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Race Car Aerodynamics - The Design Process of an 2013-01-0797

Aerodynamic Package for the 2012 Chalmers 04/08/2013
Formula SAE Car

Sven Rehnberg, Lucas Brjesson, Robert Svensson and Jonathan Rice

Chalmers Univ. of Technology

Copyright 2013 SAE International


This paper describes the design process of a full aerodynamic
package of a Formula SAE (FSAE) style race car. The where Fy is the lateral force, is the friction coefficient of the
meaning of a full aerodynamic package in this context is a tyres and Fz is the vertical load.
front wing, a rear wing and a diffuser; the focus will however
be on the wings. The vehicle for which the aerodynamic Many teams competing in Formula SAE (FSAE) have also
package is designed is the Chalmers Formula Student (CFS) tried this approach, but ever since wings were first used in
2012 FSAE car, but vehicle data logged from the CFS 2011 FSAE the debate about whether or not they aide or reduce
FSAE car was used during the design phase. This data was performance has be on-going. Those in favour obviously
used to evaluate how the aerodynamic package will influence claim that they do help and those oppose usually claim that
the behaviour of the vehicle, both in terms of lateral and wings will not do much in the given speed range while they
longitudinal acceleration as well as fuel consumption, in do add weight and drag which will in the end reduce rather
order to determine whether or not an aerodynamic package than increase the performance [2].
can enhance the vehicle performance. The main tool used
during the design process was numerical simulations This dilemma, whether or not wings will increase the overall
(computational fluid dynamics, CFD) and special attention performance of a FSAE racer, was considered during the
was paid to post-processing of these simulations. It was design phase of the Chalmers Formula Student (CFS) 2012
concluded that although the resolution of the simulations was car, the CFS12. Since no previous CFS car have featured
relatively low, valuable insights on how the air flows over the wings there was no possibility of in-house benchmarking.
vehicle was obtained using CFD. The manufactured However, vehicle performance data logged during testing and
aerodynamic package was also evaluated during pre- competitions from primarily the successful CFS11 was
competition testing using an on-board data acquisition system available and used to evaluate the effects of wings.
as well as flow-visualisation tufts.
INTRODUCTION The CFS12 and the CFS11 are in many aspects similar. They
The method to enhance the performance of race cars by both feature a chromoly steel tubular space frame with body
adding downforce producing devices is well established and panels made of TeXtreme carbon fibre and honeycomb
started in the 1960's when wings were first used. In short, sandwich material. This was also used during the
wings enhance the effectiveness of the tyres by increasing the manufacturing of the aerodynamic package for the CFS12.
load on the tyres without adding the equivalent mass [1]. The The CFS12 uses push rod suspension both in the front and in
extra load increases the lateral force which can be produced rear and relies on a 600cc Yamaha motorcycle engine to
by the tyres according to the following equation; provide approximately 92 hp of power at the rear wheels.
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The FSAE rules of 2012 [3] regulates the outer dimensions effect on the vehicles centre of gravity (CoG), roll and pitch
and positions of any aerodynamic devices which had to be was assumed to be small and was thus neglected.
considered as well as the fact that the engine requires a
(theoretical) airflow of 0.56 kg/s at 56 km/h which affects the The negative effect of adding wings, mainly drag and added
design of mainly the front wing. The CFS12 can be seen, mass, must also be analysed in order to get a more complete
without wings, in Figure 1. picture of the effect on performance. The drag force on a
body can be calculated using equation (4);

where cd is the coefficient of drag. In the same way as the cl,
the cd is dependent of the shape and angle of attack of the
wing. The drag force has a counteracting effect on the
available traction force which propels the vehicle forward. By
taking the addition of the theoretical drag into account, and
knowing the efficiency of the engine, it is possible to estimate
Figure 1. The CFS12 without wings how much extra fuel the car would consume with wings.

