How Motorsports Impact Automotive TestingAug 23rd, 2022
Through crash tests and durability trials, features you see on the road today took years of testing before becoming a regular component of your vehicle. But racing is another great avenue that car companies use to streamline product development and testing. Let’s explore some of the ways they do that.
Manufacturers allow race teams to push their cars to the limit by giving them the newest equipment for their vehicles. These can range from access to development projects they could be working on, like new features, body styles, and models. With a myriad of motorsport styles and formats, there are a wide array of features to be tested across multiple terrains, honing the details and creating a large sample size of data for manufacturers to use. This relationship between teams and manufacturers keeps innovation on the edge and allows them to get real-time feedback with each test and qualifier event.
Why does it work as a catalyst for automotive features? Racing works because features that are introduced in these vehicles are meant to perform. Drivers handle the sport with the highest intensity at the highest degree, and any technical failure or slip up will cause catastrophic issues for them and their vehicle. Yes, these cars will need some trial runs to make sure features are functional, but given the nature of the automotive industry, parts can be swapped out in a jiffy.
Cars, trucks, and racecars involved in motorsports allow for less restrictions than your everyday driver. A great example of a feature that was introduced in the 1954 24Hours of Le Mans, later to be introduced in daily drivers, is disc brakes. Jaguar and British Racing motors came up with the idea and introduced them in the Le Mans and Grand Prix races. These were more powerful and allowed vehicles to stop at significantly shorter distances than the traditional drum brakes, so now we see them in nearly every vehicle on the road.
Another feature we take for granted was added thanks to motorsports: the rearview mirror. It’s hard to imagine that it took the Indianapolis 500 to introduce this must-have feature back in 1911. According to Ballistic Parts, car designers realized that a mirror, properly installed and adjusted, would allow the driver to see rivals approaching from behind. Drivers could then block opponents and make braking around corners easier. On some race cars – especially low-slung ones like Formula 1 and IndyCar – the mirror would be placed at the bottom of the dashboard. That positioning was typical for Chrysler vehicles in the late ’50s through the ’60s. The drawback of this approach was that any passengers in the backseat basically obstructed the driver of the rear view. And the backup camera? Le Mans again! At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012, Audi designers had to use a rearview camera instead of a rearview mirror because of the car’s mid-engine layout. This made its way to Audi’s electric R8 E-tron, and the camera was added to the roof and broadcasted to the cabin of the car on a 7.7-inch screen. Since 2018, all new cars manufactured are required to have backup cameras.
What about the costs of racing (and wrecking)? According to FleetOwner, engines can cost anywhere from $45,000 to $80,000; each tire $350 to $450 a pop; and the car chassis itself clocking in around $70,000. Despite the price tag, most competitions can simulate up to about 200,000 to 300,000 kilometers worth of operational life over a three week span, giving engineers a lot of data to work with. In Europe, many OEM’s such as Audi, Mercedes, Ferrari, specifically engine producers, sponsor teams purely because the sport offers them a way to test their products in extreme conditions. During a round of truck races, MAN Truck & Bus AG discovered the metal material for some of its ball bearings didn’t withstand the strain, and that the tolerances for its piston rod connector pins weren’t up to standard as well. They were able to make changes to both making their production-line, on-highway models more robust, as well as helping them last longer than before. This demonstrates the impact the sport serves as an innovative testing bed for the industry and continues to lead the way as other forms of vehicles arise (EV’s, hybrids, fuel cells).
Racing seems counterintuitive in the scramble to reduce carbon emissions, but innovations in Formula 1 and other electricity-based events are looking to change the narrative and introduce clean competition. In an article by Auto Vista, Formula 1 wants to host sustainable events by 2025, with alternative fuels, including synthetic fuels, playing an increasing role for motorsport teams. Meanwhile, an off-road race series, Extreme E, is using all-electric SUVs to race in some of the most remote and extreme locations where climate change is having an impact to highlight the issues.
As we can see, not only does the motorsports world serve as a catalyst for combustion engine vehicle’s, they also have a major impact on the range and performance of electric vehicles. The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) was the first to adopt and incorporated them into a season-long Green Racing Cup Championship Award in 2009. The Green Racing Initiative uses motorsport competition to help rapidly develop cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicle systems that will eventually be used in consumer models. Technologies initially developed for green race cars will generate faster general introductions of automotive technologies that reduce greenhouse gasses, reduce exhaust pollutants, and increase fuel economy. The protocols are based on the use of the following five elements: Renewable fuels; Different engines, fuels, and propulsion systems in one race; Regenerative energy powertrains that recover and reuse braking energy; Energy allocations instead of detailed sporting regulations; and Exhaust pollution control strategies and systems. At the end of each race, the teams from the Le Mans Prototype and Grand Touring classes with the fastest speeds, lowest energy, and best efficiency earn the Michelin Green X Challenge award. Once the season ends, the teams with the lowest Green score win the season-long Green Cup Championship Award. By shifting the paradigm away from winning trophies, there is more of a focus on sustainability and longevity, which has a much better outlook for the future.
As the automotive industry grows with change and innovation, expect motorsports to be at the forefront for the foreseeable future. With green racing and large-scale sample sizes for new features, it will continue to serve as a hot bed for change for a very long time. Green racing will continue to develop and evolve hybrid and electric systems while reducing greenhouse gasses. The future has a lot in store and we can’t wait to see it all unfold!