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Cutting-edge aerodynamic insights for performance sports

Cutting-edge aerodynamic insights for performance sports

A new joint venture, Sports Aero Solutions (SASL), has launched a range wind tunnels for specific performance sports such as cycling and winter sports. It brings together the skills and experience of Olympic gold medal cyclist Chris Boardman, aerodynamic and computational fluid dynamic (CFD) expert TotalSim and high performance engineering solutions provider, KWSP. The SASL wind tunnels will overcome the prohibitive costs of using wind tunnels designed for automotive and motorsport.

Cyclists and triathletes – in fact athletes in general – routinely measure speed to the fraction of kph, record heart rate to the beat and power to the watt. They are obsessed with numbers – so it is ludicrous that knowledge of air resistance, the force they spend up to 90% of their energies overcoming, is minimal.

A tiny fraction of the very best athletes in the world get to spend a few precious hours in a wind tunnel (usually designed primarily for the needs of the motor industry). For the vast majority of sports people, this all important knowledge is gleaned from articles in magazines and hearsay. This is because the only ways to accurately measure the effect of positional changes and equipment choices on performance, are both prohibitively expensive and hard to access. SASL will change this paradigm by delivering wind tunnel time at a fraction of the cost of the traditional solution.

For more than a decade, aerodynamicist and CFD expert Rob Lewis of TotalSim and Olympic gold medalist Chris Boardman worked with some of the best athletes in the world to explore the effect of aerodynamics on their performance. Although hugely expensive, improvements were enormous. Because of this experience, Boardman and Lewis wanted to make aerodynamics exploration available to the wider sporting world. In 2015, they teamed up with high performance engineering solutions provider KWSP to form a new company, Sports Aero Solutions. The purpose of the partnership was to design and manufacture accessible, highly accurate, sport-specific wind tunnels, with a goal of providing cutting-edge knowledge for everyone, from sports enthusiasts, to elite athletes and coaches.

Chris Boardman said of the venture: “It’s not an exaggeration to say the knowledge I gained from using a wind tunnel in the early 90s enabled me to win an Olympic Gold. Nearly 20 years later, I spent a decade helping other GB athletes access that same advantage. The few tunnels available to us were geared up for motor sport, they were very expensive to use, had to be modified for our use and were hard to gain access to. Without Lottery funding, we would not have been able to make the advances we made.

“We set up SASL to remove this barrier – to make aero exploration available to enthusiastic cyclists, runners, winter sports, in fact any athlete who is limited by aero drag and wants to do something about it.”

Rob Lewis of TotalSim explains the benefits of using a wind tunnel: “Small efficiency improvements in aerodynamics, be they equipment, clothing or position have an enormous impact on race outcome; we know, we’ve seen it. In fact, as air resistance accounts for the vast majority of an athlete’s energy expenditure, it is the single most important thing to understand.

“Wind tunnels are by far the most accurate way to measure the impact of drag on performance. The high-fidelity instrumentation of SASL’s wind tunnel solutions and its ability to recreate any wind condition that an athlete will encounter, make it the best tool to measure the implication of tiny changes which would not be detected in any other way.

“The SASL wind tunnel can run tests at every wind speed and angle athletes are likely to encounter. Our proprietary, highly-sensitive balance measures all the forces acting on the athlete and the output can be fed back to the user, real-time, in a format familiar to them: watts, speed, grams or newtons of force, or time saved over a given distance and speed.”

Kieron Salter, MD of KWSP added: “SASL brings together a set of complementary skills, all focused on creating cost effective wind tunnels honed to the specific needs of the sport in question. As a high-performance engineering business KWSP will use our team of engineers to design and manufacture wind tunnel solutions for our customers based on their specifications, TotalSim’s aerodynamic requirements and Boardman’s understanding of the needs of performance athletes."

The partnership is based in the south Midlands, with KWSP’s and TotalSim’s facilities both located in Brackley, Northamptonshire, an area well known for its pre-eminence in motorsport engineering.

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