Alpine: when the A480 talks to the engineers
When the Alpine A480 is on the track contesting a round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, it is out of the engineers’ sight, especially at Le Mans where the circuit exceeds 13 kilometres in length. Yet nothing of the car’s performance escapes them thanks to the 2,000 or so items of telemetry data that are transmitted to the pits in real time! Thomas Tribotté, Alpine Elf Matmut Endurance Team Race Engineer, explains how managing this data can lead to a successful race and even victory.
What television viewers get to see of Alpine Elf Matmut Endurance Team’s ‘box’ during an FIA World Endurance Championship race is restricted to the decoration of its walls in the team’s colours, its refuelling rig, its constantly attentive mechanics, their tool cabinets and, perhaps, a stack of tyres…
Few visitors are invited to cross the threshold of the mysterious ‘back office’ where the spectacle takes the form of myriad computer screens displaying an assortment of graphs and data.
In Hypercar class, the race is not suffered, but it is managed by an impressive amount of data.
Thomas Tribotté, Alpine Elf Matmut Endurance Team Race Engineer
500 sensors on the car
The number of monitors has even increased since Alpine’s switch to endurance racing’s headlining Hypercar class… “When we competed in LMP2, our car was equipped with around 200 sensors,” observes Race Engineer Thomas Tribotté. “This season, that number has soared to 500! Our telemetry system transmits between 2,000 and 2,500 items of data all the time. To process and analyse this information, the eight engineers like me in the pits are responsible for different aspects of the car. For example, we have two engine engineers who watch over power management, an area that is particularly crucial in the Hypercar class.”
“The data can be divided into a number of categories. First of all, there is the data that concerns the car’s reliability, notably the temperature of its brakes, engine and gearbox, as well as its tyre pressures. This essential information is coupled with warning signals, some of which alert the driver directly inside the car.” Running temperatures are particularly vital, especially in a race like Le Mans where the air temperature can vary from 10°C in the middle of the night to 30°C at the start and/or finish.”
The Alpine A480 Hypercar is equipped with 500 sensors that bring many race parameters in real time to the pits
Winning with data
The attention paid to all this data can prove decisive… “At Le Mans once, we detected a problem just 12 laps into the race,” recalls Thomas Tribotté. “We could have panicked and called the car in immediately for repairs, but that would have seriously compromised our chances. Thanks to telemetry, however, we were able to put the issue on hold and wait for the best moment to attend to it, during a neutralisation. We ended up winning the LMP2 class!”
In addition to reliability concerns, telemetry data can also make a key contribution to the car’s performance. Thomas Tribotté: “If we make an adjustment to the settings that should result in a gain of two percent but which, in reality, because of the prevailing conditions, only delivers a gain of 1.8 percent, we know at once thanks to the telemetry and the driver can correct the setting.”
The data stream received in real time during a race requires constant analysis
Thomas Tribotté and his colleagues also use this flow of data to perfect the team’s the race strategy… “We always look to optimise the amount of fuel the car is carrying and only call it in for refuelling when there is less than half-a-litre in the tank. The data at our disposal enables us to be that precise.”
Another stream of data concerns the timing information provided by Race Control. “Although all the teams receive this, it allows us to keep a careful eye on the performance of our rivals“ concludes Thomas Tribotté. “We combine this information with our own simulations and calculations to adjust our race strategy and maximise our chances of success.”
Driver and engineer team up to lead the A480 to victory