With 100 days left until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, today BMW unveiled the new racing wheelchair designed for the U.S. Paralympics track and field team. For the past year and a half, BMW’s global creative consultancy Designworks has been working in close collaboration with Team USA athletes and coaches, including four-time Paralympic champion Tatyana McFadden, to develop a more speed efficient racing chair.
“It’s been such a learning curve from a year and a half ago,” said McFadden who will be entering her fifth Paralympic Games at Rio and competing in all seven track and field events. “We’ve had doubts, we talked to the team [at BMW Designworks], and we discussed what racing chairs are, what they look like, the different parts—and to finally see it and check it out—this whole process has been amazing.”
As the official mobility partner of the U.S. Olympic Committee since 2010, this is BMW’s fourth technology project for Team USA. However, it’s the first time the automobile company has worked with and produced equipment for Paralympic athletes.
“From fittings and immersion sessions, to data analysis and real-time testing, we had the unique opportunity to build a fully customized racing device,” said Brad Cracchiola, associate director of BMW Designworks and project lead, in a press release. “We’re eager to complete the final product and look forward to watching Team USA compete.”
Cracchiola outlines that the advancements in the new racing chair focus on improvements in aerodynamics, a complete chassis redesign and the chair’s customizability to fit the athlete’s body. For example, taking some inspiration from auto racing, BMW designed custom body molds that shape around the athlete’s body within the chair, decreasing in-chair movement during a race. And unlike most racing wheelchairs made of either titanium or aluminum, BMW used a carbon fiber material throughout to help minimize drag and increase aerodynamic efficiency.
“It’s all about a seamless integration of the athlete with the wheelchair,” Cracchiola said.
BMW took it even one step further and created 3D printed racing gloves, custom-molded to fit the athletes’ hands, adding personalized details such as finger vents and straps for athletes who requested it.
As for whether this chair will give Team USA an edge in Rio, Cracchiola said, “First and foremost I think all the credit needs to go to the athletes. They’re the ones who have been training for years and years and their performance is winning the races. That said our goal all along has been to help them bring out their best performance and translate their ability to speed. I won’t make any guesses, but I feel good about what we’ve done for them in terms of optimizing their performance.”
Team USA athletes have already started training in their new racing wheelchairs—McFadden described that some areas of the chair do feel faster than what she’s used to—and the final fleet of chairs will be delivered to Rio ahead of the U.S. Paralympic athlete arrivals this summer.