The Nardò Technical Center (NTC) has been available to the automotive industry for testing for 40 years and today is fresher and more innovative than ever. Francesco Nobile, Edmund Sander and Malte Radmann elaborate on the extent to which that is related to its acquisition by Porsche in 2012, or simply reflects the tradition of these great testing grounds.
After many years as the head of the drivetrain department at Porsche Engineering in Germany, in 2013 Edmund Sander took over as the technical director of the Nardò Technical Center.
He knows the Nardò Technical Center like the back of his hand, including its special features: since 2007, Francesco Nobile has headed the proving ground and is now the Chairman of the Executive Board and responsible for the commercial area.
The Nardò Technical Center has been operated by Porsche Engineering since its acquisition by Porsche in 2012. Malte Radmann, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche Engineering, has been involved in the takeover, integration and ongoing development of the proving ground since the outset.
The Nardò Technical Center is one of the most important and well-known testing centers in the world. What makes it so special in your opinion?
Malte Radmann: The centerpiece of the testing center has always been the circular track. Building a test track on this scale 40 years ago was extraordinary. All the more impressive is the fact that this high-performance track, with its size and special profile, has remained unique to this day. The test center has continued to develop over the years and always had a finger on the pulse of the age. Even now, the Nardò Technical Center has retained its ability to handle a vast spectrum of highly exacting customer demands.
Francesco Nobile: The Nardò Technical Center has always regarded itself as a close partner to the vehicle manufacturers in vehicle development. Over the last 40 years, the automotive industry has developed at a breakneck pace. We have experienced those changes “live” and have continually adapted to the new circumstances and requirements. But to make a significant contribution to the innovative developments in vehicle testing, it’s not enough to simply be “up to speed” with what’s going on. The dynamism of the industry makes it essential to think of tomorrow and beyond today. That remains our approach.
How do you view the future challenges in vehicle testing? And how is the Nardò Technical Center preparing itself for the future?
Edmund Sander: Topics that will certainly be occupying us in the coming years include the testing of driver assistance systems and autonomous driving. Development is making great strides in these fields. We’re already working on concepts for continued development of the testing facilities and building on our existing expertise in these areas. We’re also continuously expanding our range of services.
Even in the traditional development areas such as chassis tuning, brake testing and drivetrain application, we are preparing ourselves for new challenges through planned course expansions and ongoing renovation and expansion measures for the existing courses and facilities. The aim is to provide the complete process chain of “testing as an engineering service” at the very highest level.
Radmann: ... this comprehensive range of services is increasingly expected by customers. Together with Porsche Engineering as an engineering services provider, we’re able to offer customers the execution of comprehensive testing programs and conduct them according to their requirements and to the absolute highest standards. In this process, the protected grounds of the NTC are the ideal location for transitioning functions from the computer to the track and make them a reality.
How does the fact that the NTC belongs to Porsche benefit customers?
Sander: The Nardò Technical Center is directly connected to a vehicle manufacturer and thus has a better understanding of development processes as a whole as well as the requirements that are associated with them. The customers definitely notice the difference.
Radmann: The improvements to the grounds are an especially visible aspect of this. The circular track and other courses are currently being resurfaced. The ongoing expansion and renovation work demonstrates that we’re not satisfied with merely being “good,” but are, as Mr Nobile said at the outset, already thinking of tomorrow and be- yond to ensure that we can provide the best possible testing conditions.
Nobile: ... and yet with all of the changes taking place, I would like to emphasize that one thing has remained the same: the diversity of customers. Just as in the past, the Nardò Technical Center remains open to all customers and is an important partner for the entire automotive industry.
To what extent are the employees and people living in the region around Nardò aware of these changes?
Nobile: First and foremost, there is the opportunity for new jobs, and for employees the Nardò Technical Center has also become notably more attractive, as belonging to the group has created the possibility that new career advancement options could open up.
Sander: Moreover, we’re already in contact with the university in Lecce as a possible future cooperation partner. Wherever possible, we try to support the region and its people in their interests. Our expansion and renovation measures are being conducted in harmony with the lovely natural surroundings here in the region.
What role do the regional conditions play in the services of the Nardò Technical Center?
Nobile: The regional conditions—in particular the climate—are a very special factor and make us absolutely unique. Scarcely any other proving ground offers the possibility of conducting testing nearly 365 days a year. Routes outside of the grounds also offer a plethora of excellent driving opportunities.
Sander: Let’s not forget the kindness of the people and the Italian way of life. Many long-standing customers appreciate the friendly atmosphere that characterizes this place.
Nobile: That’s true. Here, German precision meets Italian openness and warm-heartedness. At the latest when they sit down for their first Italian dinner after a hard and successful day of testing, customers are often already planning their next visit.
Text first published in the Porsche Engineering Magazine, issue 01/2015
Interview by Katharina Hug // photography by Davide Faggiano