O Opinions & Commentary

Pushing and pulling each other along

renault sport f1

Motorsports and automotive. Two things based on the same principle, but worlds apart in their execution... or are they? As Bob Dylan sang, the times they are a changin’.

There was once a time when the two were so unrelated that to compare them would be like comparing hamburger to steak – sure they come from the same meat, but they always leave a different taste in your mouth.

Exotics were the closest thing technologically to a top-level sports or open-wheel car. Of course, drive wise that is still the case, but a sea change is happening beneath the covers of our performance and racing dream machines.

As hybrid cars are the norm and electrics such as Tesla and Fisker (albeit a floundering company of late) continue to produce impressive, sporty sedans and coupes, BMW is also on the verge of releasing its i8 electric sports car and more are waiting in the ballasts. The technology has been on a steady climb toward commercial viability, and manufacturers want to cash in.

What has been most surprising about these developments is the ideological shift that motorsport has also taken – once the home of hulking V10s and V12s, we are now seeing the regulation of smaller displaced, turbocharged and hybrid or KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) engines throughout the racing grid.

F1 is moving to 1.6-litre V6 turbos with KERS next year, the Audi R18 e-Trons are chief of hybrid technology at Le Mans and IndyCar is currently using a 2.2-litre six-cylinder.

What is impressive is the pace at which these series have developed and moved away from the traditional, hefty fuel drinkers.

Interestingly, NASCAR, DTM and V8 Supercars still run 3.6 to 4.0-litre V8 engines. But with the major developments in engine technology across the board in motorsport and auto manufacturing, I’m still unsure why. It’s more cost effective to run less fuel and aside from being naturally-aspirated, there seems to be few other reasons why they haven’t made the change, because the heavy development costs are no longer there.

Why else would Nissan be entering Le Mans in 2014 with what they call is a “pioneering race car showcasing electric technology?" Audi has literally cleaned up on the track and in its image with the R18 e-Trons, and numerous LMP1 teams are following suit when the 2014 Le Mans regulations kick in. The engine sizes won’t be limited but teams will have to get creative with the introduction of fuel-flow regulators.
 
It seems the pervasive view of fuel consumption and environmental responsibility has finally found its way through the cracks and into the boardrooms of motorsport. The manufacturers are seeing the monetary gains and as I’ve stated in previous blogs, motorsport is as much about commercialism as it is entertainment.

On the consumer side, people want cars that use less gas and save them money. Cars like the Ford C-Max, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Honda’s new Accord Plug-In are making substantial gains in popularity and signs are only pointing up.  

Shared technology and innovation is driving both sides to greater commercial viability – and it’s the ones that stay ahead of the curve that survive. We’ve already seen it in showrooms and the winners circle – the innovators are the moneymakers. And with 2014 just around the corner, there are some exciting changes and technological battles sure to change the four-wheel landscape for good.

Photo: Renault Sport F1

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