BMW boffins work with Oracle

USA-71 and USA-76 benefit from Formula 1 motor racing test technology

Monday December 2nd 2002, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australasia
Larry Ellison's ORACLE BMW Racing America's Cup team is using BMW engineers to optimise the performance of their sailing yacht through precision load testing.

"In America's Cup match racing, an increase in speed of just a few tenths of a knot can make the difference between victory or defeat," stated Dr Byron Shaw. The 34-year old is a member of BMW's team of five engineers that constantly supports ORACLE BMW Racing with its technical know-how during the closely fought preliminary qualifying contest for the America's Cup. Shaw was in the midst of things in Auckland for more than two weeks with his colleague Robert Passaro (30).

Both engineers from the Technology Office in Palo Alto, California collated valuable data while the team, led by skipper Chris Dickson and helmed by Peter Holmberg, was training and preparing for the races. They applied sensors to various components of the team's sailboats, USA-71 and USA-76, to inspect and analyse the tension forces on the mast as well as the strength, durability and lifetime prediction of various different
components.

The objective for Shaw and Passaro was to effectively and rapidly optimise the speed and performance of the team's two sailing vessels, USA-71 and USA-76. Both technicians are very satisfied with the results of their work. Passaro summed it up: "If necessary any component of the boat can be changed and improved within 24 hours."

BMW knows only too well how speed can be achieved by means of technical refinement from their experience with Formula 1 racing. As in Formula 1 racing, it is crucial to achieve the optimum balance between the strength and weight of the material in the America's Cup. If one of the two strength and weight factors is dominant, then this can result in a loss of speed or a material breakage.

"Our task consists in reducing the weight as much as possible without sacrificing the boat's structural integrity," says Shaw. The rules of the America's Cup leave the designers and engineers with little scope for manoeuvre. The art is in obtaining the optimum sailboat construction despite the narrow boundary values.

In this process BMW's experts put their faith in their expertise and their high performance software. A combination of specialised industrial software was adapted and improved by BMW. The forces that are exerted upon the individual sailboat components are measured by means of electronic sensors.

Shaw reported: "Some parts have to withstand tension forces of several thousand kilogrammes. They are not allowed to be too heavy or too light. The trick is to ensure that the safety margin is as small as possible."

USA-76 is ORACLE BMW Racing's only sailboat to have been sailed in the Louis Vuitton Challenger series and has already demonstrated that it is in excellent shape. Time and time again USA-76 produced top performances during the initial two Round Robins of the competition. Most recently, the ORACLE BMW Racing team had produced a 4-0 score over OneWorld in the Quarter-finals, taking four consecutive victories in the best of seven series.

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