Go to content Go to menu
 


Auto Racing

Auto racing (also known as automobile racing or car racing) is a motorsport involving the racing of cars for competition. It is one of the world's most watched televised sports.

History

The beginning of racing

Racing began soon after the construction of the first successful gasoline-fueled automobiles. The first race ever organized was on April 28, 1887 by the chief editor of Paris publication Le Vélocipède, Monsieur Fossier. It ran 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from Neuilly Bridge to the Bois de Boulogne. It was won by Georges Bouton of the De Dion-Bouton Company, in a car he had constructed with Albert, the Comte de Dion, but as he was the only competitor to show up it is rather difficult to call it a race.

auto-race-history.jpgOn July 23, 1894, the Parisian magazine Le Petit Journal organized what is considered to be the world's first motoring competition from Paris to Rouen. Sporting events were a tried and tested form of publicity stunt and circulation booster. Pierre Giffard, the paper's editor, promoted it as a Competition for Horseless Carriages (Concours des Voitures sans Chevaux) that were not dangerous, easy to drive, and cheap during the journey. Thus it blurred the distinctions between a reliability trial, a general event and a race. One hundred two competitors paid the 10 franc entrance fee.

Sixty-nine cars started the 50 km (31 mi) selection event that would show which entrants would be allowed to start the main event, the 127 km (79 mi) race from Paris to Rouen. The entrants ranged from serious manufacturers like Peugeot, Panhard or De Dion to amateur owners, and only 25 were selected for the main race.

The race started from Porte Maillot and went through the Bois de Boulogne. Count Jules-Albert de Dion was first into Rouen after 6 hours and 48 minutes at an average speed of 19 km/h. He finished 3’30” ahead of Georges Lemaître (Peugeot), followed by Doriot (Peugeot) at 16’30”, René Panhard (Panhard) at 33’30’’ and Émile Levassor (Panhard) at 55’30”. The official winners were Peugeot and Panhard as cars were judged on their speed, handling and safety characteristics, and De Dion's steam car needed a stoker which was forbidden.

Early races

The Paris–Bordeaux–Paris race of June 1895 is sometimes considered the "first motor race". The first to arrive was Émile Levassor in his Panhard-Levassor 1205cc model. He completed the course (1,178 km or 732 miles) in 48 hours and 47 minutes, finishing nearly six hours before the runner-up. The official winner was Paul Koechlin in a Peugeot. Nine of twenty-two starters finished the course.

The first American automobile race is generally held to be the Thanksgiving Day Chicago Times-Herald race of November 28, 1895. Press coverage of the event first aroused significant American interest in the automobile. The 54.36-mile (87.48 km) course ran from the South side of the city, north along the lakefront to Evanston, Illinois, and back again. Frank Duryea won the race in 10 hours and 23 minutes, beating the other five entrants.

The first regular auto racing venue was Nice, France, run in late March, 1897, as a "Speed Week." To fill out the schedule, most types of racing events were invented here, including the first hill climb (Nice – La Turbie) and a sprint that was, in spirit, the first drag race.

An international competition, between nations rather than individuals, began with the Gordon Bennett Cup in auto racing.

The Parisian artist Ernest Montaut, and his wife Marguerite, faithfully documented the rapidly changing face of motorised transportation in Europe. They produced large numbers of posters and prints published by Mabileau et Cie, covering racing events involving motorcars, aircraft, dirigibles and speedboats. These images formed a valuable contribution to the history of transport, and particularly to its racing aspect.

City-to-city racing

With auto construction and racing dominated by France, the French automobile club ACF staged a number of major international races, usually from or to Paris, connecting with another major city, in France or elsewhere in Europe.

The very successful early European rally races ended in 1903 when Marcel Renault was involved in a fatal accident near Angoulême in the Paris-Madrid race. Nine fatalities caused the French government to stop the race in Bordeaux and ban open-road racing.

In 1907 the Peking to Paris race covered 9,317 miles over some of the roughest terrain on Earth. Five cars took part in the race, which was won by the Italian Prince Scipione Borghese in a 7,433 cc (453.6 cu in) 35/45 hp model Itala.