THEORETICAL EVALUATION It can be seen in Figure 2 that wings have an effect on

performance even with the relatively low speeds (the mean
As mentioned earlier wings increase race car performance by velocity of the CFS11 was approximately 56 km/h) of a
providing massless load to the tyres. The wings will FSAE car. Apart from the longitudinal acceleration, which
obviously add weight to the vehicle and the performance gain unsurprisingly is affected negatively, wings seem to increase
must outweigh the drawbacks of this extra weight and the the accelerations. Especially the longitudinal deceleration has
addition of drag that wings also cause. How much downforce increased, i.e. the driver will be able to brake harder and thus
a wing produces can be described by the following equation; later with wings. The theoretical increase in fuel
consumptions due to the wings was calculated to 0.6 litres
during an endurance run. This would have resulted in a
(2) reduction of 17 points (out of 1000 possible) for CFS11 in the
where L is the lift or downforce, is the density of the Formula Student (FSUK) competition of 2011.
medium in which the wing travels, cl is the coefficient of lift,
Aw is the wing area and v is the wing speed relative to the
medium it passes through. The coefficient of lift depends on
the shape and angle of attack of the wing.

As mentioned earlier equation (1) describes the amount of

lateral force the tyres can provide. The tyre's coefficient of
friction is not constant and will decrease as the tyre load
increases. This suggests that the available lateral force will
decrease as the vertical force increase. The overall increase in
lateral force is however larger than the decrease in friction
coefficient [4]. The addition of the vertical aerodynamic
force, L, to equation (2) gives total vertical force;

Figure 2. The effect of theoretical wings on a CFS11 gg

(3) diagram

By adding the theoretical addition of aerodynamic load to the WING THEORY

logged data from the CFS11 it is possible to investigate how
wings (or any downforce generating devises) affect lateral There are a number of ways to alter the amount of downforce
and longitudinal accelerations. Figure 2 shows a gg diagram, a wing can produce. Equation (2) shows, from a design point
which plots lateral acceleration vs. longitudinal acceleration, of view, that the size or area of the wing is influential as well
for the CFS11 with and without the addition of theoretical as the coefficient of lift, which depends on the cross section
wings. The logged data used is from the endurance event shape, or the aerofoil, of the wing. The area of the wing is
during the 2011 Formula SAE Italy competition. The wings
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determined by the width or span of the wing and the depth or

chord, see Figure 3.

Figure 3. Explanation of wing terminology

The maximum span of the wing is determined in the FSAE Figure 5. Centreline cross section showing pressure
regulations as is the chord in effect since the rules regulates distribution
how far ahead of the vehicle aerodynamic devises can
As the drag of the wings depends on the wings size and shape
which in turn determine the downforce, this makes it difficult
To determine the aerofoils of the front and rear wing it is first
to decide the downforce distribution without investigating
necessary to know the desired downforce distribution or
different wing concept's downforce to drag ratio. As a result
where the centre of pressure (CoP) should be. The CoP could
of this, it is an iterative process to determine the downforce
be placed some distance behind the CoG of the car. This
would have the effect that the vehicle becomes more under
steered as the speed increases, as the relative load on the rear
As the maximum size of the wings is determined by the rules
increses. This allows the car to over steer more in slow
it is easiest to look to the coefficient of lift to acquire the
corners and thus turn in quicker but be more stable in high
desired amount of downforce. There are various systems to
speed corners. With reference to the CFS12, the decision was
describe the aerofoil of a wing, e.g. the NACA 4-digit series.
made to place the CoP in the CoG and make the wings
The different numbers describe how much camber the wing
adjustable. This allows for the CoP to also be adjustable and a
has and its positions as well as the wings maximum thickness
favourable position can be determined during on-track
and its position [5]. By iteratively testing wings with different
testing. Once the total amount of desired downforce has been
aerofoils and thus different downforce to drag ratios it is
determined along with the position of the CoP the downforce
possible to determine suitable aerofoils to meet the required
distribution can be calculated using a free body diagram, see
pressure distribution of the car.
Figure 4.
If a highly cambered wing is not enough to produce the
required downforce, or results in flow separation, a multi-
element wing can be used. The most usual application on race
cars is the use of flaps, which are smaller wings placed
behind and above the main plane, see Figure 6.

