Into the Stratus-Sphere

Special to DRO by Geoff Stunkard
Photos courtesy Dodge Motorsports Engineering and the author

ith things as tough as they are on the NHRA circuit, every advantage is required to stay competitive. While Top Fuel cars are fairly generic, the Funny Car and Pro Stock divisions are ruled by certain sanctioning body regulations to make sure they are specifically identifiable. When DaimlerChrysler (under the umbrella of the new Dodge Motorsports & Mopar Performance Parts Platform Team led by John Fernandez) began making plans to restyle their cars in both divisions based on the 2003 Stratus R/T, they used what is likely the most serious aerodynamic technology ever applied to drag racing, for what was truly a million-dollar makeover.

The project was headed up by Terry DeKoninck, the platform's lead NHRA Aero- Thermal Development Engineer, who began with the Stratus funny car body that made its debut on Dean Skuza's one-car team in mid-2002. Using a computer design program called CATIA, which allows for 3-D CAD/CAM design, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and full-size and true-scaled prototyping, DeKoninck and the design stylists at the DaimlerChrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan built a computer file of a generic funny car based on NHRA specs and then "morphed" it into a Stratus.

From these files, a 3/8 scale model was built from carbon fiber (lead photo), tested in the company's wind tunnel complete with a 3/8-scale chassis, and then finalized back into the CATIA program by laser scanning.

The finalized body files were sent to OEM supplier Roush Composites, who used CNC machinery to cut an exact, full size funny car prototype buck from pieces of hard foam.

The five-axis equipment does a rough cut, then a final cut, and the sections are prepped, sealed, connected into a single unit, and then "splashed" into a female form that will serve to create the final bodies from space-age carbon fiber or Kevlar components.
Blocks of hard foam are glued together to roughly approximate the envelope, or size, of the final CNC-generated buck for the funny car.



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