The Royal Automobile Club has awarded the Simms Medal to Dr Rob Lewis OBE for the development of the Catesby Tunnel Test Facility and the associated Innovation Centre.

Named in honour of one of the Club’s founded members, Frederick Simms, the Medal recognises ‘an outstanding contribution to motoring innovation’ by individuals or small companies and one that exemplifies the “spirit of adventure”. Like the Club’s other major award for British engineering, the Dewar Trophy, the Simms Medal is not awarded on an annual basis. Instead, it is presented only when the Technical Committee is satisfied that an event of sufficiently significant and outstanding innovation in the automotive field has taken place.

Dr Lewis OBE is co-founder and Managing Director of TotalSim Ltd, one of three entities that comprise Aero Research Partners – the driving force behind the transformation of Catesby Tunnel. First opened in 1897 as part of Great Central’s ‘London extension’ railway – and built because landowner Henry Attenborough objected to unsightly trains thundering through the countryside – the tunnel was in service for 68 years until being ‘retired’ in 1966.

Fifty-five years later, the Northamptonshire site has undergone a multi-million pound transformation and been given a new lease of life as a unique aerodynamic testing and vehicle development facility. The perfectly straight, 2.7-kilometre tunnel is 8.2 metres wide and offers full-scale aerodynamic testing under controlled ambient conditions to ensure accurate, representative and repeatable tests. It has been complemented by the construction of an innovation centre adjacent to the tunnel.

The fact that it’s not affected by the weather means that the tunnel is available all year round for evaluating parameters such as drag, cooling-system performance, acoustic levels and emissions. As a result, it combines the advantages of real-world testing with the repeatable and secure nature of an enclosed environment.

Dr Rob Lewis OBE said: ‘It’s a huge honour to be presented with the Royal Automobile Club’s Simms Medal. Our aim is that Catesby Tunnel becomes the worldwide benchmark for aerodynamic testing and vehicle development, and that clients will come not only from the UK but around the world, in order to carry out repeatable, private, accurate and efficient R&D work. The process of bringing the tunnel back to life started in 2013, and seeing it come to fruition has been an incredible journey.’

John Wood MBE, Chairman of the Dewar Technical Committee, said: ‘Since the first Simms Medal was presented in 2003, it has been awarded to some of the most distinctive and ground-breaking motoring endeavours of recent years often achieved against the odds– and what Dr Lewis and his team have achieved with Catesby Tunnel continues that tradition. It’s amazing to think that an engineering marvel of the Victorian age will now be playing its part in developing cutting-edge technology for the transport industry for generations to come.’