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The new Virgin Racing Formula One team, one of the sport's four new entrants for the 2010 FIA Formula One World Championship, has proudly unveiled its debut race car - the VR-01.
The VR-01 is the first of a new breed of race car designed entirely in the digital domain using CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics). It is the brainchild of Virgin Racing's Technical Director, Nick Wirth, who has gained an international reputation for pioneering a purely CFD approach to car development, wholly designing, building and testing race cars in computer simulation without the need for expensive, resource-heavy scale-model wind tunnel testing.
A new team for a new era of Formula One, the Virgin Racing team concept looks to exploit and capitalise upon F1's new economic dawn. The team was launched at an event in London last December, but with the focus now firmly on developing the ground-breaking VR-01 for the start of the 2010 season, it was fitting that the roll-out of the new car should also be 'all-digital'. All eyes were on the car's distinctive red and black livery as the VR-01 commenced its tour of duty at a photographic studio, ahead of an official launch presentation on VirginRacing.com. PR commitments completed, the VR-01 was taken directly to Silverstone where it will be prepared for a two-day shakedown prior to its first scheduled test in Jerez next week.
A busy schedule lies ahead, much like the one that has taken the VR-01 from dream to reality in the space of just 10 months. Nick Wirth's design team at Wirth Research in Bicester, UK, started putting the basic layout of the VR-01 together in the early part of 2009 in order to hit the ground running should the team's 2010 entry be successful. 12 days after the team was accepted into the Championship, the design of the monocoque surfaces was locked down and a race against time was underway. The established F1 teams had a significant head start, not least because they had the obvious advantage of evolution, whereas Wirth Research designed the VR-01, quite literally, from a blank computer screen.
Most F1 teams use CFD in the design process but in tandem with scale model testing in one or more wind tunnels. The VR-01 is the product of six months of pure CFD development involving thousands of design solutions generated by the technical team at Wirth Research and the state-of-the-art technology at their Bicester base. In theory, the team's pre-season testing programme began several months ago - in the virtual sense - courtesy of what is widely regarded as amongst the most progressive real-time Simulator technology in motor sport. When race drivers Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi begin testing in anger next week, the VR-01 should feel very similar to the car they 'drove' on the Wirth Research simulator.
With the VR-01 now a reality, Virgin Racing Technical Director, Nick Wirth, outlined the team's objectives for its debut F1 season and the longer term:
"Today is a very proud day for everyone involved with Virgin Racing, however on this occasion, where the car is the star, I want to pay tribute to all the amazing people at Wirth Research who deserve so much of the credit for the VR-01. Putting together an F1 team, assembling an engineering group and designing a new car from scratch is an epic task in the timeframe we have been working to.
"I have been fortunate to have worked with the very best designers in F1 and I am well aware of exactly what it takes to be successful in this sport. When you see what the existing teams have achieved using the conventional but proven design approach, it is unsurprising that there is a great deal of scepticism about our all-CFD approach. But we are competing in a sport that is undergoing significant change having come face to face with today's harsh economic realities. Under resource restriction, convention will become too costly and necessity really will be the mother of invention. I have absolute belief in the digital design process and the opportunity to put the all-CFD approach to the test at the highest level - to demonstrate that this could be the way for the future of F1 - is very, very exciting."
Providing a more detailed insight into the new car, Nick continued: "The VR-01 is the product of an intensive exploration and appraisal of all the factors that go into creating a great racing car, coupled with the more specific parameters of the 2010 Sporting and Technical Regulations. The chassis design implications created by the refuelling ban were obviously considerable. The requirement to carry the entire race quantity of fuel creates significant packaging and optimisation challenges. Similarly, the reduction in the width of the front tyres and the effect that will have on front-end grip called for extensive modelling and simulation work since we had no data to refer to from previous years.
"We believe we have achieved a car that has first-class design integrity and which will benefit from a high degree of aerodynamic efficiency and stability. Reliability has been a major focus and all key areas comply with the FIA safety regulations and crash test requirements for the impact structures - the nose, monocoque, side and rear impact structures - which are particularly stringent in light of the increased fuel load.
