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The incredible lightness of racing cars

Motoring

Durban - In the motor industry, weight is the enemy of performance. However, with safety considerations and features, cars have become heavier over time as safety requirements demand that they be reinforced to pass collision tests. In the motor industry, a focus has been placed on making cars as light and safe as possible.

Technological advancements in materials used to build cars have developed at an exponential rate, with the aim being to provide maximum structural integrity while keeping the weight of the vehicle as low as possible. This is especially pronounced in the world of motorsport.

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Volkswaghen Golf2 GTI Vampir 16 Valve Turbo weighs about half a ton, kicks out 745kW. Picture: Youtube

Most older cars were built with steel body panels that were sturdy but added weight. With extra research and tweaking, an example being the BMW M series cars, body panels were crafted out of aluminium to reduce weight but maintain structural integrity. The issue that then arose was the price factor. These revamps and technological advancements came at a hefty price.

Then the motor industry began dabbling in the use of carbon fibre. Although extremely expensive, it proved to be stronger and lighter than most metals previously used to make cars. In high-end modern cars, especially those that are sport inclined, the use of carbon fibre has become preferential in producing a vehicle that is structurally sound yet at a fraction of the weight.

If one has to read up on Koenigsegg supercars, multiple alloys are used to construct chassis, subframes and reinforcements for the vehicle yet at a fraction of the weight compared to if steel and aluminium were used. Pagani, possibly one of the most exotic supercars on the planet, have taken weight reduction to a completely new level with a car called a Pagani Zonda R.

This car is neither specified for track or road use yet is essentially a toy for people who have millions in disposable income. The car produces an uncharted amount of power, with no known top speed and acceleration that is mind boggling. The car is made completely out of carbon fibre and has only a single seat - essentially a V12 go-kart.

However, let's localise the concept of weight reduction in racing.

Why are so many race teams electing to use older-model cars with heavily modified engines? The reason is simple. Older cars did not come packed with safety features. There were no side-impact beams, no airbags, no traction control and, aside from ABS braking, safety features were virtually non-existent.

The Volkswagen Golf 2 GTi weighs 880kg when completely standard. In racing trim, with back seats, door panels and all interior trim removed, body panels replaced with carbon-fibre components and a hugely powerful engine is inserted, it has a very respectable power to weight ratio.

Racing teams often opt to replace many body panels in their cars with carbon fibre, rebuild the chassis from aluminium and magnesium composites, dropping the weight even further, and tune custom engines to produce as much power as possible. An example of this is a Golf 2 GTi, dubbed the 'Vampir 16 Valve Turbo'. This car weighs about 510kg and its engine kicks out 745kW; when power to weight analysis comes into play, we realise that the Vampir delivers more kilowatts per ton than a Bugatti Veyron.

As motorsport develops and new technology is devised on a daily basis, the future holds amazing possibilities for how fast, light and safe sports cars are becoming. From the three-ton V8 muscle-cars of the 1960s to the 500kg, four-cylinder turbo cars of the present, weight reduction in motorsport has come a long way. It is just a matter of time before newer technology is released that takes the concept of the light, fast and sturdy racing car to new heights.

IOL Mojo

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