About 12 months ago we introduced you to American aero ace Andrew Brilliant. Andrew currently resides in Japan where he understudied Yoshi Suzuka, the multi championship-winning aerodynamicist behind Nissans IMSA and Le Mans programs that dominated during his era.
He went on to work in IndyCar, American Le Mans, Grand Am and Japanese Super GT. Over the years Andrew has developed an absolute passion for time attack racing and late last year was back in the USA where he re-engineered the FX Motorsports NSX which led to the car resetting the Buttonwillow track record at Superlap Battle. He has also been out in Australia working on several serious WTAC contenders. Given his vast knowledge of the subject, and his love for Time Attack we thought we would ask him a few questions.
Superlap Australia: Hi Andrew. It seems you have been pretty busy over the past year with a number of time attack projects on the go. Firstly let’s start with the GT Auto garage R35 GTR that Steve Glenney drove to a top ten finish on its maiden outing at WTAC 2011. Tell us about that project.
Andrew Brilliant: The GT Auto Garage R35 was a great project. The team got the body from the composite shop just two weeks before WTAC and put it all together in a very short time. For what was given, the results were quite good.
I flew into Australia last year and drew the car up for them. Then I came in before WTAC to help them engineer the car trackside. I was impressed with that team, the engine ran flawless and that really enabled us to keep nicking away at the lap times with every lap. Steve [Glenney] was a pleasure to work with, his feedback was a very detailed and he’s extremely fast. The team was well managed and executed smoothly.
SL: So despite zero testing and a heap of mechanical teething problems that car still managed a top ten finish, you must have been happy with that?
AB: I think everyone was really happy with how the car performed. I think Steve didn’t even believe in aero before he drove that car! We definitely made some memories last year. We thought we could get a 1:31 at the end of the day if we’d just had one more clear track session on fresh tires, and that was very promising. I’d love to see that car run again with a bit more testing. There were so many things that we still wanted to do to make the car faster.
SL: After the World Time Attack Challenge you went back to America to work on the FX Motorsports NSX that broke the record set by Sierra Sierra, tell us a bit about that project.
AB: When Sierra Sierra came into the US scene, it was clear they were going to raise the bar. FX is a team of volunteers and they had a tall order to win against that kind of might.
They had most of the records at other Time Attack tracks, but they wanted that ‘overall’ record at Buttonwillow. The problem for them was that place really favours the AWD, high-powered cars. Sierra Sierra was focused on it and was dominating there.
Through the 2010 season the bulk of the aero was finished and last year I was focused on vehicle dynamics and the team honed in on reliability. They only had so much bandwidth due to volunteer/part time mechanics and fabricators. Since FX had chased that record for a long time, it was a huge celebration for the team. An incredible amount of hard work was behind that victory. It was a sweet moment!
SL: And do you think the NSX can still go faster?
AB: After the aero package was finished, the car was 4.5 secs faster, but the original handling setup they had developed was now way off. All these things work together you know, and you have to take a synergistic approach. On a car with that kind of aero load, it changes everything.
In some corners there is more load on the suspension from aero than vehicle weight. The only engineers with experience setting up cars like that come out of places like LMP, IndyCar or F1 but these TA cars are different animals entirely. FX needed help to get the car back to handling well and they didn’t have a big test budget. So I worked with them to gather the engineering data and I did a lot of work on the computer modeling the suspension and simulation. It was so important to understand the tires as well and I spent quite a bit of time on that.
At the end of Super Lap battle we were getting a decent setup and solved the major issues. When the car showed up at the Infineon race (see video below) it was really getting dialed in. By the final day of the season it was good and we were down to the little details. If you look at the videos from Infineon 2011(below) vs Buttonwillow 2010 (above) handling is night and day.
The car has come a long way. Their engine package is very reliable, they really have just minor teething issues at this point. Axles need to be beefed up and things that need heat shielding/cooling air were really the only issues with the car itself. With just a few more tweaks, the car should really start to show what it can do. They are planning to return to Buttonwillow with a goal to put some margin on their last record.
SL: Another car which we can finally talk about – as there’s a youtube video posted documenting the build so far – is an Evo being buit up in Queensland under the Nemo Racing banner. Many believe that this car is a level above anything previously seen in time attack racing. Tell us a bit about that car.
AB: That aero package is a culmination of concepts developed over the past few years that are specific to time attack. We had to take some of the weaknesses of the EVO platform and find ways to leverage them for something truly unique and extreme.
A lot of the concepts were developed using CFD. Our final testing is with instrumentation rather than in the wind tunnel because that’s just what is available in Australia. We designed a wing specific to this car with efficiency in the range where we needed it, that was a big piece of the puzzle for us.
