O Opinions & Commentary

Is endurance racing still relevant?


Racing is big business. There’s no doubt that sponsorships fuel the cars and winning means more support. That couldn’t be more evident in the highest level of international and national racing series. NASCAR, Grand-Am, the numerous Le Mans Series, World Rally Championship and Formula 1 run cars that have become big business billboards for multi-national corporations. F1 is far and away the biggest perpetrator when it comes to spending and sponsorships, but aside from sponsoring the entertainment for viewers, what is the relevance of these series in our every day lives?

Racing has and always will be a sport. Just like hockey or football, it’s primary purpose is entertainment. Where racing differs drastically from most others though is the technology behind it. It operates on the same fundamental principles as the vehicles we drive every day, and that makes it a more important sport for society than most.

Anyone connected with F1 will agree that the usefulness of those technologies are almost negligible for anything driving our roads today. They are simply too complex, too advanced for anything we would ever need. Sure the new Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), which pushes electric power to the engines by harnessing energy from braking is a good start, but it is so expensive that only the world’s most exotic supercars (McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder) can carry it. Our current hybrid and plug-in technology is the most cost-effective green energy we have today. Aerodynamics, engines and tire technology might as well be alien, and most agree the F1 technology doesn’t trickle down, aside from a Ferrari transmission and suspension upgrade here or there.

So what good is racing for the outside world? Endurance racing series such as the American Le Mans, World Endurance Series and single annual races such as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Daytona 24 and Nurburgring 24 Hours push cars to their uttermost limits. The prototype engine sizes are restricted and usually don’t exceed 4.0-litre displacements, and cutting edge body styles and progressive technologies are encouraged to take the load off of engines over the 24-hour race timeframe.

GT cars are also quite similar to the road cars of today. The GT or GTE Pro and GTC or GTE Am categories include modified vehicles with a restriction of 5.5-litre or 4.0-litre turbo engines, but are based on the same engine platforms as their road-going counterparts (albeit with many internal upgrades). It is extremely relevant to road cars today because it shows the power and durability of these engines over a long period of time. The GTC class in ALMS is made up of Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars that are nearly identical to the production versions.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans also allows a single innovative race car entry each year in ‘Garage 56.’ Last year was the famed Nissan DeltaWing, featuring half the weight, half the drag, half the fuel consumption, but with similar top speeds (even better in a straight line) than many prototypes in the field. What was exceptional about this car aside from the technology and performance evident from the viewers, was the technology inside.

The car uses the same throttle body as the Nissan Juke production car (yes, the questionably designed, quad-headlight crossover car) along with a variety of other technologies the company plans on using in their model lineup. A 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with 300 hp and a zero-to-100 km/h time of 3.3 seconds is next on the list of impressive performance specs.

This years Garage 56 Le Mans entry will be the GreenGT H2. The 100 per cent clean electric/hydrogen racecar converts water to hydrogen power, while using an electric engine that has less than five times the components of a combustion engine for greater reliability. Horsepower is ranked at 540 and top speeds are expected to be around 300 km/h. Citroen purchased similar technology from GreenGT for it’s Survolt production concept car and there are plans for future inclusion in production vehicles.

Endurance racing is still tied heavily to it’s roots with production-based vehicles. While privateer teams make up a smaller number of entries than in decades prior, they are a big part of innovation in the sport and hunting for sponsorships and big business. The Automobile Club L’Ouest has done a great job allowing a Garage 56 entry for innovation and with private teams often pushing the boundaries of racing to gain sponsorship and support, it’s only a matter of time that their efforts and successes see a way into our daily drivers.

Photo: GreenGT

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