Go-Fast Technology

Fast As Lightning, Designed By Wind

Wind tunnels have been used for aerodynamic research since before airplanes even flew. Carl Richard Nyberg was using a wind tunnel in the late 1800s to design his Flugan. The Wright brothers used a wind tunnel to design the wings of their Wright Flyer. However, this arena of aerodynamic research didn’t affect race car design until the late 1960s.

Up until then, race car aerodynamic design was often a process of making the body as smooth and round as possible. By 1968, though, the idea of fitting wings to cars to increase downforce and, therefore, speed through corners, started gaining momentum. Soon, teams began to realize the need to test their cars in wind tunnels to optimize the aerodynamic performance of the car. As FIA rules started becoming more and more restrictive, gaining an aerodynamic advantage became increasingly important.

Today, many race teams employ engineers who perform computational fluid dynamics (CFD) calculations and then test models in the team’s (or a rented) wind tunnel to prove out the calculations. It’s incredible the technology in some of these wind tunnels. In the picture above, from the mid-1970s, you see what I believe is a Copersucar-Fittipaldi model being tested in the Embraer tunnel. The floor is fixed, and is wood with huge seams. Today, motorsport tunnels sport very smooth floors, with boundary layer control and rolling road systems to try to simulate the car racing down the track in as realistic a manner as possible. Data acquisition systems record thousands of channels — pressures, temperatures, and aerodynamic forces — at extremely high data rates. Some systems are capable of recording thousands of times a second.

What’s interesting is it seems that even though the race teams fairly recently discovered the wind tunnel, their wind tunnels are often more complex and advanced than the wind tunnels used for aircraft design.

[youtube width=”420″ height=”315″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_7-W6X23-I[/youtube]

[Image Credit: Motorsport Retro]

  • The Professor

    I've been sitting here trying to rationalize the reason as to why aircraft windtunnels are less advanced than the auto racing ones. The only thing that makes sense is that aircraft aren't as susceptible to the minute variations in aerodynamics as the F1 cars are. Is this a valid line of thought? Or is there a more mundane reasoning?

    • B72

      My gut tells me that operating in a boundary layer is a more unstable state, especially when bumps and vibrations are causing your distance from the survey to vary.

      • ademrudin

        Bingo. Interactions between the car and the ground matter a LOT, particularly the interactions with the spinning wheels.

        • B72

          Apparently that engineering degree was good for something!

  • PrawoJazdy

    I have a love hate relationship with windtunnels.

    On one hand, windtunnels give you this. On the other hand they give you the Prius.

    • jeepjeff

      The Prius is what happens when you optimize for cargo space and fuel efficiency, top speed and cornering ability be damned. This is what happens when you say cargo space be damned… (But you knew that.)

      Windtunnel or no, we were going to hate the Prius no matter what. Toyota's engineers and design team would only have tweaked the design based on windtunnel testing, they knew mostly where it was going to end up when they started.

      Don't blame the tool. Blame the abuser.

  • SeanKHotay

    Coincidentally, I was just reading two recent articles on race car aero development.

    Thought you folks would be interested too..

    Windtunnel tyres: Pirelli's secret weapon (yes, they are wind testing tires. And I still think a spinning tire, like a curve ball or rotor sail, has a measureable aerodymamic effect) http://bbs.hellof1.com/2644128.html

    Prodrive Speeds Ferrari Wing Development with Reverse Engineering & CFD Technologies http://www.geomagic.com/en/community/case-studies

  • SeanKHotay

    Oops, a third on ScarbsF1 (thought I'd closed that window) which led to a 4th:

    Red Bull Aero Rake http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/abu-dhab

    Analysis: Abu Dhabi Test – 2012 Exhausts http://scarbsf1.wordpress.com/2011/11/24/analysis