The longest automobile race in history, with Paris as the finish line was the 1908 New York to Paris Race. Six teams from France, Italy, Germany, and the United States competed with three teams actually reaching Paris. The American Thomas Flyer driven by George Schuster was declared the winner of the epic 22,000 mile race in 169 days.

The first purpose-built racing circuits

The Milwaukee Mile is the oldest motor racing track in the world, with racing being held there since 1903. It was not purposely built for motor racing, it started as a one-mile (1.6 km) horse racing track in the 19th Century.

From 1903 to 1914, a one-mile dirt oval track was run on Brunots Island, just south of Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. Louis Chevrolet won the AAA Champion car in 1905. On September 10, 1907, Rex Reinersten was fatally injured in a crash here. In 1916, Chevrolet won the first Universal Films Trophy at the mile and an eighth Uniontown Speedway board track,. south of Pittsburgh in Hopwood, PA.
A remaining section of the Brooklands track today.

Brooklands in Surrey, England, was the first purpose built motor racing venue, opening in June, 1907. It featured a 4.43 km (2.75 mi) concrete track with high-speed banked corners. Brooklands was also a centre of the aviation industry, with Vickers setting up a factory and aerodrome there during World War I. The racing circuit was closed in 1939 as war-time aircraft production took over. Damage done to the track during World War II meant the track never reopened for racing.

Competition gradually spread to other parts of the British Empire. The first competition in India was held in 1905 by the Motor Union of Western India. It ran from Delhi to Mumbai, (Delhi-Bombay trials 1905) a distance of 810 miles (1,300 km) in an attempt to expose India to the automobile and test its suitability for Indian conditions. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, gave his consent to the event.

1910–1950

The 1930s saw the transformation from high-priced road cars into pure racers, with Alfa Romeo, Auto Union, Bugatti, Delage, Delahaye and Mercedes-Benz constructing streamlined vehicles with engines producing up to 450 kW (603 hp), aided by multiple-stage supercharging. From 1928 to 1930 and again in 1934–1936, the maximum weight permitted was 750 kg (1,653 lb), a rule diametrically opposed to current racing regulations. Extensive use of aluminum alloys was required to achieve light weight, and in the case of the Mercedes, the paint was removed to satisfy the weight limitation, producing the famous Silver Arrows. NASCAR was founded by William France, Sr., on February 21, 1948 with the help of several other drivers of the time. The first NASCAR "Strictly Stock" race ever was held on June 19, 1949 at Charlotte Speedway. The Strictly Stock division was put on hold as American automobile manufacturers were unable to produce family sedans quickly enough to keep up with post-World War II demand.

1950–present

After the Second World War, sports car racing emerged as a distinct form of racing with its own classic races, and, from 1953, its own FIA sanctioned World Championship. NASCAR's Strictly Stock Division was renamed the "Grand National" division beginning in the 1950 season. Over a period of more than a decade, modifications for both safety and performance were allowed, and by the mid-1960s, the vehicles were purpose-built race cars with a stock-appearing body. The first NASCAR competition held outside of the U.S. was in Canada, where on July 1, 1952, Buddy Shuman won a 200-lap race on a half-mile (800 m) dirt track in Stamford Park, Ontario, near Niagara Falls.

From 1962 sports cars temporarily took a back seat to GT cars with the FIA replacing the World Championship for Sports Cars with the International Championship for GT Manufacturers. Through the 1960s, as superspeedways were built and old dirt tracks were paved, the number of dirt races was reduced.

A breed of powerful hybrids appeared in the 50s and 60s and raced on both sides of the Atlantic, featuring European chassis and large American engines – from the early Allard cars via hybrids such as Lotus 19s fitted with large engines through to the AC Cobra. The combination of mostly British chassis and American V8 engines gave rise to the Can-Am series in the 1960s and 1970s. Clubmans provided much entertainment at club-racing level from the 1960s into the 1990s and John Webb revived interest in big sports prototypes with Thundersports in the 1980s. Group 4 Grand Touring Cars and Group 5 Special Production Cars became the premier form of Sports car racing from 1976, with prototypes going into a general decline apart from Porsche 936 domination at Le Mans and a lower-key series of races for smaller two-litre Group 6 prototypes. The last NASCAR race on a dirt track was held on September 30, 1970 at the half-mile State Fairgrounds Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina. From 1972 through 2003, NASCAR's premier series was called the Winston Cup Series, sponsored by R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company cigarette brand Winston. The changes that resulted from RJR's involvement, as well as the reduction of the schedule from 48 to 31 races a year, established 1972 as the beginning of NASCAR's "modern era".