A lot of teams are fighting to achieve GT car levels of down force, but this car is in the ballpark of prototypes and formula cars. I would describe it as game changing. It’s a long road though and some of the toughest obstacles are still ahead. The car is in good hands though and everyone has high hopes.
SL: We also heard a rumour that you have been stopping by the Scorch racing shop in Tokyo of an evening and helping Suzuki-san out with some new areo designs?
AB: Yes I have. In a very Japanese way, Suzuki is refining every little detail of the car to perfection. It should have a few aero changes and it’s all with WTAC in mind.
SL: It is also interesting to note that you actually became in the time attack scene firstly as a competitor?
AB: Yes! That’s correct, I lived back and forth in the US at the time and wanted to race my own car. I looked at the popular classes, but honestly the cars didn’t seem that exciting to me. I had come up from racing in those circles and it really boiled down to a battle over who got the best rule breaks next year and that was the major controlling factor in who won.
To me, racing should be about the most clever and hardest working guys going home with the win, so I wanted something that felt more pure and more open. Time attack was blooming in the US so I thought I’d give it a shot and I got hooked.
SL: And after seeing the time attack scene in Australia, Japan and the USA what do you see as the major differences?
AB: In Australia, the sport is very new but the learning curve seems to be the fastest to date. What the Aussie cars are performing at now took years for the US to build up to, it’s really cool to watch it taking shape.
The engines you guys build are crazy! Japan scene is cool, it feels pretty vibrant here, you see teams trying out all sorts of new things but in a more subtle way. I really like the cars coming out of the lower classes as well, the shops that are hungry to build a name.
I think the US scene is going through a tough time right now, I’m hoping the new GTA series can revive it to what it once was. It was the fastest growing motorsport with a lot of devoted competitors. I remember the class I ran in [one of nine classes!] at some events used to have more than 50 cars.
SL: It seems like you really have your hands full, any other projects you are working on?
AB: In Japan I have been working under my mentor, Yoshi Suzuka to develop a wind tunnel. The problem with wind tunnels is really their cost. They are designed for a target audience of multi million dollar budgets within rule sets that require large expensive models. The accuracy must be double decimal place and same with repeatability.
We are developing an “office sized” wind tunnel around rapid prototyped inexpensive models, rolling floor and repeatability better than most manufacturer tunnels but not at the level of F1. This reduced the cost exponentially and is a new concept. This is targeted toward “mere mortal” race teams and manufacturers.
There really is no reason that wind tunnel testing has to be so expensive other than target markets and keeping in mind the end goal is to get a car to go faster than it did before. I think in racing, it’s easy to forget sometimes that perfection can be the enemy of good enough. When first and last place are separated by one second you need a totally different accuracy than you do for cars where the whole field is 2 seconds faster each year or if none of the other competitors know what they are doing with aero. You need the quickest, easiest and most cost effective method.
I also developed some things specific to time attack for this year. First was a front diffuser that I can adapt to cars from emailed photos and measurements. I wanted something that performed better than a typical GT car but I could adapt to almost any Time Attack car’s splitter/front bumper after a few tweaks and CFD tests based on their measurements. The CFD results were good, it was 15% more down force for the same drag as the last GT car design I did. It’s being constructed/tested first on GT2 customer car in Europe.
Second was a time attack based dual element rear wing with a huge adjustment range to suit a broad range of cars and with the ability at full tilt to make more down force than typical consumer wings and much more efficient.
Finally, I am rolling out a technology that allows us to build fairly accurate full car CFD models from photos and measurements. This dramatically reduces the cost of CFD since scanning was about 50% or more of the cost.
SL: And lastly what advice can you give to anyone building a time attack car with regard to aero and suspension and the correlation between the two?
AB: The two things are really at odds with each other, aero is so height and pitch sensitive. All the aero in the world does you no good if it’s there and then it’s gone. If the driver can’t count on it, he can’t use it, that leads you to want a stiffer car. But if you compromise it too far, the car handles badly when it’s not going fast enough to have big aero load. It’s a delicate dance and just like engine tuning.
It’s one thing to make a bunch of down force in a single tunnel test and its completely another to make a car that behaves well and has the same peak values. If you look at teams like Cyber Evo they have honed their car over many years and Tarzan can make that thing dance. They are smart guys and that kind of knowledge doesn’t come without experience.
To get it right you need heaps of testing or you need to know exactly what the suspension is going to be doing and when. I use software simulation to work out the best compromises for each track. That can save a lot of time when you get there it lets you be more focused on dialing it in for your driver.
Andrew runs a private aero/ vehicle dymanics consulting practice and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and is available to assist with any project. As with anything in life getting the correct advice early on in the piece could be the difference between winning and losing but remember before you inundate him with questions that this is how he puts food on the table so don’t expect a free service. Having said that it may well also be the best money you spend on the whole project and a small consultation may actually save you thousands of dollars spent in the wrong area.