I was thinking about Group B rally cars of the early to mid-80’s. The classification allowed ordinary cars such as Lancia Delta, Mini Metros, Peugeot 205s and Audi Quattros to be turned in fire breathing monsters. At the height of their development, these family-based hatchbacks were putting out as much as 600bhp. Sadly, the envelope had been pushed to its limit. After several major crashes and two deaths, the sport dialed back and the governing body outlawed Group B cars.
I always felt that was a shame. They were fantastic in competition and the sport lost some its excitement when manufacturers had to drop down to Group A cars, which had half the power and fewer bells and whistles. Instead of seeing the best the sport could offer, you got to see its second cousin with the limp and the lazy eye. But, I understand why the governing body (the FIA) saw the need to rein in the engineers’ imagination. The sport was getting bloody dangerous.
This isn't the first time motorsport has tried to rein technological developments. Formula One has changed the rules a bunch of times. It’s changed engine sizes, outlawed ‘ground effect’ cars, outlawed turbochargers, raised ride heights, reduced wing size, replaced slick tires with groove ones. Usually all these changes have been for the sames reason—to slow the cars down in order to increase safety.
I can't say I’m a fan of that thinking as a lover of motorsport and as an engineer. I’m not saying that because I’m reckless or I want to see drivers die. One thing I hated when I was racing was having to put up with people who came to see wrecks and not racing. I remember someone coming up to me in the paddock to ask who did I think would die today. No, I’d prefer to see the safety requirement increase to match the engineering, because the sport is about pushing the limits. I want to see the best-engineered and inventive cars out there and when it’s being curtailed, it kind of takes the shine off my apple.
But all that said, every conservative measure designed to slow the cars down doesn’t last. Within a few years, engineers find a way of working with the restrictions and still making the cars go faster. Usually within a few years, the cars are going quicker than before. It just goes to show you can't stop progress and you can't cub our enthusiasms for speed.
Yours on the fastrack,