The long-standing argument about which is Australia's best high-speed facility will probably continue ad infinitum. Our opinion, for what it's worth, is that the many local and overseas racers who regard Philip Island as a top piece of tarmac are right on the money. Sure, Bathurst is an awesome place, however the facility we believe to be the absolute best it isn't a race track at all. Yep, facing facts, neither PI or Bathurst come within a bull's roar of a private lump of semi-hidden land situated behind a large fence and a significant amount of Bass Highway flora and fauna. Highway access is around half way between Melbourne and the Philip Island circuit, down a short dirt road leading to a very special place, perhaps best known as 'Lang Lang'.
The name relates to a small Gippsland town, however of vastly greater significance to the populace is a dedicated 877-hectare site dotted with buildings and 44 kilometres of road systems. Its correct title is the 'Holden Proving Ground', and without a doubt, it's Australia's most comprehensive car testing facility. Sure, Ford's Lara-based proving ground is large, however it literally pales into insignificance beside Holden's monster facility. Likewise, Mitsubishi's SA track is little more than a wide 1.2 kilometre long 'runway' with a small donut to one side.
How Do We Know?
Having been treated to a comprehensive tour of Lang Lang, we suggest that the word 'impressive' is a huge understatement. The roads and facilities of this huge complex are mind boggling, and go a long way to ensuring Holden produce cars comparable with many of the larger manufacturers in the US, Europe and Japan. Backing our thoughts is the knowledge that when General Motors launched Holden's testing and development complex in 1957, it was (and remains) one of the most extensive General Motors proving grounds anywhere in the world.
To Holden's credit, this massive financial investment has resulted in a complex so diverse, so well planned, that virtually any driving condition can be simulated. In fact, more than 4.5 million kilometres are driven under test conditions each year over the roads, many of which are designed to create severe loadings - through varying frequencies, amplitudes and multi-directional forces - on vehicle suspension systems.
The proving ground also houses Australia's most comprehensive safety test laboratory and a fully accredited emissions laboratory. The complex operates 24 hours a day and has the capacity to conduct a wide range of engineering and performance evaluations on prototype, pre-production and production vehicles - among them sedans, wagons, utilities and light commercials, Opel model platforms for the GM Asia Pacific region and selected global GM test program vehicles.
The proving ground contains 44 kilometres of road systems, some of which are designed for performance and high speed testing, while others are intended for specific and general durability testing.
1. Circular Track
This amazing piece of road has a circumference of 4.7 kilometres, is four lanes wide and is designed for high-speed use. Neutral steer characteristics are produced at 160 km/h in the outer lane, while the track allows completely uniform vehicle movement over a given time and distance to enable absolute test measurements. Of great interest to us was the incredible jet-like sound a vehicle produces at speeds of 270 km/h...
Located within the circular track is a huge range of facilities including a heat soak chamber and brake durability road. It doesn't stop there either, as there is also a huge skid pan, dust road, gravel road, twist course, creek crossing, test hills, kerb impact and potholes test road, a 'noise' road, rattle and squeak road and a ride and handling circuit.
2. Ride And Handling Roads
A comprehensive range of conditions can be experienced on the main ride and handling road, including a four kilometre sealed smooth-chip inner circuit featuring off-camber corners, rail crossings, corrugated surfaces and in and out of phase undulations. A 4.1 kilometre sealed outer track includes concrete potholes, cattle grids and creek crossings, and there is a further 1.4 kilometres of sealed gravel road with creek crossings.
3. Twist Course
This features a combination of sinusoidal and spoon drain combinations.
4. Rattle And Squeak Track/Dust Road
As you might expect, the squeak track is used for identifying and auditing rattles and squeaks, while the dust road has a fine dust surface and is used to test dust entry. It also includes concrete bumps for wheel trim retention testing.
5. Test Hills
Included are four man-made hills with gradients ranging from 15 per cent and 30 per cent - for brake and gradeability tests.
