Composite Engineering carbon fibre component design and engineering

The Ascari A410 Le Mans sports racing car

The projects we handle are in most cases critical to a client's competitive advantage and therefore subject to commercial confidentiality. One project where our involvement has been publicly disclosed is the Ascari A410 sports racing car. It provides a useful insight into the level of contribution we are able to make.

The brief was to project manage, design and oversee the manufacture of all carbon composite structural elements, additionally we carried out the design and development of the car's carbon composite chassis, nose box, aerodynamic floor and bodywork.

Project management

The initial priority was to establish time-lines necessary to meet the demand of the client, Klaas Zwart, to accelerate the progress of a project that had been under way for some months prior to our engagement.

We were required to carry out a comprehensive appraisal and plan a lean programme focused on achieving an early launch date. We identified, negotiated with and appointed all relevant sub-contractors and managed the project from our base in Cheshire.

At the outset, a key aspect of the programme was to put in place efficient and direct lines of communication and create a framework under which all parties could co-operate as interdependent members of team with a common goal. This was absolutely vital as the client was based abroad, the team at that time was based in Sittingbourne, Kent and the most suitable suppliers were in various locations in the UK.

We implemented an open and fluid project schedule and tracked all aspects of the programme to ensure effective response to problems we knew would be encountered along the way. By identifying potential problem areas at the beginning, we were able to implement alternative "plan B" strategies at various stages of the programme.

The first car was completed according to plan, ready for the public launch of the project at the Autosport Show.

Design and engineering

The fact that the car was an open top LMP900 class sports car, as opposed to having the structural benefits of closed coupe bodywork, placed special design emphasis on the torsional rigidity, stiffness and impact strength of the chassis and associated structures. This involved paying particular attention to the configurations of the roll hoop assemblies and their attachment to the chassis, since provision had to be made for running with either a driver / single or full width roll hoop.

We engineered the integrity of the structure on the basis of the worst-case scenario - the car overturning whilst traveling at high speed, an event demanding the ability of the roll hoop and its attachment points to withstand high and critical forces. Additionally, the sides of the chassis were engineered to provide a high level of impact protection for the driver and to enhance the torsional rigidity of the car.

We have made available a 3D model of a Le-Mans sportscar chassis, please visit our Site Help page for instructions before clicking on the model link below.

View the 3D Model

Chassis structures and body construction

The chassis was manufactured entirely from advanced composite materials, including hi-temp carbon fibre and aramid prepreg's, aluminium honeycomb core, machined metallic and moulded carbon inserts and advanced structural compounds and adhesives. The finished chassis essentially comprised an intricately moulded sandwich panel formed by the core and composite skins.

We utilised a similar configuration for the front crash structure / nosecone and the aerodynamic body panels. For the body panels we incorporated Nomex honeycomb core.

All structures were moulded in clean room environments and were cured in computer controlled high temp / pressure autoclaves. The final assembly of the chassis sub-components was carried out on a steel surface plate to ensure conformance to designed dimensional tolerances.

Dynamic and static testing

Integral to its design, engineering and project management commitment, we were responsible for coordinating the chassis and nose box testing programme at an approved testing facility here in the UK. Additionally we liaised with Joe Bauer of the FIA and Daniel Le Moal of the Le Mans ACO, both of whom were present when testing was carried out.

The dynamic test involved attaching the ballasted chassis / nose box assembly (1050kg) to a sled which was then driven into a concrete wall at 12 metres/second (43.2 kilometre/hour). The tests stipulated a maximum average deceleration not exceeding 25G and the deformation contained within an area in front of the driver's feet. The first test produced a deceleration of 15.39G.

The result showed we had achieved a performance 38% better than the allowed maximum and the damage was contained within the forward area of the nose box.

Both driver / single and full width roll hoop configurations were subjected to three loads applied simultaneously: 1.5W laterally, 5.5W longitudinally and 7.5W vertically, W=1050kg (total combined load = 15.2 tonne). Under this test, the maximum permissible deflection was 50mm. We achieved a deflection of 16mm for the driver / single roll hoop and 17mm for the full width configuration, a performance well over 40% better than the regulations required.

Additionally the chassis sides were subjected to three static lateral / compressive loads of 20,000N (2 tonne). The first load was applied on a vertical plane passing halfway between the front wheel axis and the centre of the dashboard bulkhead roll hoop. The second was applied in the cockpit area on a vertical plane passing through the centre of the seat belt lap strap attachment point. The third load was applied in the fuel tank area on a vertical plane passing through the centre area of the fuel tank in side elevation.

The loads were applied within three minutes of each other and maintained for a minimum of 30 seconds. Maximum allowable residual deformation was 1mm, measured 1 minute after the load was released.

Zero chassis deflection was recorded on all three tests.

We have included a short video of the nosebox dynamic test together with a brief explanation and it is available on this page.

Success produced additional responsibilities

As our management of the project repeatedly met the most demanding of targets, we were asked to undertake the following additional responsibilities prior to the launch of the car:

The design of the team's corporate identity

The design and organisation of the team's website

The design of distinctive bodywork livery and graphics

And overall responsibility for the launch of the car at the Autosport Show.

In the words of Klass Zwart, Chairman Ascari Cars Ltd on the day of the cars launch,

"The car is great and this would not have happened without Paul McBride's help."

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