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Explaining the Physics Behind Trackmania Turbo

Trackmania features plenty of stunts, but are they as absurd as they seem? Let's find out.

The Trackmania franchise is the dream of every boy who spent his childhood playing with Hot Wheels cars. The latest entry in the series, Turbo, revived the old formula that will stop you blinking while playing as it is filled with stunts performed at extreme speeds.

The game relies heavily on the suspension of disbelief of its audience, given that any person with common sense would deem the maneuvers performed therein as absurd, and without a slight chance of working in real life. A question that needs an answer.

Is the chaotic driving presented in Trackmania Turbo is as unreal as it looks?

Whilst watching some gameplay videos on YouTube, one caught my attention. It features a player driving completely upside down for a total of approximately 7 seconds (video in header). Most people would think that such feat is impossible, due to the gravitational force that our planet applies upon us, but they would be mistaken. This article will show you how the idea of driving a car upside down in Trackmania makes more sense than you may think. So strap in for some physics 101.

We need to start by establishing a basic principle of aerodynamics. Look at the image below:

You can see that every car features the same rectangular box in the rear and you may have noticed that every open wheel (Formula 1, Indycar) racecar in real life has them, as well. These boxes are called “airfoils” or “spoilers,” as they are commonly known, and they serve a very specific purpose.

You can see above a side view of how a spoiler looks in real life. It has the shape of a ramp. The idea is that, when the car is travelling at high speeds, the wind will hit the spoiler and go upwards. As Newton’s third law states, "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Therefore, as the wind goes up, it presses the car down onto the surface of the race track, thus giving it more grip and allowing it to go faster in the corners. This principle is known as “downforce,” which is the downwards force the wind applies upon the car after being redirected upwards by the spoiler.

Over the years, as engineers started to improve on this concept, racecars became more aerodynamically sophisticated. The result is that nowadays, a Formula 1 (F1) car (pictured below) can produce 3,747 pounds (lbs) (1,700 kgs) of downforce when travelling at 180 miles per hour (mph) (290 km/h), while the car itself weighs approximately 1,400 lbs (635 kgs).  With this being said, due to the spoiler redirecting the flow of the wind upwards, the car is pressed down with a force almost three times as great as the weight of the car itself.

What does it all mean and what does it have to do with Trackmania?

Imagine an F1 car driving upside down on the ceiling of a tunnel, as the image below depicts:

Now the forces are inverted and that means the wind, redirected by the spoiler, is now pressing the vehicle up against the ceiling with a force three times greater than the cars weight. Hence why the car is able to maintain being 'stuck' to the top of the tunnel, and enabling it to drive upside down. Simply, the wind producing the downforce keeps it from falling down.

With all this being said, Trackmania remains a game featuring stunts that defy one’s notion of reality, but driving upside down is not one of them.

Considering that in the video the player reached a speed of 375 mph (604 km/h), he certainly was going fast enough to pull off this trick. Granted, when landing the car would probably fall apart, but the act of driving upside down, in and of itself, is indeed possible. Trackmania Turbo may be more realistic than you think.

Disclaimer: do not try this at home.

Published Oct. 25th 2016

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