Aerodynamics: Is it right for you?

It’s funny, really. Racers who think little about spending thousands of dollars over the course of the season for tires expected to last no more than a day or two, suddenly grab their wallets and groan at the idea of spending a few thousand, once, to significantly improve their lap times.

Not just “somewhat” or “moderately” or “slightly” improve lap times. For the cost of a couple sets of tires, correctly applied aerodynamics will significantly improve the lap times of any car.

Any car.

And, while it’s true that the faster your car is--or, more specifically, the faster it goes--the more benefit it stands to gain from aerodynamic devices, even comparatively low-powered cars can reduce lap times by multiple seconds per lap by doing nothing more than adding a properly designed wing and splitter.

Really.

So here's the truth of the matter: If your class’s rules allow wings and you don’t have one, you're going slower than you need to be. And, that's regardless of how fast you're going compared to your competition—even if you're already winning. Add the right wing and you'll go even faster.

If you already have a wing but it's not right for your car or it's mounted in the wrong position or at the wrong height, you may also be leaving time on the track. Some wings work best up high and in clean air. Others are designed to be mounted low. Some are better for hatchbacks while others have particular value on cars with a trunk.

And some, unfortunately, were designed more for the car show than the car race.

The exact details of what's right for you—that is, what kind of wing, how big it should be, how and where it should be mounted, and so on—vary somewhat from car to car, but aerodynamics—and, in particular, wings—equal speed.

Aerodynamic devices are without question both the easiest and least expensive way to cut what are usually multiple seconds per lap out of your average lap times.

A case in point…

The track: Mid-Ohio Pro Course.

The car: Scott Good’s 1989 Porsche 944 S2, a very well-developed but relatively low-powered racer (less than 200 hp) running in NASA’s GTS2 class.

The date: August 16, 2008, one month before the same car and driver would win NASA’s GTS2 National Championship by more than 12 seconds on that same track.

The results: Running with just a small 2-inch front splitter, the stock rubber rear spoiler and a new set of Hoosier R6s, Good turns his personal best Pro Course lap with a 1:39.161, a lap well under the official track record and one his competitors agree is probably the fastest GTS2 lap ever on normal compound DOT racing tires.

A year and a half later: April 10, 2010. the same car and driver on the same track with a set of used Hoosier R6s left over from an event the previous October. Same car, same setup, but with somewhat worse tires. However, this weekend the car was running with the addition of a modestly-sized (55” x 11”) homemade wood-and-aluminum wing and a 4” plywood splitter. The result?

The car’s best-ever Pro Course lap time drops to 1:36.868.

That’s an improvement of nearly 2.3 seconds per lap directly attributable to what are, in the grand scheme of things, relatively crude aerodynamic devices. Over the course of a typical 16 lap race, that 2.3 seconds per lap--if maintained--would accumulate to a race-long gain of over 36 seconds.

Consider where you're finishing races today and where you would be if you were 30+ seconds further up the track and you’ll quickly begin to understand the incredible value of these simple devices.

Where do you start to feel it?

This is probably the question we are asked more than any other: Where do you feel the effects of the wing most? In truth, you never exactly feel the wing. There is no magical speed where suddenly it starts working. Rather, wings work at all speeds. It's just that they work better the faster you go.

Therefore, the places they give you the most improvement are the fastest places on the track, like braking at the ends of the longest straights, or slicing through the fastest turns. Aerodynamics make you faster everywhere but give you the most advantage in the places you're going fastest.

Will you see these same results?

Really, it's not a question of whether proper aerodynamics will work on your car. They will. The real question is whether you're ready to take advantage of these newly-extended capabilities. Frankly, it requires a mental recalibration of sorts.

Let us explain:

If you're like most drivers, shortly after the installation of an effective wing and splitter you'll find yourself going noticeably faster than before. It may take a bit of initial tuning to get the balance right but suddenly the turns are easier and the braking is more stable.

But then you hit a plateau. And, while you are definitely faster, maybe you're not as much faster as you'd expected to be. As you begin to acclimate to this new speed, you'll realize that you're leaving extra room at the exits of the turns and that even though you're going a little deeper at the ends of the straights, you're not having to brake as hard as you used to.

That's the point where you need to do the re-calibration.

Aerodynamics silently extend the capabilities of your car. You, as the driver, will need to reassess your braking points, turn-in speeds and general style of driving to take the most advantage of these new and extended capabilities. You will need to catch up to the car because, at least for most people, after adding aero the car is ready to go faster than the driver is...at least at first.

So, what do you do about that? You put in some seat time. You do some laps. And you pay attention to where you could be going faster. Then, gradually, systematically, you work up to more and more speed. It takes some time to get the most out of aerodynamics, but make no mistake about it: Aero makes you faster. Faster from the day you bolt it on and even faster than that once you've had a chance to properly readjust your braking points and turn-in speeds.

Aerodynamics makes you faster. End of story.