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Racing has always placed extraordinary demands on drivers and machinery: that’s what is so compelling about it. The first time he heard about the Le Mans 24 Hours, a famous engineer declared, “I think the whole thing is crazy. Cars aren’t designed to stand that sort of strain for twenty-four hours.” That engineer was W.O Bentley, the year was 1923, and within seven years his cars had triumphed five times at Le Mans. Each year delivered more laps covered, greater reliability and higher performance than the preceding one – and all those benefits passed into road cars.  

The saying ‘racing improves the breed’ was undoubtedly true in those early years. From aerodynamics to disc brakes, turbochargers to seat belts, hundreds of innovations devised to gain an advantage on track have gone on to benefit the cars we all drive today.  

But is that still true? Look at a typical suburban mom SUV and compare it to a modern Formula One racing car. Not a lot of commonalities there. Yet most vehicles are still evaluated on the track years before they ever hit our roads and highways. Development testing is critical and shared knowledge between the motorsports industry and OEM production cars is still more common than you think.  

That’s even true as we join the electric era. What’s the current Pikes Peak record holder? The current race record was set in 2018 by Romain Dumas and Volkswagen in the all-electric I.D. R Pikes Peak with a shatteringly fast time of 07:57.148. BEV makers are all seeking better ways of energy and heat management in all-electric powertrains, and by exploring the limits of performance they can improve the charge range of road EVs.  

But if motorsport was just about making better components, it wouldn’t explain the massive and growing audiences for all kinds of four-wheeled competition. There’s the emotional connection, too. Data from Lamborghini’s 2022 sponsorship study states there are 650M global motorsports fans; 315M of them are avid fans. 63% percent are male and 37% are female. I am willing to bet that number continues to increase with more women participating in motorsports. 80% of motorsports fans are under 50 years old. Racing has been in our blood from an early age and automobiles continue to be our second biggest purchase outside of our homes.  

My father was an automotive journalist. He purchased cars like some of us drink coffee, always claiming that his latest buy was the best car he had even driven. So, it is no surprise that I have my own, albeit small, car collection. My 2012 Volkswagen GTI manual with plaid seats is the answer to any bad day, it always gets a smile from fellow drivers (there is a VW campaign somewhere here). Recently I was driving through a friend’s neighborhood, and I came across a 2016 Mini Cooper S for sale, white with black roof and wheels, very tidy. It was an opportunity not to be missed. Along with the stiff suspension and go-kart handling, I love the buttons on the Mini from the door handles to the window controls, you truly feel like you are operating a machine.  

I have been fortunate to work in the automotive industry for over 25 years, and there is no doubt that we have hit an interesting crossroads. My head says I should be leasing an electric car, but my heart is still thinking about it. My life is not about the school run, doggy day care and endless Costco trips, and so unlike the rest of the world, I do not need an SUV. My commute is short, but I want to enjoy the drive, I want to feel connected.  

During the Covid period of 2020 and 2021, we did not feel connected. We felt scared, isolated, and surrounded by many unanswered questions. Sporting events and large gatherings all came to a halt. However, the motorsports industry continued. It was an extraordinary time. No fans, no guest hospitality, race teams and support staff wore masks. It ran independently, its own traveling roadshow keeping racing content alive. Journalists became reporters, camera operators and audio technicians, pioneering a way of working that is now the norm.  

That determination to see the show go on says a lot about the industry, the passion of those involved and the dedication of the fans who continued to watch from their gaming chair or leather couch. The automotive retail industry benefited too; supply was scarce, demand increased, and dealer groups will admit it was one of the most profitable periods in their history. Now as the pendulum shifts, and we go back to a level of normality, the industry must go to marketing again. The motorsports fans are back in full force; there were record attendee numbers at IMSA’s recent Rolex 24 Hour Race at Daytona. So maybe today it’s less about ‘racing improves the breed’ and more the old marketing mantra: Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday.  

Meanwhile, as I ponder the electric world and a very different kind of connection, I recently test drove a 2024 Genesis G70 3.3T Sport Advanced AWD. The sound of the exhaust just got me…I must take it to the track sometime.