Inside the Research & Development testing area

Research, development and testing. What exactly do these three words mean in the world of top-level motorsport? At TOYOTA Motorsport GmbH (TMG), TOYOTA Racing’s home base at Cologne, the Research & Development department, including the testing area, plays an essential role in the Le Mans program.  Today, we offer an insight into this facet of the operation.

In a few months, TOYOTA Racing designed and built a new prototype capable of taking on the Le Mans 24 Hours, using the skills and hardware at TMG. The development of the TS030 HYBRID within TMG continued even when the car was testing on track, with the engineers in the R&D department working their magic.  It’s a large, impressive space within TMG containing a massive selection of testing rigs and systems, capable of testing the majority of the components that make up the TS030 HYBRID.

The R&D testing area extends over 2,400m² and offers more than 200 different tests, each with different objectives. These range from developmental tests focusing on performance, to reliability tests where components are tested to extremes.  In addition, various quality control systems concentrate on the proper functionality of parts and their homologation.

We begin our visit near the seven-post rig, currently being used by an external customer. Only four posts are in use for this road-going car, but technicians can add up to three more on racing cars, usually one at the front and two at the rear to simulate downforce. This rig replicates the forces experienced by the suspension and the car in general, specifically when it comes to vertical movements. This tool helps to refine or evaluate the settings on the car; it’s therefore logical that the TS030 HYBRID recently spent a week on the bench, for 10 to 12 hours a day, to prepare for the Silverstone Six Hours.  The seven-post rig can also recreate the forces from an entire lap thanks to data recorded from previous years or from the simulator. It’s the ideal place to get a good sense of what to expect before a race weekend and allows the team to save precious practice time. In addition to weight distribution, the bench can also test reliability or durability, but there are many other more specific tools at TMG’s disposal offering this same opportunity.

There are several specific test benches used to analyse all types of parts.  As we walk through the R&D testing area, the first to come into view – which isn’t used for the Le Mans program – is reserved for carbon fibre suspension arms. The next two benches are dedicated to rotation tests; one serves to verify the specifications of each element, such as bearings and anti-roll bars, under maximum stress.  The second bench is also used for fatigue testing, simulating the typical pressures encountered on track. On this bench, the rotations can be combined, meaning it’s not unusual for tests to run for six hours or more.

Located nearby, a bench dedicated to testing transmissions focuses on reliability and competitiveness by validating the calibration and strength of various parts.  A bit further away, but still in the spirit of validating the many components in the TS030 HYBRID, are even more test benches. One of these is used to analyse shock absorbers and this is an in-demand machine: customers must wait 24 months after ordering to take delivery! Steering also necessitates specific testing solutions. The first is used to configure the steering, a task that demands precision since the TS030 HYBRID uses a version inspired by Formula 1. The second bench is dynamic and simulates the turning force from the driver, as well as the suspension forces which are transmitted to the power steering unit and steering column. After each evolution, the steering system is retested at this station allowing friction and hydraulic pressure to be optimised.

A portion of the R&D testing area is dedicated entirely to regulatory requirements. The TS030 HYBRID’s updated aerodynamic package for Silverstone was checked in early August.  These verifications are conducted on all new carbon fibre parts and they confirm each items has the required resistance, dimensions and characteristics to ensure peak performance and legality.

With a similar focus on accuracy, one system is able to precisely measure components in 3D using an optical laser in order to reverse engineer a CAD file from a physical part. That means any one-off parts or modifications can be tested in a virtual environment and easily reproduced again.

The centrepiece of the R&D testing area is the giant MTS 329 rig. On this, the car is mounted at all four wheels in order to apply various dynamic forces, recreating all the bumps, turns and vibrations experienced on a race track.  These movements are simulated to test the reliability of various elements, such as the gearbox or suspension, and also to deliver a very accurate map of the tony flexing and bending which inevitably occurs at high speed. TMG often uses a ‘super lap’ that combines the most extreme load cases from all tracks to give a good indication of any weak points, especially over 30 hours of testing!

A few metres away, a closed area houses the ‘TTS’ or transmission test system. This impressive rig was developed specifically for TMG during the F1 era in order to test complete gearboxes as well as coatings and bearings.  It’s an impressive machine containing an electric motor capable of reaching 22,000 rpm for an output of 1000 horsepower! By simulating the input and output forces experienced by a gearbox, as well as suspension movement, the TTS generates extremely realistic data covering most aspects of gearbox behaviour.

Another large test rig is located in the same room; the transmission lubrication test system which  simulates oil movement within the gearbox, particularly under heavy g-forces such as under braking or in high-speed corners.  It’s a necessary tool to ensure the oil flow stays consistent.

The tour of this impressive space, managed by six experts (three technicians and three engineers), ends with more machines.  These are used quite literally to make the various testing benches within the R&D testing area. It allows for better reactivity and precision – two words that characterise this area of TMG well.

Learn more about… the R&D department…

Surface area? Over 2,400m².
The most impressive part? The TTS; it’s very specific and personalised. It’s a relatively complex system and unique in the world.
The newest part? All the tools are regularly updated.  The latest is the shock absorber test rig.  We also made evolutions to the seven-post rig for the TS030 HYBRID because the downforce levels are not the same as in F1.
How many people work in the area? Six in total spend their working days directly in the R&D testing area; three technicians and three engineers. Another 12 colleagues work in the digital world, performing simulations and tests on powerful computers.
What’s the most difficult part of working in this department?  Going from one task to another. It’s interesting, but the changes are very rapid and different. We can go from the TTS for an F1 team to the seven-post rig for a road-going car – each week is different. That’s also what makes the work a pleasure.
The best? There is no routine. It’s always different and we’re always discovering new things.
What is your role, before, during and after a race?  Before the introduction of a new car or a new package the most important time is the period before a roll-out. We must test the functionality and reliability of several elements. Before Silverstone, we also had a lot of work to do on the development and on the car’s settings relating to the new package. After a race, our mission varies depending on what happened, and especially if there was an issue. If the team had no problems, then we prepare for the next race.  If there’s a problem, we look for the cause.
What are the various activities overseen by this department?  The Le Mans program, our rally operations, work on road-going cars as well as race cars, and various customers.