Motor racing and the cool wall conundrum

Senior reporter

Glamorous, exciting and controversial. Unlike football, Britain is a leader, and unlike rugby, it generates around £3.6bn to the UK economy through exports. You would think that motor racing has all the ingredients to become the UK’s national pastime. But for some reason, the once adrenaline-fuelled and addictive sport is now struggling to draw in the crowds.

David Richards, chief executive of Prodrive and chairman of Aston Martin, believes that motor racing has lost its relevance. What then, of all the technology benefits to society?

‘Much of that has been a myth’, he told The Engineer. ‘The purpose of motorsport is to promote new technologies and put them out to the public. It’s the processes that are really the main crossover, more so than the technology.’

Motorsport has increasingly become a showcase for technology developed in the mainstream automotive world. For decades it has been following rather than leading, so its little wonder that new fans to the sport are finding something lacking.

The regulators have also never quite got it right. The balance between making the competition fair while still making it exciting is a difficult one to strike. And an emphasis on making it relevant to society has been lost along the way.

At the 5th European Cleaner Racing Conference on Wednesday, the big names in motorsport were adamant that all this could change. ‘There is a technology revolution happening in the mainstream automotive industry,’ said Richard Parry-Jones, industry chair of the Automotive Council.

‘The opportunities of the motorsport industry are enormous, especially here in the UK where we’re very strong. Low carbon technologies can provide a way to make motor racing more relevant today.’

KERS (kinetic energy recovery system) is a prime example, and along with hybrids, microturbines and electric cars, they could have potential for development, rather than simply demonstration, in the sport. With exciting concepts such as the DeltaWing car and the Enviro Sportscar Series being launched, it seems that all is not lost for motor racing.

Speaking at the event, former minister for science, Lord Drayson said: ‘The automotive industry needs help pushing ahead with green tech, and the government needs help in persuading people to change what they drive – because the presenters of Top Gear are having a field day making fun of green cars, and any thumbs-down from the Stig leaves a stigma that’s hard to dislodge.’

‘When a green car is rated as ’sub zero’ on ’cool wall’, then we know we’re getting somewhere.’

Look out for our interview with David Richards in the 31 January issue of The Engineer