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Dienstag, 25 Mai 2021 16:56

The A110's biggest fan

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Aerodynamics engineering is fundamental to the development of a high-performance sports car like the Alpine A110. The benchmark for this discipline is found in Formula 1, where wind-tunnel testing has reached the highest levels of technical complexity. Pierre Sancinéna, aerodynamics engineer at Alpine Cars, conceived the idea of going into partnership with his colleagues in Alpine F1 Team to take advantage of their methods and tools. He takes us behind the scenes of a test like no other.

Eliminate lift, reduce drag to the minimum and generate downforce in a precise ratio: the efforts of aerodynamics engineers are crucial to ensuring that a Formula 1 car hugs the ground, goes as fast as possible in a straight line and maintains an optimum speed on bends. In Enstone (England), the home of – amongst others – the “chassis” group of Alpine F1 Team, there are some 100 to 120 engineers working constantly on the management of air flows, using digital CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools or the wind-tunnel. Spoilers, deflectors, diffusers, side-pods, wings, cooling ducts: all these components, and more besides, are modelled as accurately as possible to optimise racing car performances.

“The summit of aerodynamics achievement has been reached in Formula 1. That’s where we went for the best methods and tools”, says Pierre Sancinéna, Alpine Cars aerodynamics engineer.

In Ulis (France), the home of Alpine Cars, Pierre Sancinéna is thinking along the same lines as his colleagues in Enstone. This aerodynamics engineer, but also semi-professional driver*, has been managing the aerodynamics developments destined for current models in the Alpine and Renault Sport ranges (A110 and Mégane R.S. Trophy-R), as well as for future models for three years. He is quick to agree that “wind-tunnel work is essential when developing the aerodynamics aspects of a sports model like the A110”.

To optimise this work on the Alpine road models, he had the idea of calling in the aerodynamics development teams in Enstone. “We began to work together in March 2020 and meet every week to optimise our methodology and CFD tools, and apply Formula 1 methods to our tests”, he says.

This partnership with Alpine F1 Team covers specific know-how, to be used on future Alpine road models under development. The Alpine Cars teams have thus improved the correlation between the computer calculations and the results obtained in wind-tunnel tests. This means time and money saved by avoiding multiple development phases and restricting the to-ing and fro-ing between CFD and the wind-tunnel. However, to become more efficient and also optimise the direct development of certain components or parts of the vehicle, more is required.

This is why an A110 crossed the English Channel to go to the Enstone workshops to be fitted with lots of sensors used by F1 aerodynamics specialists: a hitherto unseen and extremely precious set of instruments to collect even more data to improve the mapping of pressures on the bodywork and of the flows around the vehicle. And it was at the beginning of March, in the S2A wind tunnel at Montigny-le-Bretonneux, that F1 could start to cast its spell over this utterly transformed test A110.

In particular, its front chassis sported a wide metal mesh, baptised the rake and derived directly from those fitted to the A521s used by Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso in the free practice sessions on Grand Prix weekends. Dripping with pressure sensors similar to the Pitot sensors on an aircraft, it is used to map the entire volume of air that passes beneath the car. “It’s a unique tool for us, it’s really the first time we’ve used it on our production car”, says Pierre Sancinéna.

During this wind-tunnel test, the Alpine Cars engineers also used Flow-Vis, a special paint developed by their colleagues in F1. Applied to the bonnet and wings of the car, it only spreads at a certain speed in a way that allows the movement of air flows over the bodywork to be studied. A highly visual tool that helps to confirm the calculations made on a computer via CFD.

Alpine F1 Team’s aerodynamics specialists didn’t just bring the hardware to this unprecedented wind-tunnel test. From the famous Race Control room at Enstone, they were able to examine the real-time images and analyse the data displayed on their computer screens. Who could be better placed to decipher the results of this test than the people accustomed to using the tools that now covered the A110?

Results that will be used to validate certain options, ideas and components currently under development at Alpine Cars, both for future versions of the A110 and other models yet to come. They will thus carry a touch of F1 with them onto the road.

Pierre Sancinéna has always been passionate about motorsports and began his racing career at the age of 15 in karting. After a few good performances at regional level, he tried his luck at the ACO contest in Le Mans. He finished second and obtained a grant from the federation to participate in his first single-seater championship in F4 in 2010.

Achievements and highlights

2010: French F4 Championship

2011: 3rd in the French F4 Championship

2012: European F3 Championship

2012, 2013, 2014: Various experiences in GT and prototypes

2015: French GT Junior Champion (on Audi R8 GT3)

2016: French Prototype Championship in LMP3

2017: French GT4 Championship (Porsche Cayman GT4)

2018: Champion of the Alpine Elf Europa Cup, Winner of the GT4 World Cup with the Alpine A110 GT4, Winner of several races in the French GT Championship with the Alpine A110 GT4

2019: European GT4 Championship with the Alpine A110 GT4

2020: 3rd in the Alpine Elf Europa Cup championship

2021: ELMS Championship in LMP2 category

Since the first time he was able to put on a driver's suit, his goal has always been the same: to climb the ladder of motorsport to participate in the most legendary endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

With this great opportunity to race an LMP2 car this season in the highly regarded ELMS championship, he has taken an important step in this direction. Of course, his ultimate dream remains to race at Le Mans... in an Alpine, for he who is so attached to this brand.

Source: Media Groupe Renault

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