They are two great jewels in their respective fields: the Audi R18 e-tron quattro on the asphalt of the circuits and the Eurofighter Typhoon flying over the Earth. Although they apparently have little in common other than state of the art technology applied to the world in which they operate, both require highly experienced hands to make the most of their potential. Two great pilots, André Lotterer and Geri Krähenbühl, each an expert in their specialty, reveal interesting details about their “work tools”.
Turns at high speed and with high G-forces, very strong accelerations and absolute concentration; this is the day to day André Lotterer and Geri Krähenbühl, the first official Audi driver in the World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the second test driver of the Eurofighter Typhoon, two men used to always living in the open. limit.
The meeting between the two is full of cordiality and mutual interest in knowing the other's imposing machine. The young Lotterer, who at 33 has an enviable record including a world champion title and three victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, feels strange sitting in the cockpit of that imposing fighter jet. Accustomed to driving a few inches above the ground, it is peculiar to him to settle in front of the controls of the plane at a height of around five meters.
There is also a big difference between the myriad of controls, controls and displays that surround the pilot in the cockpit of the airplane and the apparent simplicity of the resistance car, where practically all the information is concentrated on the steering wheel, along with the buttons and switches for all vehicle handling.
“It is impressive to be surrounded by so many instruments. I feel completely lost. In truth, there are very few similarities between a racing car, which moves in two dimensions, and an aircraft that does so in three, ”explains Lotterer with a smile.
On the contrary, Krähenbühl is surprised when his colleague invites him inside the Audi R18 e-tron quattro. “I find it incredible how small the windshield is and how little visibility there is. It's like going inside a tank! ”Exclaims the Eurofighter pilot.
A new curious moment occurs when Geri Krähenbühl shows his helmet to the Audi driver. The mission of a competition helmet is to protect the head when there is a strong impact. It is made of light materials, but at the same time very resistant. However, Krähenbühl's helmet is much more complex, as all the important flight data, such as altitude, speed or rate of climb, are projected onto its screen.
Just as different are the costumes. The aviator's pants are connected to the cabin pressurization system, which blows air under pressure so that the blood reaches the head well at times when it is enduring forces that can reach up to nine times the force of gravity. Otherwise, they could lose consciousness due to the lack of oxygen in the brain. Nothing to do with the requirements for the diver of a motor racing driver, which focus on two basic points: mobility and fire resistance. That is why they are made of several fire-retardant layers that take a few seconds to burn, allowing either the car's own extinguishing system or the help of the fire extinguishers of the track marshals to be enough in most cases to avoid injuries. serious.
For a pilot of a fighter plane, processing the enormous amount of information necessary and doing it at extreme speeds and with the mentioned G-forces is not an easy task. “Fortunately, the plane helps me a lot in my work, with five core systems that give me a global vision of everything that is relevant,” says Geri Krähenbühl, who has just turned 53.
It is precisely these G-forces that force a number of functions to be concentrated on the joystick. “When there are such brutal gravitational forces it is very difficult to move your arm to access a switch; therefore, I use my fingers as on a piano to perform many of the operations. It even serves to activate voice control, with which simply by speaking to my oxygen mask I can control some of these functions ”, Geri Krähenbühl tells an ecstatic André Lotterer.
In any case, the G-forces that the pilot of an Audi R18 can withstand, without being as high as those of the fighter plane, are not negligible either. The aerodynamics of this prototype is so sophisticated that its cornering speed is impressive and, on certain circuits, it can reach 5 G. “We also do specific training for this and, for example, we exercise the neck muscles a lot. , those who suffer most to hold the head with the helmet ”, explains Lotterer.
There are other curious similarities in these very different worlds. One of them is telemetry. Both the Eurofighter and the Audi R18 are permanently connected to the base and, from there, the engineers see in real time the operation of a myriad of parameters that alert them to what may happen moments later. “When we receive the alert that we abort a maneuver, we immediately obey even though we don't understand why; then, upon landing, they teach us what was happening and the importance of having made that decision before we get to identify the slightest problem, "says Krähenbühl.
Lotterer confirms that similar way of working with his pit crew. “From the pit they are giving us all kinds of information so that we can adjust the car's settings as appropriate in each circumstance. Obviously there is a rule: speak as little as possible in sensitive areas or when you are in the middle of a fight with another opponent. Whenever possible, the messages should be given on the straights and in moments of less tension ”.
All these computer advancements allow the modern Eurofighter Typhoon to be made to fly with a single pilot, not like previous aircraft that required to divide the work between two. The sophisticated on-board computer of the new jet allows one of the crew to be replaced. “I can choose the execution of the tasks that I think are convenient at a given moment and let the computer take care of the rest; at another moment, if I decide that we change roles, I take on different functions and delegate the others ”, continues the veteran aviator.
Similarly, complete prototypes like the Audi R18 e-tron quattro contesting the World Endurance Championship could not be as effective without outside help. Among other things, the requirements of the regulations in terms of efficiency, consumption and energy recovery require that engineers continuously monitor the vehicle's operation and give the precise instructions to extract its maximum potential. “Today more than ever real teamwork is done. Without optimal coordination, the results would not arrive ”, Lotterer says.