At the top of the Indy game
Andretti Autosport™ celebrates a winning combination of drivers, cars, support crew and design software – NX
Fine-tuning for optimum performance
Success in Indy car racing isn't just about having great drivers and fast cars. A combination of factors, many of them behind the scenes, must come together seamlessly on race day. For each race and test event, the race car must be configured for optimal handling on that particular race track, yet also must be set up according to the preferences of the driver. Andretti Autosport™ is constantly fine-tuning its Indy cars to meet the requirements of its various drivers and the many different tracks. “If the driver isn’t comfortable in the car, he won’t go fast,” says Scott Graves, director of engineering at Andretti Autosport™. “He can’t be thinking about any aspect of the car. Driving has to come naturally.”
For a multi-car team such as Andretti Autosport™, that means the continual fine-tuning of a number of cars each week (a primary car and a backup car for each of the team’s drivers). Although IndyCar® Series championship rules limit the modifications, engineers have quite a bit of leeway in areas such as the suspension. Fine-tuning these areas often means designing and fabricating new parts in the brief interval between races. Many modifications involve parts that must be conceived, designed and fabricated quickly. For example, engineers might decide that one car needs a faster motion ratio on the suspension rocker, the bell crank that operates the suspension damper. They can’t go out and buy that part. It has to be fabricated in-house. And if they hope to use it for the next race, it may have to be created in just a few days. Multiply this example by several cars and you get an idea of the challenges facing the support crew of Andretti Autosport™.
Working digitally for super-fast turnaround
The key to fabricating parts at this rapid pace is NX™ software, the high-performance product development solution that Andretti Autosport™ adopted more than a decade ago. Use of NX is key to the racing success that Andretti Autosport™ has experienced. “We buy the cars from Dallara and the engines from Honda, but we can still make hundreds of modifications,” says Graves. “We might create an entirely new suspension, for instance, and that work is done in NX.”
When new parts are needed, usually for performance enhancements but also because some parts wear out, the original part geometry (from the manufacturer) is imported into NX. Working with NX is “excellent in terms of ease of use,” says Graves, who does most of the modeling. “The software allows me to create and modify models very quickly.” After the original design has been modified, the new geometry, a solid model, is acccessed by the team’s manufacturing shop. There the NX data is used to create the computer numerical control (CNC) program that fabricates the new part. “Sometimes we can get this whole process done overnight and have the new part bolted onto the car the next day,” Graves says.
NX is part of a winning combination
Andretti Autosport™ has established itself as one of the winningest teams in IndyCar Series history. It is not only one of the most successful teams ever, it is among the biggest.
Led by racing legend Michael Andretti, Andretti Autosport™ boasts three IZOD IndyCar Series championships (2004, 2005 and 2007), two Firestone Indy Lights titles (2008 and 2009), one USF2000 championship (2010) and has won the Indianapolis 500 twice (2005 and 2007).
In addition to its IndyCar Series program, Andretti Autosport™ expanded into the American Le Mans Series with Acura in 2007 and made an immediate impact, capturing an historic class win at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The other reason for the success of Andretti Autosport™ is that it has “gotten the combination just right.” Graves explains that all the pieces are falling together perfectly – cars, engines and drivers, as well as the engineers and mechanics behind the scenes. “And one of those pieces is NX,” he says. “Without this software, it would be very difficult to set up all the cars exactly as we want them, week after week. NX is key to our ability to configure the cars for each race.”