Figure 4. Generic free body diagram (of CFS11)

The green arrows represent downforce and the red arrows

represent drag. The position of the overall downforce
generated by the underbody was approximated to roughly Figure 6. Wing main plane with one flap
where the diffuser starts. This can be seen in Figure 5, which
shows the pressure distribution of the cross section of the car This will increase the wing area but will also increase the
along its centre line, as the low pressure region just below the effective camber without causing flow separation. One of the
engine in the lower left corner of the picture. key parameters to consider when designing a multi-element
wing is the size of the gap between the flap and the main
wing. Experiments have shown that a vertical gap of 3.8 per
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cent of the chord and longitudinal overlap of 5.2 per cent of Table 1. Fluent settings
the chord is suitable [6].

An additional method to improve the wing performance is the

use of endplates. An endplate is a plate mounted vertically at
the end of the wing (see e.g. Figure 11 and Figure 12). The
implementation of endplates can potentially increase
downforce and reduce drag. The general shape of a wing
produces a pressure difference between the upper and the
lower surfaces, which is also its purpose. At the side edges of
the wing this pressure difference results in air flowing from
the high pressure area to the low pressure area. This in itself
decreases the effectiveness of the entire wing but also creates
vortices trailing off from the wings. This results in an
increase in induced drag [6]. Adding endplates to the wing
will reduce the amount of air moving from the high pressure
region and in general the larger the endplates the better they
will work [7].

ANALYSIS The reason for choosing 15.56 m/s as the free flow velocity is
To analyse different aerofoils for the front and rear wing and that this is the approximated average speed of the CFS11 (56
how they affected the overall pressure distribution CFD was km/h) and this was also assumed to be the average speed of
utilized. the CFS12.

Firstly, a computer aided design (CAD) model was created The turbulence model used, the realizable k-epsilon model, is
using CATIA V5 (Dassault Systems). ANSA (BetaCAE) was a time averaged (Reynolds Average Navier-Stoke) model
used to prepare the CAD model for simulation and to create using two extra transport equations, the k-equation and the
the body surface mesh. Sharc Harpoon was used to create the epsilon-equation, in order to represent the turbulent properties
volume mesh surrounding the car model, in effect a virtual of the flow. This is a suitable model when simulating
wind tunnel. The dimensions of the wind tunnel was set to turbulent flows and is relatively quick to solve. It was also
three car lengths in front of the car, eight car lengths behind used during the design of the CFS11 which makes
the car, five and a half car lengths above and six car lengths comparisons between the two cars better. In order to achieve
beside the car. In order to decrease the simulation time and a good prediction of lift and drag forces it is important to set
the required computational power it was decided to run half the ground plane as a moving wall and the wheels as rotating
car simulations which can be mirrored afterwards to simulate walls. This will more accurately simulate real driving
a full body simulation, which is shown in Figure 7. It was conditions, comparable to the use of a moving ground system
decided that the right side should be used since this was the in physical wind tunnels.
side with the engine radiator. As mentioned in the vehicle
data section the front wing design has a significant impact on
the air flow to the radiator. For the half car simulations
between 11 and 14 million cells were used for the volume

The decision to run only half car simulations makes it

impossible to simulate the behaviour of the vehicle during
yawed situation. It was however decided that the increase in
computation time would restrict the design process too much.

To run the actual flow simulations Fluent (Ansys) was used.

The properties that were investigated and which governed the
design decisions were mass flow through the radiator, drag
and lift forces. Important settings can be found in Table 1.

Figure 7. Half car simulation

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A fourth software, Fieldview (Intelligent Light) was used to of approximately ten degrees. The outer sections blend into a
visualize and analyse the CFD simulations. more neutral middle section with four per cent camber and an
angle of attack of zero degrees, see Figure 10. The flaps have
CASE STUDY the same aerofoil as the outer sections, but a smaller chord.