6. Skid Pan
You want to have some fun? Well, it doesn't get much better than this. The skid pan area includes a circular pad measuring 98 metres in diameter on which the maniacal Holden test drivers throw vehicles around with a vengeance while testing for fuel loss, headlight appraisal, braking and steering. The skidpan also enables measurement of lateral acceleration to determine maximum roadholding limits for suspension systems and tyres.
Other features include a smooth brake road for tyre and brake testing; a speed hump for airbag development; a pothole for airbag and suspension development and a steel speed hump for trailer towing development. There is also a low frictional co-efficient surface with a water spray facility, a city course and a kerb impact facility.
7. Noise Road
This features a 1.8 kilometre smooth chip surface for noise and vibration development and testing to ADR 28 drive-by noise requirements.
Durability Road Network
East of the circular track complex lies a well-planned network of sealed and unsealed roads, rough tracks, salt roads, hill roads, driveway ramps, and mud and water baths. Much of the durability test circuit has been designed with emphasis on the duplication of real world conditions.
1. Unsealed Roads
The longest of the many unsealed roads is a 5.1 kilometres stretch used for light truck durability testing. The others comprise 4.3 kilometres of red loam and gravel with a reverse test pad and 2.7 kilometres of unsealed gravel and stone.
2. Rough Track
As the name implies, this track is designed to simulate extreme conditions. These include a section of jagged stones set in concrete, cast concrete corrugations, a section of cast concrete potholes set at various depths and unevenly laid Belgian paving-style granite blocks.
3. Hill Route
The track measures 5.0 kilometres and takes advantage of the natural features within the proving ground complex. It includes sections for ABS brake testing and stop/start procedures.
Holden's fully accredited emissions laboratory has two operational test cells and its equipment includes a 1.2-metre single roller electric dynamometer. The high-tech facility is capable of conducting a wide range of vehicle exhaust emission tests for certifying to Australian, USA, EPA, European ECE, Swedish and Japanese requirements. The laboratory also includes a SHED evaporative emissions test enclosure and a soak area with the capacity to maintain over 50 cars under controlled conditions all year round.
Holden is the only Australian automotive manufacturer with airbag test and development capabilities. In all its procedures, Holden utilises fully instrumented test dummies developed by General Motors Biomedical Science Department and has full calibration capability for the entire range.
Of advanced biofidelic (human-like) design, each dummy is designed to represent the way a body behaves dynamically under deceleration loads in a crash situation. The weight and mass of various anatomical segments is matched according to the differing sex, size and age criteria, and the range of movement and stiffness of the limbs, the spine and the chest can be reproduced. The dummies are equipped with complete interior structures representative of major internal organs and have equally biofidelic skeletal construction.
In addition to the hybrid adult male, female, child and infant dummies approved for use in vehicle certification, Holden employs state-of-the-art side impact test dummies. These sophisticated test dummies are purpose-designed to evaluate injury loads in side impact collisions over a wide range of speeds.
Safety Test Facility
1. Barrier Crash Test
The range of collision types reproduced at Holden's full compliance SAE barrier facility includes frontal tests, offset collisions typical of accidents on undivided rural highways, side impacts, rear impacts, side and centre pole collisions and under-ride collisions.
In this procedure, a fully built car is winched towards a 76 tonne concrete barrier at speeds of up to 80 km/h. Up to 16 high speed cameras record the event from various angles, including overhead, underneath and on board the vehicle. A total of 120 channels of data can be collected from each barrier crash test.
2. Hyge Sled
A Hyge (High-G) sled simulates vehicle decelerations using data acquired from the barrier crash tests. Holden's two Hyge sled carriages are propelled and accelerated (in reverse) at speeds of up to 100 km/h in the space of 1.5 metres! The effects of crash deceleration upon crash test dummy passengers are captured on high-speed film, shot at 750 to 3000 frames per second. For every vehicle crash test carried out, many more Hyge tests are performed for further data acquisition. They can be repeated with great precision and not destroy a vehicle.
Other safety test facilities include a mobile deformable barrier for side impact testing; a mini sled for the development and certification of steering columns; and a pendulum impact rig to test wheels, bumper systems and steering knuckles for strength and deformation.