Aero testing tunnel on course to open in summer

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The Catesby Tunnel testing facility in Northamptonshire, UK, is set to provide a state-of-the-art facility for aerodynamic testing and vehicle development when it opens later this year.

The disused railway tunnel houses a 2.7km, purpose-built, straight road test track, which has been developed by Brackley-based Aero Research Partners. The complex will allow for an extensive range of vehicle assessment studies to be carried out on full scale vehicles. This makes the facility capable of providing accurate and, more importantly, affordable full-scale aerodynamic and performance data.

To date, the only similar facility to be opened is the Laurel Hill Tunnel near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was converted by Chip Ganassi Racing, primarily for the development on its NASCAR program. Since its construction in the early 2000s, the Laurel Hill Tunnel has been used for various Ganassi racing projects and some testing for outside clients. However, the Catesby Tunnel will be the first commercially available facility of its type.

According to Aero Research Partners, the tunnel sets a new standard for vehicle development and the testing of aerodynamic performance, cooling, aeroacoustics, emissions and dirt deposition. The sealed, underground working section ensures there is no wind and minimal temperature changes and therefore provides a controlled environment for assured repeatable testing. The ultra-smooth tarmac surface will be incredibly flat due to the stringent specifications it was laid to.

The facility is a re-development of a disused railway tunnel which was once part of the Great Central Railway. Built as a double-width tunnel and one of the longest disused tunnels from the Victorian era, Catesby Tunnel’s long straight and constant gradient provides ideal testing conditions.

Development of the site began in December 2017 and the tunnel is currently in the final phase of construction, with a 400m road surface already laid out and initial testing completed. The remaining sections will be completed in the coming months ready for opening in summer 2021.

Its operators note that all facilities are entirely enclosed to ensure that vehicle development programs remain completely confidential. Enclosed working spaces have a shutter opening to the tunnel to ensure complete privacy while the main building adjoining the tunnel will house two full-size articulated lorries to unload vehicles directly into the preparation area.

“We are all very excited to be opening the doors to Catesby Tunnel later this year,” said Rob Lewis, director at Aero Research Partners. “The tunnel’s infrastructure lends itself perfectly to providing an unrivalled vehicle testing facility where real cars can be tested on a real road in consistent conditions. It has been a huge collaborative effort and we hope to welcome customers from the UK, Europe and worldwide to take advantage of our unique facility.”

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he oversees Automotive Powertrain Technology International and Professional Motorsport World magazines as editor.

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