Thursday 28rd September 2023

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

Racing is more than just a sport, it's a passion and dedication. In particular, men's interest in their "machines" and the endless search for speed run through the entire history of the automobile. Since the invention of the car, people have competed on the race track. In over a century of motorsport action, we've witnessed a multitude of impressive race cars, each with their own unique and inspiring stories. Some racers are good, some less successful, but some are so iconic that we will remember them for a long time. Let's take a closer look at two groundbreaking and legendary cars:

the McLaren MP4/4

The dominant McLaren MP4/4 is not only the most superior car from McLaren, but also in the entire history of Formula 1. A true masterpiece. In the 1988 season, under the control of two excellent drivers, this car won 15 out of 16 races. They only had to admit defeat at the Italian GP, ​​due to mechanical problems and an accident. Had Senna lasted two laps longer, the MP4/4 would have been the first and only car in history to win every race in a season.

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

The success of the car is based on many factors. Firstly, the fuel-efficient Honda engine, which enabled the McLarens to start the race with less fuel. Thanks to improved fuel efficiency, the tank of the MP4/4 has been reduced to 150 litres, as opposed to the 195 liters of the previous model, the MP4/3. This had two advantages: it allowed an aerodynamically lower car to be designed and it lowered the center of gravity.

However, these were not the only innovations. This season Lotus used the same Honda engine but with a different gearbox configuration. McLaren designed a clutch and gearbox to perfectly match the compact and low-slung Honda engine. This allowed the vehicle to be designed so that its center of gravity was extremely low, giving it a competitive advantage over the Lotus with the identical engine.

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

To reduce engine friction and increase efficiency, McLaren engineers worked closely with Shell. The oil developed in the process reduced both friction and the heat generated, thereby improving fuel efficiency. There was also a change of suspension supplier. Showa, a Honda-owned company that produces suspension for Honda motorcycles, designed and manufactured new shock absorbers. These suspensions introduced innovations such as changing the position of the hydraulic chamber. As a result of all these improvements and innovations, the MP4/4 became the brightest star in Formula 1 history. The MP4/4 dominated the season, scoring THREE times as many points as its closest competitor Ferrari (Ferrari 65 points, McLaren 199 points).

By mistake to legend: the Lotus 79

According to Giorgio Piola, the Lotus 79 represented a game changer, developed by a top-class team with huge potential and emulated by its rivals. Today marks the anniversary of the Lotus 79's debut at the 1978 Belgian Grand Prix. With the Lotus 79 winning that race, the competing teams realized they had to embrace the concept of ground effect, sparking the development competition of the time.

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!
Lotus 79

However, the Lotus 79 was not the team's first vehicle to use ground effect. This model represented a further development of the technology that had been introduced in the vehicle 78 a year earlier. The innovation that made the main advantage of the Lotus 79 was discovered rather by accident. At the time, the team was relentlessly conducting wind tunnel testing. The sides of the sidepod of the intensively tested model began to sag. Although not intentional, the data showed a significant increase in downforce. Lotus was initially puzzled by this effect, but found that by sealing off the area between the sides of the sidepod and the underside, downforce increased greatly.

The challenge now was to implement this discovery on the racetrack, as it was not possible to extend the sidepod downwards on a real vehicle. An adjustment was needed to prevent breakage which could cause problems. In late 1976, the team began testing this modification by adding skirts to the sidepods. However, fearing that the other teams would quickly notice this innovation, the team decided to delay the release and continue further development.

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!
Model car of a Lotus 78

Although the Lotus 78 notched up eight victories without this technology, it also served as a testing ground for these investigations. The team tried what they had tested in the wind tunnel with the Lotus 78 and thought about how it could be put into practice.

As downforce increased, the car naturally came closer to the ground. So the team was challenged to find a solution for an apron that touched the ground when the car was at rest, but lifted as soon as it started moving, ie when the car started to descend. The Lotus 79 became the pioneer of its time. In 1978 he scored 6 wins and 4 podiums while Lotus won the constructors' championship and Mario Andretti the drivers' championship.

Unlike the previous model, Lotus moved the fuel tank behind the driver from the sides of the sidepods and switched to a slimmer cockpit design, increasing the tunnels used for ground effect and striving to make the most of this strategy. Although the vehicle lengthened, this benefited the team as the tunnels were both widened and lengthened. Lotus' successes led other teams to follow this approach, but by then Lotus had already started developing the next car...

Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

Of course, that wasn't the end of it!

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Legendary racing cars and their origin story!

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About Thomas Wachsmuth

Thomas Wachsmuth - He has been an integral part of since 2013. His passion for cars is so intense that he invests every available cent in it. While he dreams of a BMW E31 and a Hennessey 6x6 Ford F-150, he currently drives a rather unremarkable Alpina B5. His collection of books, magazines and brochures on the subject of autotuning has now reached such proportions that he himself has become a walking reference work for the tuning scene.

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