Technology that has been instrumental in Indy car racing for two decades will be applied to a USA Luge training sled with the goal of striking gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
An informal conversation between Panther Racing director of technology David Cripps and USA Luge officials during the IZOD IndyCar Series race weekend at Belle Isle in June evolved into development ideas and collaboration on the project of installing on-board telemetry on a training sled.
Team officials and development team sliders visited the race shop in Indianapolis last week. The National Guard, primary sponsor of Panther Racing's No. 4 car driven by JR Hildebrand, has been a longtime supporter of USA Luge and USA Bobsled.
"If you don't have some form of data acquisition you might be quick but you're not going to know why you're quick. Much the same if you're slow," Cripps said about the program. "Like an IndyCar, if it was based purely on time there wouldn't be a lot of information to give us the assistance to figure out an issue and cure it. It's important to lay historical data of where a driver or a slider found time on tracks, how they found that time and what is the impact of the ice degradation or climatic conditions and changes.
"Our goal is to provide USA Luge a tool set for better information and learn better methods of handling and how they set up their sleds."
Aside from relative speeds, there are parallels between the sports, Cripps says.
"It was glaringly obvious early in our discussions that they're limited in the facilities in the U.S. that they can use (Lake Placid, N.Y., and Park City, Utah) and those tracks have limited amount of time that they have ice on them that they can test," Cripps said. "It's much like IndyCar with our limited (2013) testing, limited track availability. The data acquired at those tests and how we use that data are more important than it's ever been.
"The sleds don't have quite the same understeer or oversteer of an IndyCar, but there are some parallels on how they're able to enter and exit the corner, the line they can run and whether they're scrubbing speed or not. All they have had is a stopwatch. In competition, they have segment times but don't get segment speeds or some of handling characteristics based on the temperature of the runners on the ice and other conditions."
Additionally, this summer two mechanical engineers from Clarkson University utilized computer modeling and wind tunnel testing to potentially improve aerodynamics of the sled and slider. Luge is the only Winter Olympics gravity sport measured to 1/1000ths of a second, so miniscule alterations can greatly affect times.
Senior and Junior National Team training at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg facility in Lake Placid is ongoing this month, and an international training week is scheduled for early November at the new Olympic track in Russia. The first World Cup competition of the season is Nov. 24-25 in Igls, Austria, while a second visit to Sochi, Russia, for the first official Olympic test event is Feb. 23-24.
Cripps will visit during a practice day to help fine-tune the telemetry and illustrate the ways in which engineers analyze the data.