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Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility

21 December 2021

LGF Awarded: £4.2m
Total Project Cost: £21m
Delivery Partner: Total Sim
Project Status: Due to open September/October 2021
Projected Outputs: 226 new jobs by 2025


The Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility (CARF) is a 1.7 mile long straight and flat former railway tunnel converted to an indoor, fully controllable vehicle testing facility to include wind and simulated weather impact, aerodynamics and emissions. A significant new, global standard test facility enhancing the capability of the UK vehicle industry. A new £4 million Research and Innovation Centre is also being built on the site, with the aim of enabling high-performance technology start-ups and early growth businesses to locate next to the testing facility.

The UK is lacking in road car aerodynamic and acoustic test facilities, and challenges in these areas around low emissions, new legislation and smart/connected vehicles are increasing. Aerodynamic vehicle testing is often a trade-off between reality and repeatability. A wind tunnel is very repeatable but it is only ever an approximation of real-world conditions. Much the same is true of computer aerodynamic simulations. Road testing, on the other hand is subject to variable weather and it is difficult to resolve small improvements. The UK accounts for 10% of EU car production but has no full scale moving ground automotive wind tunnel facility, whereas Germany has 6 and produces 37% of the EU’s vehicles.

As well as Local Growth Fund investment, support has also come from Daventry District Council, which acquired the disused tunnel from the Secretary of State for Transport so it could be leased to ARP. ARP will create an operating company comprising 6 people, with Total Sim offering support services. The facility will play host to other businesses who can sell and provide each other with services too.


The objective of the project is to give the UK a competitive advantage in vehicle testing and technology and to create over 200 knowledge intensive jobs in high performance technology and innovation. The project will deliver a vehicle testing facility with a wide range of applications that service the needs of the automotive, motorsport and other industries. Other unique capabilities include aero-acoustics, soiling, gust stability, emissions, lighting and cooling.

The £12m CARF tunnel provides a stable underground environment in which vehicles can be driven at high speeds to monitor their aerodynamic performance. More accurate and efficient than a wind tunnel, the CARF will be the only testing facility of its kind available for hire and is expected to attract interest from across the world, ranging from cycling and motorsport teams to major vehicle manufacturers.

The Catesby Tunnel project also aims to bring together car manufacturers, motorsport, academia and service/product suppliers around the Catesby test facility by developing the 4.5-acre former station yard as a science park. This cluster around vehicle research and testing will lead to the facility being far more than just an alternative to a wind tunnel, and will generate an opportunity for all to collaborate and innovate around the next generation of low carbon smart and connected vehicles. The project has become increasingly relevant to the sustainability agenda because the tunnel will be able to accommodate electric vehicles for acoustic monitoring and dynamic testing.

The project is contracted to deliver the following quantified impacts:

  • 1,828 sqm office space
  • 3,275 sqm industrial space
  • 8.4 ha brownfield land brought back into use
  • 211 direct jobs
  • 32 indirect jobs
  • £26.7m GVA over LGF programme period / £139m GVA over effective life of project.


The project considers its biggest challenge to be its own novelty – nobody has used this type of facility before and therefore it is a new market to develop. The project has presented a number of unique challenges, such as: creating a stabilised base with crash structures at either end; completing ventilation studies; implementing a speed sensor system; and developing an anechoic section that doesn’t reflect sound.

In this regard, the project recognises that there is an element of risk in funding the Catesby Tunnel, but that this represents the type of project that should be funded through the Local Growth Fund; one that wouldn’t have happened without SEMLEP’s investment. The project represents a real market failure opportunity as this type of testing doesn’t exist in the UK and the project would not have proceeded without LGF investment.

Catesby Aerodynamic Research Facility

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