Indy. CART. NASCAR. Formula One. With so many circuits to choose from, auto racing afficianados can watch the sport virtually all year long.
But why bother? Two reasons: The potential for sneak previews of new technology, and the certainty of seeing engineering teamwork that can put any company into the technology lead.
Here are some sneak previews that watchers of previous races saw, according to GM's Dave Hederich:
- The first rear-view mirror. The Indy Motor Speedway says it first appeared on the Marmon Wasp, the car that won the Indy 500 in 1911. A first for racing, and possibly a first for any car.
- Carbon fibers for a chassis. Formula One took the technology from the aerospace industry. It's now in some limited-production, high-performance European cars.
- Active suspensions. They surfaced in Formula One. GM adapted the technology for a Corvette concept car. Fully active suspensions never made their way into Corvettes or other production cars, but engineers found they could get 90% of the benefit with active shocks and struts.
- Electronic fuel injection. It went from the aerospace industry to production cars. Later, Delco Electronics engineers hardened the technology so it could take the stress of racing, and transferred the improvements to production vehicles.
"Racing pushes the envelope in reliability, durability, and performance," says David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation. But, more important, he says, is the engineering mentality that racing develops.
Don Runkle, general manager of Delphi Energy Management, says the most important benefit of racing is the development of a "racing spirit." It's characterized, he says, by the ability to focus, face reality, get a job done on time, work as a team member, and make quick decisions. "When a problem arises in a race," he says, "you have to find a solution now."
You'll never hear, "I'll get back to you on that problem," in the pits. That kind of quick response is well worth emulating in our own work.