SOURCE: USA TODAY
MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Inside a wind tunnel testing facility in the heart of NASCAR country, a team of engineers, ride designers and builders and aerodynamic experts look for precious seconds of speed.
But they’re not watching a race car. They’re watching a bobsled – specifically the state-of the-art Night Train 2 with members of the U.S. bobsled team inside, including three of the four who won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Every tenth of a second matters. Just more than sixth-tenths of a second separated first place from fourth place at the 2013 world championships.
Without giving away intel, bobsled driver Steve Holcomb said they have found ways to shave time thanks to the wind tunnel.
“If you lose one-hundredth of a second each run at the Olympics, that’s four-hundredths over a race. That’s a lot. That’s the difference between a medal and not winning a medal,” said Holcomb, who is preparing for the 2013-14 bobsled season and the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Night Train 2 is the evolution of Night Train 1, the sled Holcomb piloted to the first U.S. gold in Olympics four-man bobsled since 1948. The biggest difference is that Night Train 2 is made of carbon fiber instead of Kevlar and fiberglass. Carbon fiber is lighter and provides better weight distribution but is more expensive. In short, carbon fiber allows for better aerodynamics meaning more speed.
Night Train 2 is the product of Bo-Dyn Sled Projects, the company run by former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine and Bob Cuneo of Chassis Dynamics. They have employed auto racing technology and ingenuity to bobsleds and brought in key motor sports insiders such as fabricator-designer Jim Garde, composite expert Hans deBot and aerodynamicist Louis Duncan.
Holcomb’s team, consisting of Justin Olsen, Steve Langton and Curt Tomasevicz, is adjusting to the new design and material of Night Train 2.
“The sled is certainly stiffer. Aerodynamically, that is better,” Holcomb said. “But it makes it a little different to drive. It’s not quite as smooth, which is kind of unfortunate because that’s a nice ride. At the same time, I’ll take speed over comfort.”
The new sled wasn’t unveiled until March, meaning Holcomb’s team has had limited experience with it on the track and will enter the 2013-14 World Cup season without driving it in a race.
“It would have been awesome to have this a year ago,” Holcomb said. “It’s amazing that we have it now, but at the same time, it’s just a time crunch. We only have four months to figure it out. We have a good team behind us. They know what they’re doing and what it takes. It’s not like it’s the first bobsled they’ve ever built.”
Members of the U.S. bobsled team will spend a week in Sochi in late November and plan to take approximately 40 runs on the technical and speedy but safe track. The Sochi Olympics will be held in February.
“This sport is about repetition,” Holcomb said. “The more runs you get, the better you are. … I know we’re going to have the fastest push on the hill. I don’t want to be the one who makes the mistakes so I have to figure out what it takes to get this sled to do exactly what I want it to do when I need it.”