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Ford Australia’s world-renowned Lara Proving Ground west of Melbourne recently turned 50, and the company this week used the milestone to again remind us that research, development and design of global vehicles would continue here unabated, long-term.

The You Yangs Proving Ground (YYPG), used in testing a range of Ford’s global vehicles, is situated 26km from the port city of Geelong, covers 900 ha and sits within Victoria’s Western Basalt Plains Grassy Woodlands.

It remains a hub for Ford’s vehicle testing in the Asia Pacific region, alongside the Geelong R&D centre and the Engineering Centre and Design Centre setup 70km away in Melbourne’s outer north.

The YYPG played a major role in developing the global Ranger and Everest, the Indian-market Figo hatch, the China-market Escort sedan and every iteration of the Falcon and Territory. It’s constantly calibrating other Ford global products for Asia and the Americas.

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It’s also one of only several fully-equipped Ford proving grounds in the world, something Ford Australia president and CEO Graeme Whickman says remains a point of pride.

“We’re very proud of the fact that the Ford team in Australia has been recognised as the ‘go-to guys’ for vehicle development,” he said.

“The proving ground, the $27 million Geelong Research and Development Centre and the Asia Pacific Engineering Centre in Campbellfield – including the Design Centre – are instrumental as part of Ford’s on-going investment story as the company continues to build its capability as an innovator and centre of excellence for the Asia Pacific region post-2017,” he added.

In other words, Ford is intent on letting everyone knows that it will remain a force here once its Broadmeadows assembly line and Geelong engine plants close at the end of 2016.

Ford You Yangs proving ground 1

Post 2017, Ford in Australia will be the largest automotive employer in the country. The YYPG hosts about 300 engineers, techs and support staff, while post 2017 Ford Australia’s total staff roster should tally around 1500.

“In 2015 alone, Ford has spent around $300 million on R&D, bringing to $2 billion the amount of money spent on R$D over the past six years,” Whickman said.

The company chose the proving ground today to celebrate the arrival of the all-new 2015 Ford Mustang — sold out through 2016 with 4000 pre-orders to satisfy — alongside an original 1967 Ford Falcon XR GT.

The XR GT was the first Australian-developed GT performance sedan engineered and tested at the proving ground.

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“The advertising catchphrase promoting the 1967 Ford Falcon XR GT was ‘the Mustang-bred Falcon’ so it’s appropriate to have the 1967 car as part of our celebrations,” Whickman said.

“It’s also important to celebrate this milestone and highlight the continuing role the You Yangs Proving Ground will play not only in its local community, but also Ford Australia going forward.

Among the facilities are the Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART), a Vehicle Semi-Anechoic Chamber (VSAC), vehicle dynamics area, a kinematics and compliance rig and a High Speed Centre.

The proving ground also has more than 80km of test surfaces covering a range of roads, corners, braking test areas and inclines designed to test both vehicles and components.

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Ford Australia’s You Yangs Proving Ground (YYPG) was opened in 1965. One of the first true tests of the fledgling facility was a 112,600 kilometre (70,000 mile) endurance run for the 1965 Falcon XP sedan, which set 49 Australian endurance records during the event.

The land on which the facility sits is set within a unique eco system – Western Basalt Plains Grassy Woodlands. There is also a wildlife management plan in place for eastern grey kangaroos.

It is the base for key vehicle attribute teams within Ford’s Product Development group, who conduct activities for:

Vehicle level attributes

  • Target setting
  • Development
  • Calibration
  • Validation
  • Sign-off

Durability

  • Structural
  • Powertrain
  • Corrosion
  • Fit for purpose

Crash development

  • Structure
  • Emission compliance

Ford You Yangs proving ground 2

Full rundown of the YYPG:

There are four primary buildings at the YYPG. The Operations Building, Vehicle Refinement and Dynamics Centre (VRDC), Emissions Laboratory and Powertrain Development buildings.

Features:

  • Hoists, pits and workstations
  • Welding station
  • Crack testing facility
  • Shock absorber measurement facility
  • Weighbridge with four independent stations (each rated at 5000 kgs)
  • Full wheel alignment hoist with electronic read-out equipment
  • Secure storage for vehicles and test parts

Initial test roads include:

Constant Speed Track (CST):

The three-lane reinforced concrete CST is 4.8 km long. There is an additional 304m lane for merging both on and off the track and a long lane for stopping and parking on the west straight.

The 400m radius turns are super elevated to provide a neutral speed of 164km/h in lane three, the highest point of the CST. Water baths are provided for car and truck brake testing off the straight.