In Europe, the FIA adopted the ACO GTP rules virtually unchanged and sanctioned the Group C World Endurance Championship (or World Sportscar Championship), featuring high-tech closed-cockpit prototypes. In the USA, the IMSA Camel GTP series boasted close competition between huge fields of manufacturer-backed teams and privateer squads – the cars were technically similar to Group Cs but used a sliding scale of weights and engine capacities to try to limit performance. The FIA attempted to make Group C into a virtual "two seater Grand Prix" format in the early 1990s, with engine rules in common with F1, short race distances, and a schedule dovetailing with that of the F1 rounds. The IMSA GT Championship had been prototype-based since 1983, with less emphasis on production cars. Australian Production Car Championship was first contested in 1987, with the inaugural champion determined from the results of two races held at the Winton Motor Raceway in Victoria on 27 September. The first World Touring Car Championship, which was open to Group A Touring Cars, was held in 1987 concurrent to the long-running European Touring Car Championship (ETCC). Additional rounds were held outside Europe at Bathurst in Australia, Calder Park Raceway in Australia (using both the road course and the then newly constructed Thunderdome), Wellington in New Zealand and Mount Fuji in Japan. The Drivers Championship was won by Roberto Ravaglia in a BMW M3 and the Entrants Championship was won by the Eggenberger Texaco Ford No 7 entry, which was a Ford Sierra. Winston Cup Series underwent a large boom in popularity in the 1990s. This coincided with a decline of popularity in American Championship Car Racing. The FISA decided to separate the rally cars into three classes: Group N (production cars), Group A (modified production cars), and Group B (modified sport cars). Group B was introduced by the FIA in 1982 as replacement for both Group 4 (modified grand touring) and Group 5 (touring prototypes) cars.

The IMSA GT Series evolved into the American Le Mans Series; which ran its first season in 1999, the European races eventually became the closely related Le Mans Series, both of which mix prototypes and GTs. The SCCA World Challenge consists of a one hour race for each round, combining three classes: GT (Chevrolet Corvette, Aston Martin DB9, etc.), "GTS" (Acura TSX, BMW 3-series, etc.; replaced the former touring car class), and Touring Car (a "showroom stock" class similar to Grand Am's Continental Challenge). NASCAR was becoming increasingly dominant and the IndyCar Series' split from CART in 1996 put more emphasis on ovals regarding domestic open-wheel racing.

Categories

Formula racing

formula1.jpgThe best-known variety of single-seater racing, Formula One, involves an annual World Championship for drivers and constructors.

In single-seater (open-wheel) the wheels are not covered, and the cars often have aerofoil wings front and rear to produce downforce and enhance adhesion to the track. In Europe and Asia, open wheeled racing is commonly referred to as "Formula", with appropriate hierarchical suffixes. In North America, the "Formula" terminology is not followed (with the exception of F1). The sport is usually arranged to follow an "international" format (such as F1), a "regional" format (such as the Formula 3 Euro Series), or a "domestic", or country-specific format (such as the German Formula 3 championship, or the British Formula Ford).

In North America, the cars used in the National Championship (currently the IndyCar Series, and previously CART) have traditionally been similar though less sophisticated than F1 cars, with more restrictions on technology aimed at controlling costs.

The other major international single-seater racing series is GP2 (formerly known as Formula 3000 and Formula Two). Regional series include Formula Nippon and Formula V6 Asia (specifically in Asia), Formula Renault 3.5 (also known as the World Series by Renault, succession series of World Series by Nissan), Formula Three, Formula Palmer Audi and Formula Atlantic. In 2009, the FIA Formula Two Championship brought about the revival of the F2 series. Domestic, or country-specific series include Formula Three, Formula Renault, Formula Ford with the leading introductory series being Formula BMW.

