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Drawing in the air

The news that Britain will soon have its own high-speed hole in the ground – a disused Victorian railway tunnel turned into a car test strip – marks the latest step in the assessment of car aerodynamics, a pursuit that began over a century ago.

TotalSim hopes racing cars will soon be hitting 150mph through a tunnel where steam locos once ran

In this latest development, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) specialist TotalSim is turning the disused Catesby rail tunnel in Northamptonshire into an advanced aero facility. Cars, with drivers aboard, will shoot down the dead straight 1.7-mile tube, accelerating into the centre measurement section, and then have half a mile to stop. Turntables at each end mean a quick return. With no fans to drive, power use and noise are radically reduced. “And the repeatability is rock-solid,” says the firm’s John Paton. “It closes the loop of the three methods. CFD gets better all the time but it’s not the real world – there’s no vibration or heat for example. The tunnel will allow us to validate model tests and CFD against the real thing. It’s the perfect companion.”

It also completes a loop back to the roots of the technology, when wind tunnel testing was just as contentious as today – not due to environmental concerns or F1 testing limits, but because many didn’t believe that blowing air over a static car had the same effect as driving in free air. It took the genius of bridge designer Gustave Eiffel to prove it did – and that’s just the same debate that today’s wonder tool CFD had to win before being accepted into the aerodynamics armoury.

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About Motor Sport Magazine

Featuring our exclusive lead story on Martin Brundle being reunited with his Jaguar XJR-12, an extract from Gordon Murray's new book, and our tribute to the phenomenal driver that was Niki Lauda.