British Grand Prix Preview -- the spin-offs

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Motor racing and research go hand in hand. Looking right back to the earliest years and you will find examples of manufacturers using motorsport to develop ideas. Perhaps one of the most famous examples was the advent of Henry’s twin-cam engine in the Peugeot for competition use in 1913. If one looks less far back there is the even more well known example of the development of disc brakes on the Jaguars in the Fifties.

That motorsport is used as a hostile environment in which to test ideas and products is just as well, because it gives some justification to the sport as well as providing much needed finance. In this aspect motor racing is far more relevant to everyday life than almost any other sport and ultimately beneficially affects even the anti-racing lobby.

Whilst it cannot be said that were it not for motor racing we would still be driving around in vehicles with large, inefficient engines, poor aerodynamics and skinny tyres, there is no doubt that as research and development intensifies in wartime, so it does for those manufacturers involved in motor racing, particularly when it is under the full glare of international publicity. It is one thing to fail in private testing, but quite another to fail in the public arena. What value, for example, are both Porsche and Yamaha getting out of Formula One at the moment? The lack of success by either manufacturer, particularly the former, which follows on from their recent unsuccessful foray into Indy/CART racing, has undone a lot of the good they had built up over the years in sports car racing.

Whilst knowledge of their troubles in Formula One has yet to percolate to the outside world, it can only be a question of time and one wonders just how it will affect the public’s reaction to their products. While it is hard to think that the Porsche name will be less respected, once a manufacturer is on that slippery slope, it takes a great deal more energy to turn public attitude around.

One can point the finger at engine manufacturers, oil companies and tyre companies who bravely carry out their development in public, but unbeknown to most people are all the smaller companies beavering away on their products which are just as vital in the overall package. It may cost only a pound or two, but if that component fails, so can the rest of the car. One has only to think of the Lotus turbine car which looked set to win the Indy 500 by a country mile only to stutter and then halt when a 50 cent component failed. As in a stereo system, any car is only as good as its weakest part, and since everything is pared down for weight considerations and there are no back-up systems, it has to work.

Whilst McLaren, Williams, Benetton are all in receipt of a huge amount of technical feedback from motor racing, of more relevance is the knowledge gained by the likes of Honda, Renault, Ford, Shell, Elf, Mobil, Goodyear and Pirelli. It may go through a further period of gestation and evolve into something more fitting for a road car, but it will ultimately end up in the public’s hands.

We have come a long way, however, from the dawn of motoring when Andre and Edouard Michelin, who were already well established in the cycle tyre field, developed the first pneumatic tyre for use on cars at the time of the 745-mile Paris-Bordeaux race in 1895. So revolutionary was the product that no manufacturer was willing to submit his vehicle to such a dangerous experiment, or to add the uncertainties of the pneumatic tyre to the others which beset him at every point of design. In the end the brothers were forced to buy a 4hp Daimler engine and build their own car to run on the first pneumatic tyres ever designed for a car. As it so happened the car did not win the race, and due to some confusion it did not appear among the starters in the official list, but the brothers did complete the course and were among the nine vehicles still running at the finish.

Such revolutionary advances are unlikely to happen today, and if they were, somebody, somewhere would shout “foul”. What we do get, however, and should be appreciative of, are the spin-offs from motor racing, whether it is Goodyear’s latest generation Eagle tyres, more brainy chips in the engine or cleaner petrol.

***

Goodyear have just released an updated version of its Tyre Care Guide for Motorists. Printed in full colour, it contains useful tips on safe driving and a great deal of information on tyre care and maintenance. Printed on the reverse of the leaflet is a detailed AA route planner for Great Britain.

Requests for copies of the leaflet, accompanied by a stamped self addressed envelope, can be obtained from the public relations department, Goodyear Great Britain Ltd, Stafford Road, Wolverhampton, WWI 6DH Tel: 0902 22321.

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