Single seater racing is not limited merely to professional teams and drivers. There is a large amateur 'club racing' scene catering for those who want to race single seaters against similar people all over the world. In the UK the major club series are the Monoposto Racing Club, BRSCC F3 (Formerly ClubF3, formerly ARP F3), Formula Vee and Club Formula Ford. Each series caters for a section of the 'market', with some primarily providing low cost racing whilst others aim for an authentic experience using the same regulations as the professional series (BRSCC F3).

There are other categories of single-seater racing, including kart racing, which employs a small, low-cost machine on small tracks. Many of the current top drivers began their careers in karts. Formula Ford once represented a popular first open-wheel category for up-and-coming drivers stepping up from karts and now the Formula BMW series is the preferred option as it has introduced an aero package and slicks, allowing the junior drivers to gain experience in a race car with dynamics closer F1. The Star Mazda Series is another entry level series.

Students at colleges and universities can also take part in single seater racing through the Formula SAE competition, which involves designing and building a single seater car in a multidisciplinary team, and racing it at the competition. This also develops other soft skills such as teamwork whilst promoting motorsport and engineering.

In 2006, producer Todd Baker was responsible for creating the world's first all-female Formula racing team. The group was an assemblage of drivers from different racing disciplines, and formed for an MTV reality pilot which was shot at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

In December, 2005 the FIA gave approval to Superleague Formula racing which debuted in 2008 whereby the racing teams are owned and run by prominent sports clubs such as AC Milan and Liverpool F.C..

After 25 years away from the sport, former Formula 2 champion, Jonathan Palmer, reopened the F2 category again, most drivers have graduated from the Formula Palmer Audi series. The category is officially registered as the FIA Formula Two championship. Most rounds have two races and are support races to the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

Touring car racing

Touring car racing is a style of road racing that is run with production derived race cars. It often features full-contact racing due to the small speed differentials and large grids.

touring-car-race.jpgThe major touring car championships conducted worldwide are the V8 Supercars (Australia), British Touring Car Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), and the World Touring Car Championship. The European Touring Car Cup is a one day event open to Super 2000 specification touring cars from Europe's many national championships.

The Sports Car Club of America's SPEED World Challenge Touring Car and GT championships are dominant in North America. America's historic Trans-Am Series is undergoing a period of transition, but is still the longest-running road racing series in the U.S. The National Auto Sport Association also provides a venue for amateurs to compete in home-built factory derived vehicles on various local circuits.

Sports-car racing

In sports car racing, production derived versions of sports cars also known as grand tourers (GTs), and purpose built sports prototype cars compete within their respective classes on closed circuits. The main global championship series for GT car racing is the FIA GT1 World Championship. There is also the FIA GT3 European Championship as well as the less powerful GT4 European Cup. Previously, an intermediate FIA GT2 European Championship existed, but the FIA dropped it to cut costs. Other major GT championships include the Japanese Super GT championship and the International GT Open for GT2 and GT3 cars. There are also national GT championships using mainly GT3 and GT4 cars featuring professional and amateur drivers alike.

sports-car-race.jpgSports prototypes, unlike GT cars, do not rely on road legal cars as a base. They are closed wheel and often closed cockpit purpose built race cars intended mainly for endurance racing. They have much lower weight and more down force compared to GT cars making them much faster. They are raced in the 24 hours of Le Mans and in the (European) Le Mans series, Asian Le Mans Series and the American Le Mans Series. These cars are referred to as LMP (Le Mans prototype) cars with LMP1 being run mainly by manufacturers and the slightly less powerful LMP2 cars run by privateer teams. All three Le Mans Series run GT cars in addition to Le Mans Prototypes; these cars have different restrictions than the FIA GT cars.