An open wheel race car represents a complex geometry and The influence of ride height has a significant effect on the
the half car simulations take between 12 and 40 hours per aerodynamics and in particular the performance of the
simulations with the resources available for the CFS project. diffuser and the front wing. One example of this can be seen
As a means to reduce the simulation time and evaluate more in Figure 5, which shows the significant low pressure region
concepts it was decided to run separate front wing and rear under the front wing as a result of ground effect.
wing simulations. This is not optimal since the entire car
influences the flow and especially the rear wing is highly
affected by for example the roll hoop, the drivers helmet and
the plenum which is situated just behind the drivers head. It
makes it possible however, to distinguish between promising
concepts and less promising ones.

The front wing simulations were done using the same half
Figure 8. Front wing concept with flaps spanning from
body method as for the car and also featured the nosecone
endplate to endplate
and the front wheel since this affects the performance of the
front wing. The rear wing was simulated in a free stream flow
since it is difficult to simulate the effect of the rest of the car
without running a full car simulation. This method made it
possible to reduce the number of cells in the volume mesh
which in turn made it possible to use less powerful computers
and still reduce the simulation time significantly. The desired
amount of overall downforce was set to 500 N at 56 km/h and
the design target for the diffuser was set to 30 N based on Figure 9. Front wing concept with shortened flaps
data from the CFS11.

Front Wing
Several concepts were evaluated for the front wing design.
Early simulations showed that the front wing should account
for approximately 175 N of downforce and 30 N of drag to
satisfy the required pressure distribution. It was also of vital
importance that the front wing affects the airflow in such a
way that a sufficient mass flow of air moves through the
radiator. The duct inlet for the radiator was placed near the Figure 10. Final front wing concept
ground just behind the front suspension arms on the right side
of the car. It was determined early in the design phase that a Rear Wing
single wing would not provide enough downforce and a
As with the front wing, several concepts were evaluated for
multi-element design was instead considered. After further
the rear wing. To maintain the required pressure distribution
simulations it became clear that a design with two flaps
it was concluded with initial simulations that a rear wing
spanning from endplate to endplate, shown in Figure 8,
providing approximately 295 N of downforce and 110 N of
would provide sufficient downforce but disturbe the flow to
drag was required. The main challenge during the design of
the radiator. The nosecone is not in Figure 8, but would be in
the rear wing was to understand how the downforce and drag
the middle splitting the flaps in two.
values differed between the free stream wing simulations and
the half car simulations. A single element wing was quickly
A design where the flaps were shortened to enable sufficient
ruled out and several alternative concepts of multi-element
airflow to the radiator had the expected effect, but did not
wings were evaluated, mainly two-element concepts (Figure
provide the required downforce, Figure 9.
11) and three-element concepts (Figure 12). The effect of
different sizes of endplates was also investigated.
As a result, a more complex multi-section (lateral wise) wing
was designed to ensure sufficient downforce and air flow to
After several half car simulations a three-element design was
the radiator. The outer sections, with shortened flaps, consist
chosen with a main wing aerofoil with ten per cent of camber
of an aerofoil with 15 per cent camber and an angle of attack
and an angle of attack of ten degrees. The flaps have 15 per
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cent of camber. Both the front and the rear wing have accurately simulate separation, or because there is no
adjustable flaps. separation. This potential problem with the rear wing leading
edge was unfortunately not discovered until manufacturing of
the wings had begun.

In order to investigate whether or not the wings suffered from

flow separation in reality flow-visualization tuft of yarn was
attached to the underside of the wings during on-track testing
and filmed using a video camera, see Figure 17 and Figure
18. The yarn tufts follow the airflow, meaning that an
attached flow should keep the yarn to the surface of the wing.
Figure 11. Two-element rear wing concept with large Flow separation will however result in turbulence which will
endplates cause the yarn to flutter in a seemingly random fashion.

