JEC Group have brought together the international community of composites leaders and executives in our Composites Circle as an unique networking opportunity to meet with both peers and future partners.
Motivated by the rage to win and a need to compensate for its more limited means compared to large builders, Courage Compétition started betting on numerical simulation tools early on to develop ultra-competitive cars.
(Published on January-February 2006 – JEC Magazine #22)
In endurance racing events, Courage Compétition’s prototypes have been competing successfully with those of the global giants for more than twenty years. The recent victories of the C65 models in the 1,000-kilometre event at the Nurburgring and Silverstone races in the LMP2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) categories are evidence of that. For an independent builder with the means of a small to medium-sized enterprise, it is an immense challenge to compete with the large builders’ factory teams.
Goals and means
Courage Compétition’s strategic goal has been to control the whole development process, from the initial design to the manufacture of nearly all of the non-engine parts, in order to be able to guarantee its drivers and customers competitive vehicles that are extremely reactive. To reach this goal, Courage went about acquiring the resources it would need for highly flexible design and, therefore, for adapting easily to the ever-changing standards and regulations. Doing so included acquiring a command of CAD/CAM technology and of processing technologies such as those that use composites, among other materials.
Carefully planned partnerships
Courage Compétition started using Dassault Systems’ Catia CAD/CAM software around 1995 in its efforts to harness computing power.
Yves Courage is head of Courage Compétition, which is located at Le Mans in the “Technoparc des 24 Heures” research park just a few hundred metres away from the famous Bugatti circuit. Direct access to the circuit makes it possible, among other things, to design, produce and validate technical solutions in record time.
About thirty people are assigned to developing, building and operating racing prototypes. To assist them in their work, the teams have very comprehensive technological platforms at their disposal, including an engineering department equipped with CAD/CAM, an assembly station, a plastics processing unit and a data acquisition system.
These efforts have continued, with crash-test simulation software and structural analysis software for composites. Courage Compétition was able to reduce the number of costly physical prototypes required, thanks to Pam-Crash and Sysply, two programmes put out by Esi Group. These enabled the engineering department to integrate the behaviour of the composite materials (comprising 30% of the car) and also to save time and money.
Besides its partnerships with Esi Group and Dassault Systems, Courage Compétition is also working with Hewland on the gear boxes. Thanks to its partnership strategy, Courage has been able to draw in the best skills.
The Pam-Crash software served to study the behaviour of the front end, or “nose” on the new C60 model that took part in the last Le Mans 24 Hours. The problem was particularly complex, as this critical part is made of composite materials. Unlike metals, composites do not deform on impact, they burst into tiny pieces. The software made it possible to make the part four times more lightweight and still pass a new, even more stringent frontal impact crash test with success. The numerical simulation results were within 3% of the actual physical test results.
Following this initial experience, Courage Compétition used Sysply, the optimisation software for composite structures, to analyse other structural parts, specifically the vehicle’s floor board made of carbon/ honeycomb/carbon sandwich. Sysply revealed heavily stressed areas, along with areas under less stress where there was too much material. By optimising the distribution of the material to create an identical level of stress throughout the part, it became possible to reduce the weight of the floor board by 25% and increase stiffness by 40%. All the composite parts on the new C60 model were analysed in the same way, and this led to a 15% weight reduction despite the significantly higher load requirements imposed by the new regulation.
The virtual simulation of the crash tests and the design validation for the composite components are now totally integrated into the development process for new vehicle families. Builders can use the numerical tools to design higher-performance vehicles faster and at less cost, and also to respond to the continually changing technical regulations in the world of automobile racing. Physically testing several different prototypes would have been too costly and time-consuming.
After its year of working closely with ESI Group, Courage Compétition was the first builder to enter a car in the 2004 Le Mans 24 Hours that complied with the new regulation, even though this regulation will not become effective before 2007. During that same year, Courage Compétition took advantage of the LMP2 class event to develop the C65 model. This opportunity was crowned with success, as Courage became champion of the LMES (Le Mans Endurance Series) category, with three wins in three races. These good results prompted a number of European and American stables to place their confidence in the C65 the following year. With fifteen chassis under his belt, Yves Courage was the most represented builder in the 2005 prototype events. Courage Compétition also seized the opportunity to make a comeback with its C60 in the queen class at the 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Thanks to these investments, Yves Courage is now serenely set to design his C70 and C75 for 2006 and continue to pursue his dream: winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.