These races are often conducted over long distances, at least 1,000 km (621 mi), and cars are driven by teams of two or more drivers, switching every few hours. Due to the performance difference between production-based sports cars and purpose-built sports prototypes, one race usually involves several racing classes each fighting for their own championship. Another prototype and GT racing championship exists in the United States, which began in 2000, the Grand-Am, sanctions its own endurance series the Rolex Sports Car Series which consists of slower and lower cost race cars compared to LMP and FIA GT cars.

Famous sports car races include the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, 24 Hours of Spa-Franchorchamps, the 12 Hours of Sebring, and the 1,000-mile (1,600 km) Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. There is also the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring on the infamous Nordschleife track and the Dubai 24 Hour which is aimed at GT3 and below cars with a mixture of professional and pro-am drivers.

Production-car racing

Production-car racing, otherwise known as "showroom stock" in the US, is an economical and rules-restricted version of touring-car racing, mainly used to restrict costs. Numerous production racing categories are based on particular makes of cars.

Most series follow the Group N regulation with a few exceptions. There are several different series that are run all over the world, most notably, Japan's Super Taikyu and IMSA's Firehawk Series which ran between the 1980s to 1990s all over the United States.

One-make racing

One-make, or single marque, championships often employ production-based cars from a single manufacturer or even a single model from a manufacturer's range. There are numerous notable one-make formulae from various countries and regions, some of which – such as the Porsche Supercup and, previously, IROC – have fostered many distinct national championships. Single marque series are often found at club level, to which the production-based cars, limited modifications, and close parity in performance are very well suited. Some of the better-known single-make series are the Radical European Masters, John Cooper Mini Challenge, and Clio Cup, and at a more modest budget, Ginettas, Caterhams, BMWs, and MX5s. There are also single-chassis single seater formulae, such as Formula Renault and Formula BMW, usually as "feeder" series for "senior" race formula (in the fashion of farm teams).

Stock car racing

In North America, stock car racing is the most popular form of auto racing. Primarily raced on oval tracks, stock cars vaguely resemble production cars, but are in fact purpose-built racing machines which are built to tight specifications also called Silhouette racing cars.

The largest stock car racing governing body is NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). NASCAR's premier series is the Sprint Cup Series, its most famous races being the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600, and the Brickyard 400. NASCAR also runs several feeder series, including the Nationwide Series, and Camping World Truck Series (a pickup truck racing series). The series conduct races across the entire continental United States. The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series conducts races across Canada and the NASCAR Corona Series conducts races across Mexico.

NASCAR also governs several smaller regional series, such as the Whelen Modified Tour. Modified cars are best described as open-wheel cars. Modified cars have no parts related to the "stock" vehicle for which they are named after. A number of Modified cars display a "manufacturers" logo and "vehicle name", yet use components produced by another automobile manufacturer.

There are also other stock car governing bodies, such as Automobile Racing Club of America and United Speed Alliance Racing.

In the UK, British Stock car racing is also referred to as "Short Circuit Racing". This takes place on shale or tarmac tracks – usually around 1/4 mile in length. The governing bodies for the sport are the Oval Racing Council (ORC) and BriSCA. Both bodies are made up of individual stadium promoters. There are around 35 tracks in the UK and upwards of 7000 active drivers. The sport is split into three basic "divisions" – distinguished by the rules regarding car-contact during racing. The most famous championship is the BriSCA F1 Stock Cars. Full contact formulas include Bangers, Bombers and Rookie Bangers – and racing features Demolitions Derbies, Figure of Eight racing and Oval Racing

Semi Contact Formulas include BriSCA F1, F2 and Superstox – where bumpers are used tactically.

Non-contact formulas include National Hot Rods, Stock Rods and Lightning Rods.

UK Stock car racing started in the 1950s and grew rapidly through the 60s and 70s.

