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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To read more from Rob Krider, or to contact him, go to www.robkrider.com.