Top 5

Friday Five: If it’s good enough for a racecar, it must be good for a roadcar, right?

Motorsport is a harsh environment for vehicles, and appears harsher than the day-to-day use of cars we’re all familiar with.  But that’s not entirely true.

A TOP-LEVEL RACE CAR is pretty much rebuilt for every race, with new parts.  It has a team of experts monitoring it every second it moves. And it’s designed only for speed, everything else is secondary, even reliability. Colin Chapman famously said that if a race car doesn’t fall apart as it crosses the finishing line it’s built too strongly and weighs too much thus compromising its speed – the point being the car only needs to work for a couple of hours, and in very specific conditions. Even safety is different; the race driver has a full set of protective gear, a harness, and sits inside a roll cage.

A road car is quite different. It has to perform in all sorts of conditions, year after year, with minimal maintenance by comparison. It has to balance performance, safety and practicality. In many ways, the engineering challenge is greater – just ask the guys who worked on the Bugatti Veyron where the challenge was not so much the absolute top speed the car achieved, but making the car usuable and semi-practical on a daily basis too.

A car engineer once told me “sure, we could easily double the engine power from any of our motors and it would run reliably… for about half an hour”. Race car teams don’t care, that half hour is all they need and they don’t mind a full rebuild. You probably do.

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Top 5: Things racecars have your road car doesn’t need

  1. Flat-bottomed steering wheels – in some race cars there’s little room between the driver’s legs and the steering wheel, hence the flat bottom, and some race car wheels only turn about 100 degrees.  This is never the case in road cars, there’s always plenty of room, and even today road car wheels turn more than 360-degrees in either direction. So it’s not necessary.
  2. Drilled brake rotors – the theory is that the holes help dissipate heat, and make the rotor lighter. Yes, the surface area of the rotor is increased, but a lighter rotor isn’t as good a heat sink as a heavier rotor, and the holes create uneven heating which leads to cracks. You don’t tend to see them on race cars. 
  3. G-meters – only of interest to the passenger. The driver won’t have time to look, so if these stats interest you, use a Vbox or similar to record your run and look at it afterwards.
  4. Nitrogen in tyres – please, don’t. Read this for why.
  5. Aerodynamic downforce – your road car is too heavy and doesn’t go fast enough to warrant the sort of focus on aerodynamic downforce you see on race cars.

Top 5: What your road car actually needs for use at a racetrack

  1. Good brakes – far and away the most important modification for any roadcar, as the stock brakes are almost never designed for track work with some exceptions such as most Porsches and Lotuses.
  2. Supportive seats – you can generate a lot of sideways force and if you have to brace yourself against the car, then you’ve got a problem as you cannot then effectively control the car, 
  3. Multi-position traction and stability control so you can drive fast with a an electronic safety net
  4. A big tacho so you can see when to change gears
  5. Robust transmission – overheating the transmission is common, for example the rear differential or the gearbox in automatics.

Of course, if you’re not serious then by all means spend up on the bling, but don’t say it help performance.


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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!