2013 is looking like another banner year for Chevrolet and IndyCar. Last year, the team came out victorious in 11 of the 15 races of the 2012 season, winning both the Manufacturers’ Championship and the Driver’s Championship with advanced Chevrolet technology. We sat down with Chris Berube, Chevrolet IndyCar Program Manager, to talk about the role of technology transfer in the teams’ success last year, and what’s in store for 2013.
Technology transfer had a big part to play in the return of Chevrolet to IndyCar dominance in 2012. The technology found in IndyCar engines today is relevant to Chevrolet’s small-displacement production engines. Direct injection, turbocharging, and E85 fuel all play a big part. Chevrolet IndyCar Program Manager Chris Berube explains the role of technology transfer in Chevrolet Performance’s IndyCar success.
Chris Berube: Chevrolet supplies engines to a hand-picked group of racing organizations. For the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, 13 full-time cars carried the gold bowtie on their cars at the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, FL, on March 24, 2013. The Manufacturers' Championship is awarded to the engine provider that gains the most points during the season based on the highest finishing position achieved by the manufacturer's cars at each event. In addition, we do provide technical support that does get into things like aerodynamic and suspension setup, data management, etc. We are always focused on making sure our Chevy Teams are in contention to win each race. Chevrolet also utilizes the IndyCar platform to activate consumer displays and other activities at several events to increase the brand awareness and interact with existing and potential customers.
CB: We group it into four different categories. There’s track-to-street, street-to-track, the people aspect, and the processes [shared between the production and racing world]. All four can involve some technology transfer.
When it comes to taking something from the Chevrolet IndyCar program and applying it to the street, things like wind tunnel testing come into play. We've been transferring some of the methods and ideas for how to conduct the testing back to our production vehicles, and that's been a big value add. The transmissions on the IndyCar are shifted by the drivers via paddles on the steering wheel, very much like numerous performance offerings. You’ll see paddle shifters in quite a few production cars these days, such as the Corvette ZR1, the Camaro ZL1, and Chevy SS.
Another big technology advancement is mass reduction. Obviously, in a [racing] environment, you want the car to be as light as possible and have as much power as possible. As the auto industry seeks to further fuel efficiency, mass reduction is one of the big areas of focus. And with that comes material choices. Specifically, more carbon fiber usage like we’re doing with the Corvette C7 carbon-fiber roof. Carbon fiber is used extensively on the IndyCar, and we may be supplying full aero kits on our future Chevrolet IndyCars. All the forces are there for our production vehicles to get lighter in the future. Mass reduction equals better fuel mileage and performance, so it definitely makes engineering sense for our production vehicles to incorporate carbon fiber in certain areas.
As manufacturer of the body kits, we’ll be learning a bit more in-house about carbon-fiber bodies and the potential of seeing more of it in production vehicles as well. I can’t reveal when, but all the forces are there [for production vehicles] to get lighter in the future. Mass reduction equals better fuel mileage and performance, so it definitely makes sense for our production vehicles.
Taking production ideas and putting them into our racecars — we like to talk about the use of direct injection in our 2.2-liter V-6 IndyCar engine. It was our engineers’ decision to use direct injection in our racecars. We used our production experience and knew we could apply it to the racing side. We started with production fuel injectors — the ones we use to give our production vehicles better engine performance and fuel efficiency — and evolved them into the ones that helped win the championships.
All the IndyCars use E85 fuel, like quite a few of our production cars. It took some tuning, tweaking, and enabling of the racecars to run on that type of fuel. So, the lessons that we learned with the production cars were applied to the racecar to make that process go a little more smoothly.
Another key ingredient of the new IndyCar formula, and part of what drew us back to IndyCar, was the use of small-displacement V-6 engines in the series. That is exactly the type of engine that Chevrolet is producing and selling today. So that technology was extremely relevant to Chevrolet and it was exciting to see IndyCar adopting it as well.
As Chevrolet IndyCar Program Manager, my assignment to Chevrolet Racing was an example of knowledge transfer and training, in that I came from the engineering side. I have 25 years of experience, and most of it has been in product development. We believe racing experience trains and improves engineers. We become accustomed to the pressure and time constraints of racing, which then makes us even more effective in the production world. Chevrolet is committed to efficiently utilizing our time and developing the resources to make the best performance vehicles in the world.
The last facet of technology transfer is that we share processes. An example of that is using one of the Chevrolet Performance facilities’ transient dynamometers. We run the IndyCar engine on it, as well as other racing series engines and our production engines. So that is a shared tool that provides effective results to both production vehicles and racecars. It’s also a great example of shared learning opportunities for engineers. They are constantly learning new techniques that better improve production vehicles.
We also do things that aren’t engine related, like measuring — or characterizing — the car. We measure the center of gravity and inertia of the car, and other kinematic and compliance-related measurements. We perform these measurements on both the production vehicles and the racecars. We’ve also done some work where we test and measure the racecar tires in conjunction with the tire supplier. This improves the fidelity of the simulation models which are used to support our teams and their chassis setup. This is something that we also do on the production side to test durability and safety. Those are just a few examples of where we use similar tools [on the production and racing sides]. There are plenty more, but that gives a general idea for the many facets of technology transfer.
Congrats to the Chevrolet IndyCar team, and FUEL sends a big thanks out to Chris for taking the time to speak with us about technology transfer and the huge role it plays in Chevrolet racing. Chevrolet is taking advantage of its IndyCar program to the fullest extent by using what’s learned on the track to accelerate technologies that could one day find their way into production vehicles. It’s a win-win for Chevrolet on the racing circuit and also with the production cars in the showroom.
We want to wish our IndyCar drivers good luck on the track this season. And readers, don’t forget to catch all the Chevy IndyCar action!
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