Engineering The Ideal Olympian: Bobsled Built Like A Racecar

This isn't Speed Racer – it's Speed Bobsledder.
BMW engineers shaped the nose of the Sochi bobsled into a point, a unique feature that makes it more aerodynamic. Courtesy USBSF/BMW

No American has medaled in the men’s two-person bobsled since 1952 or won gold since 1936. So after the 2010 games, the U.S. team recruited engineers from BMW to completely overhaul its sled. They replaced the typical fiberglass body with one made of carbon fiber similar to the material developed for the new BMW i3. That freed up about 15 pounds, which the engineers redistributed to lower the sled’s center of gravity, making it faster.

The Sochi bobsled course is one of the most technical in the world, with sloping turns and three uphill sections. Drivers will need to steer skillfully to reach a medal-worthy top speed of 80 to 90 mph. “Once the push is complete, they can’t accelerate or brake like they would in a car,” says BMW designer Michael Scully. “Driving a bobsled is hugely dependent on steering.” BMW repositioned and resized the ropes and bungee cords that make up the sled’s steering system to match individual athletes’ preferences. “No two drivers like the exact same setup,” says Mike Dionne, the team’s assistant coach.

Video courtesy BMW USA.

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_This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of _Popular Science.