Motor Racing Saves The Planet!

by Admin on August 10, 2014

The headlines tell of bling, excess and corruption in high places. How can this gas-guzzling parody of a sport be of any future benefit to anyone, let alone the planet?

Well, behind the headlines a technical revolution is underway in the senior echelons of motor racing, which is delivering major improvements to our present and future circumstances.

Fuel Efficiency

Take Formula 1. Until recently, the objective was simple: make your car go as fast as possible, constrained only by the engine size and a mass of safety-related requirements. But since 2009, F1 has been a formula for hybrid powertrains. Starting from small beginnings, the regulations have allowed for the harvesting of energy under braking for subsequent use assisting acceleration, similar to road-going hybrid cars.

But a massive change has been introduced for 2014. From this year, engine sizes have been reduced to just 1.6 litres, about what you’ll find in a family car, and much greater scope allowed for energy harvesting. The upshot is this year’s cars are capable of performances virtually identical to last year’s but using one third less fuel than previously: the fuel limit for a Grand Prix race has been reduced from 150 kg to 100 kg. And there’s every likelihood that future regulation changes will demand even further reductions in fuel consumption.

It’s a similar story with the fastest endurance sports prototypes which race at the le Mans 24 hours. The rules are slightly different, and offer various options regarding the way the energy is harvested and re-used, but the result is the same. This year’s winning car was as fast as last year’s, but consumed 30% less fuel.

These enhancements in fuel efficiency, achieved in the most demanding conditions, are bound to trickle down to the mainstream vehicle industry: that’s why the manufacturers go motor racing. They go far beyond the current state of the art in hybrid technology and energy storage for road cars, and will provide further impetus to the drive for greater efficiency.

Materials Technology

Motor racing offers other benefits, many of which derive from the materials and manufacturing techniques developed as engineers strive for ever-greater strength to weight ratios in the interests of safety and performance. To offer just one example, the advanced composites originally developed for racing are now used in artificial limbs. I cannot think of a more fitting use for this technology.

Aerodynamic Design

On another tack, the advanced aerodynamic analysis techniques used in motor racing are finding applications as diverse as sailing boat and wind turbine design.

Race Operations

The organisational techniques forged in the hot-house environment of race operations are also being put to use in mass transit control systems, factory management and hospital operating theatre organisation. To change all four wheels on a car in less than 3 seconds dictates disciplines and techniques with far-reaching potential!

Motor racing saves the planet…..perhaps that is a slightly ambitious claim! But there’s no doubting that the extreme technical and organisational demands imposed in this highly competitive and technology-led environment continue to produce results offering widespread benefits well beyond the immediate area of application, or even the automotive world. Hardly any aspects of human endeavour have not been enhanced by innovations created in this arena. Long may we continue to enjoy those benefits!

David Dunbar.



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