No. 930
January 24, 2018
 

About The UjianNasional

Author, commentator, influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. Editor-in-Chief of .

Peter DeLorenzo has been in and around the sport of racing since the age of ten. After a 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising, where he worked on national campaigns as well as creating many motorsports campaigns for various clients, DeLorenzo established Ujian-nasional.info on June 1, 1999. Over the years DeLorenzo's commentaries on racing and the business of motorsports have resonated throughout the industry. Because of the burgeoning influence of those commentaries, DeLorenzo has directly consulted automotive clients on the fundamental direction and content of their motorsports programs. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the sport today.

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Fumes


Tuesday
Jan292008

FUMES #430

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

The Heat Gets Turned Up on "Relevant" Racing.

Detroit. The upcoming Autoline Detroit program that I taped last week with host John McElroy and guests Dan Davis, Director of Ford Racing, and Mark Kent, Director of GM Racing, should be very interesting to racing participants and enthusiasts who frequent this website. The show will air on the morning of the Daytona 500 (see the top of our home page for dates-times & network details), and there will be bonus coverage on autolinedetroit.tv that will be available, too, which I highly recommend. It's a lively discussion on a number of topics of interest to everyone either involved in the racing business or for those who just follow the sport closely. We talk about everything from the current state of motorsports to "green" racing and the idea of "relevant" racing. I'm sure racing enthusiasts of all stripes will enjoy the program.

To me, "relevant" racing can be defined this way: It's racing with a focused purpose that begins with the premise that the sport must return to leading the development of advanced technologies that will ultimately end up benefiting the cars we drive on the street. Racing used to play that role in the old days - before technology swallowed the sport whole - and now it's time for racing to take its rightful place again as the leader in advancing technological development for automobiles.

For some background, back in the 60s and 70s the sport of racing was on an unprecedented upward trajectory as advancements in composite materials, tire construction and aerodynamics virtually refined and reimagined every component of the automobile in order to go faster, handle better, stop better, etc. As a matter of fact, the sport hadn't seen such advancements in technology since the pre-war Grand Prix cars from Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union in the 30s. From the move to mid-engine cars through the era of winged Chaparrals to ultimate developments of ground effects technology best exemplified by Colin Chapman's World Champion Lotus Grand Prix Cars and Jim Hall's last Chaparral Indy Car, the sport of racing grew and matured by leaps and bounds.

But as with so many other endeavors at the end of the 20th century, technological discoveries fundamentally altered the equation and began to overrun the sport, with advancements coming so fast and furiously (especially with regard to computers and electronics) that the sport changed from being one that fostered new technological development to one that constantly had to put a lid on new development in order to rein-in the speeds. The very existence of some racing facilities (the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for one) was being threatened by machines that exceeded the boundaries of their track designs, which is why the sport of racing became one of limits, rules "packages" and built-in restrictions, gradually losing touch with its role as "proving ground" for new technologies once and for all.

Sure, it can be argued that racing still continues in its traditional role by developing new technologies, but when the advanced technology in street cars exceeds that found in most racing machines, it's clear that the sport has lost its pioneering connection.

With the onset of the popularity of at least one dimension of motorsport in recent years - NASCAR - racing has assumed a much higher visibility role in the media, which, as racing insiders and enthusiasts alike have discovered, can be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time. A good thing? At least the "stick and ball" media and the general public now acknowledge that racing exists, whereas before NASCAR's popularity boom the coverage that the sport received was scant, at best. I can remember back in the day when racing "coverage" consisted of basically the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and maybe the Grand Prix of Monaco, and that was about it. And that was only in a few papers, not national coverage, by any stretch of the imagination. And you had to scrounge to find it, unless a driver or spectator was injured or killed, of course.

The bad thing? If the general public and the "stick and ball" media only equate NASCAR with racing, then the sport is setting itself up for a difficult future. Why? Don't for one second underestimate the growing movement toward the "greening" of America. It is real, it translates across all demographic and age groups, and it will continue to be Topic No. 1 in the media in the months and years ahead. To pretend otherwise is foolish. And the automobile industry, while facing a dramatic new set of fuel economy regulations beginning in 2020, is now in the crosshairs of the media, the politicians in Washington and selected states and with the public in general. These new regulations are going to affect everything about the transportation choices available to us, as I've written repeatedly in my "Home" columns. But it doesn't stop there, however, as the sport of racing is going to come under the microscope, too, and that's a "bad" news scenario that I would like to nip in the bud before it even gets started. And let's face it, a racing entity - NASCAR - that has only just now switched from leaded to unleaded fuel is not exactly on the cutting edge of technological development and "relevant" racing, and thus not a good ambassador for the sport as a whole.

It comes down to the fact that I'd rather see racing lead in advancing these new technological developments than be dragged by its lapels into the future, because if that happens the sport and enthusiastic supporters of the sport are in danger of being left in the lurch with a set of circumstances and dictates that I can assure you we won't want.

It's clear that we are on the precipice of a fundamental shift in motorsports, and right now there's a split among the manufacturers, sanctioning bodies and racing organizations who get it - and those that don't. A year ago, when I gave a speech to automobile manufacturers, tire companies and racing movers and shakers in Detroit entitled The Future of Racing, I humbly submit that it gave fence-sitters contemplating the same issues the impetus to get off the pit wall and do something about it.

