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Opportunities for real-world testing are severely limited in Formula E. This is also why Audi is driving the majority of the further development and preparation of its purely electric racing cars in its dynamic driving simulator. With this high-tech system, the vehicle behaviour of the Audi e-tron FE06 can be reproduced virtually and realistically, making it a true representation for the drivers. For the engineers from Audi and the Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team, the complex technical processes in the car and on the track are becoming increasingly clear.

07/01/2020 Reading Time: 5 min

Audi Sport Formula E simulator
Tristan Summerscale

COLLECTING AND EVALUATING DATA

“Between the race events, simulation is one of our core tasks and is the most important tool for our drivers and technicians to prepare for the next race,” says Tristan Summerscale, Formula E project leader at Audi. The team runs the racing cars in Formula E on behalf of Audi. The Formula E championship holds its races at one-day events around the world, on specially designed city circuits in metropolises such as Berlin, Paris or New York.

After an E-Prix, the official name of the Formula E events, the racing cars from all of the teams are loaded and transported together to the next venue. “Since the hardware of the vehicles may not be changed during the current racing season, we can only make our cars more competitive if we constantly improve our preparation, set-ups and software,” Summerscale explains. For this reason, we carry out intensive analysis after each race.

The most important factors influencing the performance of Formula E cars, which are mostly uniform with the exception of the drivetrain, are: the suspension set-up, tyre performance and battery management for the electric drivetrain. All of the information that gets digitally recorded during practice, qualifying and the races of the two Audi Formula E racing cars gets evaluated in great detail. “The key to data analysis is to exactly identify each weak point and use it to develop the right improvements to gain more speed for the next race,” says Summerscale.

Cockpit of the Audi Sport Formula E simulator

TESTING IN THE SIMULATOR

The following steps take place in the dynamic driving simulator from Audi in order to optimize the Audi e-tron FE06 for the next race. This has been in place at the motorsport headquarters of Audi Sport in Neuburg an der Donau since 2018. At these simulator sessions, the staff includes the drivers from Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, operational engineers from Audi Sport, the operational team ABT Sportsline and, depending on the focus, also a specialist engineer from Audi. In addition, there is the Audi engineer responsible for the operation of the simulator, the so-called “test bench operator.”

The drivers sit in a cockpit that is mounted on computer-controlled, three-dimensionally movable stilts. These are located on a platform that can also be moved to three levels with a total of nine degrees of freedom. This design gives the driving simulator its dynamic aspect. “In contrast to the static simulator, the movements of the vehicle are simulated in the dynamic simulator,” explains Bastian Göttle, who is responsible for coordinating the driving simulator at Audi. The driver’s cell used by Audi corresponds 1:1 to that of the real Formula E racing car.

 

The simulator has an active seat and active seatbelts inside the racing cockpit. In this way, the tensile and compressive forces generated while driving are realistically transmitted to the driver, together with the acceleration and deceleration of the simulator, which can be up to 3.5 times the forces of gravity. The driver sits in a realistic monocoque, wherein the steering wheel, pedals and seat are identical to the real racing car. The virtual circuit that is driven on is projected onto a 240-degree screen. “Thanks to the optimized graphics, we are now even closer to reality,” says Audi factory driver Lucas di Grassi, the Formula E champion of the 2016/2017 season. Speakers play the original sounds of the Formula E car. In the control room next door, the technicians follow every driving manoeuvre and every output from the vehicle on a series of monitors.

Audi e-tron FE06 in garage

VIRTUAL RACE ON REPEAT

At Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler, preparation for the next race in the driving simulator begins with the follow-up to the previous Formula E race. “We enter the data of the chassis set-up that was actually used and the tarmac and air temperatures that were present into the simulation. With this, we let one of our drivers virtually complete our last race and the qualifying session,” says Summerscale.

