12/1/2008 | 8 MINUTE READ

Dallara: Beyond the Track

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Dallara Automobili is one of those companies that tends to hide its light under a bushel, yet it is perhaps the most influential racing car manufacturer in the industry.


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Dallara Automobili is one of those companies that tends to hide its light under a bushel, yet it is perhaps the most influential racing car manufacturer in the industry. If it were not for Dallara, the face of racing would be quite different. It currently produces up to 200 cars a year that compete in all Formula 3 championships around the world, whilst it is also the official supplier to IndyCar, Indy Lights, GP2, World Series by Renault, and ADAC Master Series, which uses Dallara's new Formulino chassis. It also entered a challenger in Grand-Am in 2008, and over the years it has been involved in a number of consultancies for high-end road cars such as KTM with the X-Bow.

The company was founded in 1972 by Gian Paolo Dallara in his home town of Varano Melegari near Parma, Italy. After graduating from the Polytechnic of Milan with a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1959, he embarked upon a career of race car design, starting with a stint at Ferrari. He subsequently moved to Maserati and then to Lamborghini in 1963, where he designed the gorgeous Miura in 1966 and the Espada in 1968. He joined De Tomaso three years later, where he designed the Pantera and Formula 2 cars, having his first taste of Formula One in 1970 with De Tomaso F1. It was also the first time that he worked with Frank Williams of Williams Grand Prix Engineering fame, who was then cutting his teeth in Formula One, a collaboration with the British team owner that continued in 1972 with the ISO Marlboro Williams F1.

This was also the year that Dallara finally decided to branch out on his own, the first product being a 1,000-cc sports prototype car followed by further 1,300-cc and 1,600-cc prototypes. Within just eight years he took the brave step of adding a 25%-scale wind tunnel to his growing business, particularly notable for being the first one in Italy to have a rolling road. It was also the year of the first Dallara Formula 3 car, which went on to win the Italian championship that same year and really putting the brand on the racing car map since which time it has virtually monopolized the category. Its F3 cars have won championships in France, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, South America, Russia, and Austria.

However, there is more to this prolific company than just being a racing car manufacturer, as an important side of its business is the consultancy. Since being commissioned by Lancia in the late 1970s to work on the Stratos and Beta Montecarlo models, Dallara has also maintained close contact with Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Audi, Toyota, Honda, and KTM, consulting on design, research and production. In April 1998, for example, following the creation of a brand-new facility including a 40% wind tunnel, Honda gave Dallara the responsibility for the design, aerodynamic development and manufacturing of the Honda F1 chassis.

Despite running two wind tunnels, such has been the growing demand for Dallara's services in aerodynamic research that it decided two years ago to build a new facility to meet this requirement. Work got underway in January 2007, calibration between December of that year and January 2008 with testing starting in March. It is now fully booked until the end of 2009. The facility not only houses a 60%-scale tunnel, test section and control room, but it also has a two-story facilities block with five model shops that are in addition to the three the company already has, a rapid prototyping department, meeting rooms and 800-m2 of office space and amenities. It is a self-contained working environment allowing Dallara to provide consultancy clients a secure and confidential space in which to organize their aerodynamic research.

The wind tunnel itself is a closed-circuit tunnel with a six-blade fan that is four meters in diameter providing the 688 kW (922hp) needed to achieve speeds of up to 60 m/s, (216 km/h) at 560 rpm. The flow quality is controlled through a number of turning vanes and honeycomb sections just before the test section to straighten the flow. The air temperature is also kept constant through a heat exchanger. A 6:1 convergent section leads the flow into the test section of the "slotted wall" type allowing large-scale models (up to 50-60%) to be tested. The test section is 2.23-m high by 3.35-m wide and 5.3-m long. It contains a moving belt which can reach a maximum speed of 60 m/s, (216 km/h) and can yaw itself six degrees. All the models tested have a high-quality, seven-component, internal balance with also an automatic movement system-pitch, yaw and roll-which allow any number of consecutive ride heights to be tested. Furthermore, a PSI 8400 system is used for the pressure acquisition. This allows 256 pressure channels to be acquired simultaneously, thus enabling a more thorough comprehension and optimization of the car.

