I-Way is tucked away in an unassuming commercial plot in Lyon. However its exterior conceals an array of innovative AV technologies installed by Paris-based Audiovisuel Solutions. Chris Fitzsimmons reports on a race-driving experience with a touch of class.
Born of the passion for sport of childhood friends Benoît Dupré and Pierre Nicolas, the I-Way project has been three years in the making. The idea began as a way of making motor sport more accessible to people. However, it has progressed beyond a simple simulator to an experience which brings together three sets of six, full-sized sports cars, a luxury health spa and gym, and a restaurant / bar serving food from a two star Michelin chef. However, before any of this was built the two needed someone to give some form to their dream, someone who could translate some fairly vague ideas and turn them into bricks and mortar. They turned to Cyrille Druart, a recently graduated architect in the employ of Sir Norman Foster. Cyrille, Benoît and Pierre then sought expert advice on the building’s audiovisual system.
The three settled on Paris based Audiovisuel Solutions and project manager Bruno Guillemin. Bruno worked closely with Cyrille and Pierre in the development stages. The initial design phase lasted around six months. It was important to Cyrille to maintain above all the mood that he and his friends had envisaged for the venue, whilst integrating the audiovisual services they required. This was achieved by discussion, careful product selection, ingenuity and customisation of equipment by Audiovisuel Solutions. An extreme example of this was the selection of projectors in the meeting rooms that matched the décor (and of course the technical requirements).
With planning complete there was, as Bruno put it, nine months of nothing. No real progress was made while the partners took their idea and business plan to the banks to find the necessary €8m to fund the project. Initial capital was €4m, but with a total cost of €12m (of which around €520k made up the audiovisual equipment and installation), there was still a lot of work to be done. As well as hiring out the site for corporate events the boys hoped to gain revenue from regular local members of the centre’s gym and health spa, which is equipped with a weights room, spinning room, gymnastics space and massage / sauna facilities. All of these are equipped with AV equipment.
I-Way is broadly divided into the following areas: The bar restaurant; the mezzanine area overlooking the simulators, which includes a shop; three separate meeting rooms; the three simulator pits themselves and finally the gym and health spa. The shared spaces, feature audio playback from a combination of Tannoy, Lab.gruppen and Yamaha equipment, along with a number of iPod docks, which act as music sources. Each of these areas is controlled by a Yamaha MG102C mixer, and driven by an appropriate Lab.gruppen C Series amplifier. The bar and spa are both equipped with C16:4s whilst the mezzanine area, with its greater number of loudspeakers is run by a C28:4 amplifier.
Two main models of Tannoy ceiling speakers are used throughout the building. In the bar, and health spa, CMS601 DC blind mount units are used, whilst in the mezzanine area APE specified the CVS6. The outdoor areas of the bar each use a pair of Di6T IP 64 rated boxes. Great effort was made on the part of Cyrille and Bruno to isolate each area acoustically and 80mm of rock-wool acoustic panelling was installed in all the ceilings. This decision followed consultation with an acoustician, brought in to resolve concerns about sound leaking from the pits. The cars had to be heard by spectators in the mezzanine without the sound dominating the whole building.
The acoustic panelling brought with it its own problems. The standard mounting depth for a Tannoy ceiling speaker is 40mm. Audiovisuel Solutions therefore had to design custom mountings and longer mounting screws. Finally, all the ceiling speakers were supplied in a custom colour to match the ceiling. This capability was one of Tannoy’s key selling points. Whilst on the subject of product selection, Bruno originally agreed to a demo of the Lab C Series having not heard them before. “The safety features of the C Series were really impressive, particularly the auto-reset function of the circuit breakers. If they are over loaded, they automatically cut out, and then automatically come back once the surge is passed,” said Bruno.
The spinning room is equipped with a pair of Tannoy Power V12s, which provide a brutal club-type sound to go with the disco-style lighting and a Sennheiser head-mic for the instructor. The fitness space has a pair of Tannoy I9 arrays, driven by another rack mounted Lab.gruppen amp. This provides a relaxed mood for yoga and step classes.
