April 01, 2020 By Georges B. Ramirez Photos provided by the Author

Aerodynamics (1930s to mid 1960s)

A break from the COVID-19 crisis to learn about the history of aerodynamics
(First of a series)

In the photo: Yours truly, getting a feel of time travel in the Exquisite Beaulieu Museum in England.

Aerodynamics is such an integral part of motor racing today and yet it wasn’t always that way. As soon as the motorized carriage was invented people started to do what they always do, race. It was a race to build the better machine which inadvertently made them look for the best people to pilot them.

1930 Tanzio Nuvolari Alfa Romeo 6C Coppa della Consuma

Initially, horseless carriages, automobile or cars were so slow and aerodynamics didn’t really play such a vital role in its design. Even the first airplanes only focused on its use to provide lift but, though soon after they started to use it on the body surfaces. As this developed, it would be passed down to cars and before long the rounder and more teardrop shape cars started to come about.

1938 Tanzio Nuvolari Auto Union, Silver Arrow Donnington Park, England Grand Prix

Through this period in motorsports, you would see the aerodynamic changes from the era of Nuvolari in the 30”s to mid 40’s all the way through to the cars the Fangio era. The 40’s and 50’s were primarily about making the cars slip through the air with the least resistance as possible, while the tires and suspension provided all the traction.

1958 first winged race car by Jim Cushman

The actual first race driver to put a wing on a car was Jim Cushman’s Sprint Car in 1958. It was a big and almost square wing mounted on top of his car. But, other than these Sprint races, the wing stayed put for quite a few more years

1967 Jim Clark in the Lotus 49 Spa Francorchamps, Belgium Grand Prix

As the 60’s rolled in, Formula One cars became cigar shaped which was thought to be the peak of minimizing drag only, so to speak. It wasn’t till the mid 60’s that a Texan by the name of Jim Hall got the bright idea ofgetting a wing, which normally provided lift for airplanes, and flipped it upside down to provide down force to deliver extra grip for cars around the corners.

1966 Jim Hall, Chaparral 2E Riverside, USA

Though he was a former Grand Prix driver at this point in time, he had a race team running in one of the top prototype race series of the time call CanAm. His car was the Chaparral 2E. It had a huge rear wing that was mounted up high and would tilt forward to create down force when slowing for a corner then it would level out down the straights when you didn’t want the excess drag. The driver could make these adjustment at will with the use of another foot pedal.

I will end part 1 of my series on aerodynamics in motor racing and I hope you enjoyed the read as much as I did writing it. Till then, be safe…


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