Part of developing safe and durable vehicles requires automobile manufacturers to rely on test tracks.
Test tracks provide a closed testing environment with specialized roads and custom pavement surfaces designed to input specific resonances, grip or other ride characteristics into the vehicle. While these tracks exist worldwide, pavement contractors that specifically build and service these unique facilities are rare. Faced with this challenge, track owners turn to local contractors who have experience with public roads and highways, but are unaccustomed to the specific differences in how test tracks are constructed. With automotive technology ever on the rise, companies are tackling these industry challenges as they plan to design and construct facilities to test their latest designs.
The most exciting new trend in the test track industry is building tracks for autonomous vehicles. Tracks for these cutting-edge vehicles have to match real world conditions but in a closed environment since the technology being tested is so new. Many companies are jumping on this trend, with BMW recently making an announcement for its own new facility. According to Digital Trends, the company is building on a 1,200-acre property to be located near the German border of the Eastern European nation, just two and a half hours away from BMW’s primary development site in Munich.
A Smooth Building Process
In order to ensure they receive the highest quality product, track owners have several expectations:
- Pavements need to meet tolerance and smoothness requirements to allow for repeatable testing inputs of vehicles.
- Custom ride road surfaces must be constructed to exact frequency and profile.
- Vehicle dynamic pads , which are a large single plane surface, sloped from 0.5% to 1%, must be smooth in all directions to ensure that they do not provide any unwanted suspension input into a vehicle on the surface.
- High-speed ovals should have smooth, uniform transitions to the super-elevated curves.
Paving work that may be acceptable for a municipal project can be much different than what is acceptable for a test track. Assumptions that the roads are similar, can lead to poor overall execution and uniformity of the track.
So, what are the most important factors for a great test track? Design and communication. Project design specifications should be custom to each project since no two will be built exactly the same. Requirements should be reviewed with a contractor during the pre-bid meeting, and should provide enough detailed information to allow a full understanding of the surface to be constructed. Collaborative communication between the engineer, owner and contractor at each phase is critical for a successful project, and minimizes confusion and potential rework.
Investing in new technology, especially when it pertains to our safety, is always a smart bet. Today’s test tracks are doing incredible things to ensure our newest vehicles are safe, perform impressively and meet our ever-growing list of wants and needs. BRPH is thrilled to be a key player in this space, helping our clients in create leading edge testing facilities.
On February 23, I’m proud to be speaking on a panel with Bernd Pfau , Architect at Porsche AG for International Construction, at the “Bad Roads, Well Built 2018” workshop at Technische Universitat Darmstadt in Darmstadt, Germany on behalf of BRPH We’ll be discussing the latest challenges and solutions facing the international test track community. I look forward to bringing back the latest industry trends and data to benefit our clients.
Robert H. McLenon, Jr.
PE, Automotive Test Tracks SME
Bob is a seasoned civil engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. He has designed test tracks for OEM’s and suppliers, working with industry leaders such as Honda, Toyota, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and Porsche. Bob’s extensive expertise in the design of automotive test tracks includes parabolic high-speed ovals, dynamic pads, ride roads, wetted surfaces and handling courses.