A Visit To Dallara
After the MIA Dinner in honour of Ing. Gian Paulo Dallara, a couple of the Monoposti present spoke to him. Quite spontaneously, he invited representatives of the Monoposto Racing Club, as owners of past and present Dallara road and racing cars, to visit the Dallara factory near Parma, Italy, for a tour of the facilities where their current range of cars are designed, manufactured and built.
Our first step was to meet our guide, Matteo Tirinnanzi, who has been at Dallara since graduating from university in the UK. The first port of call was the Engineering and Machining Area. Here the whole cars are constructed, each in individual bays over a period of days. The factory is remarkably flexible. Partitions are used to create whatever space is needed for the next project, be it prototype or production.
Sub-assemblies, such as the wheel uprights with bearings and inserts, are also created here in carefully logged batches. There are few high-tech tools present – a hydraulic press and pillar drill are the most obvious equipment visible. In another part of the building there are a few CNC machines (computer numerical controlled lathes and milling machines), but the vast majority of the work appears to be carried out by hand by skilful technicians. However, we did gain an insight into why the Dallara have gained a reputation for consistent fit and interchangeability of parts. New monocoques are located precisiely and drilled by a 5 axis CNC machine. Each hole is in precisely the same spot as on the previous car.We were able to see a trial assembly of next year’s IRL car (since renamed the DW12 in memory of Dan Wheldon), but there wasn’t any work being carried out on it whilst we were there. An amusing piece of information was that Justin Wilson was a name constantly on the IRL design team's mind because at 6ft4in his height determined the size of the tub.
We moved on, to the composite area – one would imagine that being a big constructor of composite cars there would be many autoclaves, F1-style clean-rooms, computer controlled cutting machines etc. In fact, whilst there was a small autoclave, the ‘clean room’ was a wooden bench in the corner of the building that was strewn with bits of carbon fibre cloth, moulds, and broken parts. Apparently this is because nearly all carbon work is outsourced to local firms, leaving Dallara itself with the task of mould-making and local repairs to non-critical parts. What was interesting is that carbon wings are no longer filled with polystyrene, but use an inflatable bag to press the material into the mould, and then it is deflated and removed prior to finishing. This results in a slightly lighter wing at a slightly lower price which demonstrates the lengths taken to maintain their competitive advantage.
The general rule that Dallara uses is that larger or more complex assemblies that “add value” to the car, or are safety critical are made in house. Smaller parts, wishbones, clevises and 99% of the composite work are outsourced to series of long term, trusted, and usually local, suppliers. We thought that "partnership" probably means a bit more here than it does at some large companies which profess to practice it.
And that was it, that we saw, for the manufacturing part of the company. Surprisingly few facilities, in a building that wasn’t impressively big! Not quite what I’d expected considering the quality of what comes out of the factory, and considering Dallara is now the [one of?] world’s largest manufacturer of formula racing cars.
The first thing we saw outside of manufacturing was a KTM X-Bow, which I’m sure everyone reading this will know of (and if not, then type it into your favourite Internet Search Engine). Several of our group couldn’t resist not only having a sit in it, but also offering their opinion of the pedal layout, seat position etc. Racing drivers are rarely satisified once they’ve had a customised cockpit fitting!! It was interesting to learn that the X-Bow is designed for a particular maske of tyre and works vastly better on that tyre than on others. It was also interesting to learn that with only a few tweaks to the Audi-based engine, it is capable of keeping up with supercars around the local track.
Matteo then led us to the ‘old’ windtunnel. This is a 40% scale tunnel that was used when Dallara were first making F1 cars in the late 80s. Since then it has been upgraded to a moving floor to better simulate the environment in which a car will be used. There were a lot of older models hidden around the back on long banks of shelves, from fairly generic looking cars (presumably used to validate the tunnel or very new ideas) to easily identifiable cars like 1997 F3 Dallaras. Some of the models were very simple, and some were almost exact 40% copies of a real car, including rivet heads on front wing gurneys or the pivots on a driver’s helmet. The skills and time involved in model making must be at least that required for making full size cars!
The new windtunnel is built in another building on another part of the site, and is used for their own racing cars as well as client models. It is 60%, and also has a moving floor. More and more of Dallara’s income is from sub-contracted engineering work for automotive manufacturers. Details are obviously confidential, but we heard about Alfa and Maserati… We saw a car covered up in a windtunnel – I wonder what it was?
