The instructions for the AeroCatch kit make it look easy, but the installation is a bit complicated. On the flip side of these cardboard instructions is an important template you need to cut the hole in your hood.

If I said you could install a legal product on your racecar that only costs around a hundred dollars, takes just half a day to install, and increases performance by lowering the car’s aerodynamic drag, would you do it? Of course you would. And even if this component only reduces drag by around 0.005 percent, you would install it, anyway.

AeroCatch makes those cool hood latches you have probably seen around the paddock that hide the hood pins. These assemblies make the hood smoother and more aerodynamic because the mechanism that holds the hood closed is located below the hood. AeroCatch makes two different versions of this product, a standard set and one for rally — the sturdier version. Hearing that people have had issues with the standard versions breaking after minor car-to-car impacts, we chose the robust rally version and installed them on our NASA racecar.

The installation instructions seem simple enough: drill a big hole in your hood, use six Allen bolts to hold the latch in place, and then go win some races. The reality is there is a bit of art to installing these correctly. If you take shortcuts, you can find yourself in the market for a new hood — or worse, a new windshield. The trick to a solid installation is a bit of pre-planning and a lot of measuring. The first thing you need to recognize about this system, versus the simple hood-pin system, is the bulk of the mechanism is under hood and it needs to have clearance from things like the radiator support or a battery. For our installation, we needed to find the sweet spot where the latch mechanism cleared everything and worked properly. After lying under the car with a flashlight, eventually we found the correct spot.

Once you know where you want to mount the system, install the lower rod on the car and adjust the height so it touches the hood. Then use a paint pen to glob some paint on top of the rod so when you shut the hood it leaves paint on the underside to mark where you can drill a nlot hole. The AeroCatch instructions come with a template you tape to the hood, using the pilot hole to locate the perfect spot for the template. Once that is in place, use a Sharpie to outline where you will cut the hole in your racecar’s hood. Yes, that is the scary part.

Once you have the pin mounted where you want it, use a paint pen and glob a ton of paint on top. Close the hood and the paint should leave a perfect mark on the inside of the hood so you know exactly where to drill your pilot hole.
Once you drill the pilot hole to indicate the exact location of the AeroCatch mechanism, tape down your template to detail where your big hole will be cut. The lines on the template help you to position the template properly.

Use a drill to enlarge your pilot hole to a diameter big enough to fit the blade of a jig saw. With a jigsaw that has a metal-cutting blade, you can cut a hole in your hood that accommodates the AeroCatch mechanism. To avoid scratching your hood as you use the jigsaw, tape down some cardboard so the jigsaw can rotate around and not cause damage. Also, we placed a large towel on top of the engine to catch metal shavings during the fabrication process.

If you use a jigsaw to cut the hole in your hood, it can scratch the paint as you rotate the saw around for the radial cuts. Use some cardboard and build a protective layer around your template.
So you don’t lose the exact location of where you want this important cut to be, draw a line with a Sharpie. This is an important step because the tape and your template can slip under the movement of the jigsaw.
Grab a drill bit larger than your jig saw blade and enlarge the initial pilot hole you drilled to locate the rod underneath the hood. This will allow the jig saw blade to have a location to start.
Enlarge the hole so you can insert a jigsaw with the proper metal blade. Save yourself the grief and frustration of trying to cut metal with a wood saw blade, and spend a few bucks on the proper tool.
You are about to cut a significant hole in your car’s hood. If you do this wrong, you are driving to Pick-Your-Part for another hood and then heading to the paint shop, and then to the sticker guy, yada, yada, yada. No pressure. Don’t screw this up.
If you use the proper tools, this cut is a breeze. You can see the saw started in our enlarged pilot hole and then easily went around the cut line to create the perfect cut for the AeroCatch mechanism. And you were scared.

Use the AeroCatch latch itself to line up where you will drill six more holes so you can mount the latch to the hood using the provided Allen bolts, nuts and retaining ring. Once the latch is mounted, adjust the elevation of the rod under the hood so it aligns with the mechanism to hold the hood securely. This takes some patience to find the perfect spot. At first things may seem a bit stiff, but we have found that over time the AeroCatch system wears in and makes opening and closing the hood smoother and easier.

The AeroCatch mechanism attaches to the hood with a series of small Allen head bolts and nuts. Simply place the latch mechanism on the hood and use the latch as a guide to drill your holes.
You can see a towel under the hood laid above the engine to catch all the metal shavings from cutting, drilling, grinding, etc. We like to keep metal out of the race engines.

As a safety precaution, we added some bright orange arrow stickers to the AeroCatch latches, so when the driver is inside the car, looking through the windshield, he can see if the hood latches are in the released position. If he can see the latches in the up position, that is a bad thing. Don’t go on track. Nobody wants to head out of the paddock just to have their hood fly up and smash in their windshield. Has it happened? Unfortunately, yes, too many times, at too many racetracks. Hopefully our little orange stickers will keep our team from being a part of those statistics.

Under the hood is a plastic retaining ring shaped just like the hole you cut, and that holds the six nuts in place. Don’t go crazy with the leverage on the Allen bolts. You can easily strip these small bolts, which means another trip to the hardware store.
Under the hood you can see the results of all of your hard work. Consider the architecture under your hood when planning the placement of the latches. Cutting through multiple layers of metal can be problematic.
The rod has threads and double nuts so you can adjust up and down the elevation of the rod to find the perfect fitment. This part takes a little patience and a few do-overs. Eventually you will find the sweet spot where the hood shuts perfectly.
When done you will have a nice, flush hood latching mechanism that improves aerodynamics while ensuring your hood stays closed.
We added bright orange arrow stickers so folks who are unfamiliar with how the mechanism works will know where to depress the latch to get it open. The second, and more important reason is so that if the driver sees two orange arrows pointing up on the front of the hood, he knows hood isn’t latched.

Once the AeroCatch system is in place, it works great, and our team has been very happy with the latches. And more importantly, we are now 0.005 percent faster down the straights!

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Image courtesy of Rob Krider

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