The road to Le Mans

Pneumatic control system for racing cars

When racing, drivers usually use their arms and legs constantly to operate the accelerator, gears, clutch and brakes. The newly developed pneumatic control system from Team BRIT and MME Motorsport means that all of the team’s racing drivers can now compete in races using the same car, regardless of their physical limitations. Spurred on by this innovation, the drivers have now set themselves an ambitious goal: the Le Mans endurance race.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is a legendary race. The long-distance challenge was first held in 1923 and attracts elite racing drivers year in, year out. During the race, three drivers take turns in each team to attempt to complete as many laps as possible within 24 hours – reaching top speeds of up to 340 km/h and often covering distances in excess of 5,000 km. A race such as this one not only demands a great deal from the vehicles but also pushes the drivers and their endurance to the limits. But which ambitious driver would not put up with all of that to take part in this popular classic of long-distance racing?

A life-changing experience

Team BRIT is among those hoping to apply for Le Mans 2020. What makes this team special, however, is that drivers with physical limitations take part in standard races and compete on a level playing field with able-bodied drivers. "For the drivers, being able to participate in endurance racing is genuinely life-changing," explains Dave Player, founder of Team BRIT. "It’s the pursuit of speed, the breaking of boundaries and the teamwork that make the sport so engaging. The drivers can push themselves physically whilst recovering mentally." The Team BRIT drivers previously competed in the Britcar Endurance series and the Silverstone 24-hour race in the 2015/2016 racing season. Their sights are now set on Le Mans for 2020. They could potentially go down in history as the first all-disabled team to participate in the race.

A racing car for people of all physical abilities

But this all depends on the racing car having a flexible control system that can be used regardless of the driver’s physical limitations. The British motorsport Team BRIT and the Slovenian company MME Motorsport have achieved just that: the newly developed control system enables the accelerator, brakes, gears and clutch to be controlled with pedals as well as with levers on the steering wheel. The specially adapted steering wheel can be taken out and replaced with a conventional steering wheel if necessary. "The control system is very flexible and can cater for different requirements," explains Al Locke, Team BRIT engineer. "The hand controls allow the drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel and perform all of the required functions. At the same time, the foot pedals work as normal, which adds to the flexibility of the system to suit different disabilities. This system also allows able-bodies drivers to drive the car as normal.’

The brakes, gears and clutch are controlled using Festo automation technology. The proportional pneumatic controls of the hydraulic brake system allow the brakes on the front and rear axles to be operated separately. A pneumatic cylinder controls the sequential gearbox. The clutch is engaged and disengaged using a proportional pneumatic cylinder.

A big step towards equality in driving

The new hand controls are not only set to make the world of motor sport accessible for disabled drivers in the future, but will also be used in driving simulators. They could also potentially be used in road vehicles, which could open up opportunities for test drives and vehicle rental for disabled people. So, what's next for Le Mans 2020? Following rigorous testing and successful trial use in races, Team BRIT now has complete confidence in the technology and is currently seeking formal safety approval from the Motor Sports Association (MSA), the motor sport’s governing body. Once this is granted, nothing will stand in the way of their bid for Le Mans.

Further information

  1. This article appeared in the Festo customer magazine trends in automation 1.2019
  2. Photos: David Archer, Kingsize Photography