We Need a Hybrid Racing Series

Sam HeganCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

CHICAGO - OCTOBER 25:  The 'hybrid' badge is seen on the back of a new Mercury Mariner Hybrid sport utility vehicle October 25, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. As part of 10-city nationwide tour, Ford is showcasing its new 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid and marketing it as the industry's first full-hybrid premium SUV.  (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

I have tried to figure out how today’s racing series could help our failing automobile manufacturers. NASCAR use to be able to help with the idea of race on Sunday, sell on Monday. Now the cars raced have no real identifiable attributes in reference to a street legal vehicle as sold in today’s showroom.

The drag racing community is helping in their own unique way by allowing the new models to compete with cars of the past in their Stock and Super Stock divisions. Yet even there to be truly competitive the car is a stripped down version of a showroom offering. Both Dodge and Ford have just recently introduced a pure Stock classed racecar that is ordered direct from the manufacturer. They are both a throwback to earlier versions that were built for race only from both manufacturers in 1968.

The SCCA offers race classes geared toward the showroom stock vehicle that compete solo against the clock or on an actual road course against other like vehicles. Yet with all of the classes offered the SCCA falls short of being able to help the manufacturers because the all-important TV exposure isn’t readily available as most of these classes have amateur drivers instead of known pros. Their only division that was truly driven by known pro drivers was the old Trans-Am Series started in the sixties to promote the new ponycars.

The IRL is a spec race series using the same engine, body, and chassis for all teams. That doesn’t leave any exposure except for the extremely dubious fact that Honda supplies the engines. Honda nor Lexus offers an equivalent engine to their IRL engine so that really doesn’t help sale Preludes or Civics.

Formula 1 has a few manufacturers that also sale exotic sports cars, yet the F1 engine doesn’t really help sale a like engine in a Mercedes Benz, Renault, BMW or even Ferrari. The chassis and related body works have absolutely no connection to the manufacturers as each is built to FIA specs by each team. Therefore, F1 falls on its face at helping promote the manufacturers.

If all of these racing venues fail at helping the manufacturers promote their cars, what could help them? I see a possible new race series that will highlight what the manufacturers are trying to do on the street.

Since in the near future, the CAFÉ standards will require each manufacturer to build cars to help them reach the 35 MPG goals. This will mean that the standard American automobile will have to achieve 50+ MPG to help offset the trucks and SUVs sold.

That will require newer technology and expanding the current technologies to new levels. This season F1 introduced their Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS), to the race world. KERS is a start, but more development will need to be done to fully explore it. Yet with the current system, it doesn’t really succeed at promoting anything but F1.

What I would like to see is an extremely lightweight monocoque chassis/body combination using new and developing technologies. It could be designed with a modified E85 fueled primary engine that is coupled to a modified high-powered hybrid drivetrain. It would use a transaxle directly taken from the road-going hybrid and all components will actually be built by the manufactures. The manufacturers would also make the modified components available over the parts counter so anybody could build a high-powered street version of their own.

Now I can hear many readers thinking I’ve lost all of my marbles, but think about having a hybrid that not only can produce great fuel mileage, but also actually move fast enough to be useful in traffic.

What many people haven’t caught on to yet, that with the new CAFÉ standards that are coming, all cars will have to be much smaller, lighter, and most likely about as much fun to drive as watching paint dry. It will not be a Corvette or even a Yugo beater for that matter. Therefore, if a hybrid system could be developed to add some sport back into the vehicles we drive, it would be a win-win situation for all of us.