From the Racetrack To Your Garage - a Look at Trickle-Down Technology


You may not have noticed it but a lot of options, or even standard features, on the family sled were once cutting edge tech seen only on purpose built machines requiring millions of sponsorship dollars before the engine so much as turned over.

With this in mind, it is fun to look at what features have made the journey, and what wonders we can look forward to.  Just as today's science fiction is often tomorrows science, so today's experimental race technology will one day show up on your driveway.

Take brakes. Disc brakes have been constantly improved for better grip but it was the use of ceramics, a benefit of NASAs need to keep rockets from burning up during reentry, that finally gave us something that just wouldn't fade, no how matter how many laps, or in your case, miles, you drove. Available at first on cars like the Porsche 911 and other exotics, it is starting to appear below the stratosphere. You can spec them for your Boxster, and ceramic pads are available for many cars. Not the same as actual ceramic brakes, mind you, but you can see the trend.

Then there is the paddle shift sequential manual transmission. This originally appeared on full blown track cars, as drivers going two hundred mph like to keep their hands on the wheel, and then showed up on Ferrari road cars, and was referred to naturally as an F1 transmission. Okay, so Ferrari put them on their road cars too, which are supposed to be half race car anyway, right?

But come with me to the year 2002 and lo and behold Toyota puts a similar, if not nearly as well executed, design on its option list for the MR2 Spyder a car that invoices for less than the sales tax on a Ferrari 430. Eventually, every major car manufacturer has some version of this setup so much so that many cars don't even offer the traditional manual gearing. The best systems, using a dual clutch to get one gear ready while you disengage the other, are so fast that they can out-shift the best professionals with an old style manual. 

Seats have not been forgotten either. The classic Recaro-style racing seat, designed to keep the driver from sliding around in turns and provide enough support for 24 hours of Le Mans is now the basis for most of your sports coupes and sedans out there.

Engines are the obvious place of course to look, and since so much of engine performance was originally aimed at the race circuit, it helps to pick out a few standout contributions. The Honda S2000, with its 240hp from a 2.0 liter four cylinder would not have been possible without Honda's strong presence as a constructor for the top tracks of the world.  The boxer style engine in the Subaru WRX and WRX STi are straight out of their rally cars. As of course, is their all wheel drive setup.

And speaking of all wheel drive, the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi EVO are obvious examples of thinly disguised rally cars, but the technology has made its way into many clean sheet designs around the world.  Saab started out building jets, BMW airplanes.

You think that informed their approach to cars? You bet it did, and still does.

Aerodynamics, which play a large part in handling and efficiency, are a result of lessons learned in the sky and on the track, where a tiny difference can mean winning or losing, life or death.

Many street cars can now generate significant down force, sticking them to the road, and they can all thank those ground effects to Indy and Formula One magicians for making them look good.


 
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