Accelerating Towards The Olympics
BMW are one of the ‘partners’ for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, providing hybrid and zero emissions cars, motorcycles and bicycles for athletes and officials. So it is no surprise that they are also getting themselves involved in as much PR as they can before the event.
One such exercise involved London 2012 Performance team member (and Olympic Gold medal winner) Mark Lewis-Francis, who joined sports scientist Professor Greg Whyte on The Mall in London to investigate the parallels between the acceleration of a world class sprinter and a BMW.
Obviously an important part of the build-up to the big event, Mark was to race against a BMW 320d EfficientDynamics – a vehicle being used within the BMW London 2012 Olympic fleet – in a series of sprint tests recording acceleration, reaction time and speed across three different distances.
Going up against Mark was the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics, the command car for the Olympic Torch Relay. The figures? 0-62mph in 8 seconds, 68.9mpg and 109g/km CO2 emissions. There are no figures as to Mark’s mpg or his CO2 emission.
So, how did the test go then?
So that the scientists could determine the acceleration and measure the efficient conversion of energy to force of both Mark and the BMW, Prof Whyte examined similar principles and measures to BMW’s vehicle engineers. Prof Whyte explained:-
With regards to reaction time: “As a professional athlete Mark is adept at sprinting from a starting gun and we are able to measure his reaction time from the moment the gun sounds to the point he explodes from the blocks. Along with other factors, it is how efficiently he is able to relay that response which allows him to pull away. Equally for the BMW – whilst the vehicle can make available the maximum propelling force limited only through the traction of the tyres – the reaction time of the driver is critical along with his ability to appropriately apportion the accelerator and clutch to achieve optimum wheel slip. But, to achieve this, the traction control must be switched off.”
With regards to acceleration: “In measuring the rate of acceleration we looked at three particular aspects; the time it took for Mark and the BMW to travel their particular distances, the starting velocity of Mark and the BMW, and also the finishing velocity. Given the greater power to weight ratio that Mark has, he is able to accelerate very rapidly over short distances. This, together with resistance against the starting blocks enables him to achieve a starting acceleration of over 1G making him quicker than the BMW for just under 30 metres, until the point when then the sustained acceleration of the car consumes his head start.”
And then there were the results. And Mark was quicker off the blocks, but over time (4 seconds and 30m), the car caught him up and passed him. No real surprise there, but it was the time that it took to catch up that surprised the scientists.
Prof Whyte explained: “From the split second that the gun sounded up until 4 seconds Mark was, perhaps surprisingly, quicker than the BMW. Through looking at Mark’s results and measuring how they compare to the BMW 320d EfficientDynamics we’re able to put into context how well an Olympic sprinter accelerates.”
Mark Lewis Francis, who won an Olympic gold medal at Athens 2004 in the 4 x 100m relay, said: “It was an amazing experience to take part in such a unique event in a world-renowned London location and it all adds to excitement of London 2012. People regularly ask me to explain how I can run so fast and what the crucial elements of our technique really are. Today has shown just how important those small efficiencies are and how they equally relate to engineering in cars. I did not expect to be able to outrun the BMW for so long!”
In fact, the car, over 100m, would have beaten Usain Bolt!
So we really learnt nothing new, apart from the fact that athletes can surprise scientists, and that BMW are prepared to go to many different lengths to promote their Olympic partnership.