Figure 12. Three-element rear wing concept with small Figure 13. Pressure distribution behind rear wing

As stated, the performance of the rear wing is highly

influenced by the rest of the car and it is important to
investigate this influence. CFD simulations require post-
processing and interpretation of the results. For example, the
proximity between the plenum and the rear wing greatly
affects the performance of the rear wing which can be seen in
Figure 5 and Figure 13. Figure 5 shows how the plenum
affects the low pressure under the wing and Figure 13 reveals
how the pressure distribution under the rear wing changes
when moving the entire wing back ten centimetres. It shows
the car from behind, with the right hand side of the figure
showing the wing moved back (the wing mounts are also
featured). The CFS12 with its full aerodynamic package can
be seen in Figure 15.
Figure 14. Leading edge of rear wing
It is also important to realize that CFD simulations are only
an approximation of the reality and unless the volume mesh
cell size is very fine the results can vary greatly from real life.
Even with a fine mesh, CFD simulations should not be
considered to reveal the absolute truth. Figure 14 shows the
leading edge of the rear wing from a half car simulation. It
can be seen that the leading edge is actually situated a few
centimetres up from the ideal position in the very front of the
wing. This is probably caused by the fact that the air flowing
Figure 15. The CFS12 with wings
over the car hits the rear wing with an angle and this forces
the air to move against the free stream direction in order to
reach the underside of the wing. This could result in flow RESULTS
separation on the underside but the post-processing showed
The final design was firstly evaluated using CFD and later
no signs of this. This might be because of the relatively
during pre-competition testing where lateral and longitudinal
coarse volume mesh, which could lead to a failure in
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accelerations were logged and potential flow separation was The effect of the aerodynamic package could however be
investigated using flow-visualization tufts. measured in other ways. The on-board sensors logging lateral
and longitudinal acceleration were used to construct gg
Computational Fluid Dynamics diagrams showing the effect of the wings. Figure 16 shows a
gg diagram from the first test with the modified wings. The
The final design of the front wing was presented in CASE
car was first driven without wings around an approximately
STUDY under Front Wing. The initial simulation, with
800 metre track designed to resemble an FSAE endurance
only the front wing, the nose cone and the front wheel,
track. The wings were later mounted to the car and the same
showed that the front wing alone would produce
driver drove the around the track.
approximately 184 N of downforce and 32 N of drag. This is
to be compared to the design target of 175 N of downforce
and 30 N of drag. When using this front wing in the half car
simulation the values changed to 172 N of downforce and 30
N of drag.

In the free stream simulation the rear wing produced

approximately 442 N of downforce and 142 N of drag,
compared to the targets of 295 N of downforce and 110 N of
drag. The reason for the big difference, especially in terms of
downforce, is that earlier simulations showed a loss of
approximately 30-40 per cent from free steam simulation to
half car simulation. The half car simulations showed values
of 272 N of downforce and 108 N of drag. This, together with
the front wing and the rest of the vehicle, gave a total amount
of downforce of 477 N and 253 N of drag. Even though the
rear wing did not meet the design targets it was assumed that
it was sufficient and that this could be compensated for by the
Figure 16. The effect of wings on the CFS12 during pre-
adjustable flaps.
competition testing

