It's often said that high performance racing cars like the ones we see in the World Endurance Championship and F1 produce enough downforce that you could theoretically drive them upside-down in a tunnel.
This may sound like sci-fi stuff out of a Hollywood blockbuster, but theoretically it is doable thanks to the black magic known as aerodynamics. Though The Fast and the Furious-style stunts aren't priority for World Endurance Championship cars, hugging the corners at a race track while travelling at breakneck speeds certainly is.
Here's the basic concept of aerodynamics: when a car is racing down the track, it needs to punch a hole through the air in order to move forward. In order to create this hole, it's essential that the car faces the least resistance possible. For that, the air is moved in and around the car in such a way that the machine remains stable going in and out of corners as well as down the straight line. To do this, complex structures such as front diffusers, rear diffusers, wings and such other components are designed for the car.
Modern day racing cars travel at speeds in excess of 320kph while a Boeing 747 jet takes off at just 290kph. Mark Webber knows all too well what happens when a car's aerodynamics are a bit off; going down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans in 1999, Webber's Mercedes Benz CLR literally flipped up and 'flew' through the air in a massive crash. To avoid such scenarios, today's World Endurance Championship cars produce up to two tonnes of downforce to make sure that they stay stuck to the ground.
In this episode of AHEAD, ex-Formula One drive and racing pundit David Coulthard and 2015 World Endurance champion Webber explain the crucial role that aerodynamics plays in World Endurance Championship and Formula One cars.
Want to know how World Endurance Championship reaches speeds in excess of 320kph? Read all about the engineering that goes into it.