The deployment of the Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 competition car on the stages is preceded by demanding and complex processes of production, logistics and assembly of the individual parts required for its construction. Join us for a peek behind the curtain and the challenges faced by the Škoda Motorsport team in these areas. It's a lot to take in!
The best way to describe this process is to use the specific examples of two parts. The first is the front axle box. This is an extremely important part in terms of the overall durability of the car, as the wheel suspension and steering are attached to it. That's why the axle box has been designed directly by the Škoda Motorsport development team, based on many years of unique know-how in the development of chassis for competition cars, and its production is carefully supervised. The second part is the engine block. Although it is based on the EA888 production engine block, it has to be modified by an external supplier to meet the needs of the competition car before it can be fitted. But first, let's take a look at the manufacturing process itself.
Production with the highest demands
The front axles, like the rest of the chassis, differ significantly from the chassis parts of production cars. In terms of safety and reliability, they have to withstand significantly higher forces, shocks and other types of stresses that are transmitted from the wheels to the body via the arms. Its construction and surface treatment must ensure reliable operation in freezing temperatures on ice, on smooth asphalt, and on the demanding rocky or gravel surfaces of speed tests. In short, it must be functional in dry conditions, rain, snow, mud and sand. It also needs to comply with FIA rules, which prescribe its minimum weight, maximum price, but also the basic position of the kinematic suspension points. Of course, easy replacement during service breaks also represents a key parameter of its design.
Due to the complexity of the part, the production of the front axle box consists of several stages. The whole process starts with the preparation of the material, followed by most of the machining operations and the welding of the tubes for attachment to the bodywork. In the next stage, the axle box undergoes heat treatment to ensure the required strength properties of the material. Then all that is left is surface treatment and final machining. The complete production of the part can be completed in two weeks.
In the case of the engine block, the manufacturing process appears simpler at first glance. As a basis, the production engine block is used, which can be found, for example, in the Škoda Octavia 2.0 TSI. The FIA allows the machining of the piston bores and the main bearing cover for the installation of an additional pair of thrust bearings on this block. For use on a competition car, the key modification to the block is a 1 mm increase in bore. The walls of the newly drilled cylinders then need to be re-surfaced. The execution of the new bore in terms of shape and surface quality is literally alchemy. This process is called honing. For the piston to move, the cylinder shape must be as cylindrical as possible. The actual mounting of the head on the block causes so much deformation that it then has a negative effect on the desired tightness. For this reason, the effect of cylinder head stiffness on cylinder shape must be taken into account. For proper lubrication of the piston part, it is necessary to adjust the preload and the angle of movement of the honing stones on the honing machine. This is an engineer's know-how because, if not done correctly, the engine has high oil consumption or increased frictional losses. These block adjustments take about 1 month. From external suppliers, both parts first go to the Škoda Motorsport warehouse.
Logistics is a challenge
The total area of the warehouse is over 2,200 m2, more than a third of which is directly part of the Škoda Motorsport premises, the rest is external warehouse space in Mladá Boleslav.The warehouse is operated by 15 employees who manage a total of 5,500 types of items for the Fabia Rally2, Fabia Rally2 evo and Fabia RS Rally2. However, monitoring parts stock is not the responsibility of the warehouse. This is controlled by the disposition department, which replenishes stock with orders from suppliers as required. The warehouse holds parts for the production of the cars, but also supplies spare parts to the customer teams. Škoda Motorsport is able to stock and dispatch parts to them within 48 hours.
The most challenging part in terms of logistics towards customers is definitely the bodywork. A special pallet had to be developed to handle it. In the case of a painting request, the team also has to send the bodywork to the paint shop first before shipping it to the customer. The handling of windscreens is also quite complex, requiring special handling during packaging and transport. The most requested parts in the warehouse range are of course brake components, bumpers, filters and uniballs.
Thorough quality control
In the case of the axle box and engine block, quality control is a key part of the loading process. Without a thorough inspection and measurement, such important parts cannot be accepted into stock.
In addition to commonly available measuring instruments such as digital callipers, digital micrometres and scales, the quality control team also works with sophisticated 3D measuring instruments produced by Zeiss group. And these high-tech instruments are also used to measure engine blocks and axle boxes. Their sophisticated optical systems are regularly calibrated to ensure maximum measurement accuracy and to verify that the dimensions being monitored are within the appropriate tolerances specified by the designer. In general, the higher the accuracy requirements of a part, the more expensive it is to manufacture. The resulting manufacturing tolerance is thus a compromise between the functionality of the part and the cost of manufacturing it.
In addition to the basic dimensions of the axle box, the design of the points for attaching the arms to the axle box is also measured. The relative position of these so-called kinematic points and their design is measured on sophisticated 3D measuring machines. The total weight of the axle box, which is homologated, is also checked.
In the case of an engine block, the measurement is carried out under the same conditions as its manufacture. The block is fitted with "measuring glasses" to measure the condition that was present when it was machined or will be present in the engine. In addition to the internal dimensions of the cylinder and its roundness throughout the area where it contacts the piston and piston rings, the diameter, roundness and alignment of the crankshaft bearings or the flatness of the flanges are also measured. This is followed by a check of the condition of the cylinder surface for honing. For this purpose, we use special measuring equipment in the main plant that works on the optical principle.
Also important is the statistics of measurements over time, which is mainly used to optimise the production process of parts towards suppliers. Measured data is archived for comparison with measurements during engine inspections to objectively evaluate engine wear.
Mounting into the car
If the parts pass the quality department, they are ready to be mounted into the vehicle. In the case of an engine, it takes one mechanic 10 working days to fit the block to the complete engine and the whole process is done in the engine workshop. Once the engine is assembled, it goes to the engine brake shop for break-in and functional verification that the engine lubricates, seals and achieves the required performance parameters. When the engine returns from the engine brake, it is fitted with an alternator, and then mated to the transmission and then ready to be mounted into the competition car. In the full car build schedule, the fifth day is set aside for the engine and gearbox installation. The complete front axle follows roughly half a day after the aggregate is stopped and connected.
All these steps are a key part of the overall quality and durability of Škoda competition cars. Precise logistics chains, hundredths of millimetres of precision and carefully planned build schedules may not be visible at first glance, but they are the foundation of the car's future success, and everyone in the factory team is aware of this. And the display cases full of competition trophies, located right next to the car building pits, remind them of this every day.
This article is based on interviews with Škoda Motorsport team members, namely Andrea Hlaváček, Miroslav Šlambora, Aleš Rada, Jakub Hladík, Jakub Mimra, Daniel Knap and Lukáš Hlaváček. Thank you all very much for your help and valuable information!