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Aerodynamic Drag - Parts & Labor

What A Drag

Mar 1, 2008
Epcp_0803_01_z+mike_febbo+front_view Photo 1/6   |   Aerodynamic Drag - Parts & Labor

At the 2007 L.A. Auto Show, there were a couple of 'production' cars on display claiming top speeds in excess of 270 mph. One manufacturer even claimed 300 mph with its 2000-hp wonder. That's right, it intended to run roughly 50 mph faster than the mighty Veyron. We've all heard about the Herculean effort that went into creating the Bugatti supercar. We know about the pile of VW/Audi corporate resources thrown at it and the fact that it's nothing short of a benchmark of man's current state of engineering ability. So should we laugh off those home-built glorified soapbox racers as a joke? Maybe. But maybe not.

First let's look at what they're facing. The biggest factor to overcome is aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag rises exponentially with velocity. If we look at the equation for drag, we see that, as velocity (V) doubles, drag will square. But wait, there's more. If we look at power requirements, we can substitute drag as the force required to be overcome. As velocity doubles, the power requirement cubes. At this point, even an extra 20 mph is starting to look difficult.

Epcp_0803_02_z+bugatti_veyron+side_view Photo 2/6   |   Aerodynamic Drag - Parts & Labor

Drag force is daunting, we get that. What about other forces associated with aerodynamics? We've seen videos of the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche GT1 racecars blowing over backward. We understand the kinds of forces we're dealing with; if lift can get a jetliner airborne at these speeds, it will certainly get a car off the ground. There's a delicate balance between downforce and drag that must be maintained. Keeping the center of aerodynamic forces balanced between the axles isn't easy to do. More force forward or backward not only shifts grip, but also changes the vehicle's pitch, more than likely increasing the coefficient of drag, and the faster the speed, the more effect it has.

There's also another consideration-tire spin. Most people don't think about it, but it's a very real problem in top-speed runs. With enough drag force and power there's the possibility of overburdening the tires and getting wheel spin rather than acceleration. These manufacturers are throwing around numbers anywhere from 1,600 to 2,000 hp, and the cars are all two-wheel drive. A burnout at 260 mph isn't my idea of a good time.

I'd also be concerned with windows blowing out and mirrors ripping off at these kinds of speeds. And as long as we're talking about components, can I get a quick show of hands from all the tire manufacturers who guarantee the integrity of a radial past 270 mph? I don't know if we'll have any takers.

So should we take anyone who says they can go faster than the Veyron seriously? Yeah, no doubt someone will go faster, but I doubt 270, much less 300. And will it be in a car that can actually be called a production vehicle, which is as driveable as a Veyron? Probably not. We really are talking monumental numbers here. With engineering cars, like most other things, monumental numbers require monumental dollars.

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