Outside of the windtunnel was the old “F1 Area”, where the late 80?s cars were prepared, and where the 2010 HRT was built. There is little there now other than empty cardboard boxes. Maybe the empty room signified unfinished business in Formula One? A team of around 60 designed the ill-fated HRT F1 cart from scratch in just over 6 weeks. Ray Rowan told me that later on in the trip he was using a cashpoint in Maranello at the Ferrari gate (as you do) when he got into conversation with a man who designs their F1 electro-hydraulic gear change. A team of 6 works all year on just that one system, so the difference in total man hours between these 2 North Italian cars can be imagined.
Next up was the ‘Simulator’. This is very much like a giant, exposed version of the moving simulators often found at airshows and Grands Prix that charge £8 for a pretend flight in a Red Arrows plane or a rollercoaster. Large (at least 15ft extended) Moog electro-hydraulic actuators support, move and shake the cockpit platform, on which a real cockpit from the car in question is fitted. A curved screen and a projector, as well as speakers and electric supplies for the onboard systems are also fitted to this platform. A driver clambers up, gets in a real car, with the pedals, steering wheel and controls that their real car will have, and is subject to a simulation of the forces generated by driving as he drives. When testing the new IRL car in the simulator, there was initially some concern when a top driver gave some disappointing times. Was the simulator innaccurate or was the car not as quick as hoped? It turned out that neither was the case and the circuit was just one the driver disliked and where he never went quickly. When the car/driver went to that circuit, the time (and the simulator) were proven.
There was also a 7-post shaker rig that can be used to test a car under a variety of conditions, from specific race circuits to the worst English roads, taking into account downforce and the movement of the chassis under cornering or braking loads, but we didn’t get to see it.
Rather like a tour of a brewery, there was a small selection of cars in a room at the end of the visit. Unlike a brewery, though, we were allowed to look, touch, but not sample! One of them was their Grand Am sports prototype which was interesting in that it proved to be a winner, but was built to a very restrictive formula which demanded an anachronistic looking panelled spaceframe and certain body shape rules which we all agreed did its appearance few favours. However, it did have the most beautifully machined rear uprights we'd ever seen, a real work of art. Our accountant trip members smiled when it was explained that the designers had been asked not to come up with such expensive-to-make ones again.
During the tour,we talked about the staffing. The company takes on new graduates each year and encourages its staff to have practical competition experience, whether in racing, rallying or hillclimbs. This assists in producing designs that will work well in real-world use. Although there is a flow of joiners and leavers, there is a great spirit at the factory. However, on those occassions when Dallaras are defeated in high profile championships, Monday can be a day for finding out why under the very watchful eye of Mr Dallara. They do not like losing.
That was the end of the tour, and we headed back to Reception to say our farewells. And as we got there, Dr.Gian Paolo Dallara himself was just leaving, and was happy to talk to us for a short while about his company’s success as well as his former life with the likes of the Miura, Stratos and X1-9. He continues to come into work each day, and remains a key member of the company that bears his name. After saying goodbye, he drove away in his Lancia Delta, a comfortable but by no means extravagent family hatchback. Apparently Dott. Ing.Dallara has never owned a supercar, nor has he driven one of his competition models.
We then visited Varano, Dallara’s local race circuit, around a kilometre away, but it isn’t owned by them. The circuit is also known as Autodromo Riccardo Paletti, after the local F1 driver who sadly lost his life at the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix. It was quite an impressive facility, especially considering the wonderful backdrop and surroundings that Italy provides! There wasn’t a lot of track action – some Maseratis were cruising around, and in the paddock a fenced off section saw more Maseratis doing some powerslides on wetted tarmac; presumably it was some sort of Maserati Owners Club day.
Story and pictures by Tristan Cliffe. (Note that the pictures are restricted due to commercial confidentiality)
Disclaimer: The above represents only the unofficial view of the writer and not of the Monoposto Racing Club in any way whatsover. Subheadlines and captions are not originated from the named author. We are unable to reproduce results due to copyright reasons. If any pictures are copyright and the owner wishes them removed please email us.
A real chassis and other assorted bits
KTM X-Bow (pronounced Crossbow or Ex-Bow?)
An adjustable Dallara engine stand
Dallara Setup Equipment (Corner Weight Loadcells)
The Dallara Simulator, 2011
A Dallara Formulino