Open wheel car
Open-wheel car, formula car, or often single-seater car in British English
British English
British English, or English , is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere...

, describes cars with the wheels outside the car's main body and, in most cases, one seat. Open-wheel cars contrast with street cars, sports car
Sports car racing
Sports car racing is a form of circuit auto racing with automobiles that have two seats and enclosed wheels. They may be purpose-built or related to road-going sports cars....

s, stock car
Stock car racing
Stock car racing is a form of automobile racing found mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, Brazil and Argentina. Traditionally, races are run on oval tracks measuring approximately in length...

s, and touring cars
Touring car racing
Touring car racing is a general term for a number of distinct auto racing competitions in heavily-modified street cars. It is notably popular in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Scandinavia and Britain.-Characteristics of a touring car:...

, which have their wheels below the body or fenders. Open-wheel cars are usually built specifically for racing, frequently with a higher degree of technological sophistication
Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, and procedures. The word technology comes ;...

 than in other forms of motor sport.


A typical open-wheeler has a minimal cockpit sufficient only to enclose the driver's body, with the head exposed to the air. In modern cars the engine is often located directly behind the driver, and drives the rear wheels. Depending on the rules of the class, many types of open-wheelers have wings
Spoiler (automotive)
A spoiler is an automotive aerodynamic device whose intended design function is to 'spoil' unfavorable air movement across a body of a vehicle in motion. Spoilers on the front of a vehicle are often called air dams, because in addition to directing air flow they also reduce the amount of air...

 at the front and rear of the vehicle, as well as a very low and virtually flat undertray that helps achieve additional aerodynamic downforce
Downforce is a downwards thrust created by the aerodynamic characteristics of a car. The purpose of downforce is to allow a car to travel faster through a corner by increasing the vertical force on the tires, thus creating more grip....

 pushing the car on to the road.

Some major races, such as the Monaco Grand Prix
Monaco Grand Prix
The Monaco Grand Prix is a Formula One race held each year on the Circuit de Monaco. Run since 1929, it is widely considered to be one of the most important and prestigious automobile races in the world, alongside the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans...

 (sanctioned by Formula One
Formula One
Formula One, also known as Formula 1 or F1 and referred to officially as the FIA Formula One World Championship, is the highest class of single seater auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile . The "formula" designation in the name refers to a set of rules with which...

) and the Long Beach Grand Prix
Long Beach Grand Prix
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is an open-wheel race held on a street circuit in Long Beach, California. Christopher Pook is the founder and promoter which began as a vision while working at a travel agency in downtown Long Beach. It was the premier circuit in the Champ Car from 1996, and...

 (sanctioned by the IRL), are held on temporary street circuit
Street circuit
A street circuit is a racing circuit composed by temporarily closed-off public roads of a city, town or village, used in motor races. Facilities such as the paddock, pit boxes, fences and grandstands are usually placed temporarily and removed soon after the race is over but in modern times the...

s. However, most open-wheel races are on dedicated road courses, such as Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation...

 in the US, Nürburgring
The Nürburgring is a motorsport complex around the village of Nürburg, Germany. It features a modern Grand Prix race track built in 1984, and a much longer old North loop track which was built in the 1920s around the village and medieval castle of Nürburg in the Eifel mountains. It is located about...

 in Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, and the Bahrain International Circuit
Bahrain International Circuit
The Bahrain International Circuit is a motorsport venue opened in 2004 and used for drag racing, GP2 and the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. The 2004 Grand Prix was the first held in the Middle East. Since 2006, Australian V8 Supercar has been raced at the BIC and the V8 races are named as the Desert 400...

 in the Middle East. In the United States some top-level open wheel events are held on ovals, of both short track and superspeedway variety, with an emphasis being placed more on speed and endurance than the manueverability inherently required by road and street course events. The most well-attended oval race in the world is the annual Indianapolis 500
Indianapolis 500
The Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, also known as the Indianapolis 500, the 500 Miles at Indianapolis, the Indy 500 or The 500, is an American automobile race, held annually, typically on the last weekend in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana...

