Racing cars on walls would be possible, according to student paper

March 13, 2014
Racing cars on walls would be possible, according to student paper
A free-body diagram showing forces acting on the centre-of-mass of a vehicle travelling on a vertically banked track. Credit: University of Leicester

Driving a racing car at an angle of 90 degrees to the ground could be possible with the right track design, suggest University of Leicester students

There can't be many petrol heads who haven't wondered whether it would be possible to drive their along vertical walls. It would certainly help with cutting out traffic jams.

Worryingly, it seems the boy racer's pipe dream might be possible, according to University of Leicester physics students.

But Top Gear fanatics should think twice before trying this at home; it would only work with a very specific racing track and a very well-designed car. Chances are, whatever you drive to work won't cut it.

A group of four MPhys physics students have worked out that a travelling at over 150 miles per hour would be able to stick to the walls of a completely circular speedway track with 90 degree banks.

The reason? At those speeds, the force of gravity acting on a racing car would be less than the frictional force holding the car on the wall.

The students published their findings in a final year paper for the Journal of Physics Special Topics, a peer-reviewed student journal run by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy.

They wanted to investigate this because it has been previously shown that speedway cars actually travel at their fastest around the steep bends of speedway tracks.

The group chose to look at two different vehicles – an open wheeled Penske-Reynard-Honda racing car and an Audi TT road car – to compare how different car shapes and characteristics would affect their gravity-defying capabilities.

They then analysed the forces acting on each car if it was travelling around a completely circular speedway track at 90 degrees. It is important for the track to be circular, so as ensure a constant centripetal force - the inward force of an object travelling in a circular path.

To work out whether the force of gravity on the car was less than or equal to the static friction force holding it on the wall, they needed to include a range of factors including the mass of the vehicle, the car's speed and its centripetal force.

Another key factor was the downforce – the force sucking the car into the wall on due to its aerodynamic properties. This was obviously a lot greater for the sleek, efficient sports car than the comparatively everyday-looking Audi.

They found that for an open wheeled racing car weighing around 700 kg, the force of gravity would be 8571N less than the frictional force, meaning the car would easily be able to stay on the vertical banking.

But for the 1,390 kg Audi, the force of gravity was around 6400N larger than the frictional force, meaning the car would tumble off the wall – presumably with grim consequences for both car and driver. So don't be tempted to give it a try next time you are stuck in traffic.

The students point out in the paper that vertical racing is unlikely to ever become a reality as "such a track would likely be both hugely expensive and very dangerous in the event of a crash".

"I wanted to look at what the limits are to the amount of downforce racing cars produce," said Ben Jordan, 21, from Bury St. Edmund, who came up with the idea for the paper.

"We looked at how the centripetal acceleration and the downward work together to keep the racing car on the vertical wall.

"We wanted to compare the racing car with a normal road car, because it illustrates the concept better. It makes you see how advanced the aerodynamics of racing cars are.

"I am quite a fan of Formula One – that probably inspired it," added Ben. "I don't think I would want to be driving the thing, but it would be great to watch."

Course tutor Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer in the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: "The aim of the module is for the students to learn about peer review and scientific publishing.

"The students are encouraged to be imaginative with their topics, and find ways to apply basic physics to the weird, the wonderful and the everyday."

Explore further: 2.15 seconds: Students break 0-100 acceleration world record

More information: "Racing on the Edge" is available online: … article/view/629/432

Related Stories

2.15 seconds: Students break 0-100 acceleration world record

September 25, 2013

The DUT Racing team from TU Delft, The Netherlands, has broken the world record for acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h for electric cars. The previous record stood at 2.68 seconds, but as of today the record is now held by the ...

First Formula E car dazzles Las Vegas

January 7, 2014

The first Formula E car—part of an upcoming motor racing competition to put electric vehicles on the map—made its dazzling debut on Monday in Las Vegas.

Recommended for you

Two teams independently test Tomonaga–Luttinger theory

October 20, 2017

(—Two teams of researchers working independently of one another have found ways to test aspects of the Tomonaga–Luttinger theory that describes interacting quantum particles in 1-D ensembles in a Tomonaga–Luttinger ...

Using optical chaos to control the momentum of light

October 19, 2017

Integrated photonic circuits, which rely on light rather than electrons to move information, promise to revolutionize communications, sensing and data processing. But controlling and moving light poses serious challenges. ...

Black butterfly wings offer a model for better solar cells

October 19, 2017

(—A team of researchers with California Institute of Technology and the Karlsruh Institute of Technology has improved the efficiency of thin film solar cells by mimicking the architecture of rose butterfly wings. ...

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

October 19, 2017

Brown University researchers have demonstrated a way to bring a powerful form of spectroscopy—a technique used to study a wide variety of materials—into the nano-world.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.5 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2014
A group of four MPhys physics students have worked out that a racing car travelling at over 150 miles per hour would be able to stick to the walls of a completely circular speedway track with 90 degree banks.

Guess they never heard of the Gumpert Apollo - which was a (street legal!) racecar that created so much downforce it could have driven upside down through a tunnel at speeds of above 190mph.
4.7 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2014

Since when does the AP Physics level waxing of undergrads over an already much hashed idea merit an article on PhysOrg?
Mar 13, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Mar 13, 2014
Reminds me of this:

3 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2014
You guys have to be easy on these ignorant born-yesterday-graduates. Rickety motorbike circuses all around Asia had motorbikes driving around the vertical inside of wooden drums 150ft in diameter for the last 60 years!
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2014
Google soon found this...

"mazda2 drives around vertical wall of death"
1 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2014
They are right! I wouldnt want to drive one of these to work! I think this has been common knowledge to most 1st graders for the past several decades or 10. https://www.youtu...2nvhUO7U
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2014
Bummer Pakistans beat them to it as well. https://www.youtu...qfAfn1Dk Although this one is kind of painted up to look like a race car!!!
5 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2014
The teacher of the University of Leicester students should never have let this paper out before correcting the force diagram. The vectors drawn should represent the forces acting ON the mass (car). In this picture we have one force (FsubD) which acts on the side wall (and exerted BY the car). The correct diagram should then show gravity being balanced by the friction force of the road. The normal force (FsubN) would provide the required centripetal force ON the car needed to make it follow the curved path.

No wonder some students find Physics difficult.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 14, 2014
so, reinventing the wheel is a discovery? Circus performers have been doing this sort of thing for eons. The only new discovery here is the incorrect force diagram (if that could be called a discovery).
5 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2014
Michael Schumacher in the SLS AMG tunnel experiment:
1 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2014
Michael Schumacher in the SLS AMG tunnel experiment:

Let me get that job! I wanna go fast...
not rated yet Mar 26, 2014
In India they drive Maruti cars in circus at 90 degrees.The circus is called maut ka kuan.Is this a thing to be pulished in journals...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.