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Aluminum Alloys In Racing

Aluminum Alloys In Racing
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Aluminum has been transformative for too many industries to name, but one that people don’t often consider is automobile racing. This may be because if fans of auto racing are asked about what materials are most important to their sport, they might first say the rubber of the tires or the composite material of the auto bodies. But underneath the carbon fiber there’s a whole lot of metal, and there’s no metal better suited for speed and safety than aluminum.

When you think about all the amazing features of aluminum, it’s easy to see why it’s so integral to racing engineers. The same qualities that make aluminum a perfect choice for cutting edge aircraft, modern skyscrapers and otherworldly spacecraft are equally as suitable for automobile racing. Plus, you need to factor in the incredible diversity found in aluminum thanks to the ever-burgeoning number of high-performance alloys available on the market. This allows engineers and racecar designers to create specially crafted vehicles that are both fast and reliable.

And just like racing engineers want to work with material suppliers who understand the demands of their industry, you should partner with an aluminum distributor who has proven experience and a track record you can rely on.

What are the major benefits of aluminum when it comes to racing?

Aluminum alloys have been found in racecars since the early days of automobiles. As far back as 1899, the first racing vehicle made with an aluminum body debuted at the Berlin International Motor Show. Two years later, Carl Benz designed the first aluminum engine. While cost considerations in the early days meant that aluminum was not in widespread use, there’s no disputing that aluminum and racing have always gone hand in hand.

So why is aluminum such a great choice for racecars? First, it’s all about the weight. One of the best ways to increase the speed of an object (or a vehicle) is to reduce how much it weighs. Racing is a sport where every millisecond counts, so any weight you can shave off a vehicle increases your competitive edge.

But what about safety? You obviously wouldn’t want to careen around a racetrack at 200 miles per hour in a car made from cardboard. Aluminum might be lightweight, but are you sacrificing too much in terms of safety compared with a stronger metal like steel? While it’s true that steel is stronger than aluminum, when you factor in the strength-to-weight ratio, it’s no contest. Aluminum is the better option.

Other factors that may not be as obvious but that also speak in aluminum’s favor include the metal’s natural corrosion resistance, its thermal conductivity and its ability to absorb impacts. Racing cars are precision machines that must be carefully maintained. There’s also toxic chemicals, high temperatures, and heavy forces (that’s without figuring in high speed collisions) that will put your equipment under extreme conditions. Drivers and their teams don’t want to worry about equipment failure, so they need materials that are highly durable under adverse circumstances.

Aluminum meets all these requirements and more, and that’s why it has become indispensable to the motorsports industry.

What parts of a racecar are likely to be made from aluminum?

If you’re looking at a racecar, which parts can you expect to be made from aluminum? One common part to be made with an aluminum alloy is what’s known as the birdcage. This is a rear suspension unit specially designed in racecars to be extremely strong and able to absorb shock effectively.

Obviously, the engine is also important. In modern racing it is common to find an entire engine made from aluminum. Aluminum engine components include cylinder heads, exhaust and intake manifolds, cylinder head covers and the engine block itself. Other parts of the car likely to be made from aluminum are the wheels, as well as the spring plates and lock nuts.

Other aluminum parts might include axel tubes, crunch cans, pumps, the lowering block, and more. Many of the tools, tanks, and auxiliary equipment used by the racing team, whether in the garage or the pits, are made from aluminum as well.

What are the most common alloys in racing applications?

The most popular alloys in the consumer automobile industry can also be found in high performance racecars. For example, it’s not unusual to find alloy 3003, from the non-heat-treatable 3xxx series, in parts such as tanks or brackets. Another popular alloy is 2024, one of the heat-treatable, high-strength 2xxx series alloys. Although it is not easy to weld, it does work well for car parts such as chassis skins, spars, or flywheels.

Of course, it should come as no surprise to those who know aluminum alloys well that 7075 is well represented in motorsports. This heat-treatable alloy is recognized for its excellent strength and durability. While it can’t be easily formed, it’s perfect for machined parts, of which you’ll find many on every racecar.

When it’s formability you want, there’s always alloy 6061. This versatile alloy strikes a balance between strength and formability, making it a great choice for custom design parts.

Of course, these are just the common alloys that most people are familiar with. Top racing teams will also rely on high performance alloys, many of which are expensive and not readily available. As with many of the alloys in common use today, the racing industry is often a trailblazer for what will become popular in consumer vehicle applications.

Your technical services professional

Aluminum has become a hallmark of the modern racecar due to its strength, light weight and tremendous versatility. If you’re looking to use this revolutionary metal, whether your application is racing related or not, you need to work with a material supplier who has a deep understanding of all the many options available. At Preferred Alloys, our dedicated team of material specialists makes it their top priority to help our clients through every step of their procurement process.

To learn more about which aluminum alloy is right for your job, contact one of our friendly and helpful customer service representatives today.

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