I will never tire of hearing about ingenious ways that car racing teams bend the rules for what they can and can’t do for engineering speed. I thought I knew them all, but there are always more.
These cheats, er, rule-bending modifications, popped up on my Facebook feed this morning from British tuner car info site Stav-Tech, run by a veteran tuner car journalist. I’ve embedded Stav’s posts here, as well as included links to confirm that it’s all true, but you should click through to see his page in full.
The World Rally Championship is famous for perhaps the most ingenious cheat in all of racing history, the trick turbocharger that sidestepped air-flow restrictions and got Toyota (briefly) banned from the sport.
What I hadn’t realized is that not many years later, Ford also sort of circumvented the WRC’s restrictions on how much air could flow into the turbocharged engine and thus manage boost and power levels. The best part of this was that it was all technically legal:
The system was fully legal, as High Power Media points out, as all the air still went through the same mandated 34mm air restrictor as on all other cars. But that didn’t stop the WRC from banning the system anyway after three events.
Hey, at least it lasted longer than the time Peugeot built their Group B car to have F1-style ground effects.
We are all familiar with how the Nissan R32 Skyline GT-R dominated Australian touring car racing in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, giving the car its ‘Godzilla’ nickname. But before the high-tech, all-wheel-drive R32, Australian teams found little tricks to make their rear-wheel-drive R31 Skylines have some success. One such trick was to hook up a restrictive mass air flow sensor to bypass the engine altogether:
This story is a little bit of a challenge to confirm, but it’s not hard to find Australian Skyline nerds talking about that incredible MAF checking air flow to the strut tower. As long as it was operational, it was fine, right?
Everyone loves Volvo’s BTCC charge of the 1990s, when they ran boxy wagons against the rest of the field. I loved the audacity of the body design. I never realized that the Volvo team was also playing tricks with the engine, too. Racecar Engineering wrote about this a while back, but basically, there were restrictions on how the engine had to remain largely as it was stock, particularly about the angle of the valves inside the head. But if you followed the letter of the ruling and not the spirit, you realized that while you couldn’t change the angle of things inside the head, you could change the angle of the head itself:
TWR, if you’re not familiar, built arguably the most successful Le Mans car of all time, so seeing their expertise at the top level of sports car racing applied to touring car is a joy.
The funny through-line for all of this is that the harder racing bodies try to keep parts stock and costs down, the more time and money racing teams end up spending to get even little increments of speed.
If you really want to read a more in-depth look at how hard it is to manage cost and speed down in racing, read this incredible history from the incredible Mulsanne’s Corner of how we got those swan-neck rear wings. What could have been any easy restriction on engine performance became a multi-year-long engineering race for aerodynamic gain when nobody wanted it.
What’s really amazing is how many racing organizations still struggle with balancing cost against complexity, unique designs against relatable tech. Everything from American rallying up to Formula 1 is up against this stuff, and I hope at least its charming cheats never go away.
(Hat tip to Devo!)