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NASCAR tests Car of Tomorrow with rear wing at Daytona

 

January 12, 2006

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.  – Performance was at the forefront of more than a few minds Thursday as the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow tested for the first time at one of the sport’s most historic venues – Daytona International Speedway. (All photos courtesy of NASCAR)

NASCAR Vice President for Research and Development Gary Nelson and his group began the latest round of on-track data acquisition for the Car of Tomorrow using the prototype produced by the NASCAR Research and Development Center and driven by Brett Bodine, NASCAR Director of Cost Research.

Previous on-track sessions set performance baselines. Now, the quest to fine-tune those baselines begins at Daytona. The Car of Tomorrow, which is two inches taller and four inches wider than current NASCAR race cars, represents the sport’s next major step in safety and competition enhancements, and cost-reduction improvements.

NASCAR is in the final stages of the five-year Car of Tomorrow project, and Thursday’s test marked another step toward the finished product.

“The last part of the Car of Tomorrow is, ‘How does it run in traffic,’ ” Nelson said. “The only way you can do that is in traffic. You can't do that in the laboratory. You can't do that in the wind tunnel. And so we're working our way into that to close up the specification to where we have a very nice package that works on the race track and in traffic, and the leader and the overtaking cars are able to have the right amount of balance as they're running in clean or dirty air.”

The tests that preceded Thursday’s – last October at Talladega Superspeedway, then at Atlanta Motor Speedway – featured the NASCAR prototype along with teams’ prototypes. Although Thursday’s Daytona test was open to teams, the NASCAR car worked in solitude, with Bodine’s laps building a framework of information to be used in the next test, next week.

On Jan. 19, teams that have built Car of Tomorrow prototypes are scheduled to test with NASCAR at Daytona. Everyone will use the baselines developed in Thursday’s test to see how the cars react in traffic and drafting situations.

“It’s new, it’s different,” Bodine said. “It’s the future.”

Part of the future being tested Thursday included a wing rather than the usual spoiler attached to the car’s rear deck lid. NASCAR tested the wing briefly last October in Atlanta, but didn’t complete it because of a team’s engine problem. Most of Bodine’s runs today were done with the wing rather than the spoiler, and both he and Nelson say the possibility of using a spoiler adds to the pieces teams can use to tune their cars.

"Today we’ve been able to tune it with bolt-on pieces, not cut fenders off and not cut quarter panels off, to change the balance of the car,” Bodine said. “And that’s one of our goals. We want a car that’s very tuneable, very adjustable, so maybe the car can be very adaptable to several race tracks instead of being track-specific.”

Nelson said the idea of using a wing came from the Grand American Road Racing Association, where wings are common components in several different classes of sports car racing.

“There's actually several theories that are working when we start experimenting with the wing,” Nelson said. “The wake that is left behind the car at speed is what affects the following cars. And so as we explore ways to have better competition on the track, we want to understand that wake. And a wing produces a completely different wake than a spoiler does.”

“The wing is very adjustable,” Bodine said. “You can change the angle and the shape of the wing. We’re still in development. The wing on the car is strictly a prototype piece. By no means is that something that could be final, but certainly the concept is starting to prove itself worthy of continued investigation.”

Part of that continued investigation will take place next Thursday, when Bodine – a former NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series competitor – is scheduled to test in traffic with other cars.

“We're establishing a baseline with the spoiler and the speed that it produces,” Nelson said. “Our plan is to have a car follow us next week with the spoiler, switch to the wing and have that same car follow us so we run the same speed with the spoiler, the same speed with the wing and get the feedback from the driver that's following on how that effects the turbulence.”

Along with spoiler and wing configurations, the Car of Tomorrow also features a much more box-like front bumper that catches air rather than deflecting it. It’s one of several components that Nelson and Bodine say will help team owners with cost reduction; those components can be adjusted on the car, rather than having to be replaced. The goal is to produce a car that can perform at high levels at many different race tracks instead of just a few.

“That is all going away for this car,” Nelson said. “The purpose of that is on the car owner side for the expense. If you have one size fits all, when you talk about the body of the car and the frame of the car, then how do you make that car run well at all the tracks? You bolt on aerodynamic devices, the spoiler, the wing or the splitter.

“You can't sit here in early stages of that kind of development and say what the end result is going to look like. All you can say is that the end result will be what turns out best in testing.”

The author can be contacted at nascar@autoracing1.com

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