Taking on the world

If you’re not familar with the name of Martin Bryant, then chances are you soon will be. For this time next year, this ambitious individual a car designer, race engineer and project manager for various Formula 1, IndyCar and GT teams plans to break the land speed record for an electric car.

‘The new car will be designed from scratch and will be completely different from anything that has been seen so far,’ says Bryant.

Rather than take the brute force approach espoused by Richard Noble last year in which two large Rolls Royce engines were employed to propel a rather heavy and somewhat uncontrollable vehicle through the land speed record, Bryant is planning on a more subtle engineering approach for his electric vehicle.

Battery powered, his lightweight carbon-fibre car will employ active aerodynamics and suspension to reduce drag, enabling it to reach the unprecedented speed of 300mph, over 90mph faster than the record for such a vehicle set in the USA.

Bryant hopes that many of the innovations that are used on the car, from the custom AC motor design to the use of smart materials, might well be used in the future for production line electric cars. The three year project will create a car that can be used as a ‘platform for new technologies’ he says. His company would like to be able to use any new power sources or motors as they are introduced into the market. For that reason, the car can be ‘tuned’ to accommodate various configurations internally. ‘One thing I have always done is not to design myself into a corner,’ says Bryant.

In 1999, the company will be looking at batteries as a power source for the vehicle, but down the line other sources, such as fuel cells, will be examined as an alternative. Even in the battery arena, Bryant is keeping his options open at the moment: batteries used over the three year project could be lithium ion, nickel cadmium, lead acid or another technology.

Initially, however, he plans to choose either a high-performance sealed lead acid type typically found in the aerospace industry, or nickel cadmium devices sealed up in packs. ‘That decision still has to be taken based on discussions with manufacturers,’ says Bryant.

NO OFF-THE-SHELF STUFF

Because the car will reach such a high speed, it cannot rely on off-the-shelf components; most of the component parts even the bearings will have to be custom built. ‘That’s what I like about it’, expressed Bryant. ‘It’s unbridled innovation all round. A lot of the parts for the car that I will need do not currently exist in the motor industry.’

In the present design, Bryant stressed he was keen to make sure that the design actually looked like a car. ‘This will give the public an opportunity to relate to it,’ he adds. ‘Some of the designs that have been built for land speed records are too un-car like. But because of our understanding of aerodynamics and chassis design, a shape can be produced that is very recognisable as a car while still reaching the land speed record.’

Over the Christmas period, rough sketches of the car were transferred onto a Parametric Technology ProEngineer CAD system. ‘Because The Parametric system supports bi-directional associativity between the model and the drawing, we can modify things quite quickly,’ he declares. From there, Bryant will refine the model first using a wind tunnel model, and then with a CFD package. ‘There are two well known packages that I’m assessing at the moment,’ says Bryant. ‘The first is StarCD and the other is Fluent.’

The power output of cars built for land speed records in the sixties and seventies were very high because the understanding of aerodynamics was much lower. Bryant’s car, on the other hand, will be developed with efficiency in mind, so the power output will be much less. ‘While you might have been talking about tens of thousands of horse power before, we are talking about an order of magnitude less today,’ he states.

Although the structure of the car will be predominantly carbon fibre, some aluminium will be involved too. Although the exact proportion of aluminium to carbon has not been decided upon as yet. ‘My favoured option would be a wholly carbon-fibre vehicle and some plastics too. I intend to use various engineered loaded nylons for brackets, mountings and some of the suspension components,’ he says.

The DC power source from the batteries is converted into a pseudo AC waveform through an inverter. ‘With a potential for delivering 1000A into four motors, you have to be careful how you control the current,’ declares Bryant. But because he wants to produce an operational vehicle in July/August of 1999, initially he plans to use a somewhat less innovative control system than in the years to come. ‘I’m still looking for a technical partner to work with to develop the inverter which will need to withstand a huge amount of current while controlling the motor from zero to full speed,’ he continued.

COOLING THE MOTORS

The motors themselves will be light and very compact. ‘We will be looking at a substantial cooling system because the motors rotate at 20,000rpm,’ he comments. The motors are analogous to the sorts of AC motor drives that might be seen on machine tools, but the internals of the motor have been modified considerably to meet the goals of weight and efficiency. ‘It’s quite a radical design,’ he adds.

Active aerodynamics on the car will take several forms. In Bryant’s vehicle, the driver will be able to modify the aerodynamics of the car to allow it to compensate for yaw and pitch and aerodynamic balance in order to dynamically change the overall downforce created on the wheels. Will that be achieved through the active compensation or through intelligent materials that can change their shape? ‘There is the potential element of shape changing that may well take place, but the aerodynamics of the vehicle will also be modified through active suspension,’ says Bryant. It sounds complex, but Bryant feels that advanced CFD techniques will be able to help out. ‘As CFD becomes more precise, you can more accurately predict the behaviour of the car.’

The European based project, dubbed the Pegasus, will be designed by Bryant’s own company, Podium Designs, and will be funded by corporate sponsorship and technical partnerships within industry.

‘I have a few sponsors at the moment as well as some component suppliers who will develop components within the car, but I am looking to expand that number,’ adds Bryant.