performance: Analyse where the performance gains came from
- Problems: Review what went wrong last year
- Prevent: Problems from last year happening again
- Passport: Find and renew (6 months remaining required after Brexit!)
About NMA Tutor & Professional Motorsport Engineer, Tim Mullis:
Tim has worked in motorsport for over 20 years since graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree. During that time, he has worked for teams, constructors and suppliers from karting through to F1.
With a particular interest in the areas of data acquisition, vehicle dynamics, strategy and simulation, Tim continues to combine tutor work at the NMA with participation as a data and strategy engineer in the European Le Mans Series with RLR Msport. He particularly enjoys prototype/endurance racing, a type of racing that requires the whole team to play an important part to solve the challenges imposed by the longer, multi-driver races.
Becoming a motorsport engineer requires more than just a passion for fast cars and foreign travel. If, like Tim, you have an interest in motorsport strategy and data, find out more about studying towards a career in motorsport with the National Motorsport Academy.