Sep. 4, 2009 Switzerland has a long tradition of bobsledding and the Swiss Bobsleigh Federation has a remarkable record at international competitions. Currently, Switzerland even boasts two reigning world champions: Ivo Rüegg in the two-man bob and junior world champion Sabina Hafner. Moreover, pilot Beat Hefti won last year’s world cup season – also in the two-man bob.
To be better than the rest, the athletes not only need talent and experience, but also a fast bobsled. No one knows this better than former bobsledder and leader of the “CITIUS” project, Christian Reich: “for a pilot, being able to rely on a strong team and fast equipment is the key to good performance.”
Consequently, three years ago a joint venture between the Swiss Bobsleigh Federation (SBSV), researchers from ETH Zurich and Swiss industrial companies set about building a high-speed bobsled from scratch. “We wanted to build a bobsled that was faster than the competition because in bobsledding you can’t afford to sit back”, explains Peter J. Schmid, Central President of the SBSV. The project was named “CITIUS” after the motto of the Olympic Games, “Citius, altius, fortius” (faster, higher, stronger). Today, after thousands of hours of development and numerous trials in the wind tunnel and on the ice track, the developers and federation representatives handed over the new high-tech sled to the Olympic bobsled squad in front of the media.
Eliminating brake sources
As far as ETH Zurich was concerned, about two dozen researchers from the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Process Engineering and Materials Science were involved in the development of the bobsled. It was their job to refine the material whilst keeping to the specifications of the International Bobsleigh Federation and optimize the runners, aerodynamics, stability and vibrations. Professor Ueli Suter, Program Coordinator at ETH Zurich, said that, “For a vehicle without an engine that hurtles down an ice track at 150 km/h, finding all the important brake sources, then eliminating them and still producing a safe piece of equipment for the athletes is a complex interdisciplinary undertaking.”
Extensive industrial expertise sought
The results of the research conducted at ETH Zurich were passed on to project supervisor Christian Reich, who in turn passed them on to the development, training and production workshops of the specialist industrial companies (see box). Dr. Jürg Werner, the head of V-Zug AG’s development department, said, “The industrial partners involved contributed their expertise to the project because they feel an affinity to Swiss bobsledding. The collaboration with ETH Zurich and among industrial partners resulted in a welcome transfer of knowledge. CITIUS stands for innovation, as do the industrial partners involved.”
The countdown is on!
A total of six two-man bobsleds and three four-man bobsleds of the “CITIUS” model have been constructed and are ready to compete for hundredths of a second. The final test runs are scheduled for the second half of October in Cesana/Turin before the Swiss pilots are given their first and only opportunity to train with the new bobsleds on Whistler’s Olympic bobsled track. Shortly afterwards, the world cup season gets underway with the first race in Park City. The bobsled competition at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be held from February 20 – 27 2010. By then at the latest, we should know whether the big efforts of all those involved in the “CITIUS” project have paid off and whether Switzerland can add to its medal collection as a bobsledding nation.
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