In the latest issue of RACER Magazine, the Technology Issue, (their biggest ever), Marshall Pruett wrote an article on the Flybrid KERS Hybrid system as used by Dyson Racing in the last two races of the ALMS season. Here is an excerpt from that article:
Faced with a set of 2014 ACO regulations that provide distinct advantages to those with access to KERS technology, privateer LMP1 teams were readying their own Occupy Wall Street movement against the likes of Audi, Porsche and Toyota, the figurative “one percent” able to afford the frightening levels of funding required to produce such systems.
With major technical partnerships in place and eight-figure budgets at their disposal, the benefits of KERS were reserved for factory P1 programs, and threatened to drive away the independent entrants – until a UK-based technical firm saw an opportunity to intervene.
Founded by a group of ex-Renault F1 engineers with a healthy giant-killing complex, Flybrid Automotive analyzed the factors that led to the extreme costs associated with KERS and formulated a plan – an antidote, if you will – that would shift a technology reserved for the privileged few and share it with the masses.
While F1 teams and P1 manufacturers spent small fortunes on coming up with ways to harness kinetic energy under braking, convert it to electricity and deliver it back to the wheels in the form of a power boost, Flybrid went retro tech, forsaking electricity with a genius alternative the other 99 percent could afford.
“Our system is purely mechanical,” says Flybrid’s Tobias Knichel. “It fits between the engine and transmission and is driven [by the input shaft]. We don’t use any batteries, super-capacitors or electric motors. It’s different from what people have seen in F1 and sports cars so far.”
Think of Flybrid’s P1 product as a group of F1 engineers having a Back To The Future moment with a torque converter. More accurately, think of it as advancing 50-year-old drag racing technology to suit the modern-day needs of harvesting kinetic energy and turning it into power through mechanical means.
Flybrid embraced metal and carbon fiber over electrons, fabricating a trick cylindrical flywheel that operates in a vacuum, assembling clutch packs in a compact unit that delivers a similar performance boost to what the factory prototypes get – at a fraction of the cost.
“What we have is basically a little gearbox, and it works with little clutches to capture energy under braking,” Knichel explains. “We have three slipping clutches that are connected to the vehicle with three different gear ratios. When we start to close the clutches, it increases the speed of the flywheel so we are releasing acceleration energy through the car’s transmission.
“The system is tied into the car’s ECU, and the rules dictate when the power is delivered to give the driver additional acceleration. This part is policed by the ACO rules, but the Flybrid system itself, in principle, is quite a simple concept.”
This side of the pond, in Poughkeepsie, NY, Flybrid found it had kindred spirits at Dyson Racing. The family-owned team had spent decades taking the fight to factory programs and, with an eye on the 2014 regulations, sporting director Chris Dyson knew finding an affordable KERS solution would be key to being competitive in P1.
“The regulations have an incentive built into them for regenerative technologies,” says Dyson, whose team uses the diminutive, AER-built, 2-liter Mazda 4-cylinder turbo to power its Lola B12/66, “so we quickly got together with the Flybrid guys to see what their technologies were and what their timing was. It was a pretty symbiotic relationship from the outset.”
The partnership made its debut at the Sept. 15 ALMS round at Virginia International Raceway, delivering a trouble-free run for Dyson and teammates Guy Smith and Johnny Mowlem on their way to second overall with the extra 135hp boost the Flybrid KERS unit gives.
Beyond the result achieved, VIR served as an even greater milestone – a clarion call – for sports car entrants. For what Dyson reckons will add 10 to 15 percent to a team’s annual drivetrain budget, bridging the KERS gap to the factories is now possible. In 1960s parlance, it’s “power to the people, man…”
Despite its numerous merits, Flybrid’s KERS alternative isn’t perfect. But with a price tag somewhere in the low six-figure region, it would be unreasonable to expect complete parity with what the factory P1 teams have spent untold millions and manhours to create.
At 40kg (88lbs), it isn’t especially heavy compared to the custom KERS unit in Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro, for example, but with all of its weight positioned towards the back of the car, chassis balance is certainly affected.
With the e-tron, which uses a pair of electric motors to drive the R18’s front wheels (see page 42), the forward bias of those motors can actually improve the car’s handling, while the Dyson team has had to make setup adjustments to mitigate some of the undesirable heft its KERS unit places across the rear axle.
And with 150hp or more on tap, the factory KERS units also possess a slight power advantage. But while more power and less weight is expected to come from Flybrid, overcoming the lack of centralized weight isn’t an option.
“With our engine being the lightest P1 engine out there, coming in at about 75kg (165lbs), we had room to accommodate the 40kg of mass that the Flybrid unit brings,” Dyson says. “Even with the extra weight, we’re still at or around where most other drivetrain packages are with just their engine alone. That was an advantage for us in going to the Flybrid, but we’ll have some work to do to the car over the winter – weight distribution, aero – to tailor everything to get the most from the chassis.”
Like most budget-minded solutions, Flybrid’s KERS technology isn’t perfect, but it does throw a lifeline to the privateers who were perhaps eyeing the exits for 2014. Factory prototype teams will continue to have a distinct financial advantage, but with its utilitarian KERS product, Flybrid makes a significant step towards leveling the playing field.