It used to be said that racing improves the breed, but it now appears that Formula One is little more than an exotic blend of sport, entertainment and political intrigue, while top-level sports-car racing is becoming increasingly concerned with the real-world issues of fuel economy and emissions.
Is this really the case, though? Audi and Peugeot might badge their Le Mans cars TDI and HDI, like their respective showroom diesels, but can V12-engined racers capable of around 6mpg be compared to anything gracing a dealership? Both Audi and Peugeot say yes, and insist they wouldnt have been at Le Mans if there hadnt been benefits for their road-car programmes.
We get a huge amount of knowledge, accelerated by the extreme conditions racing cars operate in, says Audis David Ingram. One of the major factors in achieving success at Le Mans is engine efficiency. The more efficient the engine, the fewer times you have to stop for fuel, and the more of the energy in the fuel you turn into performance, which benefits economy and CO2 emissions.
Peugeots Ian Sedgwick agrees: We have learned so much about engine efficiency by going racing, particularly in relation to how fuel is injected and burned, he says. It has also benefited our diesel particulate filter technology. Todays filters are more compact, but still capable of cleaning up the exhaust gases of a 700bhp engine in a racing environment. If theres even a wisp of smoke, you can be pulled out of the race.
In contrast, F1 would seem to be like the steward straightening the deckchairs on the Titanic, although that is not a view shared by Ross Brawn, the man who masterminded Michael Schumachers seven world championships with Benetton and Ferrari, and who is now team principal at Honda.
Honda sees its racing programme as a challenge for young engineers. There is a strong belief that racing can toughen them up for later life. Even our current president was involved in motorcycle racing early in his career, he says.
Brawn is also convinced that road-car and F1 programmes are not mutually exclusive. He cites the regenerative braking (KERS) systems like those found on BMWs and Minis that will become mandatory on F1 cars next season. This will take the challenge of F1 directly into road-car applications, he says. Whats interesting is the rate of development, which is going to be accelerated by usage in F1. KERS can be used in several ways. Under braking, an electric-motor-generator passes energy into storage, and we can then use that energy as we see fit.
The weight, size and general efficiency of road cars can also benefit from F1. We can do a lot by reducing weight, drag and friction in cars, and I think the road-car industry could also find it interesting to look at the materials and technology we have.
From track to road 20