Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why race cars have stationary spoilers?

  1. Jun 4, 2017 #1
    I frequently hear something like "......this car have stationary spoiler like race cars" bla bla. Why are stationary spoilers used in motorsports? Active spoilers are very useful for breaking and accelerating. I want to know the reason behind it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2017 #2


    User Avatar
    2017 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    You want to achieve maximal traction by minimal resistance and friction. Spoilers normally increase the pressure towards the road to increase traction and have a design that helps to avoid air resistance, esp. vortices. Take formula one cars for example. Nowadays their design is that of an airplane which is pressed on the track by aerodynamic design including spoilers of which some cannot be seen from above or from far.
  4. Jun 4, 2017 #3
    Are you using the word 'spoilers' specifically or aerodynamic devices generically? Wings, etc. One reason is that regs from the relevant sanctioning bodies often rule out active aerodynamic devices. Other cases aerodynamic devices are specified by regs or vehicle homologation. I suspect failure of the active device could be an issue as well. Youtube have quite a few videos of sudden mechanical of wings. I recall the skirts of the ground-effect era F1 cars were banned due to the danger resulting from loss of downforce when the skirts lost contact with the track such as when bouncing over kerbs. Failure of an active spoiler in cornering with loss of the assisted braking and downforce could be catastrophic if it takes a driver by surprise.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2017
  5. Jun 4, 2017 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Some years ago an F1 car was fitted with an engine powered fan to suck it down onto the track. I recall it kicked up a lot of debris and movable aerodynamic devices were banned.
  6. Jun 4, 2017 #5

    jack action

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    A better question would be «Why do we use active spoilers?»

    The rear spoilers can be used to reduce drag by setting the flow separation further back on the body. At the same time, it helps increasing stability by setting rearward the center of pressure further away from the center of gravity. Which, in turns, reduces rear lift (increases rear downforce).

    The front spoilers block the flow going underneath the car, thus decreasing the pressure below the car, thus reducing lift (or increasing downforce).

    When a car has lift or downforce, it usually creates drag. Since a typical car has some lift in its basic design, by adding a spoiler to just remove this lift force, you also reduce drag. When you further increase the spoiler effect, you then create downforce, thus increasing the drag.

    When a rear spoiler begins to look more like a wing, then you are in an extreme case of downforce and drag is definitely induced.

    So with stationary spoilers, you set them to a position that will give you the best compromise between drag and downforce for your particular application.

    If you have active spoilers, then you can adjust them to «low drag» when you want fuel economy or try to reach higher speeds or you can set them to «high downforce» when you want to increase traction & stability. You can also set them to «high drag» when you are slowing down to assist your braking system.
  7. Jun 4, 2017 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Is there a weight cost to active spoilers?
    Is there enough benefit from an active spoiler versus a fixed spoiler to offset that cost?
  8. Jun 4, 2017 #7


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The benefit is enormous under racing conditions where you really need the downforce in corners but must minimize drag on the straights. In many classes the weight is essentially free because it just reduces the amount of ballast that needs to be added to bring the car up to the minimum weight required by the regulations.

    The other problems are mechanical complexity, increased cost, increased danger to spectators and drivers because the speeds are so much higher and because failure of the active device means that the car is suddenly uncontrollable. None of these are high on the priority list of a formula team that wants to win.
  9. Jun 5, 2017 #8

    Ranger Mike

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    insane spoirlers.jpg The main reason you do not see active aero devices ( spoilers, splitters etc) is the governing rules of the sanctioning organization. Their reasoning is cost cutting as a fixed piece of fiber galss or carbon fiber is cheaper than one with an activating mechanism. In Nascar they really clamp down on any adjustments as a safety consideration. On super speedways they know exactly the aero down force and can limit "safe speed" to a point. In F1 if you give them an inch they will take 2 miles. Just look back to the ridiculous twin wing things that ran in the 1970s. Racing at the local level is sanctioned to keep some kind of cost savings. Regulations limit you to a hard " spec tire" or limit the number of new tires you can race in any one event to cut cost..hahahah..right. In the Saturday night bull rings that week end racer run, you are limited to fixed spoilers at set height, width and in some cases, angles. Material is dictated as well. Clear plastic so drivers following the lead car can see the lead cars driver when he signals signals.
    We all know active aero is the hot ticket but its a rules thing.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  10. Jun 5, 2017 #9


    User Avatar

    Formula 1 has modified their position on active spoilers which are now called the "DRS" (Drag reduction system) in which allows part of the spoiler blade to be flattened to reduce the spoiler drag and the racer regulators determine the "DRS zones" of each race course and electronically control where this device can be activated by a driver (as long as his car is within 1 second of the car ahead of his). The drag reduction benefit of these devices for passing can be clearly seen when activated to achieve a pass on the leading car.
  11. Jun 5, 2017 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    As I recall (before DRS) one team experimented with using the drivers knee to block air flowing through a tube. This air was then routed in such a way that it stalled or unstalled the rear wing changing it's drag properties.
  12. Jun 6, 2017 #11
    By the way, I have recently read an information about formula regulations. It's forbidden to use active wings on the vehicle.
  13. Jun 6, 2017 #12


    User Avatar

  14. Jun 7, 2017 #13
    If I remember correctly about the time of Senna's death F1 cars had active spoilers and active suspension. There were a number of accidents involving the failure of these components. I remember one were the car, travelling at speed, flew into the air because the active suspension failed and the car defaulted to its maximum height. I believe that it was in part because of Senna's death that these things were banned.

  15. Jun 9, 2017 #14
    My mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 twin turbo came from the factory moving front and rear spoilers........and a dual mode muffling system so they do exist but the only moving aero I consider useful is in reducing excessive lift as found in the audi TT and VW beetle......etc.....you know....cars that have insane amounts of lift at speed as to be dangerous.

    Really, the reasons you don't see moving aero in racing (other than the cheating).

    1. They are not legal in most classes.

    2. It is hard to maintain the perfect "balance" of front and rear downforce with moving aero.

    Balance is far more important than the amount of downforce.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Threads - race cars stationary Date
Automotive Standing mile race car twin engine heavy front end? Oct 30, 2016
Automotive Electric race car cooling system Sep 23, 2016
Race car safety idea May 15, 2015
Wind tunnel to do smoke testing of my Formula Vee racing car Apr 26, 2015