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What Is Around the Corner for Motor Sports?

2019-09-06

From fossil-fuel combustion engines to eco-friendly motors, and from zero automation to full automation, the very idea of an automobile is being redefined. On this changing landscape, what changes can we anticipate for the future of motor sports?

How will motor sports remain relevant, and more importantly, exciting?

Sports is a strange, strange thing. Rules change with time, but the essence of competition does not. Take the Roman gladiators for example. Combat within the Colosseum arena reemerged in the modern day as mixed martial arts in the cage. Combatants are now classified by weight, their swords replaced by 4-ounce gloves. The fighter and his indomitable spirit of competition lives on. So it is interesting to consider that when the French educator and historian Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee, the modern track, field, and combat events heavily reflected the events from the ancient Olympia festival in 8th century BC. When the first car was sold in 1888, and for more than a century thereafter, automobiles have been powered by an internal combustion engine and operated by a person behind the steering wheel. However, once autonomous driving is fully commercialized, the entire ritual with the steering wheel and pedals may become something of the past.

Although “racing by means of automobiles” will remain, the future of motor sports shows diverse and interesting possibilities. We have already seen amazing developments such as autonomous racing cars doing laps around the track, electric-race cars making pit stops for fully charged batteries instead of gasoline, and competitions won by efficiency and endurance rather than sheer speed.

Race for autonomous driving technology

The future of racing might be between autonomous race cars, completely free of human operators.

At the moment, the first thing that comes to mind for “the future of motor sports” are autonomous races. A fleet of autonomous race cars accelerate down the strip, go around the bends, and compete for the most advantageous position to cross the finish line first. Machines do not experience emotions like fear, only seeking to achieve goals the most efficient way possible. This singular purpose of maximum efficiency means that they are more likely to take bold moves in competition. Of course, this is yet in the future, as such a level of autonomous driving would require a high level of AI (artificial intelligence) capable of human levels of learning, reasoning, and perception. 

An example of such an AI was presented at the Roborace exhibition race in 2017 February at the Buenos Aires ePrix Formula E motor race. It was the first electronic race car competition to open to the public. Two Roborace test cars, both named Devbots, raced the track that day. Something unexpected happened during the event. A dog had strayed on to the track, and could have resulted in a disaster had the AI not functioned properly. Fortunately, Devbot1 maneuvered around the dog while keeping on course. The unexpected event proved that an autonomously driven automobile traveling at high speed was capable of avoiding moving obstacles. Although Devbot2 could not complete the race the event was meaningful overall, because it was a landmark that showed that an all-around well-developed AI would be crucial for future racing. Technological breakthroughs from fierce AI racing competitions will also serve as important lessons for the implementation of autonomous driving technology for more general purposes as well.

Racing green for the environment

Formula E race ⓒfiaformulae.com 

Formula E race

Automobile manufacturers’ race to go green is quite literal in the case of motor sports. In 2014, the International Automobile Federation (FIA: Federation Internationale de l’Automobile) held Formula E, the world’s first auto racing that uses only electric-powered automobiles, and finished its third season this year showing rapid growth every year. Porsche quit WEC in favor of Formula E, and Mercedes-Benz announced plans to join. BMW and Audi had announced their intentions even earlier. The reason such prominent auto-industry names are joining Formula E is for the great market potential of electric cars.

Formula E in a nutshell is the electricity-powered version of the Formula 1. It is also competition for speed and not for the fuel-economy or distance. Although free of pollutant emission and loud roaring of engines, Formula E race cars do not yet have the capacity to individually complete the full leg of the race, due to battery capacity limitations (electric car batteries take a long time to recharge). To remedy this, a pit stop is made where the driver exits the race car and transfers to another one fully charged and prepared in advance. Pit stops in Formula 1 are highly-coordinated combinations events including wheel changes, amazing to behold, and a strategic component of victory. Similarly, battery changes at the pit will be Formula E’s strategy factor, and just like Formula 1, failure to manage power will lead to retirement from the day’s competition.

There will also be changes in sponsorships. Main sponsors will most likely be businesses interested in cutting-edge technologies. So far in the case of Formula E, companies with sophisticated technological presence, such as Qualcomm, Tag Heuer and VISA have been investing heavily in the rising series. in the way that engine size was a major classification criterion in conventional motor sports, different electric car leagues will be defined by restrictions in maximum allowed battery capacity. Unlike conventional cars powered by internal combustion engines, electric cars are powered by motors paired with regenerative braking systems, and we might see competitions with steep hills that put such engineering technologies to the test. perhaps we might even see the emergence of endurance racing for the environment-friendly cars. Electric cars powered by batteries will compete over long distances, balancing endurance and speed.

How will current motor sports evolve?

The bellow of WRC’s turbocharged engines charging the world’s harshest roads will stay around

If electric cars and autonomous cars are the future of motor sports, what about the existing motor sports based on internal combustion engines? Motor sports fans come in all ages, from teens to seniors. The sounds and sights of components working together for that familiar rumbling, screaming sounds and scenes are still very much familiar to the fans. That throaty banshee scream when the RPM needle reaches the red zone, the way a driver’s hands and feet move in absolute coordination to shift gears are celebrated and mimicked by even the youngest fans. Race cars and racing with internal-combustion engines will continue to be an amazing sport in the future.

What new joys for motor sports?

The Hyundai N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo, as seen on the recent PlayStation4 release, Gran Turismo Sport

F1 racers today are exposed to excruciating engine heat, with temperatures surpassing 60 degrees in the cockpit as they log hundreds of kilometers across hours. The tremendous acceleration and deceleration forces, and lateral g-forces around corners are extremely harsh on the body. Drivers are always drenched in sweat after a race, and lose a significant amount of body weight from it. The sport truly does test the limits of both man and machine. Of course, that appeal was also a major driving force which made Formula 1 one of the world’s most celebrated sports. Such extreme testing of a driver’s limits is relatively unlikely in the future of motor sports. There will be less engine noise and less disastrous accidents. Some point out that with less at stake, future motor sports may not be as thrilling as today’s. But technology has always complemented everything. No matter how the times change, it will not be difficult to hone something for the fans to be enthusiastic about, be it updates to competition rules or adding restrictions to automobile performance.

In the past, the Beatles’ rock music had a fanatical following, but now it is hip hop and electronic music that draws such enthusiastic crowds. Genres changed, but the spirit of enjoying music remains the same. The same can be said for racing. Even before internal combustion engines, there were people obsessed with speed, and this will not change any time soon. The race may be between AI-driven cars, the cars may be electric-powered or have internal combustion engines, but in the end, the essence of motor sports remains the same. Because there always have been people who find speed exhilarating.




written by Park Jung-wook
graphics by Park Soo-jin

Park Jung-wook wrote as an automobile-section editor for a men’s magazine. His interests include the 4th Industrial Revolution and future transportation. He is currently the automobiles and motor sports editor on HMG Journal.

◆ The opinions in this column are the author’s subjective opinions, and may not represent the editorial direction of HMG TECH.