QOTD: Is Motorsport Still Relevant?

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
qotd is motorsport still relevant

I am completely at a loss to think of another sport that tests man and machine as much as motorsport. Maybe bobsledding? Nah, scratch that.

Automakers have a history of testing their latest and greatest at road courses, ovals and street circuits all over the world. Some of the best technological innovations have come directly from racing. But, is that still the case? Is racing still the test bed it used to be for what we see on our cars a decade from now? And does it still help automakers capture the hearts and minds of the car-buying public?

Formula 1, the multi-billion dollar single-seater racing series controlled by a British troll, has gone down the rabbit hole of high technology and, to a degree, fuel economy. The new breed of Formula 1 “power units” — as they are now called — are a combination of turbocharged V6 engines and electric drivetrain systems. The days of a relatively simple V10 are over, as is the noise and overall spectacle of a Formula 1 car.

Today’s production cars are certainly becoming more tech laden. However, whether the technology is directly derived from racing is another point entirely. I can’t remember the last time I saw an ad for a piece of technology taken from an automaker’s F1 efforts and applied to a vehicle on the showroom floor.

That’s not to say racing is irrelevant because the technology cannot be directly transferred. Instead, Formula 1 has turned into a marketing exercise disguised as a high-brow sport. Infiniti, and possibly Aston Martin in the future, has sponsored Red Bull Racing for a few years now, but the team has never once used an engine built — or even branded — by Infiniti. Yet, the Cars of the Bulls that are Red still wear multiple Infiniti logos all over their bodywork.

NASCAR is a completely different can of beer, but the outcome is very much the same. Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota are the only three automakers contesting America’s motorsport of choice after Dodge decided the investment was no longer returning the needed rewards. After all, today’s NASCAR cars are no longer even loosely connected to what you can buy at your local dealer — though a push-rod V8 Camry would be a tempting proposition. The disconnection is compounded when you realize many engines in NASCAR are built by engine builders and not the automakers themselves.

The motorsport that turns left is another marketing exercise — though not as polished in its fan base or technology as Formula 1 — that exists simply to show you what candy you should by, where your should enlist for service, and multiple options for achieving *ahem* stature.

Even IndyCar, with its less ambitious technological aims, is only supplied by two automakers — Chevrolet and Honda — with nary a piece of tech making it to either of their showrooms.

What about club racing? Certain members of TTAC’s roster believe all car reviewers should be track aficionados, possessing the ability to push a Nissan Pathfinder to its physical limits in an effort to deliver the best value to readers. Many of these reviewers are club racers of one flavor or another, whether it be entry-level Spec Miata or top-flight competition at the SCCA Runoffs, but it is difficult to justify club racing as relevant to the general car-buying public. I’ve never once heard “I am extremely interested in XYZ model … but where did it place in the Runoffs this year?” The commercial viability of marketing in such a space is quite small as well as there is virtually no media coverage of club events.

Speaking of media coverage, the three top-level racing series mentioned above have seen their TV viewership dwindle over the years. Formula 1 lost 25 million viewers thanks to a switch to pay TV in Britain and a laundry list of other reasons. NASCAR can’t fill all the seats at their biggest race of the year. And, well, IndyCar is IndyCar. Even as an excuse for dumping large amounts of marketing cash, racing is a case of diminishing relevance.

And just to drive the point home a little bit more: Mazda. They are likely the most recognizable marque at your local road course or autocross and they cross the finish line first more often than any other automaker in America. In terms of sales, Mazda finished 18th last year.

But, that’s just what I think. What about you, Best & Brightest? Is motorsport still relevant in today’s automotive marketplace?

[Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images]

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2 of 66 comments
  • Illan Illan on Jul 07, 2015

    lets not forget the FIA WRC. while i have to say that sadly is mostly irrelevant now. but subaru, mitubishi and ford gaves us some nice cars in the 2000. i always loved the fact the racing cars used the same production body and some even the same engine block.

  • Jimbob457 Jimbob457 on Jul 08, 2015

    My favorite motorsport is still diesel drag racing - NDHRA.

  • PickupMan Please change the cab dimensions and seating position, Toyota. If you do another sheet metal refresh and slap a large screen on the dash like last time, you're dead to me.
  • Matthew When someone slows down for seemingly no reason at all...and then turns on their blinker and makes a painfully slow turn. It frequently makes me chew them out in Spanish. Spanish just sounds angrier than English.
  • Peter 100% of new Tacomas are now made in Mexico. More of Japan’s ef you sea kay USA.
  • Kendahl A very complicated VW that's 11 years old. A money pit even if it's been well maintained.
  • Kendahl One of the universities where I used to live has an FM station that mostly plays classical music. I would leave the radio turned on and tuned to that. AM? I haven't listened to AM since I got a radio that would receive FM.