“If we then determine that there are deviations between the real obtained circuit data and the existing simulation models for the vehicle or tyres, then we update the specific sub-models of the system accordingly to bring them even closer to reality,” states Summerscale. Each of these so-called correlation iterations leads to further refined simulation programmes and makes the virtual work even more realistic for qualifying and race preparations. “On circuits where we have driven several times and have collected a lot of real data, we achieve an even more exact match with reality in our driving simulations.”

Track map of Mexico City E-Prix

LEARNING NEW CIRCUITS

It is not uncommon in Formula E to have circuits that are either completely new or have undergone major layout changes. Practicing the tracks in the driving simulator is therefore another important task for the drivers of Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler before every E-Prix. The motorsport authority FIA provides the virtual elevation and layout data to all of the teams, who then each adapt the data for their own driving simulators. “Getting used to tracks within a few laps works very well for me in the simulator. This saves me a lot of valuable time at the real venues on race days, when practice, qualifying and the races take place in quick succession. I can then use this time to further optimize my coordination,” says Lucas di Grassi.

Audi e-tron FE06 in pit lane
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team with simulator work

EXPLORING CHASSIS AND TYRE STRATEGIES

Because of the standardised aerodynamics of all the vehicles, two other factors are of particular importance in Formula E competition: the selection of the best possible suspension set-up and the optimal handling of the tyres. For both of these aspects, Audi can run through all of the possible options in its dynamic driving simulator: springs, dampers, stabilizers, camber, every component of the suspension set-up is explored just as intensively in the virtual test as the complex interaction of these parameters.

The level of the tyre simulation is even more important. Because in qualifying for the race, each Formula E driver only has one lap to set the time that determines his position on the grid. For this, the groved tyres, from the exclusive Formula E partner Michelin, must deliver maximum grip with pinpoint accuracy. Achieving this is in the hands of every driver and his technicians. Warming up the fresh, cold tyres must also correspond to the tyres’ air pressure.

Using the tyre model that is integrated in the dynamic driving simulator, working in advance of each E-Prix, Audi also examines the influences on vehicle behaviour caused by the various temperatures and pressures that affect the tyres, both internally and externally. These fluctuate constantly between driving on a straight and going through corners and largely determine how well or poorly the tyres can provide grip. If the sensitive tyres have been abused and worn out too quickly, then it’s not a problem in the driving simulator: just a click on the computer is enough to restore the tyres once again.

Audi Sport Formula E simulator
Audi Sport Formula E simulator

OPTIMUM USE OF AVAILABLE ENERGY

The test objective with the highest priority on the preparation programme of the Audi Formula E project is energy management. That means finding the best possible driving strategy for the race, so that the fastest possible way of utilising the available 52 kWh of energy from the lithium-ion battery in the Audi e-tron FE06 is found in order to cover the race’s specified distance (45 minutes plus one lap). “Driving is the biggest challenge of Formula E,” says Lucas di Grassi. The Brazilian masters the fine art of effective energy management like no other driver. With this, he made his numerous Formula E victories possible.

In the driving simulator in Neuburg, the Formula E drivers from Audi always try different racing scenarios in terms of the available energy. Up to three different motor outputs are available during the races and these are also taken into account: 200 kW (272 hp) for normal running, 235 kW (320 hp) in attack mode (the number and duration thereof are different in each race) and 250 kW (340 hp) via FanBoost (a short power increase for the five drivers who receive the most votes from the fans via the internet).

Markus Michelberger next to the Audi e-tron FE06

VORSPRUNG ALSO THROUGH THE SIMULATOR

Just as the ever-ongoing development of every racing car is never finished, Audi is constantly pushing ahead with improvements to its driving simulator. For Tristan Summerscale and his team, this is a key tool for more victories and titles. The Formula E project leader at Audi says: “Every single element of the 2,000-piece puzzle making up our Formula E car that has been optimized a little bit helps us to move forward. In the same way, each of our advances in the driving simulator makes a contribution to perhaps achieving the decisive tenth of a second in the end.”

FORMULA E
SIMULATOR

Audi Sport Formula E simulator
Markus Michelberger with simulator work
Audi Sport ABT Schaeffler team with simulator work

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