The VF dashboard: how it was done

You may have heard that this year all the Holdens in pit lane are carrying a brand spanking, shiny new dashboard. But did you notice that Mr Whincup’s ride got the full VF treatment, complete with screen and all?

“Why not Craig’s?” we hear you ask. Though Car 888 has the full Holden VF Commodore dashboard, it wasn’t selected to carry in-car cameras yet by the Powers That Be. Before you fret that you won’t be seeing Lowndesy’s grinning mug on TV though, chances are cameras and a dashboard screen will be going in later this season.

There’s been a fair bit of intrigue about this exciting new bit of kit so we tracked down a couple of the guys responsible at Red Bull Racing Australia HQ to bring you the lowdown.

RBRA: First and foremost, we’d better talk to the project manager, Mark “Dutto” Dutton, who’s been doing a juggling act with the dashboard and swotting up for his fancy new Race Team Manager role. So Dutto, how did this whole dash revamp come about?

MD: Holden approached us last year and they said one of the big improvements and selling points of the VF is the nice, new, sexy dash and the media capabilities of it with MyLink. It’s a big step forward and does a lot of cool stuff. What would be even cooler would be having the whole dashboard in the race cars.

When we first started racing the VF, the road car wasn’t on sale yet so there were no dashes for us to use. Plus, the shape of the one in the standard road car would hit the driver’s leg.

Unfortunately we were realistically too busy racing during the 2013 season, but we couldn’t wait to get on with it in the offseason. So we got the green light for the project to happen.

RBRA: It’s obviously a bit different from the road-going VF Commodore though – if only all our Holdens were decked out with kit like that. What are the differences?

MD: I’ll be trying to get this one in my car now, you watch! Now, road car parts are obviously made a different way so it was quite a large task to turn something that’s made up of so many pieces into as few pieces as possible for us.

Our version is made of carbon fibre by LSM, who do some really cool stuff like military spec vehicles and they made the shell of the submarine that James Cameron, the Avatar director, used to go more than 11km under water. If we tried to make it like the road car from moulded plastic the weight would be heavier and we wouldn’t get the quality finish or correct shape that we’ve got.

As we mentioned earlier, we had the problem of it hitting the driver’s leg where the air conditioning controls are because the driver for safety sits further inwards, so we had to shift all that across. Then we had to reshape the whole dash to look like the road car. The bit you move is actually easy to move, but then blending it in is where it is complicated, but we did it.

RBRA: It’s always helpful for the driver to be able to move his leg, isn’t it? So let’s get to the screen itself – quite a talking point last weekend.

MD: Yeah, it looked pretty cool didn’t it?! The tablet thing is actually a six- or eight-year-old idea, but back then it was actually an electronic photo frame we were looking at using. We looked at the Toshiba Encore tablet, which has an eight-inch screen, and it fitted perfectly.

Holden wanted the race cars’ dashboards to be as close to the road car as possible to really represent the model, so we then said ‘hey, if the road car’s got a screen we should put a screen in the race car and it’ll be pretty cool’. Obviously because we’d had these ideas from ages ago we were able to pick them up and create a really cool finished package.

RBRA: So that’s all the theory behind it, but let’s look at the practical side. This is where Kris “Gooey” Goos comes in, #1 Mechanic on Car 1 and the bloke responsible for fitting the whole thing. Talk us through it, Gooey.

KG: Well, we started with removing the old dash and fitting the new one little bit by little bit. It came as seven different pieces and the first one, the prototype which is what we installed into Car 1, came without any mounts on it at all so we had to bond on all the mounts and trim out all the edges.

The prototype arrived a week before the official test day last month and it took three days of trimming and bonding to actually get it in there. The rest of the dashes in the other Holdens are the same, this is just the first one that came out of the mould and the only one with a working screen and rolling images.

RBRA: Three days? Must have thrown up a few challenges then.

KG: There were a few challenges getting it in. It’s quite hard to trim it around the cage because we wanted to make it look like the bar of the roll cage just goes straight through it. Getting these points in exactly the same spot when you’re working off drawings that aren’t quite perfect to real life is quite tricky, but it still worked quite well.

The other challenge was just getting it trimmed perfectly. Because it was fresh out of the mould it needed some work, so that’s where the extra time came from with trimming everything and making all of the double radiuses fit into each other perfectly. Other than that it was straight forward enough.