Pre-Competition Testing It can be seen that the effect of wings in the testing gg
Due to the realisation that the angle of attack of the rear wing diagram is not as profound as in the theoretical gg diagram.
might result in flow separation it was decided that the angle Surprisingly the longitudinal acceleration seems unaffected.
of attack should be lowered. Manufacturing of the wings had The lateral accelerations show little change but the
already begun and due to resource restrictions further 3D longitudinal deceleration increased.
simulations could not be used. This made large design
changes impossible and simpler 2D simulations resulted in During this first test with the modified wings a two second
the decision to lower the angle of attack by seven and a half difference was recorded over one lap, in favour of the wings.
degrees. During on-track endurance simulations, with and without
wings, it was shown that the wings increased the fuel
In an attempt to exploit the phenomenon of ground effect on consumption by approximately 0.6 litres.
the front wing, it was initially mounted close to the ground,
approximately 35 millimetres. After tuning the suspension It should be added that the test described above was the only
during testing, which resulted in a lower ride height, this one performed when the car was driven with and without
proved to be too low and the wing contacted with the ground wings as a way of evaluation. Once it had been established
during braking and roll. To avoid this the front wing was that the lap times had decreased the decision was made to
mounted higher, eventually 80 millimetres higher than utilize the wings.
intended. The resulting loss of downforce due to ground
effect significantly altered the CoP and the car began to As mentioned, flow-visualization tufts was used to evaluate
understeer. To solve this problem the angle of attack was eventual flow separation, Figure 17 and Figure 18. This was
increased by approximately seven degrees. It was estimated considered especially important after the modification of the
that the modifications to both the front and rear wing reduced wings since both the wings had been altered compared to the
the overall downforce but a suitable CoP could be achieved. CFD simulations. The left picture in both figures shows the
This received positive feedback from the drivers. It was car in straight line acceleration while the right picture shows
initially intended to investigate the amount of downforce by low speed cornering, giving some justice to the claim that
using potentiometers mounted to the dampers of the car. Due wings do not work in low speeds.
to technical difficulties this was unfortunately never realised.
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No main plane separation could be detected on either of the consumption, which accounted for approximately half of the
wings, but high angle of attacks on the upper flap resulted in lost points during the FSUK competition.
some separation on both wings. According to the drivers,
more downforce could be produced by lowering the angle of To be able to design an aerodynamic package in the short
attack of these upper flaps, which was also demonstrated by time available, in FSAE a new car is usually designed every
the tufts. year, it is in practice necessary to use CFD. Since there are
many parameters that must be considered when working to
achieve the required design targets in terms of downforce,
drag, CoP and cooling air flow, it is vital to be able to analyse
different concept before the car is manufactured. It should
again be noted that the investigation only included straight
line performance and no yawed situations were simulated,
which obviously limits the conclusions that can be drawn.
Even if the simulations have relatively low resolution, in
terms of number and size of volume mesh cells, CFD is still a
useful tool in the design process. It is however important to
realise that CFD is an approximated representation of reality
and on-track validation is necessary to investigate the actual
performance of the wings. This can be achieved using on-
board sensors or flow-visualization techniques, but in the end
it is the increase in overall performance and the drivers'
ability to reduce lap times that matters.

Figure 17. Flow-visualization tufts on rear wing 1. Barnard, R. H., Road Vehicle Aerodynamic Design,
MechAero Publishing, Hertfordshire, ISBN 9 780954
073473, 2009.
2. Racecar Engineering, Wings and things, http://, July.
3. 2012 Formula SAE Rules, SAE International,
Warrendale, PA, 2011.
4. Milliken, W. and Milliken, D., Race Car Vehicle
Dynamics, Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.,
Warrendale, PA, ISBN 978-1-56091-526-3, 1994.
5. Abbott, I. H. and von Doenhoff, A. E., Theory of Wing
Sections, Dover Publications, New York, ISBN-13:
978-0-486-60586-9, 1958.
6. McBeat, S., Competition Car Aerodynamics, Haynes
Publishing, Sparkford, ISBN 1 84425 230 2, 2006.
7. Katz, J., Race Car Aerodynamics, Robert Bentley,
Cambridge, ISBN 0-8376-0142-8, 1995
Figure 18. Flow-visualization tufts on front wing
It has been seen that wings can have a positive effect on the Chalmers University of Technology
overall vehicle performance of a FSAE formula racer, even Applied Mechanics
with its relatively low speed range. The CFS12 was a highly SE-412 96 Gothenburg
successful car, being the overall winner of the FSUK SWEDEN
competition of 2012 and finishing third overall in the FS
Germany Combustion competition of 2012. The major
drawback caused by the added drag was an increase in fuel
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The authors of this paper would like to sincerely thank the
then Ph.D. (now Dr.) David Sderblom for all his help,
especially with CFD and analysis.

The authors would also like to thank Volvo Car Company for
all its help during manufacturing of the wings and for
providing test tracks.

CAD - Computer Aided Design
CFD - Computational Fluid Dynamics
CFS - Chalmers Formula Student
CoG - Centre of Gravity
CoP - Centre of Pressure
FSAE - Formula Society of Engineering
FSUK - Formula Student UK
NACA - National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
Aw - Wing area [m2]
Cd - Coefficient of drag [-]
Cl - Coefficient of lift [-]
D - Drag [N]
Fy - Lateral force [N]
Fz - Vertical force [N]
L - Lift [N]
v - Velocity [m/s]
- Coefficient of friction [-]
- Density [kg/m3]

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