Aero maps have a profound impact on race car performance. These sophisticated charts provide crucial insights into the aerodynamic properties of a race car, enabling engineers to optimise downforce, reduce drag, and achieve an ideal aero balance. This article takes on the concept of aero maps, their aerodynamics importance, and how they elevate performance on the track.
Deciphering Aero Maps
At its core, aero maps are visual representations of the race car’s front and rear ride heights. The suspension setup can modify the car’s aerodynamic characteristics, and it directly influences these ride heights. Aero maps are typically multi-dimensional, considering parameters such as yaw, steer, and roll dependencies. After examining these maps, engineers can acquire valuable information on the total downforce, aero balance, and vehicle drag.
An aero map is specific to a particular mechanical car configuration. Any changes to the bodywork elements or settings, including cooling exits, rear wing types, splitter angles, and front wing angles, result in a new aero map. This newly formed map varies in magnitude and shape, offering precious insights into the car’s aerodynamic capabilities.
Why Aero Maps Matter
The primary objective of a race car’s aerodynamics is to generate the highest possible downforce, which translates to increased grip and faster lap times. Understanding the location of the downforce peak and how it varies across the ride height range is of tremendous importance for optimising the car’s performance. However, downforce alone is not enough to ensure a fast car. Achieving the optimum aero balance is equally fundamental.
Aero balance refers to how the aerodynamic load is distributed between the front and rear axles of the car. Fast cars should generate downforce, minimise drag, and reach the perfect aero balance. Most cars have an uneven split of downforce, with the front and rear downforce varying across the ride height range. This asymmetry affects the car’s understeer/oversteer balance at different cornering speeds, making it indispensable to manage the car’s aerodynamic load effectively.
Race Engineering Applications
Ideally, a car would always be configured to run at the peak of the aero map. Nevertheless, variables like tyre compliance and suspension characteristics pose difficulties in consistently maintaining the peak point. Hence, the race engineer’s responsibility lies in fine-tuning the car’s setup, encompassing ride heights and spring rates, to guarantee the optimal position on the aero map.
The car is generally set up to be near the optimum downforce-producing ride heights in low-speed corners, where most lap time gains occur. Furthermore, how the vehicle traverses the ride height space is critical for achieving a well-balanced car. Notably, the car’s design and setup enable it to follow lines of equal balance on the aero-balance map. This consistency in car balance instils confidence in the driver, encouraging them to push the car to its limits in every corner.
Balancing Downforce and Drag
Securing the perfect equilibrium between downforce and drag is paramount in race car aerodynamics. Most cars experience minimal drag when the ride heights are level front to rear, resulting in the smallest frontal area. Certain vehicles also incorporate diffusers that stall at low rear ride heights, further decreasing drag. On quicker tracks, engineers may opt for very flexible rear springs to lower the ride height on straights and deactivate the diffuser. To avoid any negative effects on the car’s performance, meticulous calibration with the drag map is imperative.
Choosing the Perfect Settings
Selecting the appropriate aero settings for a race car necessitates finding the right balance between speed on straight stretches and performance while cornering. Lap time simulation is a widely employed technique that aids engineers in evaluating different aero map configurations for optimal performance. When running a car model through a circuit trajectory and sweeping through various aero maps, engineers analyse lap time results and determine the rear wing setup that offers the best trade-off for straight-line speed and cornering capabilities. For instance, high-speed tracks may require a narrow rear wing to maximise straight-line speed, while tracks with tight corners may demand a higher rear wing level to enhance downforce.
Aero Mapping Process
The process of aero mapping begins with the creation of comprehensive 3D models of the race car. These models capture the elaborated details of the car’s surface, including bodywork elements, wings, and other aerodynamic components. Advanced CAD software develops these models to ensure accuracy and precision.
Once the 3D models are created, teams execute advanced software and sensors to map the airflow over the car’s surface. Laser ride height sensors, suspension force transducers, and other high-tech sensors are employed to measure downforce at various speeds and track conditions. This real-time data provides valuable insights into the car’s aerodynamic performance and permits engineers to act on setup adjustments.
Every team analyses the data collected from the sensors to identify areas of improvement and optimise airflow. Engineers visualise the airflow patterns using CFD software, which simulates the air movement around the car. This analysis helps flag high-pressure areas, turbulence, and drag, allowing engineers to make design modifications to improve aerodynamic performance.
To ensure the accuracy of the aero maps, teams correlate the data obtained from wind tunnel testing with real-world results on the track. While comparing the predicted aerodynamic performance with the actual car performance, engineers can fine-tune the aero maps and refine the car’s aerodynamic setup. This iterative process ensures that the aero maps accurately represent the car’s performance characteristics and grant options for further optimisation.
Aero maps prove to be an influential resource for race car engineering, offering vital understandings of the performance of aerodynamic cars. These 3D maps help engineers visualise key parameters like downforce, aero balance, and drag, optimising the race car setup for better track performance. They revolutionise the approach to aerodynamics, maximising grip, achieving desired balance, minimising drag, and selecting suitable configurations. With the aid of CFD, the creation of accurate aero maps has become more powerful than ever.