How motorsport can help in the fight against COVID-19

A Kerry motorsport engineer, based in Germany, has explained how the sport can help the global fight against COVID-19.

Several Formula 1 and World Rally Championship teams across the world have switched their focus from making race-winning cars to manufacturing essential equipment for medical staff to fight the pandemic.

Volkswagen Motorsport, which is based in Hanover, is one of many teams doing this.

Firies native Richard Browne has been living in Hanover and working for the German team since 2013.

He worked with the brand’s world rally team when the Germans competed at that level but in recent years he has a member of its World Touring Car and World Rallycross teams.

Earlier this year he was due to make a return to rallying when former World Rally Championship star Andreas Mikkelsen placed a surprise entry for the Spa Rally in Belgium but the March 14/15 event got canned at the last minute when global sporting restrictions started to come into play.

In the past he engineered Mikkelsen’s maiden WRC event win in Spain in 2015. 

He was preparing for a World Rallycross title bid with Swedish ace Johan Kristofferson when motorsport across the world was shut down and staff were redeployed elsewhere within the organisation.

Volkswagen Motorsport is now using its 3D printers at its motorsport base in Hanover to manufacture urgent protective equipment for medical staff.

Other production facilities within the Volkswagen Group will be used to manufacture brackets for protective face masks.

“Motorsport industries are very good in this area of switching fast from one project to another, with a wide network of suppliers. In motorsport, solutions are required fast, so this is why we and a lot of the F1 teams are very suitable to react like this for such a crisis,” Browne said. 

Engineering staff at Volkswagen plants in Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt as well as staff from other Volkswagen Group brands like Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, MAN Trucks and Porsche have also been reassigned to make crucial medical and protective equipment.

Browne’s boss Sven Smeets, who was also Paul Nagle’s boss when the Killarney man navigated for Mikkelsen on WRC events in 2013 is one of the prime movers behind the project.

“In these difficult times, we want to do our bit to help people. Protective equipment is hugely important for medical staff,” said Smeets who is Volkswagen Motorsport’s Director. “We are obviously happy for our production capacity to be used for this good cause.”

Volkswagen’s 3D printing is usually used to manufacture components for its ID.R electric racing car as used to win the legendary Pikes Peak Hillclimb in the USA.

“Technically speaking, the components manufactured in the 3D printing procedure are a frame-bracket for the head, which is then covered with a transparent plastic film. The result is a face mask, which completely covers the sensitive areas of the eyes, nose and mouth,” added Browne.

In total, the group has more than 50 facilities for 3D printing at its disposal. The components manufactured are initially intended for use in Spain, one of the countries currently most seriously affected by the Covid-19 virus.

Versions of this article were previously published in the Killarney Advertiser and The Kerryman. Kerry Motorsport News is the motorsport content provider for both titles.

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