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Motorsports have impacted auto industry for over a century

Published Saturday August 30,2014

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and supporting races are being held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend, so it seems the perfect time to discuss how racing impacts the car industry.

     An early example of motorsports impacting passenger cars dates back to the first Indianapolis 500, in 1911. The winning driver of that race, Ray Harroun, attached something new to his car to gain an advantage - a rear view mirror.

     The rear view mirror soon found its way into the production of passenger vehicles. Since that first Indy 500 race, motorsports technology and innovation have played a key role in the design, performance, reliability, styling and safety of automobiles around the world.

     Independent suspension, disk brakes, fuel injection, seat belts, tire treads and compounds, keyless ignition, and car fibre components are among the features in automobiles that can be traced directly to motorsports over the past century.

     It wasn't until the 1960s that auto manufacturers began to partner with motorsports teams in earnest. Carroll Shelby was one of the early pioneers of the design of performance cars, working independently of automobile manufacturers. In 1965, Shelby introduced the groundbreaking 427 Cobra and the GT350 in California, which began the muscle car era.

     In the 1980s, automakers began partnering with and supporting motorsports teams. Honda began working with Formula One racing and, in the process, developed variable timing and lift electronic control. Both of these innovations helped to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions and provide additional power.

     As mentioned in a previous column, Audi (a manufacturer that I represent), was influenced by technology from Formula One racing in developing the Direct Sequential Gearbox (DSG) transmission. DSG involves a double clutch system that provides continuous torque between the shafts in which the gears are connected.

     Not only have auto manufacturers developed partnerships with motorsports. Oil companies and tire manufacturers, too, are heavily involved in motorsports to understand how their products perform under extreme conditions.

     Shell supplies race cars with fuels, coolants, gear oils, transmission fluids and greases to evaluate how they perform on the track and, ultimately, how they'll perform in regular cars and light trucks.

     Tire manufacturers study tire performance, traction and degradation on race cars and apply that data to the engineering of tires for regular cars and trucks.  

     Another impact of motorsports is economic activity. Across Canada, hundreds of motorsports events take place each year in categories such as Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, dirt track, Truck Series, Rally, Kart, Pro-Cam, ICAR and others.

     The 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, held in Montreal, brought $90 million worth of economic activity to the city and attracted 250,000 visitors during the three-day event. The 2014 Honda Indy in Toronto provided an estimated $50 million boost to Canada's largest city.

     As motorsports have grown in Canada, Canadian drivers have achieved world-class status. Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, Ron Fellows, Greg Moore, Alex Tagliani, Scott Goodyear, Paul Tracy and James Hinchcliffe are among the motorsports legends in Canada.

     Motorsports continues to play a vital role in spearheading new technologies and products and influencing car buying decisions.

     A Foresight Research study concluded that 25 per cent of car buyers had watched at least one auto racing event on TV during the year before their purchase, which reinforces the popular credo: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

     It's unfortunate that as auto racing gains traction in Canada, we are deprived of watching some of the best races on TV. Surely there is enough demand in the marketplace to re-launch a cable channel dedicated to motorsports.

     If you want to experience the thrill of live motorsports racing, check out the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and supporting races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this weekend. I'll be there!

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