Rallying

Rallying at international and most national championship levels involves two classes of homologated road legal production based car; Group N Production cars and more modified Group A cars. Cars compete on closed public roads or off-road areas run on a point-to-point format where participants and their co-drivers "rally" to a set of points, leaving in regular intervals from start points. A rally is typically conducted over a number of "special stages" on any terrain, which entrants are often allowed to scout beforehand at reduced speeds compiling detailed shorthand descriptions of the track or road as they go. These detailed descriptions are known as "pace notes." During the actual rally, the co-driver reads the pace notes aloud (using an in-helmet intercom system) to the driver, enabling them to complete each stage as quickly as possible. Competition is based on lowest total elapsed time over the course of an event's special stages, including penalties.

rally-car.jpgThe top series is the World Rally Championship (WRC), but there also regional championships and many countries have their own national championships. Some famous rallies include the Monte Carlo Rally, Rally Argentina, Rally Finland and Rally GB. Another famous event (actually best described as a "rally raid") is the Paris-Dakar Rally. There are also many smaller, club level, categories of rallies which are popular with amateurs, making up the "grass roots" of motor sports. Cars at this level may not comply fully with the requirements of group A or group N homologation. As well as the WRC other major rally events include the British Rally Championship, Intercontinental Rally Challenge, African Rally Championship, Asia-Pacific Rally Championship and endurance rally events like the Dakar Rally.
A Toyota MR2, driven by Adam Spence in the 2006 Targa Tasmania prologue stage.

The Targa Tasmania, held on the Australian island state of Tasmania and run annually since 1992, takes its name from the Targa Florio, a former motoring event held on the island of Sicily. The competition concept is drawn directly from the best features of the Mille Miglia, the Coupe des Alpes and the Tour de Corse. Similarly named events around the world include the Targa Newfoundland based in Canada, Targa West based in Western Australia, Targa New Zealand and other smaller events.

Drag racing

In drag racing, the objective is to complete a given straight-line distance, from a standing start, ahead of a vehicle in a parallel lane. This distance is traditionally ¼ mile (400 m), though ⅛ mile (200 m) has become popular since the 1990s. The vehicles may or may not be given the signal to start at the same time, depending on the class of racing. Vehicles range from the everyday car to the purpose-built dragster. Speeds and elapsed time differ from class to class. Average street cars cover the ¼ mile in 12 to 16 seconds, whereas a top fuel dragster takes 4.5 seconds or less, reaching speeds of up to 530 km/h (329 mph). Drag racing was organized as a sport by Wally Parks in the early 1950s through the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association). The NHRA was formed to discourage street racing.

When launching, a top fuel dragster will accelerate at 3.4 g (33 m/s²), and when braking parachutes are deployed the deceleration is 4 g (39 m/s²), more than the Space Shuttle experiences. A top fuel car can be heard over 8 miles (13 km) away and can generate a reading from 1.5 to 3.9 on the Richter scale.

Drag racing is two cars head-to-head, the winner proceeding to the next round. Professional classes are all first to the finish line wins. Sportsman racing is handicapped (slower car getting a head start) using an index (a lowest e.t. allowed), and cars running under (quicker than) their index "break out" and lose. The slowest cars, bracket racers, are also handicapped, but rather than an index, they use a "dial-in". Bracket racing has been viewed as the main cause of the loss of public interest in drag racing. People do not understand why the slower car wins or why somebody needs to hit the brakes to avoid going too fast. Many local tracks have also complained that bracket racers will also go out of their way to spend as little as possible while at the track by bringing their own food, beverages, fuel, and supplies; thus, making it more difficult for tracks to make money on these events. This causes gate prices to rise and tracks losing interest in having such events.

Off-road racing

In off-road racing, various classes of specially modified vehicles, including cars, compete in races through off-road environments. In North America these races often take place in the desert, such as the famous Baja 1000. In Europe, "offroad" refers to events such as autocross or rallycross, while desert races and rally-raids such as the Paris-Dakar, Master Rallye or European "bajas" are called "cross-country rallies."

Kart racing

Although often seen as the entry point for serious racers into the sport, kart racing, or karting, can be an economical way for amateurs to try racing and is also a fully fledged international sport in its own right. A large proportion of professional racing drivers began in karts, often from a very young age, such as Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso. Several former motorcycle champions have also taken up the sport, notably Wayne Rainey, who was paralysed in a racing accident and now races a hand-controlled kart. As one of the cheapest ways to go racing, karting is seeing its popularity grow worldwide.

Despite their diminutive size, karting's most powerful class, superkart, can have a power-to-weight ratio of 440 hp/tonne.