As the chief aerodynamicist at Dallara Automobile, Dialma Zinelli has played a key role in the creation and specification of this wind tunnel. He originally joined the company after graduating in aeronautical engineering from the Polytechnic in Milan since which time he has played a key role in all Dallara's activities. The last couple of years have been extremely busy for him for apart from working on the new wind tunnel he has been leading the team that has seen the development of new GP2, F3 and World Series by Renault cars, as well as developing the Grand-Am challenger.

"This new tunnel means that we can now run a complete aero map in a very short time, giving more information regarding the complete aero behavior of the car. We are now in the process of updating our first wind tunnel to bring it to the same level, at least from the handling and model managing point of view," says Zinelli. "The other thing that is important is that since our activity is customer-orientated, one of the key points of the project from the beginning was to guarantee everyone the necessary confidentiality. Everything has therefore been realized to ensure that clients have their own secure area that no-one has access to, not even myself, as RFID systems are retained by the customer during the time of their stay."

Dallara Automobili is also getting more road car projects such as the KTM X-Bow in which it has been a development partner. "Dallara has a great deal of experience in closed-wheel cars and for some time has been involved in road cars," says Zinelli, "and I have to say that it is a good way to increase our knowledge whilst also being an advantage for the customer. We are talking about high-performance cars where the boundary between road and track performance is quite close. It means that we can put all our experience in racing into these types of projects. High-performance cars are a compromise between styling and aerodynamic efficiency. The cars must look attractive for people to buy them, but at the same time there has to be an aero influence in high-performance cars and this is best achieved at the start of a project. When you come in at the end of a project you have to make suggestions to a design that has already been created and therefore far more difficult to change.

"For example, we worked very closely with Kinska, the X-Bow designers, from the early stages of the project which meant that the best compromises between styling and aero could be reached quickly. The weight of styling in a road car project is obviously very large, therefore if an aerodynamic development is not undertaken in the preliminary phases its effect on the overall performance will be much more diluted."

Recognizing that wind tunnel testing is not a cheap option and beyond the means of some teams, Dallara is now beginning to increase its CFD facilities. "The entry ticket for physical testing is the price of the model which may be too much for a small team," says Zinelli. "CFD, though, does not have that barrier. We strongly believe in it and it's now an area experiencing real growth at Dallara because it gives a strong way to complete the aero knowledge of the car." Dallara now has seven engineers working full time in CFD and is currently investing heavily in this area. "Offering such a wide range of consultancies, sometimes CFD is the right key to be used," says Zinelli. "For example, it can be used for making predictions about heat sinks in a closed car which can become extreme leading to driver discomfort and fatigue. You may have the most aerodynamically efficient car in the world, but if the driver gets tired too quickly due to heat build-up, it can affect his performance and so defeat everything. This is one area where CFD has a large part to play. It is a powerful quantitative tool which has a strong future, the only limit being the hardware and software capabilities.

"CFD can also be used both to reduce wind tunnel runs while its other capability is the post-processing analysis that defines the best configuration from the wind tunnel data. Much depends on the budget but the best situation is the use of both tools. You need a strong interaction at a very high level between the wind tunnel and CFD analysis. In CFD there is a conclusion to a problem whereas in the wind tunnel there is a big series of numbers that then need to be interpreted by an aerodynamicist with experience. The wind tunnel is still much quicker for aero-mapping the car and analyzing its complete behavior due to the hardware limit on CFD. The best situation is using the two together," explains Zinelli. "Looking into the future, though, the development rate of CFD will be stronger than the wind tunnel which will remain an important core in the eye of the developer but CFD will assume a greater importance and is an area in which we are going to invest a great deal."