Air Dam or Splitter - A Closer Look

Note:  This data was previously posted on another blog by one of our members.  This is the same data as that post; but now under Velox, as he works with us and it is personal data and knowledge that we feel should be shared to the public.  The more people that better understand aero, the more likely people can pick out the good from the bad or design their own.


In this post we hope to give you a glimpse into how different front-end aerodynamics effect a street car.  This is a tough situation to discuss without an example.  The example will be a 1990-1997 Mazda Miata. The Miata was chosen because we have the model, different designs are commonplace, and our friend asked us to help him design an aero package.


CFD Models


1. Stock 1990-1997 Mazda Miata2. Stock 1990-1997 Mazda Miata at a 4in Ride Height3. Small Front Air Dam at 4in Ride Height4. Small Air Dam with Splitter at 4 in Ride Height5. Large Air Dam at 4in Ride Height6. Large Air Dam with Splitter at 4in Ride Height


Note: The air dam and/or splitter is 2 inches off the ground in study 3-6


The solver used for these analyses were a steady state incompressible solver with a k-omega SST turbulence model. OpenFOAM was used for pre-processing and solving and all post-processing was done using Paraview and excel.


Numerical Data


Cd = coefficient of dragCl = coefficient of liftL/D = lift divided by drag / aerodynamic efficiency


Downforce: Negative numbers indicate lift, positive numbers indicate downward force.

Drag between all setups are all fairly close with the least drag being the setup with the large front splitter with air dam. The two splitter designs also make significantly more downforce than the air dams alone. The two stock Miata setups make lift instead of downforce.  This is expected since most street cars create lift from the factory.  These are numbers and trends for common design choices. Actual designs should be more refined after a design goal is formulated.


The stock Miata simulation (CFD run) had a calculated coefficient of drag of 0.36. The 1990-1997 Mazda Miata had a published coefficient of drag of 0.38.  The CFD case having slightly lower drag is expected from the simplification of the vehicle vs. the real car. These simplification, primarily the under body, the wheels, and no internal flow, decreased the drag coefficient from published values by 0.015.  To us, this puts the coefficient of drag between the simulated value and known value within a reasonable error to continue onward.  To reiterate, it passes the “sanity” check to ensure validity in the data.


 XZ-Plane pressure cut plot

Ground Pressure Cut Plot


These photos really emphasize how different setups effect the pressure at the front of the car and midway on the car.


XZ Plane Velocity Cut Plot


These pictures show how the setups influence how fast the air moves around the car.  What is interesting is how much the setups on the front change the airflow behind the car.


Take a close look at all of the photos.  Each one paints a different picture and changes how the car reacts when driven at speed.  So, which one is best?  There really is no “best” design.  There are compromises for each design.  Multiple things should be considered when designing a system.  Things like L/D, downforce, and aero balance should be considered.  These can and likely will change from track to track and from car to car.  It is generally recommended to decide on the rear aero first, and then design the front to balance the car back out.


Please let us know if you have any questions below.  Thank you for your time.