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Greenville Business Magazine

Clemson Students Unveil 600-Horsepower Hybrid Race Car Prototype

Oct 09, 2018 10:16AM ● By Kathleen Maris

Students at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) unveiled their newest Deep Orange concept vehicle, sponsored by Honda R&D Americas Inc. (HRA). After two years, the 19-student team unveiled the high-performance, fuel-efficient motorsports prototype at the ALL-IN Auto Rally Ride & Drive event at Clemson University Saturday, Oct. 6.

Engineered, built, and tested by Clemson automotive engineering students, Deep Orange 9 is a next-generation rallycross race car that disrupts market perceptions of energy-efficient vehicles by showing they can meet extreme performance demands in a safe, clean way. The vehicle combines high-performance, ultra-tough racing features with a clean, fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain, advanced technical innovations, a lightweight/high-strength steel structure, and highly dynamic handling and acceleration. The concept is a response to rising fuel-efficiency standards and millennials’ interest in vehicles that are safe, clean, and exciting to drive.

HRA challenged the students to create a motorsports concept built for rallycross, a global sport that involves sprint-style racing with large jumps, aggressive jockeying, and drifting on a closed-loop track of dirt, asphalt, and mud. Though they begin as production cars, rallycross vehicles are modified to become some of the most versatile racers around. Most feature internal combustion engines to meet the power and agility needs of the sport. As a hybrid vehicle, Deep Orange 9 envisions a clean, fuel-efficient car of the future that doesn’t compromise on performance.

“Deep Orange 9 was a platform for Clemson’s students to develop a concept vehicle that fuses Honda’s challenges to create a carbon-sustainable society while providing customers joy and freedom of mobility,” said Duane Detwiler, director of HRA’s Strategic Research Operations (SRO) division. “We also believe these students can make significant contributions as future HRA associates in helping Honda realize its long-term vision for mobility.”

As part of the graduate automotive engineering program at CU-ICAR, select students receive the unique opportunity to create and build a concept vehicle sponsored by industry. The project showcases advanced technologies and provides students an opportunity to work directly with automotive industry partners. This innovative, project-based learning program produces highly capable automotive engineers by immersing them in the world of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers.

“Our program requires students to make highly technical decisions quickly while also keeping the top-level project goals such as safety, performance, customer usability, and compressed deadlines in mind,” said Robert Prucka, Kulwicki Endowed Professor in Motor Sports Engineering at CU-ICAR, who led the project. “Designing, building, and testing a fully functional vehicle of this level gives our students the perspective, skills, and hands-on experience that allows them to seamlessly transition into the workforce.”

The extreme engineering behind motorsports is often a test bed that pushes the boundaries of consumer vehicle technology. Rallycross vehicles require extreme power and agility on a variety of road surfaces, needing explosive acceleration, higher top speeds, and more responsive handling and braking than their production-line counterparts. Such conditions require even more attention to driver safety, which makes rallycross the perfect medium to explore the next generation of consumer vehicles.

“Cars are increasingly complicated systems, and industry today needs associates who understand the different ways these systems come together to make a unique, competitive product,” said Chris Paredis, BMW Endowed Chair in Automotive Systems Integration and Deep Orange director. “Deep Orange is a way to teach systems integration to students in a low-risk environment that allows students to innovate, fail fast, and get up to speed quickly in ways that prepare them for success in industry.”

Deep Orange 9 was also supported by Aisin Group and JTEKT Corporation as Leadership Sponsors, BFGoodrich as Track Sponsor, and Red Bull and the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) as Marketing Sponsors. Deep Orange 9 also partnered for unique concussion research in collaboration with the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System Sports Medicine Institute, DriveSafety Inc., and EyeTracking Inc.

The Deep Orange 9 vehicle was engineered around four primary goals: Improve fuel economy, reduce emissions, match current rallycross race performance, and minimize total vehicle operating costs. This is how students achieved those goals:

  • Hybrid drivetrain: The primary concern for most racing teams is performance and speed, not fuel economy. Students engineered an ultra-efficient hybrid drivetrain that improved fuel economy by 30 percent while still meeting power output and performance requirements for existing rallycross cars. The hybrid powertrain works seamlessly with the driver through a student-developed integrated control system.
  • Race-ready acceleration: The combined torque from the electric drivetrain and internal combustion engine helped achieve 0-60 mph in two seconds, making it competitive with existing rallycross cars.
  • Regenerative braking: The use of regenerative braking both improves fuel economy and allows the hybrid powertrain to be operated in charge-sustaining mode, preventing the need for plugging in and recharging the vehicle batteries between races. This allows the vehicle to perform and operate with minimal maintenance throughout a race weekend.
  • Reduce emissions: High performance doesn’t have to mean dirty. Using advanced simulations, students designed an integrated engine and after-treatment system that reduces hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions while also meeting the demands of an intense racing environment.
  • Four-wheel steering: In traditional rallycross, sharp turns are made by locking the rear tires to cause a skid, which represents lost speed and decreased handling during a race. Students designed an electronic four-wheel steering system that allows for faster cornering and higher maneuverability by avoiding the need to lock the rear tires. In the case of Deep Orange 9, this feature also improves fuel economy by capturing lost energy through the wheels.
  • Semi-active suspension: As a mixed-surface race, rallycross forces engineers to make a compromise between performing well on pavement versus dirt and gravel. For Deep Orange 9, students designed a semi-active suspension system that adapts on the fly to changing surfaces, eliminating the need for a compromise.
  • High-strength steel structure: Rallycross involves lots of jumps and aggressive jockeying that you wouldn’t see in a consumer-driving environment. Students were challenged to design a novel packaging system to accommodate the mid-engine through-the-road hybrid powertrain layout and ultra-long travel suspension within the strict safety guidelines required for racing. The result was a heavily optimized, high-strength steel structure that works efficiently with the heavily modified stock chassis.
  • Virtual reality ride-along experience: Rallycross fans are digital natives who expect not only to watch the race, but be a part of it. By incorporating a virtual reality ride-along experience, attendees can take the digital front seat on the track and cheer on their favorite racer wherever they are.

Hands-on learning is critical to the success of CU-ICAR graduates, and Deep Orange 9 has a special future as a “living laboratory” and systems integration education tool for future Clemson Automotive Engineering cohorts. Students will continue to refine and improve the vehicle as part of their rigorous curriculum, including work on control systems, powertrain, vehicle dynamics, and suspension.