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ODU, VIPER to Open Motorsports Engineering Lab at VIR

The state's motorsports initiative shifts into high gear at noon Friday with the opening of an Old Dominion University (ODU) engineering laboratory that will be used to educate a Southside workforce and support economic development goals for the region and state.

Located at the Virginia International Raceway (VIR) near Danville, the lab is the latest addition to the growing arsenal of the high-tech Virginia Institute for Performance Engineering and Research (VIPER). The institute combines the assets and expertise of Virginia Tech, ODU and the world-class VIR.

The engine and drive-train lab is strategically located in the raceway's paddock and will be used commercially during weekend race events to evaluate horsepower output and other capabilities of a car's drive train and chassis. During the week, the state-of-the-art facility will be utilized by students seeking advanced degrees in motorsports engineering and by researchers investigating the potential of alternative fuels.

"With the opening of the VIPER motorsports engineering lab, ODU strengthens its valuable partnership with Virginia Tech and VIR while supporting regional economic development initiatives and statewide goals for the automotive and racing industry in Southside Virginia," said ODU President Roseann Runte. "When you add to this the potential of the very important alternative fuels research that will also take place in this facility, the result is a dynamic enterprise, strategically located and poised for success.

"ODU is proud to partner actively and enthusiastically, with political, economic and educational leaders in Southside and across the state, to help transform the workforce and workplace. We are honored to be part of the Virginia motorsports initiative, which uniquely offers service and training to the industry," she added.

"The opening of the Chassis Dynamometer and Engine Instrumentation Lab represents the next major milestones in the VIPER vision to stimulate the Southside economy through our motorsports initiatives, added Steve Southward, VIPER technical director.

"I am personally very pleased and excited to see these new assets become available for a number of reasons, such as bringing in new customers, attracting potential businesses to the area, and more importantly, for strengthening the VT-ODU partnership," he continued. "Our existing customers are also excited to see the growth in our capabilities, especially with our unique combination of university-led research and state-of-the-art test equipment."

The lab is a result of coordinated efforts by several organizations and leaders including Rep. Virgil Goode; former Gov. Mark Warner and Gov. Tim Kaine; former state Sen. Charles Hawkins, who currently heads the Virginia Tobacco Commission; and local and state economic development officials. Specifically, the facility is the brainchild of Connie Nyholm, co-owner and managing partner at VIR, who married the need for advanced services at the popular racetrack with the importance of education and research.

The facility includes 3,400 square feet of classroom, laboratory and office space. The VIPER asset is conveniently and tactically located at VIR, just a short drive to other racetracks in South Boston and Martinsville. The rare locating of a university research lab at a world-class racing facility supports its goal of being self-sustainable, while generating funds for student activities, research and stipends.

Beginning this fall, the facility will provide a rare educational opportunity for engineering motorsports students who have progressed from coursework at community colleges to the New College Institute in Martinsville, or who have studied at other state or regional institutions of higher education.

"This educational program is unique in that it provides access to all aspects of the motorsports engineering discipline," stressed the program's director, Colin Britcher, chair of the aerospace engineering department at ODU.

"This offering is essential to master's degree students, offering very valuable engine, chassis dynamics and on-track performance testing, all in one location. When you add in the aerodynamics testing available in ODU's wind tunnel, you have the only complete motorsports engineering test facility in America, right here in Virginia."

With its obvious value to both students and the racing industry, researchers hope to utilize the lab and its customers to also support the testing and evaluation of alternative fuels, specifically, algae-based biodiesel being produced by ODU and its Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium. The new lab's instrumentation and testing capabilities will be used to validate the performance of the fuel and to develop engine technologies. This could lead to producing highly-efficient engines that run on this alternative fuel. Having already successfully tested it in remote-control cars, the research team is on schedule to test their product by running a full-sized automobile on their biodiesel before the end of the year.

The opening of the new lab coincides with a busy race weekend at VIR. In addition to the ceremony, engineering students from Virginia Tech, ODU and more than 40 other universities will be on hand to race cars they have designed and built in an annual competition.

Additionally, VIPER will hold an open house and offer guests the opportunity to tour the facility and test drive a virtual racecar in a simulator.

Roughly 200 Volkswagen executives will also be on hand for the inaugural VW Jetta TDI Series race event, which focuses in part on educating the American consumer about the advantages of biodiesel.

And if that is not enough racing, the Bosch Engineering 250 will add to the weekend's festivities with a thrilling run on the 3.27 mile road course.

This article was posted on: April 24, 2008

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