Several months ago, we welcomed Ariel Motor Company to Catesby Tunnel as they looked to discover more about how the cockpit protection screen they have developed for the Atom 4 affects the cars performance. Despite the minimal size of the screen it does a truly fantastic job of reducing buffeting for the driver but the question remained, how is it affecting the downforce and drag of the vehicle?

“This fine level of testing just wouldn’t be possible for us outside the tunnel”

Confidently finding an aerodynamic difference on such a small change in setup would be near impossible outdoors. Noise in the data caused by changing external factors such as: wind, rain, track temperature, road surface, etc… would be larger than the change being studied, making it impossible to draw any meaningful conclusions. At Catesby however, the evidence was conclusive, thanks to the incredible levels of repeatability the facility offers, with Ariel founder Simon Saunders commenting “This fine level of testing just wouldn’t be possible for us outside the tunnel”.

To test the aerodynamic differences in setup coastdown tests were conducted, wherein the Atom 4 was accelerated to a steady speed before being put into neutral. The rate of speed decay can then be analysed. As you can see in the graph below repeatability of the results in which setup remained the same is incredibly good, with the three repeats of each setup stacking up nicely on top of each other. This highlights exactly why you can have so much confidence in the data you collect in the tunnel.

Ariel Atom 4 Run comparison

The interesting bit, for the guys at Ariel in particular, was that the car clearly decelerated at a slower rate when the screen was fitted, meaning it had lowered the overall drag on the vehicle. Not only this but the screen also helped generate an extra 100 Newtons of downforce which helps shift aero balance to the centre of the car. Simon Saunders described this as a “win-win-win” for them!

All in all, it was a fascinating day of testing. We were also lucky enough to be joined by Autocar writers Steve Cropley and Matt Prior who documented the days’ testing. The article featured in the 14 – 21 February 2024 edition of the magazine which can still be found online.

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