When I was growing up, the role motorsport played in the operations of automotive manufacturers was well understood. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. Prove your products were superior to the competition by simply outperforming them on the racetrack or rally stage. Winning was the be all and end all.
Although competition was not the only aspect of a manufacturer’s involvement, it was a centrally binding one.
To beat the opposition, you had to build the faster car, which meant making your equipment better. Often, there were limits on how to do this; couldn’t just take the low hanging fruit and fit a bigger engine, sticker tyres or a larger wing to the car and be done with it. Many of these rules were designed in part to save automotive companies from themselves, and their tendency to cannibalise motorsport (and each other) with ever bigger budgets (although it did still happen). It was a case of improving the design or developing a new technology. A list of automotive improvements conceived in the crucible of competition is almost endless.
Figure 1: Motorsport’s traditional role in the development of the road car has undergone something of an identity crisis in recent times. Image: Karo Kujampaa/Unsplash
Beyond the direct technical benefits of racing and the prestige associated with victory, motorsport offered a chance for manufacturers to establish the dominance of their technological USP (unique selling point) in the minds of the public. Audi’s all conquering Quattro 4WD rally car springs to mind, or Renault’s pioneering use of the turbo charged engine in Formula 1. Mazda’s screaming rotary engine assault on Le Mans is another well known (and heard) example.
But as motorsport evolves, so do the motivations for the modern automotive manufacturer change in kind.
A brave new world
As concerns about global warming and the climate increase, the PR value of vanquishing all comers on the racetrack has diminished. Don’t get me wrong, sporting success is still central to many marketing campaigns and manufacturer backed motorsport programmes; but it is certainly less important relative to even 20 years prior. Trouncing your competition doesn’t impress the public as much as it once did. Perversely, motorsport is not the “skunkworks” it once was, providing the technical lead on physically developing new technologies for the road. Rather, motorsport is seeing regulations formulated to mirror technology manufacturers wish to either bring to market or sell.
So, what is the point of spending so much money, and going to so much effort for the modern automotive manufacturer embarking on a motorsport programme in 2022 and beyond?
Technical knowledge transfer is often a phrase found on manufacturer press releases. Rather than concerning end products as before, it now primarily covers methods and tools. Common engineering tools such as Vehicle Dynamics simulation packages developed in motorsport, in reaction to track testing reductions to save money. Therefore, motorsport does spur technological advancement, albeit on a more hidden level than before. Undertaking an official competition programme, a manufacturer has unfettered access to these tools and methods; they are even able to second their engineers to the competition programme.
Return on investment is sometimes intangible
Such schemes are becoming more common as manufacturers see the benefit of exposing young engineers to motorsport, assigning them to their programmes almost as a “finishing school” to compliment lessons learned in the classroom. Holistic improvements include a lean attitude, desire to be efficient and flexibility of mind are just some of the benefits they hope to gain from the experience. Understanding of the need to focus on the singular goal – winning – also serves as an effective proxy for meeting the needs of the customer.
On a technical level, as motorsport teams are smaller and systematically more flexible, they are often at the avant-garde of engineering tool development. Simply it is easier to deploy a new solution to a smaller team unencumbered by size in the same way as the parent automotive manufacturer is. Young engineers then can be trained on the latest tools and return to their base roles with that knowledge.
Figure 2: The human aspect of motorsport’s contribution to automotive development should not be over looked. Image: Chase McBride/Unsplash
At Claytex, motorsport is the foundation of our business. Institutional knowledge, developed over decades working with multiple manufacturer racing programmes, is allied to personal motorsport experience brought by individual team members. This is reflected in the company values and ethos towards our products, such as the VeSyMA suite of simulation libraries. Customer centric development is undertaken in the same way a racing team pursues performance.
A key strength of VeSyMA is a modular approach and scalability. The same models are used between motorsport and road going vehicles, as the libraries are built to be fundamentally compatible. This offers the unique benefit of making cross transference of knowledge, data and information between the racing programme and the road car programme simple. It also means engineers only need to speak one technical language and can migrate between the two in a collaborative way easily. No other tool has been conceived in the same way to truly address the needs of the modern automotive manufacturer, enabling them to get full value from their investment, not only in the tool itself, but also from their investment in personnel and people.
Written by: Theodor Ensbury – Project Engineer
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