Fast-tracking a fast track

Transforming 7.5km² of sandy desert in the heart of Dubai into a world class F1 circuit is no mean feat — but to create it in only six months is super speedy. Brian O’Sullivan investigates whether the project’s Volvo G780B grader was driven by Michael Schumacher.

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By  Colin Foreman Published  February 5, 2005

Fast-tracking a fast track|~|58 site body.jpg|~||~|Al Futtaim Carillion delivered the Autodrome’s racing circuit exceptionally quiACckly. The new, ultra-modern racing facility features a 5.39 km FIA-approved F1 circuit, as well as five other track permutations (International, Club, National, Oval and Hill); three of which can operate simultaneously. With two straights (each 1 km long) and 16 corners, a Formula 1 car should be able to set a lap time of 1 min, 30 s. Although not as rapid, the Volvo grader that helped create the track was also fast in what were demanding circumstances. “In high ambient temperatures, filters, oils and lubricants come under pressure,” says Paul Ward, Al Futtaim Carillion’s plant and transport manager. “Long shifts meant machine and operator were thoroughly tested,” he adds. With a track temperature of 55°C (131°F) and higher, the G780B grader from Volvo had to create a road that met the most demanding criteria. The finished track could not exceed a 3 mm change in level when a 4 m straight edge was laid on the track — this means almost perfectly smooth. The road had to be 100% compacted and, using GPS positioning, follow exactly the curves and inclines determined by the track’s designers which included motorcycle, touring car and single seat racing champions. “We arrived on site in November 2003 and were substantially complete by the middle of May 2004,” says Al Futtaim Carillion’s genial project manager, Malachy Breslin. “Building this track was relatively easy,” he says modestly. “Working in the desert is like having a clean sheet of paper, and the road itself — while admittedly to close tolerances — is essentially ordinary, a couple of layers of sub base and three layers of asphalt.” What he doesn’t mention is that the initial earthmoving exercise involved shifting 1.5 million m³ and that the graders had to prepare the ground for 326 160 m² of asphalt to be laid. There was also a further 457 402 m² of bound gravel footpaths that needed preparing as well as a 10 000 vehicle capacity car park. The tight deadline (the inclusive contract was 14 months), meant machine uptime was a priority and reliability was as important as strength and efficiency. The 19.6 t G780B, supplied by Al Futtaim Auto & Machinery Company (FAMCO), provided all three without compromise. The G780B is the largest of Volvo’s tandem drive graders with heavy frame, full 90/90 degree blade mobility and the highest blade pull and cutting capability in its class. As with F1 cars, the heart of a grader is its engine; the G780B’s has a turbo charged 9.6 l capacity. In order to meet current legislation, emissions are kept at a low level due to its electronically controlled fuel injection system and intercooler. The 181 kW of power produced is transferred to four driven wheels via the Volvo 8400 transmission system. With eight forward and four reverse speeds, this fully sequential direct-drive transmission has the right speed for all applications. There are five speeds below 16.6 km/hr for grading, a high speed road maintenance gear and an even higher speed roading gear. The transmission’s ‘Smart Shifter’ provides rapid gear changing through pulse shifting, ensuring an appropriately matched forward or reverse gear. For fine grade control, the combination of a high torque engine and high displacement hydraulic pump allows operators to reduce 1st gear ground speed by operating a lower rpm whilekeeping full hydraulic control. This helps position the moldboard to suit the grade required. In terms of moldboard control, the G780B offers a heavy moveable blade control system (HMBCS); circle turn; blade lift, slide, tilt and drawbar sideshift systems. Together they form one of the most sophisticated devices in construction equipment today, allowing the operator to achieve the required profile and reduce the number of passes needed, thus increasing productivity. The assembly of the moldboard, circle, drawbar, high lift and moveable link bar combine to cut, cycle loads, bank slope, back slope as well as provide 90 degree upward and 21 degree downward mobility. It is possible to cut a 2:1 bank slope with the moldboard completely outside the tyre profile. Grader productivity is not just a function of weight and power, but also where the weight is and how it is applied. Volvo placed the moldboard as far rearward as possible where most of the weight is centralised (approximately 70%) to help pushing capability. Blade down force is also aided by the long wheelbase and bladebase and lots of weight over the front wheels. Unlike the F1 drivers who will swelter in their cockpits in their helmets and flameproof overalls, the G780B operator had a much more civilised ride; the G780B’s sealed and pressurized cab with dust extraction and climate control was the coolest place to be in the midday sun. The operator’s life was made even easier by centrally located controls and good all-round visibility — Volvo’s ROPS cab meant he was protected even without a crash helmet.||**||

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