Browse Publications Technical Papers 2002-01-3348

Potential for a Ground-Effects Top Fuel Dragster 2002-01-3348

The current performance of a top fuel (T/F) dragster racing car is very high. The cars can accelerate from a standing start to well over 330 mph (528 km/h) in < 4.6 seconds! The engine of a T/F dragster can make considerably more power than can be put down to the track surface. Intentional clutch slippage prevents wheelspin for most of the ¼-mile (0.4 km) standard length racing run. Even though the drive tires used are highly specialized and specifically designed for this type of racing environment, more traction is needed. To create more traction, especially during the second ½ of the run, external wings have been employed by the designers of such cars. The size and configuration of the wings is limited according to sanctioning rules.
Recent wing failures and accidents have made other options for the creation of downforce appear attractive. In the present work, we consider the potential for using the shape of the car itself to create the required down-force. This methodology is used in many other forms of professional racing (e.g., IRL/CART, Formula 1, and others), and is commonly known as ground-effects aerodynamics (GEA).
After examining reasonably representative vehicle and wing performance, we derive the equations of motion for a T/F dragster racing car equipped with wings. We follow this by identifying the downforce required of a GEA car in order to at least match current vehicle performance, and carry out some simplified calculations to establish feasibility. We show that a GEA T/F dragster could meet, and probably exceed, current performance levels, as well as be much safer to drive in the event of mechanical failures. The effects of a wing failure are examined, and the kinetic energies of T/F cars are compared to those in other professional racing series.


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