The racing series poised to make the most hay with the move to relevant racing at the moment? There's only one, frankly, and that's the American Le Mans Series. Scott Atherton, the leader of the ALMS, was in the audience in Detroit a year ago listening to my speech. He got the Big Picture of what I spoke about immediately - that racing needed to push the "reset" button and get back to advancing new technologies for the automobile manufacturers' future production cars - and he not only set into motion programs that he had already been contemplating, but based on some of my suggestions he created new ones that weren't even on the horizon yet. And right now the American Le Mans Series is clearly on the cutting edge of embracing new technologies, while providing an arena for forward-thinking manufacturers to showcase their wares in a competitive, high-visibility environment. Alternative fuels and advanced diesel technology are already part of the ALMS, and I see regenerative braking, electric motor assist and other technologies as part of their not-too-distant future as well. And the ALMS connection to the 24 Hours of Le Mans is important, too, because the Le Mans organizers are moving toward a new "EVO" rules package in 2010 that will replace the current P1 class and encourage innovation and "green" technology.

Formula 1, the traditional home for automotive technical innovations in the past, has squandered its opportunity to lead the sport by displaying an astonishing lack of foresight and urgency in allowing advanced, relevant technologies to become part of their raison d'etre. And they frankly have blown it, big time. They just announced a ten-year "freeze" on their engine regulations - which they're now back-pedaling on due to the head-in-sand message it sent out - but still, Formula 1 could do so much more with advancing future automotive technologies, and they haven't even gotten out of pit lane on the issue, embarrassingly enough. Not good. If there was ever a racing entity that could have taken our HERF concept and made it the Racing Technology of the Future, it is Formula 1. But it will take more vision than they're clearly capable of mustering.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also has a terrific opportunity to put its stake in the ground and send a message to the world when it comes to returning to its traditional role of advancing new technologies for production applications. As a matter of fact, that has been the Speedway's role since Ray Harroun won the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911 using a brand new device called a "rearview mirror," which helped him win the race. The Speedway has been home to some of racing's most dramatic technological spurts since then, including the mid-engine "revolution," stunning innovations in aerodynamics, tire and safety, and even alternative engines and powertrains (diesel power, gas turbines, etc.). Yes, today the Indy Racing League's IndyCars run on ethanol, but that's not enough. The Speedway needs to blow up their rule book and start over with a rules package that encourages the use of advanced automotive technologies at every turn. Tony George (who was also in the audience for my speech) has the power to influence racing in a positive way for years to come, but he needs to step up now and put into place a dramatic set of rules that would bring back creativity and innovation to the Speedway. And I would say the 2011 Indianapolis 500 - the centennial of the world's greatest race - would be a great place to start. Give the manufacturers and creative geniuses in this sport three years to answer the call to a new era at Indy, and believe me we would see technical brilliance on a grand and diverse scale.

And NASCAR? There's not much to be said about the stock car series at this point. After all, as I stated earlier, this is an organization that has just made the transition from leaded to unleaded fuel - talk about sending a head-in-sand message. You can read my column about NASCAR in last week's Fumes if you missed it, but suffice to say because NASCAR is first and foremost a "racertainment" series and a corporate consumer marketing enterprise, it will never be a home for "relevant" racing or be an arena for advancing the technological discussion as it relates to the idea of "green" racing.

As for the manufacturers, Toyota has said that it's preparing an entry for the ACO's new "EVO" class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2010 that will have hybrid technology as part of its design brief. Honda is already a partner with the IRL and its ethanol-fueled engine program, but the Japanese manufacturer is also heavily involved in the ALMS and is making noises that it expects to prove its future production technologies through racing as it has since Day One. That means Honda is intent on having alternative fuel and power technologies as part of its racing equation going forward, and it will continue to seek out racing series that provide the opportunity to prove those advanced technologies. GM is running E85 in its highly successful Corvette Racing program in the ALMS and at Le Mans for 2008, but it's no secret that GM also has a highly-evolved development program underway for a new "EVO" classification Corvette at Le Mans, aiming at the 2010 overall win there.

There's one other thing that's a crucial part of these manufacturers' moves into more relevant forms of motorsport - one that weighs heavily in this discussion - and that is the fact that racing budgets are coming under more intense scrutiny than ever before. A director of racing will be much better off if it can be demonstrated that the company is participating in forms of motorsport that allow the manufacturer to showcase and tout its advanced technologies and innovations - advancements that will show up in future production applications one day.

I'll close with this: "Relevant" racing isn't a fad or a gimmick, but rather, it's the platform that future manufacturer motorsport involvement will hinge upon going forward. It's clear that some manufacturers and racing organizations do "get it" and understand the fundamental shift that's underway in the sport. It's also clear that some manufacturers and racing organizations aren't in danger of getting "it" anytime soon.

It will be interesting to watch as it unfolds.

Publisher's Note: In our continuing series celebrating the "Golden Era" of American racing history, we thought our readers would enjoy this image of Curtis Turner this week. - PMD

mtrsptshist_1878_HR1.jpg 

(Ford Racing Archives)
Daytona, FL, 1966. NASCAR legend Curtis Turner drove the No. 41 Ford at the 1966 Daytona Speedweek. Between 1949 and 1968 he won 360 races in several different racing series, including 22 in NASCAR's convertible division in 1956, and 17 wins in the NASCAR Grand National series.