When NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr. more than fifty years ago, the idea was to race cars that could be bought off a dealership showroom floor – stock cars. Over the years as technology advanced, so have the cars, but the NASCAR philosophy remained the same, with driver skill being the deciding factor when a car crosses the finish line. Following a series of deaths in the first few years of the new century – Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. – NASCAR officials turned their attention to making the sport safer and in 2007 the Car of Tomorrow (COT) was introduced with the emphasis on driver safety.
To level the playing field to an extent, the exact same template was used, regardless of which manufacturer was building the car – Ford, Dodge, Toyota or Chevrolet. The slightly larger build of the Car of Tomorrow was a little less aerodynamic, but more stable at high speeds and better able to handle impact from other cars. The new CoT debuted on March 25, 2007, at Bristol with Kyle Busch winning the race in a Chevrolet, but nonetheless commenting during his victory lane interview that the car “sucked”. Other drivers gave the car mixed reviews, with one of the negatives being that racing had been reduced to a single-file procession with little room for the action provided by competitors passing one another.
Various problems with the CoT were experienced and ironed out over the following years, and in 2012 fuel injection replaced the carburetor as the fuel distributor. For 2013, NASCAR sanctioned a redesign of the CoT body style,which is mostly cosmetic in nature, to identify with the manufacturer, with the chassis and mechanics of the car remaining the same. The CoT was officially renamed the Gen6 car by NASCAR at the 2012 Ford Championship Weekend.
In a recent series of tests at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the new NASCAR Gen 6 reportedly received a stamp of approval from the sixteen drivers testing it. Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted enthusiastically he was really impressed and that NASCAR is going to be “revolutionized” by the car – and that type of endorsement from one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers bodes well for the Gen 6 car in 2013.
A group of math and science students recently gathered at Charlotte Motor Speedway to hear a panel of experts, including an astronaut, explain a number of similarities between auto racing and space travel. Both astronauts and NASCAR or Formula 1 drivers rely on a team of aerodynamic scientists to maximize their speed while complying with safety measures. Both are subject to G-forces and extreme heat, and both are familiar with, and reliant upon, materials such as carbon fiber and Kevlar – an incredibly strong composite para-aramid synthetic fiber used in various applications.
While astronauts travel around the earth at approximately 17,500 miles per hour, seeing an entire day and night pass by in around 45 minutes, following the initial launch astronauts are no longer under tremendous physical stress. Traveling at high-speed, racing drivers have corners, gradients and camber to deal with, all of which can put tremendous strain on the human body – and while this G-force effect is not constant and not as strong as an astronaut experiences during a launch, it is repeated many times during a three or four hour race. The effort of intense concentration also takes its toll on a driver, requiring physical and mental fitness.
Site manager of Windshear Inc. and panel member at the Charlotte event, Jeff Bordner, noted that the principle of aerodynamics for automobiles was a spin-off of the aerodynamics and technology developed for aerospace. Windshear runs a 180 mph rolling-road wind tunnel used for testing vehicles, with NASCAR providing up to 65 percent of the company’s business. NASA and NASCAR have long been connected, going back to the time when General Electric engineers established facilities along Volusia Avenue in Daytona Beach, Florida – a street which is now known as International Speedway Boulevard – where it assembled rocket parts to be used at Cape Canaveral. Early astronauts, such as Gus Grissom and Pete Conrad, were reportedly big auto racing fans, and this fascination with speed among astronauts has continued over the years. Captain of the Apollo 13 mission, Jim Lovell, has served as a NASCAR grand marshal, and astronaut Dominic Antonelli lists NASCAR as one of his interests in his NASA biography page. In 2008 the green flag for the Daytona 500 50th anniversary, flew on the shuttle Atlantis prior to the historic event.
Two-car tandem racing has become a feature at Daytona and Talladega, with drivers working together to gain the highest speed possible around the track. In this two-car collaboration the trailing driver pushes the lead car around the track. Due to the position of the cars, the driver doing the pushing has a limited view of the road ahead and relies on the leader to make the right moves. However, the close proximity of the two cars can lead to overheating, and so the pusher needs to trade places with the leader from time to time. The temporary breaking of the pusher-leader partnership causes a dramatic reduction in speed for both cars and is potentially hazardous.
Three days of testing at Daytona saw NASCAR trying to break this two-car tandem racing pattern, and revert to the pack racing format that auto racing fans enjoy the most. During the testing, Kyle Busch clocked a 205.813 mph in a pack racing format, while Regan Smith and Kurt Busch formed a two-car tandem, with Kurt Busch clocking an incredible time of 206.058 mph.
Bearing in mind that NASCAR has traditionally been against exceeding speeds of 200 mph, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon reportedly queried the high speeds being achieved on the track, and was assured by NASCAR officials that they have no problem with the new record speeds. Nevertheless, with pack racing bringing in the fans, in November last year NASCAR Chairman Brian France made it clear that he wants drivers to move away from two-car tandem racing, so in addition to a series of changes to rules governing aerodynamics of racing cars, driver-to-driver communications over their scanners has been banned.
