Aerodynamics in Sports Cars

With the desire to go faster than ever before cars have been making use of the aerodynamic principles developed for aircraft for some time now. In many cases, good aerodynamics can be the key to success in sports cars, and so it comes as no surprise that millions of dollars are spend researching and developing this facet of auto racing each year.

There are two main factors to take into consideration when discussing the aerodynamics of an automobile: down force and drag. Down force is an aid for good, as it helps to push the car’s tires onto the track and so improves a car’s ability to corner and stay on the road. Drag, on the other hand, is not a favorable factor, since it is essentially air turbulence that slows the car down. Finding the right balance between the two can sometimes be tricky.

Altering the aerodynamic performance of race cars was something that was more or less started in the late 1960s. This is when the wings that are now commonplace on the racetrack were first added to cars. Early experiments with wings resulted in some rather spectacular accidents and so regulations were introduced to limit the size and location of wings in 1970. Race car wings are essentially upside-down airplane wings – instead of creating lift they create down force using something known as Bernoulli’s Principle. As the wind travels over the shorter and longer planes of the wings, it pushes the car down and helps it to stay on the road. Modern Formula One cars have this science down to such an art that the cars are capable of handling a lateral cornering force of 3.5g! The concept was further improved during the mid 1970s when Lotus engineers discovered that adding a wing to the car’s underside could further help to improve road holding. Over time a number of rules have been drawn up regarding this aspect of down force to ensure that no team has a distinctly unfair advantage over other teams. Today wings may be altered from race to race to improve the cars performance on a particular track.

When it comes to reducing drag, wind tunnels have certainly helped to make race cars more streamlined. By now every single aspect of the modern Formula One car has been investigated and improved to make it as streamlined as possible – including the driver’s helmet and the suspension! There is, however, one downside to a slippery smooth car: the incredible heat produced by a Formula One engine does need good supply of airflow to ensure that it doesn’t build up and cause problems. So designers are always careful to ensure that this is something that is provided for, even though they also spend hours trying to make sure that the air travels over the car as effortlessly as it can. No doubt, as racing cars continue to get faster and leaner, you will continue to see more and more of these developments take effect.

Back to Blog