Öhlins has long been famed for its meticulous R&D and it’s this attention to rigorous testing that has helped create the great reputation that the company enjoys today...
Öhlins might have started in Motorcycles and are to this day legendary in the two wheel world. But cars have been an important part of Öhlins ever since the early 80’s; when they developed their first rally dampers and soon followed with tarmac racing.
Today Öhlins is a common name in the motorsport world and whether it’s a race car or a rally car for just about any discipline they have a handling solution. Today Öhlins automotive products covers all motorsport genres from teams in Formula 1 to World Rallying, Touringcars, Single Seaters, GT-cars, Le Mans prototypes, Stock cars and much more including street cars.
Behind the development and know-how of these products stands the Automotive R&D team based at Öhlins headquarters in Sweden. The team is comprised of 15 engineers divided into groups responsible for Racing, Rally & Off-road, OEM street car and Road & Track aftermarket. Other technicians also join the group plus the guys with the widely regarded ‘best’ job – the test drivers. The team is headed up by team leader Jonas Jarlmark, who has over 15 years of experience as race engineer in various race teams around the world. “Our goal is to be present in all the top championships in the world within racing and rally,” explains Jonas. “This helps us drive the development forward. We work with the top teams in the important championships, Formula One teams, Le Mans teams such as Audi and Toyota and also the top Touringcar- and GT-teams and manufacturers. Our tight collaboration with them on our products drives the development of all our products forward.”
As well as Motorsport the R&D team also works with car manufacturers for street applications. Marques such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pagani Zonda and Koenigsegg turn to Sweden for their suspension needs. But also companies such as Volvo when they wanted to create the Polestar S60 R-version it was the team behind Jonas who got the call, and there are more on the line although Jonas keeps that information close to his chest. “It’s quite interesting that our engineering team works both with motorsport teams and car manufacturers because everything we learn from these projects we can put together into our Road&Track aftermarket products,” Jonas continues.
R&D of these products is doubly important as the machines they are destined for are both often incredibly expensive and extremely high performing in terms of power and cornering speeds. The development from the very top of racing down to street applications can actually be quite quick. It’s not unusual that technologies developed with teams in Formula One or Le Mans can soon be found in more accessible racing classes and within a further year or two developed for use in high performance road cars.
In motorsport the R&D team test together with the race squads to be sure how things work together on the cars and analyse data together in debriefings. On very important tests more Öhlins staff are brought in as its vital to have a good knowledge of the whole car, and to have suspension being part of as many tests as possible. Interestingly, the team avoid being present during race weekends as the most important work and data collection is done during pre-season and the development phase of the cars.
“Testing is important to us,” Jonas says. “I believe that’s what set us apart from others, our approach and the amount of extensive testing we do on all products. We both test on tracks and on the streets depending what we are developing as well as in our laboratory and on our shake rig.”
While motorsport testing is carried out together with the customer, the Road & Track street products testing is done at the factory and the Öhlins test track near at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm. The test drivers are Martin Öhlin, a seasoned Swedish touring car and Carrera Cup racer who is joined by one of the engineers with previous experience in chassis dynamics and handling from the car industry. Tests at HQ focus on the dyno and on a special ‘shake rig’ to find the right settings and solutions- using all the data gained from these tests. It’s this work that for instance leads to the decision to go from a four-way adjustable race damper to a one-way adjustable street car damper as Jonas explains. “You may think that the higher the number the better the performance but that is not the case. For a racing team for instance with a staff of engineers and a lot of track/simulation time they can handle a four-way adjustable damper for fine-tuning everything. But for a track day car for instance that is too much. It’s not user friendly to have a four-way adjuster on a street car and it doesn’t add to the performance or the comfort you need. We work on settings where each change in click setting for compression and rebound really does make a difference”
We also asked the team what they felt was the future of Automotive suspension…
They believe that on road cars electronics will continue to play a big role in the future, also when it comes to electronically controlled and semi active suspension. But Jonas points out that electronics will never be the only solution.
“We recently did a back to back test with a Porsche 997 GT3 RS with the original semi-active suspension compared to our passive Road&Track dampers. On the track we found a massive improvement in lap times with the passive dampers and it was still more comfortable to drive on the road from the track. So the hard ware is still the most important thing to get right and electronics isn’t the answer to everything. We are always looking for the special “Öhlins feeling” and want the driver to really feel when he is using our dampers” Jonas says.
In motorsport it seems unlikely we will see an introduction of semi-active suspension. In most categories it has been forbidden for quite some time and Jonas believes it will stay that way. “Especially in categories with a high aerodynamic dependence such as single seaters and prototype sports cars. They actually go the other way and ban most electronic aids including things such as anti-spin, anti-lock brakes and stability control systems. Looking at rallying electronics could play a bigger role in suspension but for that exact reason it will probably stay banned there as well. So we don’t see a big electronic revolution for suspension in motorsport.”
Interestingly this trend has been taken to the extreme in motorcycling also with all the latest road going Superbikes having traction control and electronic suspension, whilst in Racing these aids are being banned altogether.
Five Minutes with Jonas Jarlmark
Family: Wife, one daughter
Interests: Cars and triathlon. I especially like historical cars, from the 60’s and 70’s but don’t have as much time as I would like to spend, especially since I like to spend time on triathlon as well. Lives: Stockholm
Master of Science in Engineering in vehicle dynamics
Race engineer for 15 years
Started at Toyota Motorsport working on the Le Mans-project with simulations programs. Race engineer for teams including: Formula Ford Porsche / GT-racing, Formula Renault, Euro V6, Horag Lista LMP2, WTCC SEAT Sport, BMW Swedish touring cars Swedish Touring cars Formula Renault NEZ Chevrolet Motorsport Swedish Touringcars BMW
What has been your favourite part of this job?
I’ve only been at Öhlins for little more than a year although I know the company well from my previous background. One thing that never changes is when one of our customers uses what we have developed out on the track, the drivers tends to like it and they win races and championships with it! It’s a nice feeling when we are part of that winning advantage on the track and I don’t think you ever tire of that.
What is the difference working with an OEM manufacturer such as Ferrari compared to a racing team?
One big difference is the time scale of the project. On a motorsport project, whether it’s racing or rally, the goal is to produce something that can win the next race weekend or the next season. It’s very quick and instant.
On an OEM project the time scale is much longer and the planning is very different. Here we need to plan and work on a product that will not only be good and perform tomorrow or next year but for year after year. The challenge is not bigger, but it’s very different.
What are the latest projects and products you are working on?
We have some very interesting projects in both motorsport and the OEM we are working on but that we can’t talk about them yet, sorry!
But one thing we are working hard on apart from the development of these products and projects is challenging our own R&D team to handle all these projects which are required in motorsport and what is needed when working with an OEM-customer. We are also continuously working on develop and improve our way of testing because that will always play a very big role in how we develop our products.
Best racing memory:
Thinking about it it’s probably the seasons I spent working with Rickard Rydell as a race engineer for SEAT Sport in WTCC. It was a combination of a manufacturers budget allowing us to test and develop almost everything, and working with Rydell who I believe is one of the very best test drivers in the world. We had everything at our disposal, the drivers, the budget, the manufacturer and the cars and we were on a world stage performing.
Another nice memory is working with the LMP2 team Horag Lista. We started the race being one second behind the pace at the first race. We then found a second and was on the pace at the next race. For the third race we put Öhlins TTX on the car and was one second ahead of the others and won at Nürburgring. We found three seconds in pace in the first three rounds.