Playing to the Crowd

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Back in December at the International Motorsports Industry Show in Indianapolis I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion about the future of motor racing. Former CART technical director Kirk Russell and retired Chrysler engineer Michael Royce organise a safety and technical conference in conjunction with the IMIS show promoted by reigning NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, among others.

The conference included 40 presentations over two days covering a wide range of matters from Formula 1’s 2014 engine rules to electric cars to spec engines for local short track racing. Our panel discussion about racing’s future took place at the end of the conference and we covered a lot of ground, so I can only touch on some of the highlights here.

When CART was at its height in the 1990s with multiple chassis and engine manufacturers, Kirk Russell found himself in the middle of numerous rule interpretation disputes. Russell believes the answer is to create an ‘open-source’ system, in which any innovation developed by a supplier would be made available online for all teams to study and understand.

“One of the big challenges I had as a rule writer for some 25 years was the fact that you would write a rule with everybody thinking more or less in the same box,” Russell explained. “Then something would come along that was outside that box. As far as I was concerned I felt that was all well and good. That was something we missed (when writing the rules). But because one guy took a different track then you had a big skirmish on your hands with the other car owners and manufacturers. And I think those skirmishes were very detrimental to the sport

“But open-source allows people to do the research and development on new things and allows other teams to understand what those developments are without a lot of expense and to decide whether they want to get involved. It’s totally transparent.”

Former Ferrari, Peugeot and FIA engine man Gilles Simon made some good points about broadening racing’s appeal. Simon designed Peugeot’s Le Mans-winning engines in 1992 and ’93 before spending 16 years with Ferrari, where he led the engine design team that won eight F1 Constructors titles between 1999-2008. Simon was then recruited by the FIA to serve as its powertrain and electronics director to help write the 2014 F1 engine rules, and in August of last year he joined Craig Pollock’s new PURE (Propulsion Universelle et Recuperation d’Energie) Corporation as technical director to design a turbo V6 F1 engine for 2014.

“When we think about the future of motorsport I think we need to think about attracting more categories of people – the people who are not interested in motor racing,” Simon said. “The auto manufacturers are interested in our industry because we are producing car sales for them. It’s about using your engine, your car, your aerodynamics and so on to go faster and be more efficient. Professional motor racing is a forum for people to achieve something new with the car and the technology.

“I think the fans are attracted by diversity and are interested in technology but we need to show them more. There is reasonably good technology in F1 but you don’t see it from the outside. We need to show it more, to explain the technology to the public and the fans. It may interest more people in the sport and we need to do that because many people think motor racing is a useless sport

“If we do that successfully there is a better possibility that more people will believe in the value of racing. We have to be sure to make racing more palatable to more people. Otherwise I believe over the coming years there is more and more chance that some countries could decide to make racing not possible.”

All good ideas that I’m sure we’ll be pursuing at much greater length at next winter’s IMIS safety and technical conference.

Gordon Kirby

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