It’s all about aero!

Andrew Brilliant is an American aero and data engineer that resides in Japan and contracts to Super GT teams. He has worked in both Indy-car and American Le Mans series and whilst there are a few people around with the high level of knowledge that Andrew possesses, most are working in high level positions in highly funded professional race teams and would not give us the time of day.

The difference with Andrew is that his personal passion is Time Attack racing and this has seen him firstly put his own Mitsubishi Eclipse at the front of the “street” class and then help several of the other teams dramatically reduce their lap times through aerodynamic improvements most notably the FX Motorsports NSX that has been dominating some rounds of the Redline series.

Hi Octane Racing: Hi Andrew, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. Firstly tell us a bit about your Eclipse and what you have done for FX motorsports?

Andrew Brilliant: Hello and thank you very much for having me. My Eclipse started out as a salt flats racer, we had some good success there and it was the perfect place for me to play while I was studying aerodynamics.  I transitioned the car to time attack where, in it’s debut season, it won the US Super Lap Battle Limited FF class by more than 3 seconds and the next year by more than 6 seconds per lap (2010).  It currently holds the Buttonwillow track record for that class   The crazy thing about that car was, for most of that car’s life we didn’t have a workshop.  It was literally built in the streets with the help of my friends.  I developed a ground up Aerodynamics package using CFD and we fine tuned it on the race track and started selling copies of it.  I believe it still holds a track record at every circuit it has ever run on.

As far as FX Motorsports Development, I have been employed to develop their aero package since the end of last season and now with its completion I continue to work with the team are focused more on the vehicle dynamics.  The car has really made some big steps since then and is really starting to come together.

HOR: I am of the belief that aero is one of the things that is really going to start taking off in the world of time attack racing ? After the Cyber Evo won the event at eastern Creek many claimed it was largely due to aero and the ability to corner at a much higher speed, what are your thoughts on this.

AB: On a modern race car I do not believe there is anything as important as the aerodynamics.  A lot of the recent developments in motorsport are focused on aero,  of all the systems on the car it is probably the one that will have the largest effect on ultimate lap time, save maybe tires.

HOR: So Andrew, on average what kind of improvement could people expect by doing their aero properly?

AB: Most of the top level time attack teams I see, could definitely get 3-5 seconds per lap of improvement from a decent aero package and I have done that for customers on several occasions, even with cars that had won championships previously.  It depends a lot on the type of car, tires, current aero package and setup details but thats a pretty conservative number.  When I started with FXMD, they had a better developed aero package than everyone in the field.  We still saw 4.5 seconds/lap improvement.

A well developed package on a car that didn’t have much downforce could be quite a bit more.  This is why sanctioning bodies regulate aerodynamics so heavily.  In the top forms of racing aerodynamics can  account for eight or more seconds per lap.  In GT,F1, IRL and even Nascar people spend millions to find the smallest aerodynamic benefit.  The faster the car gets, the more important the aero becomes, the forces increase at the square of velocity.  Meaning that a car going 100kph has four times the aerodynamic forces of a car going 50kph.

One of the early issues on the Eclipse was that the suspension was compressing more than 25mm between entry and exit to a certain high speed sweeper, the downforce was more than we expected.  I use a lot of simulation to come up with realistic expectations in for how the car will perform and I feed that back to the crew chief so things can get setup appropriately.

HOR: Can you talk us through how you go about analysing and designing the aero on any particular car.

AB: Sure, first I have to take stock of what they have with the car, what their goals are, future development plans, budgets and production resources.  I’ll collect data logs, driver feedback, videos, anything I can get my hands on.   How much power the car makes is a big deal, suspension setup, packaging in the wheelhouses  and engine bay.

It’s much like building a good engine.  Anyone can make a peak power number, but only the best engine builders can make something powerful, responsive and reliable.  So I to get that kind of all around package, I will focus a lot on how the aerodynamics play into the car setup, strengths, weaknesses and the intended purpose.  A change that results in a very fast qualifying time but burns up tires is not going to help an endurance race team.  But for a time attack car its a completely different focus.

On the NSX [FXMD], their development budget consisted of several large sheets of aluminum and a fabricator that doesn’t sleep much.   The designs were totally different than you would do with rapid prototype machines and carbon fiber.  You have to make these designs that will still work with sharp angles and and still keep the weight as low as possible.  Those kind of challenges are what I love about my job.

HOR: There is a lot of talk about wind tunnels these days what is your take on that and how important are they?

AB: The simple fact is that you can learn more in a wind tunnel than you can in hours or days on the race track testing.  The down side is that It is also very expensive and outside the budget of most mid level teams.  When you’re developing aerodynamics, you reach a point where generalities just won’t get you any faster and you need to test complex interactions.

Once you get there, you are going to need either a very accurate and expensive wind tunnel, CFD or probably both. In recent years some teams in Le Mans and F1 have been able to move to using CFD exclusively, it’s still pretty cutting edge and most teams at least use the tunnel for design validation.

When you see the situation like you do in time attack where most of the teams are developing with very small budgets you see things like Cyber Evo’s improvised wind tunnel and FX using an all CFD approach.  Being able to do more with less isn’t only for the small budgeted teams.  In general, I think learning how to do more with less can take you far at all levels of racing.

HOR: What about commercially available  wings and splitters is there anything that people should know before buying these items and are they all different?

AB: Wings especially are all very different, I have seen some wing designs ranging from what I would call “borderline functional” (a flat plate at angle stuck up in the air might perform similarly) up to some very high end parts that were molded directly from GT car bits.  Among the nicer stuff, much like selecting a camshaft profile its all about the synergy with the rest of the system.

For example, a lot of the popular wings for the Japanese imports have a canted span, usually an anhedral shape where the edges are at an increased angle of attack.  These type of designs are usually to reduce pitch sensitivity or to optimize the wing against the shape of the flow coming around the cockpit, so you cant really apply things like that universally, you have to optimize it for a specific body shape.   This is not to say that those wings don’t perform well, they can and do, but you have use them correctly.

For splitters I would say the biggest issue is the quality of construction, the strength and weight of the part.  Splitters take a lot of abuse and they make a lot of downforce.

HOR: So you can do Aero design for time attack teams here in Australia? How can they get in touch with you?

AB: I would absolutely love to do some development work with Aussie teams! I love the Australian Motorsport community and Aussies are just great people in general. (You can reach Andrew via email by clicking  here)

HOR: Thanks Andrew good luck with your ventures with FX and with a bit of luck we may see you in person at WTAC 2011!

AB: Thank you, I wouldn’t miss it!

Andrew Brilliant (right) at Tsukuba with Yokohama Australia Marketing Manager Christian T Hansen (left).