Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Earth, Wind (But No Fire)
In today's cost-restricted atmosphere, IndyCars aren't allowed unlimited testing like they were in the old days, but there's a special place on the northwest side of Indianapolis that for the last 10 years been the next best thing to actual on-track testing, and in some ways has become even superior.
The Auto Research Center simulates track testing with both a wind tunnel and a 7-post shaker rig; and it provides IndyCar teams with valuable information regardless of whether it's snowing outside or boiling in the summer heat.
Located close to the shops of KV Racing and Derrick Walker, ARC was built in 1998 by Reynard North America and Honda to help
their Championship Auto Racing Teams [CART] customers combat Lola, Swift and Penske.
"It was a 50 percent-scale wind tunnel with a rolling road, so the model would stand still while the air and road moved around it," explains Bruce Ashmore, longtime designer and engineer of Indy Cars, who worked for British race-car manufacturer Reynard at the time.
"Roughly half the time we did work for our CART customers, and the rest of the time we worked on the Honda BAR project that also included Reynard on the chassis side. The facility almost went away when Reynard went out of business in 2002, but Mike [Camosy]
did a fantastic job of saving it."
A Wisconsin native who worked for Reynard, Camosy has re-built the ARC work force from eight to 40 people and brought in all kinds of customers during the past six years. And the workload continues to grow.
"About 60 percent of what we do now is still racing related, but we've also branched out into production cars, semi tractor-trailer trucks and all kinds of fuel-efficient vehicle research," notes Camosy.
"We just added a 32,000-square-foot, two-story building here in Indianapolis; we've built a second facility in North Carolina, and we're looking at expanding into other countries as well."
One of ARC's main attractions has been the 7-Post Shaker Rig, a platform that includes moveable posts attached to all four wheels as well as the nose, center and rear of the chassis. The posts, which resemble giant pistons, are programmed to move up and down independently, simulating the movement of the car as it moves on the race track. Teams and engineers have found it to be one of the most useful means of simulating suspension, damper, spring and tire movements ever developed.
"You strap the car to it and it shakes, rattles and simulates going around corners," says Ashmore. "It loads the wheels and it tunes the springs and shocks. It helps you balance the car.
"Frank Williams built the first one for his Formula One Team [Williams GP Engineering] in the '90s, and then Reynard built one here. Now every Formula 1 team has one, and so do all the big NASCAR operations.
"It doesn't give you instant answers, and it takes two or three years of gathering information to understand everything the tests tell you," Ashmore notes. "But if Roger Penske uses it religiously, that should tell you something."
Camosy adds: "We had two-thirds of the NASCAR teams using our rig but now many [teams] have their own in-house shaker rigs. The Champ Car and IRL business went down to almost zero a couple of years ago as both series struggled, but now IndyCar testing is starting to ramp up and we've got about 80 days scheduled already.
"We can run 24/7 with both the tunnel and the rig, and right now we're at about 80 percent capacity."
Ashmore says ARC can help deliver results with the right application.
"Some people questioned its effectiveness, but all I can tell you is that all the smart teams in North America use a shaker rig, either ours or their own."