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The most thrilling and adrenaline-infused sport that attracts automotive enthusiasts from all over the globe. Motorsport was and is a platform for manufacturers and technology companies to not only display their capabilities, but push the envelope of what they can achieve. Actively innovating to gain an advantage over the competition.

Road vehicles have benefited from an enormous array of hand-me-downs designed for motorsport. It contributes to the safety, reliability and efficiency of our cars on the road.

People often forget that motorsport plays a significant role in driving automotive innovation.
Technological advancements in aerodynamics, engine performance, and safety measures have trickled down from the racetrack to everyday road cars. From the introduction of disc brakes to the development of hybrid powertrains, motorsport has been at the forefront of automotive progress. The car you drive every day has something on it that was derived from motorsport.

There are some sports that have contributed more to automotive design than others, such as Formula 1 and WEC (World Endurance Championship). But we know how much more they have in the bank over other race series. Money and time usually generate the most significant results.

Ferrari 488 GT3 Racing Car Motorsport Red Spoiler Circuit
© Shawn Ang

Motorsport has made a large number of contributions to automotive design, however, it hasn’t been without its challenges. As cars get faster and can take corners at higher speeds, injuries and fatalities were somewhat of a regular occurrence, especially between the 1950’s and 1970’s. Safety concerns have pushed organisers to continuously innovate and enhance driver protection measures. Stringent regulations and ongoing efforts to reduce environmental impact have also been prioritized, aiming for a more sustainable future.

It’s time to dive into a few of the innovations our grocery-getters and weekend toys have benefited from through motorsport.

I’m going to go over a few examples of the technologies that have emerged from the world of motorsport and made significant contributions to the automotive industry.

Disc Brakes

Porsche 911 991 Turbo Centre Lock Front Wheel Brakes Blue Yellow
© Freddy G

Disc brakes offered superior stopping power and heat dissipation compared to drum brakes and are now an integral part of our road vehicles.

Although the concept was thought up by The Lanchester Motor Company in 1902, brake discs didn’t make it to production vehicles for some time due to poor performance and a brake pad material with a short lifespan.

50 years later, in 1952, Dunlop and Jaguar worked together to develop a brake disc for the XK120 prototype.

Disc brakes were used in motorsport for the first time in 1953, which lead to their win in the 24hrs of Le Mans. Brake discs were fitted to production vehicles that same year due to their success.


Ford 2024 Rolling Road Wind Tunnel with Mustang Dark Horse Aerodynamics
© Ford Motor Company

Significant advancements in aerodynamic design have stemmed from motor racing, especially in Formula 1. Techniques such as wind tunnel testing, aerodynamic profiling, and the use of spoilers, diffusers, and wings were initially developed for racing cars. These innovations have influenced the design of road cars, enhancing stability, reducing drag, and improving fuel efficiency. It’s a shame it went to waste when the Scion xB was designed.

However, the same can’t be said for most modern vehicles. With the increase of consumers wanting fuel-efficient vehicles, the reduction of drag is becoming more important to help increase the range of vehicles. Even wheels are designed to reduce drag and turbulence.

Engine Technologies

Borg Warner Big Turbo 2JZ Engine External Wastegate Tuning
© Danny Sleeuwenhoek

Motorsport has spurred advancements in engine technology, particularly in areas such as fuel injection, turbocharging, and variable valve timing. These technologies, initially refined in racing engines, have been adapted for road cars, resulting in improved power output, efficiency, and responsiveness.

If you’re interested in the aftermarket space of the automotive industry, you’ll know how much we’ve benefitted from the developments in engine output and control, with the ECU and forced induction advancements. Achieving power figures far beyond what the manufacturers intended.

Safety Innovations

Porsche Auto Group Steering Wheel WEC World Endurance Championship 911 RSR
© Porsche AG

Innovations such as seatbelts, the Anti-lock Braking System and energy-absorbing crash structures were pioneered in motorsport to prevent accidents and protect drivers. We now have vehicles that provide assistance during unpredictable conditions or resist impact in a collision. Not something I would like to miss out on.

But lets not forget, there are other safety designs that were introduced to road vehicles through motorsport that we take for granted. Features such as rear view mirrors, all-wheel drive and multifunctional steering wheels.

Improving visibility, grip and accessibility to driver controls are all safety innovations easily overlooked in our road vehicles as features of convenience and practicality.

Lightweight Materials

Carbon Fibre Chassis Tub McLaren
© McLaren Automotive Limited

Racing cars often utilise materials like carbon fibre, magnesium, and aluminum alloys to reduce weight while maintaining structural integrity. These lightweight materials have found their way into high-performance road cars and in more recent years, hybrid and electric vehicles too. Designers are increasingly putting focus on reducing weight in an effort to improve agility, fuel efficiency and rigidity.

Manufacturers such as McLaren have gone to great lengths to reduce the weight of their vehicles, even producing the chassis from carbon fibre. This was done at the McLaren Composites Technology Centre, in partnership with AMRC (Advance Manufacturing Research Centre), located in my hometown, Sheffield, UK.

Hybrid and Electric Powertrains

Toyota Hybrid WEC Worold Endurance Championship white and red denso supercar on racing track
© Philip Veater

Regenerative braking, energy recovery systems, and high-performance electric drivetrains were explored in racing to improve efficiency and performance. These advancements have influenced the widespread adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles in the automotive industry.

We often think of Toyota or Honda when it comes to hybrid vehicles on our streets, but it was in fact Ferdinand Porsche who designed the first hybrid vehicle, unveiling the prototype in 1900.

Much to my surprise, the first vehicle to use a hybrid system in motorsport was an American manufacturer by the name of Panoz in 1998. Although the GTR-1 started and finished the qualifying stage for 24hrs of Le Mans successfully, it’s downfall was the additional weight from the batteries. Being 16 seconds off-pace from the conventionally powered Panoz vehicles, it did not end up competing in the race.

In 2006, Denso, a subsidiary of Toyota, utilised a hybrid system in a Lexus GS 450h, during their 24hr endurance race at Tokachi International Speedway. Denso now develops the hybrid systems with Toyota for their road vehicles.

Sensors; Data Analysis and Telemetry

Alpine Formula 1 Pit Garage Race Engineers Motorsport Silverstone
© Renault SAS

As I’m sure most readers will be aware, motorsport relies heavily on data analysis and telemetry to optimise performance. Advanced sensors, onboard computers, and real-time data transmission systems provide valuable insights to teams. The data collected can tell data analysts how the driver or vehicle is performing. Deviations in normal behaviour allows the team to make adjustments to the vehicle or race strategy, or an ECU to alter the operation of the engine.

These technologies have been adapted for road cars, allowing for features like performance monitoring, diagnostics, and connected car functionalities. Even the safety parameters of your engine are controlled by the sensors to communicate with the ECU to prevent engine damage or significant component wear.

So what?

I really do wonder where we would be in automotive design if it wasn’t for the countless hours and millions spent over the years on testing and development. Not forgetting to thank some of the regulations put in place, forcing engineers to think outside of the box and always be improving on existing methods and technology.

But seriously, if you were to look at this from a broader perspective, not having any of these technologies could result in a knock-on effect. They might be life saving. I’m grateful for motor racing, the impact it’s had on me, and the industry.

From its humble beginnings to the global phenomenon it is today, motorsport will hopefully forever continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. As technology advances, the future of motorsport holds endless possibilities, promising even more excitement for enthusiasts around the globe and innovating in automotive design.

Cheers to racing.

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