Logistic 'masterpiece'/defined maintenance intervals/V8-CoupÃ©: 3,500 components Each of the six Opel Astra V8 CoupÃ©s contesting the ninth and penultimate DTM race at Zandvoort, the Netherlands, this coming weekend comprises over 3,500 ...
Logistic 'masterpiece'/defined maintenance intervals/V8-Coupé: 3,500 components
Each of the six Opel Astra V8 Coupés contesting the ninth and penultimate DTM race at Zandvoort, the Netherlands, this coming weekend comprises over 3,500 components, not counting standard parts like nuts and bolts. 3,500 components that are subjected to enormous stress under tough racing conditions. That is why immaculate maintenance of the cars, including the exchange of assembly components at regular, prescribed intervals, is crucially important.
The two Opel Euroteam DTM Astras, driven at Zandvoort by Alain Menu and Eric Helary, are promoting "Opel Service Fit", the comprehensive and competent service programme offered by Opel dealerships. Naturally, the Opel teams Holzer, Phoenix and Euroteam are servicing their 462-hp strong touring cars with at least the same level of intensive care. "So far, we haven't had any technical failures," Opel sport boss Volker Strycek is proud to report. "And, of course, we're doing everything we can to keep it that way."
Complete check after each race
After each test, practice session and warm-up as well as between the two races, engineers and mechanics meticulously check the DTM Opels according to a precisely defined plan, preparing them for the next run. "The care with which every single crew member goes about his work is crucially important," says Dr Ulrich Pfisterer, DTM project manager with Opel Performance Center (OPC). Following each race, mechanics almost completely dismantle the cars. "While some parts will only be subjected to a visual check, others will be sent to the manufacturer for special examinations, such as X-raying, or possibly for repair or partial exchange," says Jürgen Jungklaus, an Opel Team Phoenix engineer.
Engineers log running time for most components
Keeping track of running times is a major aspect of maintaining the cars. "We log the running time of every relevant component. This means we always know how many kilometres a certain part already has 'under its belt', in which car it has been used, whether or not it has been partially replaced and so on," says Dr Pfisterer. The service life of most components will equal that of the car itself, at least for one DTM season.
For other parts, though, maximum running times are definitively prescribed. This, for example, is true for the ultra-light carbon-fibre prop shaft which, due to its location between the engine and clutch/gearbox, rotates at engine speed, thus being subjected to extreme levels of stress. "After 2,500 kilometres at the latest, the prop shaft must be sent to the manufacturer, its total service life being limited to 10,000 kilometres," explains Jürgen Jungklaus. "To be on the safe side and avoid any risk, we often stay below these limits." Experience plays an important role as well. A fuel pump, for example, will be replaced once a year no matter what. Again, this is strictly a precaution, since the pump would likely survive the entire season without any problem.
Certain components, like the gears in the transmission, are subjected to varying stress levels. Dr Ulrich Pfisterer: "The degree of wear largely depends on the shifting style of the driver. With some drivers, gears and docking rings must be exchanged after each race, but usually they last for two or three races." Depending on their 'eagerness' to practice, teams will do 500 to 600 kilometres per race weekend.
28-ton truck as a rolling spare parts stock
For the six Opel Astra V8 Coupés, driven by Manuel Reuter and Joachim Winkelhock (Opel Team Phoenix), Timo Scheider and Michael Bartels (Opel Team Holzer) as well as Alain Menu and Eric Helary (Opel Euroteam), to run at a level of nearly consummate perfection, a veritable 'masterpiece' in logistic skills is required behind the scenes. After all, every one of the 3,500 components must be readily available in sufficient supply, enabling it to be replaced in case of an accident or technical failure.
The centrepiece of this effort is a 28-ton truck serving as a "rolling spare parts stock". The parts carried to each race, though, may vary depending on the respective circuit. "Experience has shown that the Norisring puts a lot of stress on the brakes, which means that we must have a larger supply of all brake components than we normally need," says Dr Pfisterer. Should a certain part be lacking after all, the crews will resort to sophisticated contingency plans. By courier service or, if necessary, helicopter, such parts -- which may even have to be specially fabricated "overnight" - will be transported from the RLC, the Racing-Logistics-Center of Opel Performance, to the race track.
Parts management via barcodes and databases
Managing such a vast number of components, some of which have different versions, requires a sophisticated system. Every single vehicle component is given a part number as early as in the design stage. Only then will the RLC, which is also responsible for quality checks, procure the required volumes. To manage these components, documentation specialist Dietrich Kissel has developed a special software. "Whilst off-the-shelf software did not appear to be well-suited for the specific requirements of motor racing, our own database is flexible and can be adapted as needed," Dietrich Kissel explains.
Being linked to the same computer network enables all Opel teams to access this database, which also contains several explosion drawings. The teams can also order their parts through this intranet. Each component has a specific marking. Using a barcode reader, all in- and outbound parts, whether in the trackside "parts truck" or the RLC, are subjected to electronic data acquisition. "Without this technology, we wouldn't be able to handle and track such a vast number of spare parts, newly designed parts and different components as well as their use in seven different vehicles -- six racing and one test car," says Dr Ulrich Pfisterer. "This is a tried and tested system. It is a prerequisite for ensuring a quick and comprehensive supply of spare parts and thus provides the indispensable basis for the high-level reliability of our racing cars."