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Electronic Control Units

Case study: Electronic Control Units

The McLaren name is synonymous with Formula 1 but McLaren’s racing heritage, right from the very beginning, has always extended across the breadth of motorsport.

Electronics supplied by McLaren Applied (MA) have achieved dominance in global motorsport. Our electronic systems, software and components feature in most professional motor racing series across the world today. We are proud to be the sole supplier of Electronic Control Units (ECUs) to the Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar Championships. MA will also be sole ECU supplier to the new Formula E Championship, in addition to providing that series with electric motors and power electronics.

The ECUs developed by MA range in sophistication according to the individual needs of the series in which they are used. In NASCAR, the ECU controls the big V8 pushrod engines, and for IndyCar, the ECU controls the direct injection, turbocharged engine. In F1 it is the master control system for the car, managing the torque and energy delivery of the powertrain and braking systems.  It is also the primary data logger which feeds data, via telemetry, to the teams and race control. The modern F1 ECU deals with over 1000 input parameters and transmits in excess of 1.5GB of live data back to the garage during an average 300km grand prix.

Today our electronics operation is housed within purpose-built laboratories at the McLaren Technology Centre but our experience of creating hardened electronic controllers stretches back a quarter of a century. We are a trusted partner of teams and engine makers across the length and breadth of motorsport, including our greatest rivals.

“We make complete systems for open wheel racing cars, stock cars and endurance GT and sports cars.” says MA vice president Peter van Manen. “We make the electronic boxes that fit on the car and the software embedded into those units to control different processes, such as engine, throttle, clutch, gearbox and differential. We create the software tools used to develop the embedded software and also the software required to study the data our electronic systems generate. Additionally, we make the components that compliment those controllers: the sensors, the ignition coils, the alternators. There are very few areas of professional motorsports electronics in which we are not directly involved.”

Today, McLaren’s capabilities in electronic systems are beginning to take us into new areas of development. Our hard-won expertise in electronic control and data acquisition is a valued resource in an increasingly connected world where reliable information flows and robust data acquisition are becoming progressively more important.

“While our core marketplace remains specialised in professional motorsport, we’re also beginning to partner organisations in a number of different industries where our knowledge and technology are useful,” says van Manen. “Some of that is automotive but we are also active in railways, aerospace, even healthcare.

“In motorsports, professional teams are using live data to make decisions affecting the outcome of the race, using it to understand the health and performance of the vehicle. People act quickly upon what they see because they trust the reliability of the telemetry and how the data is presented. As reliable connectivity becomes more common elsewhere, then you start being able to get a lot more location and contextual information – and this you can use for many different things.”