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On the Road to Le Mans

April 2, 2020
A pneumatic-operated controls system enables adaptation to the specific needs of drivers with physical disabilities.

This article appeared in Machine Design and has been published here with permission.

The Le Mans 24-hour race is legendary. The aim of the race is to cover as many laps as possible within the 24 hours, with three drivers alternating. Thanks to a pneumatic operated controls system on the car using Festo technology, disabled and able-bodied drivers can now compete in the race using exactly the same car.

Throttle, gear, changing, clutch and braking: During a car race the arms and legs of the drivers are usually in continuous use. Not so with the British motorsport Team BRIT. It has joined forces with Slovenian company MME Motorsport and Festo to develop an innovative system of controls, with which the racing cars can be operated using either hand controls or foot pedals.

Team BRIT consists of disabled drivers who compete in regular races against able-bodied drivers. In the 2015/2016 racing season, Team BRIT drivers took part in the Britcar Endurance series and the Silverstone 24-hour race. The goal for 2020 is to take a team to the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race.

System of Controls—Tailored to Personal Needs

Thanks to the innovative system of control, the car can be adapted to the specific needs of drivers with physical disabilities. Throttle, braking, gearshift and clutch can be operated in the conventional way using pedals as well as with hand control on the steering wheel. This specially adapted steering wheel can be removed easily if necessary and replaced with a regular one.

Braking, gear changing and clutch are controlled using Festo automation technology. A proportional pneumatic cylinder control of the hydraulic brake system allows the brakes on the front and rear axles to be operated separately. Pneumatic cylinders are also used for shifting the sequential gearbox and for engaging and disengaging the clutch.

Use in Driving Simulators and in Road Traffic Conceivable

The new hand controls do not just open up the world of motorsport for disabled drivers. The set-up is easy to replicate for use on simulators, too, so disabled individuals can enjoy e-racing as well as driver development. It is also suitable for use on road cars, which opens up the market for track day experiences, as well as car hire and test drives in supercars for people with physical impairments.

And what of Le Mans 2020? Having achieved total confidence in the technology following rigorous testing and successful use during races, Team BRIT is now seeking formal safety approval and homologation from the Motor Sports Association (MSA), motorsport’s governing body. Then nothing can stop the 24-hour driving pleasure.

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