In spite of all the changes going on in the automotive world at the moment, one thing has largely remained constant. That constant is big wings, being used to stop cars with big performance from having big accidents by hugging them to the road as the speedo rises. But there is another way to generate downforce. Pioneered in the 1970s, ground effects became a fixture of Formula 1 before they were banned in 1982. Now they're back, stuck to the bottom of the Ariel Aero-P.
Although they're effective as speed increases, conventional wings and aero addenda can be an inefficient way to create downforce. In most daily driving situations, road cars aren't going fast enough to make use of their fixed wings, which just sit there and create extra drag. According to Ariel, adding a fixed wing to an Atom increases drag by up to 15 percent, significantly impacting fuel efficiency and top speed.
The ground effect system fitted to the Aero-P is a clever way to avoid those problems, offering up meaningful downforce without the associated drag from wings. A rubber skirt on the bottom of the tub works with two compact, high-speed fans to create a vacuum under the car, sucking it to the road. Aside from the skirting around the bottom of the car, the prototype is fitted with an extra battery and some unique ducting to make the system work.
Instead of only producing meaningful downforce at warp speed, ground effects suck the car to the road at any speed. Ariel was chasing "downforce when stationary" on the Aero-P, inspired by cars like the 1970 Chaparral 2J Sucker Car and 1978 Brabham BT46B Fan Car.
Because the fans can spin up quickly, Ariel says the ground effect can be turned on and off at will. That means drivers could have maximum downforce through a particularly tricky set of corners, before switching the fans off for a higher top speed down a long straight. It also means a car could be driven in its most efficient state on the highway, before turning into an aero-monster when the driver wants to sink the boot in.
"When the system is turned on the car visibly squats on the ground so you can see it working, which is pretty exciting," says Simon Saunders, Director of Ariel. "We're already making about three times the downforce as aerofoils, but this really is just the first step and a very early stage in what is a large and complex project to bring to a production reality, so we have a lot more work to do."
At the moment Ariel is adamant the Aero-P is just a prototype, with no view for production in the near future – which isn't surprising as the realities of public roads (think potholes, speed bumps and stone chips to name a few) might make it tough to create a viable ground effect system.