WHY SPORTS CAR RAC­ING STILL MAT­TERS

Automobile - - Motorsport -

IT’S LONG BEEN said the first au­to­mo­bile race likely oc­curred shortly af­ter the sec­ond car was built—just like it’s prob­a­ble your own com­pe­ti­tion his­tory be­gan when your age was still in sin­gle dig­its and you raced a friend or a sib­ling to the cor­ner, to the din­ner ta­ble, or to the exit at school. Want­ing to know who’s fastest be­gins with a sim­ple foot race then ex­tends to rac­ing mul­ti­mil­lion­dol­lar sports cars un­til they break, crash, or win.

But there’s even more to sports car rac­ing. It is one of the few mo­tor­sports where “Win on Sun­day, sell on Mon­day” may still ap­ply: No one looks at a Fer­rari For­mula 1 car or a NASCAR Mon­ster En­ergy Cup car and be­lieves the ma­chines on the track share any mean­ing­ful parts with sup­pos­edly re­lated street mod­els. In mul­ti­ple sports car classes, though, the cars not only re­sem­ble the mod­els they rep­re­sent, but they also often be­gin life as a real pro­duc­tion car. And tech­nol­ogy from the cir­cuit does make its way into pro­duc­tion mod­els, some­thing sports car rac­ing has prided it­self on for decades.

Take Porsche, for ex­am­ple: The com­pany cre­ated the 550 for its first fac­tory rac­ing pro­gram, and it im­me­di­ately won the Nür­bur­gring race in 1953. A five-speed trans­mis­sion with Porsche-de­vel­oped syn­chro­niza­tion gave birth to the trans­mis­sion in­tro­duced in the 901/911 pro­duc­tion cars in 1963. Porsche used two spark plugs per com­bus­tion cham­ber in its race en­gines—and that idea was in­tro­duced in the 911 Car­rera in 1990. The 959, de­vel­oped in 1983 for a par­tic­u­lar rac­ing class, had an all-wheel-drive sys­tem with vari­able con­trol of the cen­ter dif­fer­en­tial lock; Porsche adapted it for use in the 1990 Car­rera 4.

Tech trans­fer of course ap­plies to per­for­mance, but it has also re­sulted in mas­sive safety im­prove­ments: ad­vances in tires, brakes, trac­tion con­trol, crash ab­sorp­tion, col­lapsi­ble steer­ing col­umns, data gath­er­ing, and more. And ev­ery­thing de­vel­oped for rac­ing is au­to­mat­i­cally tested un­der gru­el­ing con­di­tions.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine what the Corvette brand would look like without the Corvette Rac­ing pro­gram,” Tadge Juechter (above), chief en­gi­neer for Corvette, says. “For 20 years we have been work­ing to­ward to­tal in­te­gra­tion of the race and street car teams. En­durance rac­ing pro­vides us with a trea­sure trove of in­for­ma­tion in any num­ber of ar­eas—aero­dy­nam­ics, en­gine per­for­mance, and chas­sis, to name a few. That kind of real-world data is highly valu­able to pro­duc­tion engi­neers and de­sign­ers, and we have made great use of those lessons from the race­track.” AM

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