The U.S. team's two-man bobsled has gotten a high-tech makeover just in time for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, using lessons from race car technology to pick up speed in a quest for its first gold medal since 1936.

German automaker BMW joined the U.S. Bobsled federation in 2012 in a project to redesign the sled's aerodynamics. The idea was to find a way to shave off a few seconds by making the sled zip down the track more efficiently, according to Michael Scully, BMW's creative director for global design.

"It's been a complete ground-up project," Scully told Discovery News. "You need to take every opportunity to get on the bobsled track because it's such a changeable environment. The sled is going through so many different positions as it goes down the track, it's almost impossible to simulate."

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Even so, Scully said computer simulations using the science of fluid dynamics played a huge role in understanding the drag forces acting on the sled from both the surrounding air and icy track surface.

Bobsled tracks are nearly a mile long, and the sleds -- four-man and two-man -- can reach speeds above 90 miles per hour. Heavier sleds ride faster, and while international rules limit the maximum weight to 390 kg (859.8 lbs) when loaded, the distribution of the weight can make a big difference, according to Scully.

The team replaced the existing Kevlar and fiberglas body of the sled with a special carbon fiber cooked in an auto-clave to several hundred degrees. The heating reduced the mass of the carbon fiber, while making it stronger. This in turn allowed the design team to make the entire sled lighter, and reposition weight where it was most needed.

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"Aerodynamically, the reduction of frontal area, the silhouette it cast on the wall, was a big change," he said. "Also from a physics standpoint, we were trying to centralize the mass and reduce overhangs so that when the sled changes direction, the mass doesn't resist it."

With a sleeker front profile, Scully also looked to make more room for the driver inside and introduced a new steering mechanism.

Bobsleds can reach speeds above 90 miles per hour.BMW

The bobsled athletes helped in the design process to make sure the new zippier sled actually worked. It took hundreds of trials to get things just right.

"It's harmonizing all these elements in subtle ways to increase speed," Scully said. "You have to look at it holistically, the equipment and how the athletes interact with it, and how they load."

Four years ago, the U.S. four-man bobsled got a big design change courtesy of former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine. The "Night Train" used race car technology to allow driver Steve Holcomb bring the U.S. team a gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Bodine says the "Night Train II" has a few new surprises for Sochi.

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The new four-man sled is 50 pounds lighter and also uses the auto-claved carbon fiber to make a tougher, more robust sled. That should help on the Sochi track, according to Bodine.

"Its more technical,'" Bodine said. The corners aren't as dramatic or as scary as Lake Placid (home of the U.S. training center). "In Sochi, it's a more gentle track, but the drivers have to be more precise steering in the corners to maintain the speed."

After finishing the two-man sled design, BMW provided the U.S. team with six bobsleds, three each for the men's and women's squads. There are already signs that the new rides may be living up to their promise. Holcomb won five of eight races on the two-man World Cup circuit, taking the overall title last weekend. On the women's side, Elana Myers and Aja Evans took second in the World Cup overall.

Bodine cautioned, however, that the U.S. teams do not have a monopoly on advanced technology.

"If you beat them," Bodine said about the European bobsled teams. "They will start copying you."