Like the pair of young fish in David Foster Wallace’s famous parable who question what this thing called “water” might be, I go through my days entirely unaware of air.
This story originally appeared in Volume 21 of Road & Track.
We live in a soup so thin and so familiar that we fail, like Wallace’s young fish, to bother noticing. Only in its absence or its interactions with visible objects does air reveal itself. Its weight expressed in pressure. Its force exposed when a bunch of it moves streamlike in one basic direction, swirling, diving, and firing right into your face until your eyes dry out and you need to turn your head to take a breath.
We are endlessly hungry for the stuff, especially the oxygen part. Live a long life and you’ll have taken air into your body about 670 million times. (Your results may vary.) It fuels us, but it also fuels our cars. Gasoline is impotent without oxygen.
Internal-combustion engines are air pumps, after all. They create the power to motivate a vehicle and its air-sucking occupants, pushing aside countless air molecules that would just as soon stay where they are. This while listening to the wiggly air we call music.
It’s the desire to cut through the atmosphere with the least amount of effort and the sometimes contradictory desire to harness those molecules for our own greedy vehicular purposes that provide the fuel for this issue’s lineup of stories.
First, editor-at-large Jethro Bovingdon (himself a habitual user of air) was dispatched to the Pininfarina Wind Tunnel near Turin to quantify the supercar world’s progress over the past 50 years in cheating and using air. This test marks the first time a Lamborghini Miura has been in a wind tunnel, a fact that you might assume just from looking at the data.
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For his story “The Big Squish.” veteran motorsport reporter and longtime contributor Marshall Pruett gathered the recollections of drivers, designers, and officials who witnessed the greatest-ever experiment in applied aerodynamic downforce: the early-Nineties IMSA GTP cars. In the span of a few years of intense one-upmanship and limited regulations, GTP cars turned into amazing and terrifying monsters.
“Airmen” is a collection of three stories about people who, in the most extreme and physically taxing way, have broken through the invisible wall that surrounds us. And if operating a vehicle in air is challenging, try wrapping your head around operating one in the absence of air.
Coverage of the 2024 Performance Car of the Year competition, Road & Track’s signature event and the single best workweek in the known universe, went live on the site last week. There is no specific connection between tracking and road-tripping nine of the world’s best performance cars for a week and air. Well, apart from everything.
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