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In our fast-paced culture, speed is everywhere: modern Americans are scrolling at a dizzying pace, bypassing lines, streaming TV shows instantly, and multitasking at the office. Our preferred mode of transport is no exception. Engineers have been working for decades to push the limits of automotive performance while improving safety and reliability.

The current fastest car in the world is the Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut, clocking in at a top speed of 310 miles per hour. However, it hasn’t yet caught up to the fastest car that ever raced: the Thrust SSC. Twin Rolls Royce engines propelled the car across the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in 1997 as it reached a top speed of 771 miles per hour, breaking the sound barrier and accelerating fast enough to race a jetliner.

So, what exactly goes into creating all that speed? Let’s delve into the world of mechanical engineering and uncover what makes fast cars go even faster.

Engine Tuning

When it comes to determining how fast a car can go, a lot comes down to horsepower, which is determined by engine speed and torque. Torque measures an engine’s rotational force, which is crucial for acceleration and towing power. Engineers will retune an engine by:

  • reprogramming the engine control unit (ECU) or installing a performance chip to optimize fuel delivery, throttle, and ignition timing.
  • adding a turbocharger to increase air intake into the combustion chamber.
  • replacing old spark plugs for improved combustion efficiency.
  • installing a new exhaust header to enhance airflow and increase engine power.

Increasing an engine’s power is the first step to speeding up your car. But what about high-weight vehicles with high-torque engines, such as trucks that haul heavy loads across the country? This is where aerodynamics come in.

Mastering Air Resistance

Ever wondered why race cars or luxury sports cars sit so low? It’s all about minimizing air resistance, a concept known as aerodynamics. When you accelerate in any vehicle, you’ll start feeling the drag that can slow down your car. This applies whether you’re on the racetrack or stuck in city traffic. But how do engineers use aerodynamics to their advantage?

Aerodynamic drag refers to the resistance caused by the air on an object’s movement, slowing it down. A car that sits high – like a truck – tends to have more aerodynamic drag, whereas a smaller car with a sleek design experiences less. To combat drag, engineers will add spoilers, splitters, diffusers, and other components to a car. Ultimately, however, it comes down to overall design.

The most aerodynamic design for a car is a teardrop. That’s why a luxury sports car like the McLaren Speedtail relies in part on its sleek, low-lying pear shape to achieve an impressive 1,055 horsepower – with the ability to accelerate to 250 miles per hour.

The Right Material

Lightweight materials are used by engineers to reduce vehicle weight, such as:

  • carbon fiber
  • aluminum
  • titanium

These lighter materials result in less energy required for acceleration, leading to higher top speeds.

Improving Tires

Have you ever taken a close look at the treads on your car’s tires? They’re crucial for preventing slipping during braking and driving in adverse weather conditions. When the treads wear down and the tire starts to look “smooth,” it’s time for a replacement. Regardless of horsepower, your car won’t move without good traction from its wheels.

Specialized tires are made of high-performance rubber compounds and advanced tread patterns to offer maximum grip and traction at high speeds. This means you can accelerate faster and take sharp corners with confidence. Because let’s face it – losing grip on a sharp turn? Not a good idea!

Good Suspension Design

Suspension geometry refers to the arrangement and configuration of components of your car’s suspension system. This setup plays a critical role in how your car reacts to road conditions, handles tight corners, accelerates and brakes and the overall quality of your ride. Improving your car’s suspension setup not only enhances stability but also results in faster acceleration.Bottom of Form

Learn the Essentials of Mechanical Engineering With an Online Degree From UT Austin

Whether you’re an aspiring mechanic or seeking a comprehensive engineering education, look no further than The University of Texas at Austin’s top-tier, 100% online mechanical engineering programs designed with working professionals in mind.

UT Austin’s non-thesis executive Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering provides a broad understanding of engineering principles and the practical skills needed for various design processes. For mechanical engineers looking to enhance their expertise in optimizing processes and systems, our online Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate is an ideal choice. It can be completed in as little as one year.

Prospective students are also encouraged to explore Longhorn Racing, a dynamic on-campus program with remote participation options. Through virtual collaboration, members actively contribute to the development of formula-style cars, transforming theoretical knowledge into real-world innovations. Immerse yourself in hands-on experience, forge connections with industry professionals, and get the chance to earn a place on a prestigious racing team.

Join the ranks of one of the nation’s top engineering schools and be a part of shaping the future – whether it’s designing the fastest car ever built or tackling other innovations. Apply to your program of choice now!


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