GIL DE FERRAN
2003 Indy 500 winner and
two-time Indy car champ
The trend’s the other way, but there is a place for relevant technology in racing, says Gil de Ferran.
nce upon a time, long, long ago, men
created cars – four wheels, an engine and
some way to steer it. Then, smarter men
decided it was quite fun to drive them
around at the edge of control and try to
make them faster and faster.
And then an even smarter bunch of
guys decided that it could be even more
fun to figure out who was best at doing
this. “Amateur motorsports” was born.
Soon, a few guys saw the kerfuffle going
on and decided it was quite entertaining to
watch these idiots trying to kill themselves
just to beat each other. Hey presto,
“professional motorsports” was born!
From these early beginnings,
motorsport has come a long way, a lot
has changed, and much has been learned
over the decades, but the essence
remains the same. At the end of the day,
it is all about going faster than the next
guy and beating him to the line.
Or is it? Are we oversimplifying the
understanding and the wide appeal of
motorsports? And by doing so, do we fail
to appreciate how motorsports can appeal
to different people for different reasons?
When it comes to technology in
racecars, opinions are varied and extreme,
and understandably so. Racing people are
extremely passionate and (avoiding a less
complimentary term…) opinionated. Some
argue that racing is the ultimate testbed
and incubator of technologies that will
eventually reach the road car industry – as
has been the case from the early days of
competition. Racing, at the very least,
should help form the engineers who will
go on to develop and implement these
technologies. For these people, the cars
are very much part of the entertainment
package – man and machine.
Others say that it really doesn’t matter:
road car technology is going a different
way anyway; it’s all about entertainment
and racecar technology is, if not quite
irrelevant, then very close to that. For
them, entertainment means close racing
and daring overtaking maneuvers.
And then there’s also a group that holds
the strong view that racing needs to catch
up with the times and lead the development
of “green” vehicle technology. By the
same token, there are some who hold a
super-strong opposing view to that.
It goes on, almost without end.
Honestly, analyzing different approaches
in detail, weighing up pros and cons and
figuring out which audiences, participants,
sponsors, etc., these various approaches
appeal to could be the subject of a whole
book. Personally, I believe some of the
divides among fans and insiders are
growing ever wider. Perhaps that’s a
function of current economic times and
“Is there a place in this world
for super-advanced and
super-cool cars racing against
each other? Absolutely”
the shift in life’s value equation for the
many participants, companies, fans and
families. So where is it all heading?
Think of it this way: Some people like fish,
others like steak, and some like both. But
I’ve yet to meet someone who likes fish that
tastes like steak, or steak that tastes like fish!
Is there a place in motorsports for
what’s essentially a one-make series? Yes.
Is there a place in this world for
super-advanced and super-cool cars
racing against each other? Absolutely.
Is there a place for some form of green
racing? No question.
But which of them are, or will be, the
most popular with fans, sponsors and
competitors? Only time will tell. Perhaps
there are bigger audiences for some of
these different philosophies on how to
best tackle a motor race than for others.