10 technologies that have transferred from racetrack to road

Feb 18, 2015

gillrd-racetrack-to-road.jpgMotorsport  is perceived as a high technology industry with the top racing series (Formula 1, Le Mans) forever striving to shave off those tenths of a second to give them competitive advantage over their rivals. The technology and knowledge developed then cascades down to other motorsports series.


Throughout the years changes have been made to racing series including F1 to help make racing more efficient, and with the introduction of Formula E, this is also helping develop and promote electric car technology. With this increased emphasis on racing series reflecting the development trends of the motor industry, what technologies have made the jump from racetrack to road so far?


1. Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG). Originally developed in house by Porsche for their 962 racing cars in the 1980s, a DSG is an electronically controlled, dual –clutch, manual gearbox without a clutch pedal.


Available with full automatic or semi-manual control, a DSG is, simply put, two separate manual gearboxes and clutches, contained within one housing, working as a single unit. By using two independent clutches and having the next gear set pre-selected, a DSG can achieve faster shift times, thereby reducing the un-powered time during a gear change.


These gearboxes are now found in many cars and are often controlled with paddles behind the steering wheel.


2. Push Button Ignition. In earlier years when race starts involved the driver running across the track, jumping in the car and starting it, turning a key wasted valuable time, so push-button ignition was developed to give a vital advantage.


A number of production cars now come with push button ignition. Apart from the cache that starting a car with the press of a button gives over fiddling with a key, push button ignition compliments the development of smart keys, which can unlock and activate the cars systems without having to insert a key.


3. Disc Brakes. These started appearing on racing cars in the 1950s and found favour as they are more powerful and easier to maintain than the previous drum brake design.  Disc brakes are also easier to keep cool, as they can be ventilated, an important consideration as the heat generated during braking reduces the stopping power of the brakes.


Virtually every car now has disc brakes at the front and most have them on all wheels. Whilst most road cars use cast iron for the discs, motorsport has been using ceramics for quite a time (which can be found on some sports cars) and are now starting to use super strong and light carbon.


4. Dual Overhead Cam. In the four stroke engine cycle of suck, squeeze, bang, blow, the cams are the means by which the vales open and close allowing the suck and blow stages. This is a critical job and has a great impact on the engines performance at different speeds.


The main benefit of having dual overhead cams is they allow an engine to have four valves per cylinder, with each camshaft operating two of the valves for intake and exhaust. Four valves speeds up the flow of gases into and out of the engine, allowing greater power at higher speeds plus dual camshafts allows the valves to open and close more rapidly.



5. Rear-view Mirror. The inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 witnessed the earliest known use of a rear view mirror mounted in a motor car, when Ray Harroun fitted one to his Marmon car. Harroun claimed that it was largely useless because of the vibrations caused by the rough brick surface.


Now they are an integral feature of every car, with the added refinements of the prismatic, or day/night mirror and automatic dimming, both designed to reduce glare at night.


6. Traction Control. As its name suggest, traction control helps to provide as much traction as possible. Although first developed by General Motors in the early seventies, it’s the complex electronic systems developed by motorsport in the 1980s that inform the systems on road cars.


Traction control detects when you are losing grip and it re-allocates the power to the appropriate wheels to maintain traction. On the road this keeps you safe, on the track it improves lap times.


7. Multi-Function Steering Wheels. With so much happening so quickly and so many variables to control, racing cars have all the controls situated on the steering wheels. Additionally, space is at a premium, so there is nowhere else to locate the switches and displays.


This multi-functionality on the steering wheel has reached production vehicles, in particular the higher specification models, where controls for radio, cruise control, air-conditioning and phone connection can be found. The horn, which at one time was the only function to be located on the steering wheel, is still there.


8. KERS. Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems harvest energy under braking that would otherwise be wasted and use it to supplement the cars motive power. In motorsport this manifested itself as a ‘power boost’ button.


In the commercial market, systems are being used to reduce the fuel consumption of the vehicle rather than to give it a performance enhancement. Public service vehicles such as buses, which have a high braking cycle, have had systems fitted to harness this free waste energy and reduce their fuel consumption. This also reduces CO2 emissions, particularly valuable in inner urban areas.


9. Carbon Fibre. In 1981 the McLaren MP4/1 F1 car pioneered the use of a carbon fibre chassis, something which has now become the norm, which has contributed to great advances in safety as well.


It is immensely strong and very light, however, fairly expensive and quite complicated to work with and very labour intensive; although these costs are being reduced as more experience and technologies become available.


High performance cars were the first to start utilising carbon fibres in their manufacture, but more mainstream manufacturers have been investing in methods to build quickly and inexpensively in carbon fibre. This has culminated in the launch of the BMW i3, which is the world’s first production car made of carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP).



10. Tribology (Lubrication). Minimising internal friction within an engine reduces wear and increases available power. Oil must sometimes meet contradictory requirements to act as a coolant, whilst giving good wear protection but low friction properties.


The latest F1 engines run hotter than the previous ones and see around 10% more duty per cylinder. This has required the development of new blends of synthetic oils with complex additive packages to provide the wear and low friction properties required.


These new oil blends will become available in due course, as have other synthetic blends developed in the past, which provide the same performance characteristics and benefits to road cars as their motorsports originators.


The competitive arena of motorsport places demands upon the teams and their suppliers to constantly innovate and develop to provide the highest levels of performance. This has to be delivered in a package that will endure in the extreme application environment. Companies that work in this demanding environment are well equipped to deliver innovative and enterprising solutions to customers outside of this market.

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