Lausitz Rally: Endurance Test for Ford Fiesta with Steer-by-Wire
Large water puddles, washed-out ruts - endurance test for the steer-by-wire Ford Fiesta
The Ford Fiesta Rallye2 with Space Drive, driven by experienced rally driver Armin Schwarz, successfully completed its second Lausitz Rally and provided the engineers at Schaeffler Paravan Technologie GmbH & Co.KG with many valuable insights for the further development and fine-tuning of the steer-by-wire system.
Challenge thanks to rain
The rally bolide, which manages entirely without a mechanical connection between the steering unit and the steering gear, was used as the lead car - at full race speed - and completed all twelve special stages with flying colours. Starting outside the classification, Armin Schwarz would have ended up in a theoretical third place. Rain on the previous days caused some wet surprises and made the rally a special challenge for the driver and the space drive system; large puddles of water and washed-out ruts were a real challenge. A total of 12 special stages had to be mastered over the two days - of relatively similar characteristics. The tracks led through the disused open-cast lignite mine around Boxberg.
For 25 years I was under the misapprehension that the steering wheel is very important for information about grip conditions, which you only have on the front axle. I can steer much more accurately than with conventional steering.
"The stages are all very fast," says Armin Schwarz. In all classifications, 94 per cent of the participants drive on gravel surfaces at top speed, tight turn-offs, with very fast long curves and large differences in grip, or into the forest, where again it was sometimes very slippery. There were also really big jumps. "A rally that is very challenging," says Schwarz and ideal for pushing new technologies to their limits. A special feature is the arena route, which leads over a recultivated part of the open-cast mine. Since it is passed a total of four times, it was extremely worn out by the end. Especially on Friday, the track conditions were much more demanding than in the dry previous years due to the completely rainy previous day. In particular, standing water and rutted tracks made life difficult for the vehicles. A positive side effect: dust was not an issue this year.
While Armin Schwarz's vehicle drove the first part of the special stages on a rather undamaged track with little grip, this changed significantly during the repeat stages. Deep ruts and holes, sometimes as if on rails, had to be mastered. However, Schwarz and his co-pilot Pascal Raabe made it through all the tests. This gave the Space Drive experts valuable comparative data, with completely different track characteristics on one and the same course. "It was extremely wet and greasy, for me what rallying has to be like, so changeable surfaces, difficult to drive," says Armin Schwarz, "also difficult grip conditions, but just right for us because the system clearly showed us we have improved in all areas. Especially with regard to the feedback to the steering wheel, a big step has been made with the new software, which gave me much more information during the difficult surface changes." The weather was much better on Saturday, even though there was still water on some of the tracks. Eight more special stages had to be completed. Even 50-metre-long puddles of water were still on the track during the first special stages on Saturday, but posed no problem for the Space Drive Ford Fiesta. Actually, aquaplaning is always a special challenge for the driver.
"It's like surfing, keeping your foot on the gas and knowing where the wheels are pointing," reports the rally pro. But the Space Drive System can largely mask these differences in grip. "We hardly feel any grip differences in the steering anymore. I get all the information I need via the steering unit. The afternoon loop - consisting of two runs of the stages "Reichwalde" (at 20.79 kilometres the longest stage of the Lausitz Rally) and "Bärwalder See" were very special with slightly different characteristics. The latter, for example, led 30 per cent along a cycle path around the lake, with constantly changing surfaces, as it goes from there into the forest again and again. "The alternating surface was the big challenge here," explains Armin Schwarz. In the end, he would have finished third with his Ford Fiesta Rallye2. "We can definitely keep up with the field here, benefiting from a future technology that will later be crucial for autonomous driving." The gain in knowledge during a rally is enormous for the technicians. The service breaks between the special stages always provide time for a system check and for adjustments to the track conditions.
"The rally is a special challenge for material and system. We receive a very comprehensive data basis here, which is clearly different from the loads of the circuit and is similar to the conditions on the road on the connecting sections," says Klaus Graf, member of the Schaeffler Paravan management and responsible for testing. In addition to approval from the German Motor Sport Association (DMSB), the rally car also needs road approval. The Schaeffler Paravan technology carrier has both. The route covered just under 366 kilometres, with 168.74 kilometres of special stage distance. "We are developing from the race track to the road and the rally is a very crucial development component in this concept." For Schwarz, development in motorsport is a crucial factor for testing new technologies. "I think it's good when rallying is again a supplier of technology that points the way to the future. The Space Drive System is something new, which the manufacturers are also watching with great interest. I've had two or three drivers take the wheel and see how it feels. They couldn't believe it and kept looking at where the steering column was. Because it felt just like in their car, only with a steering column.