One of the Black Arts of upper echelon Motorsport is downforce, because It takes a counter-intuitive approach to fully understand the process, Herculean effort, and in some people’s opinion, a deck short a few cards. Even seasoned veterans, as skilled as they are, cannot always overcome the innate fear involved. However, like every aspect of driving a racing car, when it works out, it’s absolutely thrilling to experience. It’s just that when it doesn’t work, it can get very costly.
In order to understand the process, the driver needs silence that part of their brain which keeps them—most of the time— from driving off into the undergrowth and into a ditch six feet underground. This is because generating downforce requires very high speeds, and lots of airflow. The greater the mass of air flowing over the wings, the harder the tires are pressed into the cement. Therefore, the faster ones goes, the more grip they generate.
Because this goes against the rules of mechanical grip—ie. grip from the tires and suspension—it requires a leap of faith, and unlike mechanical grip, cannot be worked up to as gradually. As Evo writer and racing driver Richard Meaden notes, “it’s like throwing yourself out of an upstairs window because someone told you you’d land on something.” Generally speaking, you’d like to at least peer out to see a huge beanbag chair before leaping.
Unfortunately, downforce is something that can’t be seen, which is why one must have serious faith in the A450’s wings to extract all the performance on offer. Alpine bolts the aero kit to a a carbon chassis from Oreca and shoehorns a Nissan V8 between the rear wheels. The 4.5-liter VK45DE spins to 7,750 RPM, produces 460 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, and is deployed via an X-Trac six-speed sequential gearbox. This drivetrain powers a car that weighs a scant 1,980 pounds total, and propels the driver up to 205 mph with the right gearing.
Massive slicks and carbon-ceramic brakes only add to the challenge at hand. Because these components need to reach their operating temperature before they stick or stop well, the driver must gather all their courage, how to get around comma and generate some heat. Below the threshold, it’s a little like driving on snow. Even though Meaden gives it plenty of gusto from the get-go, he does have to treat it with some respect. Thankfully, he has traction control to keep him from embarrassing himself in front of the Alpine team.
All the more reason to admire Meaden, who has never seen this track, nor driven a car this intense. Considering all that goes into something like this, Meaden deserves an award just for keeping it off the green stuff. However, with all the ranting and raving going on in this video, one wonders what the Alpine could do in more experienced hands.
Here’s a glimpse:
It’s such a shame that this category gets overlooked somewhat, since the cars are equally-matched and incredibly fast. If Meaden, a man who has raced Ford GT40s, Formula Palmer-Audis, and Elises—deems himself “not worthy,” then we all have quite a bit of work to do before we could get behind the wheel of an LMP2—let alone master one.