This disused railway tunnel has become the ultimate aero car test center

Wind tunnels are wonders of simulation technology. A vital resource for the aerospace industry, racing teams and automakers, huge machines are becoming especially important in the age of electric vehicles in pursuit of the lineup. They still have their problems. They are expensive to build and run, and their test envelope is also limited. These are the same issues that made the British company Totalsim reflect.

As Coach reports, Totalsim, which offers simulation services for a variety of racing teams, has decided to change the classic wind tunnel layout. Instead of circulating the air around a stationary car, they decided to have a car moving through the stationary air. It seems pretty obvious and a little too good to be true, and indeed it requires a lot more than a nice flat road. It requires an extraordinarily calm air that can only be offered by something like a disused railway tunnel.

It wasn’t easy, but the company found such a tunnel located in the English town of Daventry, cutting through a hill on what was once Catesby’s estate. The tunnel, which is 1.6 km long, was acquired in 2013. Since then, it has been transformed into a state-of-the-art testing center.

Construction of the Victorian-era tunnel began in 1895. According to the project’s website, “the underground nature of the construction was the result of Catesby Estate owner Henry Attenborough resisting unsightly trains crossing the landscape. “. Guess that’s as good a reason as any to build a tunnel, right? In any case, after 30 million bricks and two years of construction, the first train passed in 1898. The structure would remain in service for another 68 years until September 1966, when it was taken out of service.

Fast forward to 2013, and Totalsim, as part of a partnership known as Aero Research Partners, began development of the tunnel project, launching a multi-million dollar restoration and transformation business. dollars to make it a research center. The water was drained, the air vents were cleared and after several years of work, the tunnel began to take shape. Its ground, almost perfectly flat and straight, is covered with a layer of asphalt as smooth as glass.

“We were amazed when we actually scanned it,” said Jon Paton, aerodynamicist at Totalsim in conversation with Coach. “It’s a few inches from being perfect.”

This perfection is important because it is difficult to reproduce the same precision and repeatability of a wind tunnel. Totalsim thinks it will be pretty close, however. In a document posted on its website, the company states that the tunnel contains “a calm, dry climate with constant temperature. It is the ideal location for repeatable testing, combining the benefits of open road testing with predictability. and controlling lab conditions. ”Basically, it’s as good as a wind tunnel as you can get without actually being in a wind tunnel. In some ways he is also more capable. As Coach notes, US racing team Chip Ganassi Racing made a similar tunnel acquisition in Pennsylvania in 2003, and they’ve since used their structure to do things like lead / follow-up testing, something that’s more difficult to do. in a conventional wind tunnel.

In addition to finishing the tunnel itself, massive turntables were added at each end of the carriageway to avoid constant multipoint rollovers. Totalsim also constructed a building at the entrance to the underground roadway to better facilitate testing. If all goes well, there are additional plans to build a small campus of structures that Totalsim calls a “science park” nearby.

According to the company, a slew of important customers are practically at the doorstep of the site. Aston Martin, JLR and Mini. Five F1 teams – Alpine, Williams, Mercedes, Aston Martin and Red Bull – are all within 50 miles of the facility. These may seem like the obvious choices for people to do business with, but there are other interesting players and ideas to the mix as well. The author of Coach article, Mike Duff, notes that the tunnel would be one of the few places where you could test whether an F1 car has enough downforce to roll upside down. In response to this, aerodynamicist Paton notes that “Yes, this has also been suggested,” and the article indicates that several record attempts are already being considered for the site. “People keep coming up with new ideas, some of which we hadn’t even thought of. The answer is usually: ‘Why not?’ Paton says.

So whether it’s reverse driving due to downforce or more conventional aero testing, it looks like Catesby will be a very capable setup. After eight years of work, the investment of nearly $ 27 million in the site may well be worth it. The tunnel will open next month.

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