Paying tribute to the team behind the team, Nick said: "We have assembled a fantastic design and engineering group, the calibre of which I could only have dreamed of attracting when we first started out on this journey. They bring an exciting blend of youth, experience and creativity, which is an important part of the make-up of the wider Wirth Research group. Our combined strength in depth ensured we were able to maintain a calm, methodical approach despite the challenging timeframe we were working to. I'm particularly happy that Wirth Research has remained ahead of the game throughout, with chassis manufacture, gearbox design and casting, crash testing and other long-lead processes all coming to fruition well within schedule.
"We are a serious racing team with serious ambitions, so we aren't going to try to run before we can walk. The starting point is to try to run reliably, safely and efficiently and be the best of the new teams. Then we will start to bring performance to the car through a continuous development programme in computer simulation. We fully expect to encounter issues along the way; CFD is an approximation - as is scale-model testing. In both cases, it is only when you hit the track that you can really appreciate the effect of factors that are tricky to model with any technology such as the effect that the real stiffness of all bodywork components and joints has on the airflow for example. We've done all of this before on both closed and open-wheel cars, so I'm pretty confident in the accuracy of our predictions and looking forward to seeing how our starting configuration performs on the race track.
"We have two very focused and determined race drivers in Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi. The significant effort they have been putting in behind the scenes over the past couple of months in the simulator will prove invaluable as we start to translate our development work to the track-based testing phase.
"It is also fantastic to be working with Cosworth as they embark on a new chapter in their F1 history. They are a strong company and I had the pleasure of racing against them when we were working in Indy cars, where they did a super job. The CA2010 is a nice package and the Cosworth engineers seem very determined to prove themselves again. I'm sure people will see that Cosworth have done a great job."
Virgin Racing Team Principal, John Booth commented: "Today is the culmination of a very emotional journey which really began in June last year when we celebrated the fantastic news that our entry into Formula One had been accepted. The celebrations were necessarily brief however, because we were already in a race against time to design and develop a race car at the same time as building a new team of people and premises.
"I have always had the utmost confidence in Nick to design a good race car, just as he has the faith in the race team to make a good job of operating it. Having worked closely with the technical team over the past 10 months, I know that the VR-01 is the product of a very intensive and thorough design and development process and my excitement at seeing our first race car make its track debut later this week is shared by every single person involved with Virgin Racing.
"The first stage in our on-track evaluation programme is our two-day shakedown at Silverstone on Thursday and Friday this week, where we will conduct systematic testing and confidence-building of all car parts and on-car systems. It was always intended that we would miss the first all-team test in Valencia this week and very early on we targeted the second Jerez test in two weeks' time for our public testing debut. It is a testament to our methodical approach and the sheer hard work of the team that we are heading to Spain a week earlier than planned to take part in the first Jerez test next week.
"I would like to congratulate our new race team - a great bunch of guys working together for the very first time in the pressure-cooker environment of a demanding car build schedule. Logistically it hasn't been easy, since the initial build of the two race cars is taking place in Bicester, rather than our operational base in Dinnington. Their commitment and professionalism has been exemplary and they have set their own very high bar in terms of trackside performance this season.
"Finally, not only do we have a great bunch of people at Virgin Racing, we also have a great-looking car. We are delighted with our fantastic new livery which provides a fitting integration of our racing brand with our important commercial partnerships. All in all, we have a lot to look forward to as we progress towards our racing debut in Bahrain next month."
Summing up the mood within Virgin Racing at today's launch of the VR-01, CEO Graeme Lowdon said: "The full testing debut of the VR-01 in Spain next week will provide our first chance to see what we have achieved over the past 10 months, however, for me, simply getting to this point is an incredible achievement in itself. None of this would have been possible were it not for the incredible determination of the whole team led by John and Nick including fantastic support from Virgin and LDC in addition to our team partners. I am very proud of our team. We have all the components with which to achieve the ambitious targets we have set for ourselves during the next few years".
Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin group, said: "What a car! Nick and his design team have done an incredible job and so today they deserve all of the spotlight. It's been fantastic to be part of this journey almost from the very beginning and to see a great engineering mind at work. I'm sure we will be measured by how fast the car is on the track in Jerez next week, but I hope that doesn't overshadow the far bigger achievement of pulling an entire racing team together and taking a brave step that defies convention. In many ways this is an exploration, but given the absolute self-belief we have seen, I can't help but feel very excited about what we can go on to achieve in the years ahead. For now though I'm looking forward to seeing the VR-01 on-track in testing in the coming weeks as we prepare for Virgin Racing's very first grand prix."
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