In 1960, Enzo Ferrari said “Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines”. It’s a quote that’s been proven laughably wrong in decades since. Aerodynamics are a key consideration for anyone serious about performance in almost any branch of motorsport. Today, we’ll take a look at how aero influences the performance of your car, and what modifications you might undertake to improve things.
Gains To Be Had
Improving the aerodynamics of your vehicle can mean wildly different things, depending on what your end goal is. Aerodynamics affects everything from top speed, to fuel economy, to grip, and optimizing for these different attributes can take wildly different routes. Often, it’s necessary to find a balance between several competing factors, as improvements in one area can often be detrimental in another.
To understand aerodynamics with regards to cars, we need to know about the forces of lift (or downforce), and drag. Drag is the force that acts against the direction of motion, slowing a vehicle down. Lift is the force generated perpendicular to the direction of motion. In the context of flight, the lift force is generated upwards with respect to gravity, lofting planes into the air. In an automotive context, we very much prefer to stay on the ground. Wings and aerodynamic surfaces on cars are created to create lift in the opposite direction, pushing the vehicle downwards and creating more grip. We refer to this “downwards lift” as downforce.