While a number of changes have been made during testing, with drivers and their teams kept informed all along the way, it is very likely that more changes will be made before the much anticipated Speedweeks begin, with the iconic Daytona 500 taking place on February 26. NASCAR vice president Robin Pemberton noted that while there may be some loose ends to tie up as they make final plans for Speedweeks, and was reported as saying that “everything is going according to plan.”
Staying ahead of the competition is what it is all about when it comes to racing. Developing new technologies and designing cars that will hopefully secure victory is what every racing team strives to do. After winning the 2010 Le Mans Cup, the Peugeot team is even more determined that their new Peugeot 908 will be the car to beat in the upcoming season. The French team also managed to secure the 2009 season and even more determined to maintain their winning streak, so last Thursday the public were given the first glimpse of the Peugeot 908.
The design and construction of the Peugeot 908 was done under the project name of 90X. All changes and development of the new car comply with the regulations of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO). Great excitement is building around seeing the new vehicle perform on the track. One of the changes made to the new vehicle was seeing the V12 being replaced by a 3.7 V8 power plant, as the new regulations are enforcing smaller displacement engines. It has been fitted at a ninety degree angle and now produces 542 bhp.
In regard to the aerodynamics of the car, engineers have managed to redesign the car in such a way that the down force has been slightly reduced, to enable the car to maintain the same speed as its predecessor. The shark fin has also been adjusted and designers have strived to make the car more aerodynamic. The Peugeot 908 will also feature the same size tires front and rear.
The Sport’s Technical Director of Peugeot, Bruno Famin, commented that testing the car has aided them in solving a few issues they had with the car, saying: “We did indeed have problems but we succeeded in resolving them one by one as we got more and more kilometers on the clock. One of the very positive points we found was that the car’s handling lived up to our expectations out of the box. With regard to its other strengths and weaknesses, we will need to wait until the first races to see how we compare with our rivals.”
The drivers for the coming Le Mans have been announced to be Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Pedro Lamy for car number nine; Marc Gene, Anthony Davidson and Alex Wurz for car number seven; and Frank Montagny, Stephane Sarrazin and Nicolas Minassian in car number eight. With the new car and drivers announced for the 2011 season, Peugeot seems ready to take on the Le Mans.
Britain’s Silverstone Speedway, with its rich history in the world of auto racing, is incredibly fast with a long complex of high-speed corners that thrill spectators and challenges drivers. In fact, most of its twist and turns leave other circuits in the dust. The change of direction is so quick that driver’s testify to feeling the “speed” of the car. You need good aerodynamics at Silverstone, so this is where all the hard work in the wind tunnel before the race pays off!
Silverstone Speedway was opened as a World War II airfield in 1943, near the leafy village of the same name. Once the war had ended in 1945, Britain was left with a number of sprawling airfields, but without a major racetrack: Donington Park was still a military vehicle storage depot, Brooklands had been sold off, Crystal Palace was in a state of disrepair, and Brands Hatch was still under-developed.
The Royal Automobile Club was interested in Silverstone as a potential site and approached the Air Ministry in 1948 and a lease was arranged. At this time, the centre of Silverstone Circuit was a farm that produced cereal crops and raised pigs! Out of such humble surroundings legends are born: the RAC employed farmer James Wilson Brown to create the first Grand Prix circuit at the site and gave him just two months to build it.
On October 2nd, 1948, amid straw bales and ropes, the first event at Silverstone Speedway took place, the RAC Grand Prix. The crowds came in their thousands, thrilled to see the return of Grand Prix racing after so many years of war austerity. The 3.67 mile course sent the 23 competing cars racing round part of the perimeter track, up the two former runways and back to the perimeter. This layout meant cars were racing towards each other head-on until they turned sharp left and returned to the perimeter. For this reason, canvas screens were erected across the centre of the circuit to stop the drivers being distracted whilst the spectators were not permitted to enter the centre of the circuit because of the potential damage to growing crops.
The winner of the inaugural race at the Silverstone circuit was Luigi Villoresi in a Maserati, who recorded an average speed of 72 mph to claim the first prize of £500. A year later, after the hazardous runways were eliminated and a chicane was inserted on the full perimeter road, Silverstone Speedway hosted a second major event in May 1949 – the Formula One Daily Express International Trophy – virtually a second Grand Prix, won by Alberto Ascari.
Another of Silverstone Speedway’s most famous classics also began in August 1949, the Daily Express International Trophy for Formula One cars and for this meeting the Club chicane was dispensed with and the circuit took up a shape that was to last for a quarter of a century.
Back in 1950, Silverstone Speedway was the birthplace of today’s FIA Formula One World Championship. Today the Speedway remains one of the world’s most historic tracks, but the challenges faced on every corner are no less daunting than any other circuit raced by the greatest names in F1 today.