Previously, sleds were constructed from wet laminated fiberglass. The new sleds, designed by ProtoStar Engineering and called the ProtoStar V5, are made from a mix of high-modulus and intermediate-modulus carbon fibers. “It’s all prepreg material, resin-optimized for strength-to-weight ratios and vacuum bag molded and autoclave cured,” says deBot. He says that autoclave curing yields the best surface quality and structural integrity.
“We probably have the most technologically-advanced, slickest bullets out there for our U.S. teams now,” says deBot.
Weight Distribution in Bobsleds
deBotech also worked on the Night Train 2 sled for the reigning Olympic champion four-man U.S. bobsled team. He calls the bobsled “a whole different animal” from the skeleton. “It has a lot going on because of the size difference and you’re hauling around four guys,” he says.
deBot got involved with bobsled when a driver of a four-man team approached him to build a sled for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. “I jumped at the opportunity to support our country and take on a high-profile job,” recalls deBot. He admits he didn’t know anything about bobsled, but figured his experience with clients in NASCAR and other motorsports would guide him. deBot downloaded specifications on the sled’s length, width and minimum weight from the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation.
Like the skeleton, previous bobsleds were made from wet laminated fiberglass. “American athletes were competing with sub-par sleds we were buying out of Europe,” says deBot. deBotech produced a sled made from carbon fiber, Kevlar and other high-modulus materials, but the two-man team did not qualify for the Olympics. However, the team did participate in a trial run in Salt Lake City that caught the attention of Bob Cuneo of Chassis Dynamics and Geoff Bodine, former NASCAR driver and owner of Bo-Dyn Sled Products. Soon after, Cuneo, Bodine and deBot teamed up to build state-of-the-art bobsleds.
The body of the Night Train 2 is constructed completely from composite materials. “It’s built like the monocoque chassis of a race car,” says deBot. “It has very specific layup schedules in the initial cure of all the structural components.” The sled features carbon fibers, carbon/Kevlar® hybrids, high-modulus fibers, unidirectional tapes, Nomex™ honeycomb core and more. This allows deBotech to address high-load areas of the sled locally without increasing the sled’s overall weight.
“Sleds have a minimum weight, but they don’t tell you where to put that weight,” says deBot. “If I can save an enormous amount of weight in the body and still be structurally sound and perform aerodynamically, then all the weight can go on the centerline at the bottom of the sled. That lowers the center of gravity tremendously and increases performance ten-fold.” And that’s an important advantage in a sport that “never lets up,” according to deBot. “You push off the top of the track and the sled is in the hands of highly-trained Olympic athletes and Sir Isaac Newton!”