Can elite motorsport hand Australia’s automotive industry a new gear?

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At a time when the Australian car industry is on its knees, manufacturers are using links in the motorsports industry to drive automotive technology in a new direction. Steven Impey discusses opportunities the race world is offering innovators on the factory floor.

Putting a car on the racetrack takes patience and precision while maintaining neck-break speeds requires some of the most innovative automobile technology.

Going from 0 to 100 km/h in a matter of seconds involves abnormal levels of power and is in debt to an engine capable of enduring heavy turns and extreme changes in pace on a regular basis.

The best times in all motorsports follow rigorous testing and endless tinkering to give fearless drivers the smoothest rides.

And before this all comes to fruition on race day, the team’s mechanics and technicians would have gone above and beyond to make sure everything is in tune to avoid seeing their car’s chances go up in flames.

Acknowledging the roots of success

Mark Dutton is the Red Bull Holden team manager and has credited the Australian manufacturing industry for its contribution to the sport.

“Any race team – no matter the size or category – relies on some level of input from outside suppliers,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly. “At Triple Eight, we produce so many of our components in-house that the number of suppliers of major components in particular is very small.

“However, while the number of these suppliers is small, their importance is not. A perfect example of this is PWR, who are world leaders in automotive coolers, radiators, intercoolers, oil coolers – you name it, they do it better than most, if not all, anywhere in the world.

“Proof of this is in the number and pedigree of the Formula 1 teams that use their products. PWR are race bread. They previously had their own racing team, so this racing mentality can easily be seen how they are constantly developing, looking to improve, and doing so to crazy deadlines that don’t move.”

pwr-contact-sheet-prospectus2The team carries out its testing in-house and makes a case of not patenting its designs so to avoid revealing their trade secrets.

While their expertise have been called upon by some of the fastest in the motorsport business, it is far and away from the sport, however, where their research is making new strides in the automotive industry.

“Motorsport has driven PWR’s growth and has always been an important part of our business,” said the company’s general manager, Marshall Vann. “By the nature of the sport, engineers are always searching for that last ‘enth’ degree of performance.

“It’s where PWR came from and what we have found, if we take a look at Formula 1 for example, our research and technology can be used in other industry’s that we serve.

“Most of our work is driven by the clients’ needs. Every time a vehicle moves from natural-aspirated to turbo-charged engines, it heats up the engine intake air so more cooling is required to improve engine performance.”

To achieve those standards in the cooling units, fabrication specialists like Welding Industries of Australia (WIA) and Nevco Engineering, both based in New South Wales, also contribute to motorsport by providing maintenance equipment for the industry.

With the great amount of risks involved in races, only the strongest components and best fabrication tools are acceptable. In this instance, PWR utilises a suite of WIA welding products like their Miller Dynasty gas tungsten arc welding (TIG) series to work on critical race vehicle parts like intercooling units.

Exploring newer markets and revisiting old ones

Motorsports is a niche market and requires special expertise and, above all, client demand. However, PWR are also seeing growth in other markets including mining and the military as well as parts for mainstream motoring, but they attribute these newer opportunities to their success from motorsports.

“The connection from motorsports to mining and military is a bit harder to trace as often the specs required are quite dissimilar.

“However, there is no doubt that our track records in the highest level of motorsports gets a foot in the door in other sectors,” Vann said.

red-bull-holden-2-vue-images-2017In addition, their research in testing supercars is making its way into the automotive sector and, although Australia’s domestic car constructors are a dying breed, the science behind motorsport is proving one way to stay in touch.    

The Nissan Patrol GU is a good example of how PWR’s cooling technology in elite engines is filtering into road cars and, in doing so, has opened a new market.

In 2016, the company exceeded its expectations in the “automotive aftermarket” despite a stronger Australian dollar (it recorded revenue of $47.7 million) and has strengthened links with leading parts retailers in the United States.

“If you look at most cars, they now have turbo-charged engines because it creates better fuel efficiency and/or more power,” Vann continued.

“When you start an engine, it heats up. So, by having a mechanism to cool it like what we make for Formula 1, it gives the car more power.

“That is a very common theme in the race world. And, when Formula 1 moved to turbo-charged engines, a lot of the cars started to adopt our cooling radiators and, particularly in motorsport, new technology has filtered into the mainstream and is used in normal cars too.

In the context of Australia, 85 per cent of their sales are exported and, with what’s happening in the auto industry here, by and large it hasn’t had a significant impact on the business.

“Globally, the Australian influence in the auto industry is moving away from building cars but rather researching and building components to put in them.

“We have developed cold plates in a variety of applications and it is this kind of research which is moving the industry forward.  There is a  very symbiotic relationship between motorsports and automotive EOM .

“It proves that, by looking at what works well in motorsports, you can improve the products that go in cars we drive on the road,” said Vann.

Subaru Australia has also seen innovations on the rally car circuit influence some the group’s newest brands and is backed up by corporate affairs manager David Rowley who notes some of the “leading-edge” turbo-charged technology is finding its way into their commercial cars.

“While Subaru Australia does not manufacture in Australia, Subaru Tecnica International (STi) has long associations with motorsport including the former Subaru World Rally Team programme and current GT300 series in the Japanese domestic market,” Rowley said.

He also mentioned that some of the leading-edge technological innovations from such programmes do filter down into production cars over time.

“Examples include aspects of the turbo-charged engine that features in every WRX STI car and has its origins in rallying.

“The ring-changed reinforcement structure of every Subaru passenger cabin was also partly pioneered in the unforgiving motorsport landscape,” Rowley explained.

The future of the market

In light of the influence from Japan, the question is whether the Australia market can adapt. Can its research and development in the automotive industry be recalibrated to serve more clients?

Dutton says that partnering with a company that is constantly pushing boundaries and developing allows the engineers to keep evolving the car throughout the season.

“Their products directly and indirectly help our cars go faster and it is as simple as that,” said Dutton.

“Managing temperatures on any vehicle is critical and, on our supercars, we focus on having the latest, most efficient engine water radiators, engine and transmission oil coolers.

“However, it is really the work that companies like PWR do with F1 that will not only enable those teams to move forward but allow that technology to filter down to road cars and trucks, which benefits everyone.”