Basic Durability Road:

The Basic Durability Road is a 3.6km loop, which is situated over rolling terrain with mild to severe gradients. The maximum upgrade is 25 per cent and the maximum downgrade is 14 per cent. The road divides into an inner and outer loop around a steep hill. Total road length including both loops is 4.3km.

Unimproved Road:

The Unimproved Road is a 5km wide loop. It is an all-weather road and consists of rolling terrain with a number of short steep grades. It is mainly a granite-type gravel surface but includes formed bitumen sections with ruts to simulate potholes and wash board sections set at 30 degrees to the line of traffic.

Mud or Salt Bath:

The Mud or Salt Bath is a concrete structure 27.4m long and 3.3m wide. The bath has side walls that are 610mm high.

Skid Pads:

There are two skid pad facilities, one is a dry skid pad and the other has an artificial wetting system that uses a central water cannon.

Water Bath:

The Water Bath is a concrete structure with a 19m entry and exit ramp. It is 2.2m wide, 45m long and has side walls that are 610mm high.

Sand Pit:

This area consists of sand to a depth of 200mm laid over a 30mm asphalt surface. In turn the sand and asphalt are laid on a 200mm bed of crushed rock.

Special Surfaces Road:

This road is 760m long with three wide lanes and four 20m diameter turnaround areas. This road, with a range of surfaces from potholes to Belgian blocks to cobblestones and washboard road surfaces, is designed to test a vehicle’s body strength and durability.

Dust Test Road:

The dust test road replicates the fine dusty roads of outback Australia, generally utilised for body sealing systems testing.

Corrosion Test Tracks:

  • Mud bath- modified brake wading bath
  • Salt bath, which can be set to variable depths
  • Salt spray highway, including an access road to obtain a stable test speed which leads to a covered 50m roadway incorporating salt water sprays and a specially profiled concrete surface designed to pool water and induce under body splash
  • Stone Peck Road is a single lane gravel road sheeted with crushed rock. The road incorporates several opposing curves in its 800m loop. The road is designed to accentuate under body stone chipping to condition the test vehicle for corrosion evaluation

Ride and Handling Roads:

The handling areas include 19 corners. The outer track is 2.5km long with 1.5km of corners. The centre track is 1.1km long.

Off-Road Road:

The 'off-road' road is comprised of steep gradients, bumpy rutted sections, tight corners and surface changes useful for testing off-road capability of vehicles, particularly 4WDs.

Vehicle Dynamics Area (VDA):

The VDA provides an area for vehicle dynamics development testing and vehicle systems tests.

Low Friction Surfaces:

The Brake Test Road consists of three 110m road surfaces of different textures side by side and all serviced by banks of automatic water sprays, which maintain a constant film of water.

Gravel Road and Skid Pad:

A flat gravel road includes a cone-shaped gravel skid pad with a diameter of 110m. There is also a tight braking and handling gravel circuit for evaluating ABS, traction control and braking in turns on a loose surface.

Emission Laboratory:

The laboratory is approved by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) in the field of chemical testing of automotive emissions. It houses extensive calibration, diagnostic and associated emissions testing equipment.

Vehicle Semi-Anechoic Chamber (VSAC):

The VSAC is designed to replicate a moving vehicle during open-road driving. Front and rear axles can be independently driven and tested/developed as singular contributing systems.

Testing can continue 24 hours a day, seven-days a week irrespective of ambient lighting conditions. Vehicle top speed testing can be conducted without track closures. Operator/driver variability is eliminated through application of driver robot.

Improved prototype security due to reduction in equivalent on-road testing.

Kinematics and Compliance Rig:

The K&C rig determines elasto-kinematic properties of vehicle suspensions. A vehicle suspension can be loaded with cornering forces, braking forces as well as wheel alignment torques and simulated road undulations. Under these loads various characteristics can be measured.

Advanced Centre for Automotive Research and Testing (ACART) Wind Tunnel:

ACART has a range of functions to replicate wind speeds of up to 250km/h and sun load simulations on vehicles and vehicle air conditioning systems.

Squeaks and Rattles Facility:

The facility is a “drive on” full vehicle, environmental facility. A road simulator is capable of accurately reproducing S&R evaluation roads e.g. washboard, cobblestones, pavement or Belgium blocks, and is also capable of simulating over 90 per cent of the Proving Ground durability test routes.

Vehicle Crash Barriers:

The crash barrier is a 203-tonne block of reinforced concrete set into the ground.

A wide concrete apron and 6m pit are located in front of the barrier to allow for filming of the underside of the vehicle during impact. The 115m long concrete approach road has a channel down the centre, whereby the tow cable and vehicle tow trolley run. A high-speed camera running at 100 frames per second can record any impacts.