BMW-Designed Bobsled Barreling Toward First Olympic Gold For U.S. In 78 Years – Forbes
It’s been 78 years since the U.S. won an Olympic gold medal in the two-man bobsled race, but heading into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the Americans are ranked No. 1 in World Cup competition thanks to a slippery new bobsled designed by BMW, a company that knows a thing or two about making vehicles go fast.
The U.S. team team hopes the radically designed sled — narrower, sleeker and wrapped in carbon fiber — will be the edge they need in a sport where 1/100th of a second means the difference between winning a medal or finishing as an also-ran. Indeed, through the first half of the World Cup Tour, the Americans, led by Pilot Steve Holcomb, were undefeated. But at a two-man race this weekend in Winterberg, Germany, Holcomb finished seventh.
“There are three elements to bobsledding — a good push start, a good driver and good equipment. Right now, all three are coming together really well,” Holcomb said prior to this weekend’s race.
BMW of North America, a sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team, designed the two-man sled at the request of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Foundation, which sought the automaker’s help bridging a technology gap with stronger teams, primarily those in Europe. Though BMW knew little about bobsledding, it had plenty of expertise in motor racing, aerodynamics and advanced materials. (BMW co-owns a carbon fiber plant in Washington which supplies the lightweight panels for its new BMW i3 and i8 electric cars.)
The lead designer was Michael Scully, a former race car driver who is now creative director at BMW Group BMW Group Designworks USA, the company’s design consultancy in Los Angeles. He concluded that given how much a bobsled pitches and yaws on an icy track, the classic airfoil shape in use for the past two decades might not actually be the most aerodynamic. Instead, he scaled down the dimensions, staying within the minimum requirements for bobsled competition, and then wrapped it in lightweight carbon fiber. The body was so light, BMW had to add 110 pounds of lead to make sure it met the minimum weight requirements.
The trick was adding weight in a way that would make the bobsled go faster. “You want to keep the center of gravity low, so it doesn’t tip over,” said Holcomb. “By adding lead sheets in the front, back or middle, we can move weight anywhere we want, which changes the way it drives and the way it steers,” he explained. “The European engineers think that’s the worst way to go,” he added, noting that their sleds are getting a little bigger. “But it’s hard to say it’s not working. We’re No. 1 in world.”
“The priority of the project is speed,” said Scully. “It has to go faster than any other sled out there. It has to be a tool for our athletes. Ultimately, that’s the point.”
A documentary on BMW’s collaboration with the Olympic bobsledders entitled “Driving on Ice” will air Sunday, Jan. 5 at 12:30 p.m. EST/11:30 a.m. CST on NBC.
“This program has a fantastic opportunity to have a really deeper level of meaning to a partnership between a brand and a team,” said Scully. “It’s not just a sticker on the sled anymore. We hope to be as fast or faster than the fastest sled in the world.”
“To say the bobsled has been a passion project for BMW is an understatement, and seeing this true collaborative effort captured in a documentary is remarkable,” said Trudy Hardy, Vice President, Marketing, BMW of North America. “After years of hard work, it’s very rewarding to be able to share the journey with the fans of Team USA.”
The film is part of a larger BMW marketing campaign for the Olympic Winter Games which includes a series of Olympic-themed advertisements, digital campaigns and a national drive campaign to benefit Team USA.