Home / Site visit: Formula 1 racetrack, Kuwait Motor Town

Site visit: Formula 1 racetrack, Kuwait Motor Town

by John Bambridge on Nov 7, 2017

A Vgele paver equipped with a 14m-long averaging beam delicately lays asphalt for the Formula 1 subcourse on the Kuwait Motor Town project.
A Vgele paver equipped with a 14m-long averaging beam delicately lays asphalt for the Formula 1 subcourse on the Kuwait Motor Town project.

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As asphalt subcontractor Arizona National Company executes the Formula 1 racetrack for Kuwait Motor Town, PMV Middle East discusses the use of advanced machine control systems...

Kuwait has recently embarked on an ambitious spate of projects, including an expansion of the country’s oil and gas facilities and the delivery of a new airport.

However, there is another flagship project that will be the first of its kind in the country: Kuwait Motor Town.

This auto sports development is centred around a racetrack circuit that will allow the nation to host Formula 1 events.

A project of national prestige, it falls under the direction of the Amiri Diwan itself, and leaves little room for errors or delays.

And the project needs to be precise: Formula 1 is a sport where milliseconds count, and where the slightest deviation in the surface of the racetrack could have serious implications for the finely tuned vehicles flying at hundreds of kilometres per hour around the circuit.

In light of all this, Arizona National Company, the contractor with the critical task of laying the racetrack itself is deploying advanced machine control technologies in partnership with Trimble that represent novel territory for both Kuwait and Formula 1.

Heading up the project from a technical perspective is Eng. Bashar Saleh Othman, the equipment department manager at Arizona National. “It is not the biggest project in Kuwait, but it is one of the most exacting projects in terms of the accuracy required for the subbase and asphalt,” he explains.

“On our other projects, there is usually a tolerance of up to 20mm while you are doing the subbase; but on this project, the degree of error cannot exceed 9mm. And the higher you go in the layer, the lower the tolerances. For the final or wearing course, the tolerance is almost 1mm — we are going to have to be really focused and accurate to achieve this.”

Arizona’s adherence to the project’s specifications is in turn being overseen by Germany’s Tilke Engineers & Architects, a leading specialist in racetracks responsible for numerous Formula 1 projects worldwide.

“They are in charge of checking the accuracy and the tolerances,” notes Othman. “So their people are really precise: there is no tolerance for error with them; no mercy.”

And when it comes to grading and laying asphalt with precision, a set of tools that are key to ensuring accuracy are machine controls.

For Arizona, which maintains a primarily Caterpillar fleet, one supplier immediately stood out, and that was Sitech Gulf, a company within the Mohamed Abdulrahman Al Bahar group, the dealer of Caterpillar in Kuwait.

For the Kuwait Motor Town project, Arizona National made it clear from an early stage that it planned to bring Trimble on board for the supply of at least one of the technologies critical to the project: averaging beams.

As Othman explains: “Averaging beams are basically a series of sonic sensors distributed along a 14m beam and installed on each side of a paver. Instead of relying on the single sensor built into the paver, the multiple sensors of the averaging beams produce an average reading. This reduces the risk of error while levelling, increasing accuracy, and making for a smoother ride on the surface.”

The sonic tracers on pavers rapidly emit and receive ultrasonic signals, much like a bats, to gauge the distance to the underlying surface. Where an averaging beam is used, the generation of an averaged reading plays a vital role by negating the effect of any surface anomalies, such as small depressions or loose pebbles, which might otherwise throw off a paver’s single in-built sensor and cause the machine to overlay or underlay asphalt.

Unsurprisingly, all of Arizona’s pavers are therefore equipped with averaging beams, as Othman notes: “We have to be really accurate, because any mistake in the slope, the thickness or the surface of the final layer could affect the Formula 1 cars, and these cars and their drivers are worth millions. So the importance of these averaging beams will really come during the laying of that wearing course.”

The wearing course is the final of four layers that will be out down by Arizona, which is currently laying the subbase, a mixture of aggregates and native soil, and the subcourse — the first layer of asphalt. Next up will be the binding course and, lastly, the wearing course.

But, as already mentioned, it is the wearing course that is key, as Othman continues: “During the laying of the wearing course we will have three pavers working at the same time. It’s a 15m- to 16m-wide road, and usually you would do that in passes: you would start with a five- or six- metre wide section on one side, then work on the adjacent five or six metres, and so on, until the span was done.

“But for a Formula 1 wearing course, you have to cover the entire 15m or 16m span at the same time with three pavers, proceeding together, each with its own averaging beam — to prevent the formation of cold joints.”

Specifically, if the span were not laid concurrently, it would risk the formation of longitudinal cold joints. Othman adds: “You will always have cold joints across the width of the road, because at some point you will have to stop for the day and restart the next, and that’s ok, but you need to keep the cold joints to the bare minimum.”

Likewise, the deployment of averaging beams ensures that there are no anomalies in the readings that might in turn lead to the overlaying or undelaying of asphalt and therefore risk a deviation from the tolerances.

In contrast, any error in the wearing course would force the contractor to remove the entire asphalt layer and pave it all over again.

Aside from the cost of the raw materials, Othman notes: “On some past projects, errors with the sensors have forced me to remove the asphalt and waste three weeks doing the layer, instead of completing it in two days.”

With both Tilke and the Amiri Diwan watching, Arizona is not even countenancing such risks, and is using the averaging beams for the asphalting from start to finish.

Othman adds: “No one cares about the lower layers; they only care about the last four centimetres: the wearing course. But to reach the tolerances that you want, you need to start correctly from the base, and the less error you have in the subbase, the subcourse and the binder course, the easier it is to meet the target that you have for the wearing course.”

For the asphalting, Arizona is also deploying Vögele pavers from Wirtgen, in a break from its Caterpillar preferences. Explaining the choice of these machines, Othman says: “Vögele are proven on such projects, and to insist on using Caterpillar machines would have been to swim against the current with Tilke, which in its history of Formula 1 projects, has always seen it done with Vögele machines.

“We also kept in mind the fact that Vögele have the experience in doing such things, and given the novelty of the project for Kuwait, it was a common sense decision to want Vögele on board. Caterpillar were already on board, because all of our other fleet is Caterpillar. But it is great to have both on board, because the more experience, expertise, knowledge and professionals you have involved on a project such as this, the more added value to you.”

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