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McLaren finalizes 12C development

One of the world's most eagerly anticipated cars finally reaches production readiness following a gruelling test program


With a reputation for engineering excellence to uphold, the test program for McLaren Automotive’s 12C has been long and arduous: since 2007 in fact. A factor in this has been the company's decision to keep refining the car until it reaches the customer handover stage. However, the 12C has finally completed its final sign-off 1,000 mile development drive.


Four Production Prototype 12C’s (PP7, PP9, PP10, PP11) departed McLaren’s Woking headquarters for the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve race circuit in Portugal, taking a detour en-route to a Spanish proving ground to log the car’s definitive performance times. All four PP 12C’s arrived safely in Portimão, where they undertook further sign-off tests (above).


Antony Sheriff, McLaren Automotive’s managing director states, “I am immensely proud of the 12C development team. I don’t believe any car company in the world has put as much effort, innovation, passion and sheer determination into launching a car as McLaren has with the 12C. But this attitude is all we know: good enough is not good.


“Both in simulation, and in the real world on road and track, we have gone to extremes to ensure the 12C stands up to the performance and quality we know our prospective customers demand. Even as we launch the 12C and begin testing future models, we continue to test the 12C’s long-term durability,” Sheriff concludes.


World’s most advanced simulator
The 12C development program was conceived under the title ‘Project 11’. In 2005, a decision was taken by McLaren to launch its first ever ‘pure McLaren’ road car. A team was then assembled combining individuals with extensive experience designing and developing successful McLaren Formula 1 race cars, with several senior personnel responsible for development and production of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, which, with 2,153 manufactured by McLaren Automotive, is the world’s most successful super sports car, according to the company.


With race car development opportunities now limited due to the introduction of restrictive legislation in Formula 1, McLaren relies heavily on its technically advanced simulator, which is housed in a secure suite at the company’s McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) home in Woking, UK.


The simulator is a software-based virtual environment which is able to accurately replicate the driving experience on any road or track surface in the world. When preparing for real-world circuit testing, a program is run by the McLaren Automotive development team uploading data to the simulator including corner radii, gradient, track width and the 12C’s performance parameters.


Dick Glover, McLaren Automotive's technical director says: “Having the McLaren simulator at our disposal from the start of the 12C development program has been a tremendous asset. We were able to accurately predict the dynamic performance of our very first concept-phase vehicle and ensure that it was suitable for extreme testing from day one. It would be incredibly difficult to achieve similar results if you were designing and building a car without simulation.


“We use professional racing drivers in our development team. Throughout the real-world testing program we continually schedule time for them in the simulator to fine-tune the performance and driving characteristics of the 12C. This experience is then validated back against real-world conditions at one of the test facilities we use around the world. It is an ongoing, dynamic, feedback process that mixes the best of technology with the best hands-on track work.”


The 12C development team has also taken simulation to a new level as they seek to ensure the fleet of prototypes are pushed to their limits, reproducing the impact of the Nürburgring Nordschleife at a Spanish test facility. The Nordschleife in Germany is regarded as the world’s ultimate test circuit due to its combination of challenging surfaces and 20.81km (12.93m) length. McLaren Automotive has visited the Nordschleife on several occasions for periods of sustained testing, but with the circuit being closed during winter months, the development team has had to identify a way of recreating the extreme conditions found at the Nordschleife in a different environment.


Left: The journey between proving grounds was fairly enjoyable, if you like driving supercars over mountain passes


Glover explains: “We have a permanent test base at the Applus IDIADA proving ground in Northern Spain. Our team of engineers has taken data from the Nordschleife circuit including lateral g performance, vertical road inputs, engine throttle position and gearing, and created a program which can then be run at IDIADA, which we call the ‘Idischleife Concept’.


“This program allows us to undertake challenging and aggressive testing to the level experienced at the Nordschleife, but at a location where we can run testing literally 24 hours, seven days a week and quickly move the 12C closer to its development targets,” Glover concludes.


All four corners of the world
The first Concept Prototype (CP) 12C’s were built in 2007. These mules were designed to test aerodynamic, powertrain, drivetrain and chassis configuration proposals. Production Prototypes (PP) underwent a high-mileage real-world durability phase of an initial 50,000 miles.


An evolution of prototype vehicles took place between these two phases, with each new generation of prototype receiving the latest available iterations of technologies, including the 12C’s M838T twin-turbo engine, its seven-speed SSG transmission, suspension geometry and electrical architecture. More than 50 cars have been built over the following prototype phases:
• Concept Prototype (CP)
• Experimental Prototype (XP)
• Validation Prototype (VP)
• Production Prototype (PP)


This fleet has been tested in every regional market where the car will be sold, including Bahrain and Nevada in the summer, and the Arctic in winter. The simple aim, to achieve unprecedented levels of performance but also guarantee quality, reliability and durability.


Left: Hot-weather and ESP testing in Arizona, USA


Geoff Grose, McLaren Automotive's head of testing and development states: “We’ve undertaken rigorous test schedules in every imaginable environment. Our teams have tested 12C prototypes in Sweden for cold weather programs, Bahrain in summer dust storms, Arizona at temperatures upwards of 115°F, South Africa for high-altitude testing, and endless circuit and road testing in Europe.


“McLaren has established bases at IDIADA in northern Spain and the Prototipo facility near Nardò in southern Italy. At both locations we have run a number of 24-hour sessions, as well as 18-hour sessions between 8am until 2am the next morning. The remaining six hours allow time for a team to service and implement development changes ready for the next day’s testing to begin without interruption. Whole-car testing undertaken in this way is incredibly demanding, but bears an uncanny resemblance to the way our Formula 1 team develops race-winning cars.”


Data collection and analysis
At the IDIADA and Nardò proving grounds, McLaren Automotive has ongoing access to dynamic platforms, handling and high-speed circuits, and challenging local roads on which to test a number of 12C performance attributes. Subjective attributes appraised included: vehicle design and ergonomics; interior comfort and richness; ride and handling; steering; braking; noise and vibration harshness; engine; and transmission.


Mark Vinnels, program director at McLaren Automotive explains: “We have benchmark tested every competitor model to the 12C and, as a package, I believe our car is unmatched in every respect. We have higher power, better structural performance through the 12C’s carbon MonoCell, and the level of refinement in its ride quality is outstanding.”


Objective, data-based appraisals were undertaken using a data-logging system developed by McLaren Electronic Systems Ltd (MESL). The HSL-500 high-speed data logger is fitted to several prototype 12Cs and records data at rates up to 400kHz. The core of this system is used by the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team, but is stretched further on the 12C to cope with close to 20 ECU systems spread over two CAN bus systems. The data logger can be configured to log over 1,000 channels of data and is ideally suited for vehicles requiring a large number of data to be simultaneously tracked from multiple channels. This includes cars that are dedicated to dynamic and thermal testing. In addition to logging data from the 12C prototypes' CAN bus network, data is recorded from close to 100 specifically positioned pressure transducers, lasers, accelerometers, displacement sensors, thermocouples, strain gauges and GPS devices.


Data logging was imperative to the 12C development program. Every development vehicle was fitted with a MESL data logger to capture every moment the vehicle turns a wheel to ensure that the engineers can quickly analyze, identify and rectify any issues, as well as ensure optimal development of the vehicle. Much of this input is then fed back into the simulation program, and the process continues the real-world:simulation development cycle. Using the MESL system ensures the development program maintains its swift pace, whereby modifications and technology calibration changes can be performed promptly to increase the performance and reliability of each and every vehicle.


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