Advanced technologies from the world of international motorsport are being applied to create cutting-edge equipment for elite parasports athletes in the lead-up to the 2024 Paris Paralympics. Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe (TGR-E) is producing bespoke items designed to help para-athletes achieve peak performance across a range of disciplines.
The high-tech kit developed by the team includes seats for hand bikes, Nordic ski-sleds, damping systems for mono-skis and a new racing wheelchair design. These use techniques, materials and engineering know-how gained through TGR-E’s championship-winning successes in race and rallying during the past decade.
The story began with Andrea Eskau, a multiple Paralympic and World Champion, who approached TGR-E in her search for an ergonomic seat insert that would provide better support in her hand bike, inspired by the fitted seats used in motorsport. This was the seed which grew into a long-term cooperation, fuelled by the passion of an incredible athlete and TGR-E engineers who devoted themselves to learning a new discipline.
“Immediately we all recognised how determined, inspiring and knowledgeable Andrea is,” says Norbert Schäfer, parasports project manager at TGR-E. “Even though our first project was for a relatively small component, her attention to detail aligned perfectly with our own philosophy in motorsport and automotive.”
A full-scale joint project focused on a clean-sheet design of a new Nordic ski sled for the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympics. Using motorsports-inspired carbon fibre, and component concepts directly taken from TGR-E’s race cars, the sled delivered unparalleled body support, allowing Andrea to manoeuvre accurately and translate more of her energy into forward motion.
When Andrea’s focus switched to the 2020 Summer Paralympics, TGR-E rose to the challenge of developing a new lightweight hand bike, constructed from carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) and tailored precisely to Andrea’s exacting requirements.
“Andrea was involved at every stage, not only providing detailed feedback but actually proposing concepts and solutions; it was a true partnership,” adds Norbert Schäfer. “Both the ski sled and the hand bike projects were a privilege to be involved in, not only personally but as an organisation. We learned a lot about this very specific world and had the honour of being part of Andrea’s incredible journey.”
For TGR-E, success in parasports is measured in knowledge gained and an athlete’s satisfaction in their equipment, although, for the record, Andrea has so far earned three Paralympic gold medals, four silver and two bronze, plus multiple World Championship medals using equipment jointly developed with TGR-E. Earlier this month, Andrea won a silver and a bronze at the World Championships in Glasgow, a few days before becoming a European Champion in Rotterdam.
To further expand its knowledge of parasports engineering and the specific requirements of individual athletes, TGR-E took on a new challenge in 2019: developing a racing wheelchair for a new athlete, Alhassane Baldé.
Working together with Alhassane and the German Paralympic Committee, a lightweight prototype was constructed using cutting-edge techniques, such as topology optimisation and additive manufacturing. The distinctive ergonomic design minimised wasted energy and showed great promise until the Covid pandemic curtailed the testing programme and prevented its appearance in at the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Nevertheless, that first prototype laid the foundations for future racing wheelchair developments, including a concept which aids the efficient design of chairs fitted to an athlete’s specific size and disability profile. TGR-E is currently on the lookout for potential testers to contribute to ongoing prototype development of its racing wheelchair.
“In parasports, each athlete has unique requirements for their equipment; no two wheelchairs are the same,” says Norbert Schäfer. “This is a challenge from a manufacturing point of view because we want to offer technology to further athletes, but the cost and practicality of bespoke designs makes additional projects more challenging. So, our engineers created a concept for a multi-adjustable jig to determine athlete-individual design parameters for a racing wheelchair. This has the potential to bring advanced technology to more athletes.”
At the same time, the first steps are being taken in the world of mono-ski racing, in cooperation with multiple Paralympic and World Champion Anna-Lena Forster. Mono-ski racing involves complex damping systems and vertical dynamics, offering the potential for motorsport-style set-up analysis and development, as well as technology crossover with racing suspension systems.
As well as enhancing TGR-E’s knowledge, its parasports projects also showcase the services it provides to third party customers from the automotive industry and beyond. Competence in composite design and production, additive manufacturing, aerodynamic modelling, simulation and component design have all gone into TGR-E’s recent parasports developments.
What new projects emerge in the future will be revealed in time. What is clear is that through parasports, TGR-E continues to search for ways to contribute to ever-better technology for athletes, while expanding its knowledge of different disciplines in the process. As the Paralympics draw closer, fuelled by the passion of remarkable athletes like Andrea Eskau, TGR-E’s interest burns bright.