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April 8, 2011

Vroom! The tech driving Team Lotus

CBR takes a look at the huge infrastructure and technology demands behind the iconic racing team

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Lotus is one of the most glamorous names in motor sport history – right up there with the likes of Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. Making its Formula One debut in 1958 the team claimed six drivers’ championships, seven constructors’ championships and over 70 race wins before exiting F1 in 1994.

Team Lotus 1

During that time the team was home to some of the most famous names in the sport: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Sterling Moss, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, and Mika Häkkinen.

After a 16 year absence from the track, the iconic Lotus name returned to Formula One in 2010, racing under the name Lotus Racing. The drivers are racing under the Team Lotus banner once again during the 2011 season.

CBR was invited along to the team’s headquarters in Hingham, Norfolk to see the technology infrastructure needed to get cars on to the track and how preparations were going for the 2011 season. We also heard how they managed to build an entire team from scratch in just five months.

Starting in late 2009 with fewer than 10 employees, no cars, no drivers and no technology infrastructure, the company now employs 200 people and is starting its second season back on the track. The 2011 season didn’t get off to a great start for Team Lotus, with the outfit failing to score a point during the first race of the calendar in Australia.

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Team Lotus 2

But before the cars hit the tarmac a huge amount of work goes on behind the scenes, particularly if the team is having to start from scratch as Team Lotus did back in 2009. Bill Peters, head of IT for Team Lotus, explained the issues in getting the IT side of things sorted out in such a short time, and what the company did to meet its incredibly tight deadlines.

They went with a single vendor – Dell in this case – because, "We needed a one-stop shop for the infrastructure because of time," Peters explained. They spoke to both HP and IBM as well, but as R&D manager Lesmana Djayapertapa added: "We sensed they were not taking Team Lotus seriously, they sent rookies to speak to us. With Dell it was much more serious."

Contracts were signed in January 2010, three months before the season began.

Team Lotus’ IT demands are rather unusual. Alongside all the tech equipment used at the factory, a mobile unit with all the race weekend technology is constantly on the move; four trucks carrying 24 tonnes of equipment around the globe. In fact, Peters points out, the two are not that different, it’s just that one is broken down and rebuilt at another track every few weeks.

Around 150 sensors on each car feed back to the team in real-time, delivering huge amounts of data on a wide variety of subjects, such as tyre temperature and performance of different parts of the vehicle. The data has to be analysed in real-time to enable the team to react to it during testing or race conditions. It is all stored and processed in a 1,500-core cluster, containing 96TBs of storage.

Team Lotus 3

The laptops used by the race team tend to only last a year due to the wear and tear on them, and they all have SSDs rather than spinning discs because the trackside vibrations would crash normal disc drives. Those trackside laptops have been replaced with 64-bit desktops for this season.

Team Lotus uses a mix of physical and virtual servers. "We use virtual where possible but there are some applications we use that are not suited to a virtual environment." The team uses VMware for the virtual side of things because, as Peters claims, it offers greater flexibility than Microsoft’s offering.

Other tech used by Team Lotus includes Dell PowerConnect switches, Symantec Backup Exec, Aruba Networks for wireless capabilities and Check Point for its firewall. But it’s not all bought in technology. Team Lotus also developed some of its own software in-house. It uses strategy software called Pace to keep an eye on what its competitors are doing during a race and Raptor, which the company said lets it predict the impact of changes it makes to its cars.

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