 (Indy 500) in Speedway, Indiana
Speedway, Indiana
Speedway is a town in Wayne Township, Marion County, Indiana, United States. The population was 12,881 at the 2000 census. Speedway is the home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, from which the town derives its name, and is a complete enclave of Indianapolis....

, sanctioned by the IRL; in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, it is common to refer to open-wheel cars as Indy Cars because of their recognizable appearance at the Indy 500.


Open-wheeled racing is among the fastest in the world. Formula 1 cars can reach 360 kilometres per hour (223.7 mph). At Autodromo Nazionale Monza
Autodromo Nazionale Monza
The Autodromo Nazionale Monza is a race track located near the town of Monza, north of Milan, in Italy. The circuit's biggest event is the Formula One Italian Grand Prix, which has been hosted there since the sport's inception....

, Antônio Pizzonia of BMW Williams F1 team recorded a top speed of 369.9 kilometres per hour (229.8 mph) in the 2004 Italian Grand Prix. BAR Honda team recorded an average top speed of 400 kilometres per hour (248.5 mph) in 2006 at Bonneville Salt Flats with unofficial top speed reaching 413 kilometres per hour (256.6 mph) using modified BAR 007
BAR 007
The BAR 007 was a Formula One car used by British American Racing in the 2005 Formula One season. The car was driven by Jenson Button and Takuma Sato, although Sato was replaced by Anthony Davidson for the Malaysian Grand Prix as he had the flu...

 Formula 1 car. Speeds on ovals can range in constant excess of 210–220 mph (338–354.1 km/h), and at Indianapolis in excess of 230 miles per hour (370.1 km/h). In 1996, Paul Tracy
Paul Tracy
Paul Tracy is a professional automobile racer who has competed in CART, the ChampCar World Series and the IndyCar Series...

 recorded a trap speed of 256.948 miles per hour (413.5 km/h) at Michigan International Speedway.  In 2000, Gil de Ferran
Gil de Ferran
Gil de Ferran , is a professional racing driver and team owner. De Ferran was the 2000 and 2001 Champ Car champion driving for the Penske Honda Team and the winner of the 2003 Indianapolis 500.Inspired by the success of fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi, de Ferran began his career in kart racing...

 set the one-lap qualifying record of 241.426 miles per hour (388.5 km/h) at California Speedway
California Speedway
Auto Club Speedway is a two-mile , low-banked, D-shaped oval superspeedway in Fontana, California which has hosted NASCAR racing annually since 1997. The track was also used for open wheel racing events until 2005. The racetrack is located near the former locations of Ontario Motor Speedway and...

. Even on tight non-oval street circuits such as the Grand Prix of Toronto, open-wheel Champ Cars attain speeds of 190 miles per hour (305.8 km/h).

Driving an open-wheel car is substantially different from driving a car with fenders. Virtually all Formula One drivers spent some time in various open-wheel categories before joining the F1 ranks. Open-wheel vehicles, due to their light weight, aerodynamic
Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object. Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with much theory shared between them. Aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, with...

 capabilities, and powerful engines, are often considered the fastest racing vehicles available and among the most challenging to master. Wheel-to-wheel contact is dangerous, particularly when the forward edge of one tire contacts the rear of another tire: since the treads are moving in opposite directions (one upward, one downward) at the point of contact, both wheels rapidly decelerate, torquing the chassis of both cars and often causing one or both vehicles to be suddenly and powerfully flung upwards (the rear car tends to pitch forward, and the front car tends to pitch back.) An example of this is the 2005 Chicagoland crash of Ryan Briscoe
Ryan Briscoe
Ryan Briscoe is an Australian auto racing driver who has raced open wheel and sports cars in Europe and America.In addition to his native English, Briscoe speaks Italian and French...

 with Alex Barron
Alex Barron (driver)
Alex Barron in San Diego, California) is an American race car driver. He began racing CART FedEx World Series Championship cars in 1998 and made his first Indy Racing League Northern Lights Series start in 2001....


The lower weight of an open wheel racecar allows for better performance. While the exposure of the wheels to the airstream causes a very high aerodynamic drag
Drag (physics)
In fluid dynamics, drag refers to forces which act on a solid object in the direction of the relative fluid flow velocity...

at high speeds, it allows improved cooling of the brakes, which is important on road courses with their frequent changes of pace.
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