The cardio room also features a local digital signage network. Seven Samsung 320PX 32” LCD screens are served via a VGA over Cat-5 network, which runs from the PC in the health suite’s reception area. The VGA extender is an Extron MTP series transmitter, with a further receiver and transmitter unit at each display. The screens are arranged in a daisy chain, with an Extron PA300 signal booster inserted halfway through. The screens show promotional content for the rest of I-Way’s facilities. Two identically equipped rooms are set up in a conference arrangement for around 40 people. They feature a Mitsubishi XD-460U projector and a pair of Tannoy Power V6 loudspeakers for audio source playback. By virtue of the acoustic panelling on the ceiling and walls these rooms are acoustically dead. The basement boardroom has a table to seat 20, and again follows the simple projector and sound format, with wall plate inputs for laptops and sound sources. It features the more powerful (and matching white) Mitsubishi XD2000 projector.
However, I-Way isn’t really about health and fitness, or eating, or even business meetings. It’s about big boys driving fast in virtual reality cars. Each simulator, contains six real cars, which have had their engine and chassis removed and been mounted on electronically actuated platforms. The simulators themselves were developed by Cruden, part of the Fokker Group, who specialise in professional aeronautical simulators for the military. Each platform is controlled by a 8 PCs and in the case of the formula 1 simulator, they are capable of exerting up to 2G on the driver. This is not for the faint hearted, the owners estimate that only four out of five drivers actually complete the 18 minutes. A full driver’s license is also needed to take part.
Each car is then fitted with an array of three (or four in the case of the rally simulator) high definition Apple computer displays, these were selected by Cruden on the basis of their ability to withstand the rigours of the simulators movement. In the case of the rally and endurance cars the wingmirrors have small LCD screens installed to add to the immersive experience of the drive.
Cruden’s own audio solution was a little basic – standard PC speakers, so Bruno from APE worked with them to install a better solution that would beef up the engine noise for drivers. Each car features an array of four Bose Acoustimass satellite speakers, which in Bruno’s words create a Curtain of sound, aimed at the driver’s head. Beneath the seat, Bruno’s team installed the matching Acoustimass sub, for some grunt, and a further pair of Genelec 8030s to simulate engine noise. The Bose speakers run in a 4.1 configuration.
Each simulator pit is operated from a control room. The operator has complete overview of each car and also controls the ambient lighting and main presentation system, via a touch panel. Spectators watch the race from the mezzanine surrounding the cars on a 4:3 rear projection screen. The Sony VPL FE40 projector is driven by a Datapath video matrix controlled by an AMX control system. The interface allows the race operator to decide on the layout of the projected images. The system can show the views from any or all of the six cars in a split screen arrangement. There is also a seventh source, known as the helicopter view. This is generated by an additional PC.
The operator’s touch panel is running a web interface, designed by Audiovisuel Solutions, which allows the operator to communicate with I-Way’s central AMX control system. The advantage of this solution was that they didn’t need to buy four expensive AMX touch panels, they simply access the central NL-3100 controller via the network. The only software actually running on the panels is a webbrowser and the interface is made as simple as possible for the operator.
The pair of L’Acoustics 112P cabinets installed in the wall either side of the screen then gives the spectators an aggregated mix of sound from the simulation that is being shown on the projector. From the control box, the operator is also able to page each car individually, via a Sennheiser gooseneck microphone, and the Extron VS-88A matrices that handle AV sends and receives from the cars to the control box.
Whilst the control for the simulators and other audio systems is designed to be as simple as possible for the staff, there is a central rack room which offers more comprehensive control. From this the lighting levels and pre-sets in each of the areas can be controlled, diagnostics performed, and the AMX NL-3100 controller is also connected to the web, which means that the integrator can also perform remote maintenance and monitoring from its Paris office via a VPN connection.
Audiovisuel Solutions also supplied a wireless tablet, which has the same control access and the rack room. This allows changes to be made on the fly whilst walking around the site.
Whilst the simulators are without doubt impressive, much of the ancillary equipment may seem somewhat over specified. The ceiling speaker density in the mezzanine is extremely high, but this allows the power to each driver to be kept low and improves the overall sound quality – or allows it to be turned up for parties and events. Also the spinning room sounds incredibly loud, but again, the decision to take the Power V12s was borne of the desire of the owners to create exactly the atmosphere they wanted. This blend of ideas with AV has lead to what can only be described as a premium experience. From the “Gazpacho of Melon” shots on sale in the bar, to the club quality sound in the cycling suite there’s something over the top about I-Way, and it’s great!