Go, speed racer, go

So much of our lives are about racing.
The presidential race, rat race, mountain bike racing, even a horse race, helps define the competitive nature of the human race.
One of my favorites is the Formula One race. If you’ve never heard of it, or just aren’t that familiar, join the club.
For starters, unlike its stock-car American cousin Nascar, Formula One is popular in other parts of the globe. The average viewership for a single race weekend is 350 million people worldwide.
Then there’s the price tag. While the average Nascar vehicle comes in at $150,000, Formula One cars can go from drawing board to winner’s circle in about $15 million. Think of it as the difference between a Subaru Outback and the space shuttle.
The sport just hasn’t taken hold in the U.S.
But like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” it does have a devout cult following – present company included.
When I meet someone who doesn’t know Formula One, I get almost giddy, like I’m about to introduce that person to chocolate.
I find myself throwing out random facts in an attempt to excite and amaze. I tell my audience things like “these cars could actually drive on the ceiling” or “they can go from 0 to 100 to 0 mph in four seconds.” (Although Formula One cars have been clocked in the 0-to-100-to-0 test, they haven’t actually been driven on anyone’s ceiling. The truth is, when the car is going about 180 mph, the downforce on it exceeds its weight and it could, mathematically, drive upside down. For a video representation, go to YouTube).

The story of a Brazilian Formula One legend   comes to Durango

But don’t let the fuzzy ceiling math fool you. What I’m really trying to get across is the amazing technology that goes into these vehicles.
The single-seater, open-wheeled marvels weigh less than 1,500 pounds and have seven gears. In contrast, the average passenger car weighs around 4,000 pounds and has five gears.
The tank of a Formula One is filled with an unleaded fuel, similar to what’s found at the corner gas station. But the big difference in the 2.4 liter, V8 engine is that it creates around 850 horsepower and 18,000 rpm. The average car produces less than 200 horsepower and has less than 6,000 rpm.
This doesn’t mean I’m a mindless gas-guzzler. Actually one of the things I love most about the sport is just the opposite.
It’s called “Kinetic Energy Recovery System,” or KERS, and it’s going to help everyone who supports alternative energy. KERS is a miracle of engineering that takes the energy from braking, turns it into electricity, stores it in batteries, and then uses it to help power the engine.
For racing purposes, it gives the driver an extra 80 horsepower for about seven seconds. During every lap, the system is repowered, and the driver can access that power with the push of a button.
Some think it makes the racing more exciting because it promotes passing. But for me, it means that a team of engineers will spare nothing to find a way to make the system as efficient as possible.
The lighter it is, the more play they have with weight. The smaller it is, the more room the team has for the engine, driver or aerodynamic parts.
The point is: the better the battery, the faster the car. For the rest of us, it’s another road to research and development. They get a faster car, but we get a better battery. We can use that battery anywhere and in anyway it suits our renewable energy desires.
And that’s not the only benefit from Formula One. The sport’s engineers helped develop anti-lock brakes with the Ferguson P99 in 1961, and John
Barnard advanced carbon fiber technology as a designer for McLaren 1980.
Most racing teams will do just about anything to win.
All their time, energy and money is put into researching the most efficient rubber compound, fuel or brake pad. And each time a new discovery is made, the rest of us benefit. Whether we know it or not.
The newest research and development project will be in bio-fuels. It’s something the sport’s governing body, the FIA, is already looking into.
Formula One leaders hope to not just keep pace with modern automotive demands, but to get ahead of the curve. Technological advances have always been one of the sport’s draws, and they want to keep it that way.
As for gaining recognition in the U.S., the road ahead is paved with potential.
The last race here was in 2007, but that’s all about to change. In 2012, the cars return to race in Austin, Texas, on a track designed specifically for them.
Only weeks ago, another addition to the calendar was revealed, along the shores of New Jersey. It will be a street circuit on the Hudson River waterfront with the unmistakable New York City skyline as a backdrop.
Perhaps the word will get out once the cars speed across the country. Everyone in the U.S. will get a taste of the sport, and people won’t look at me funny anymore.
After all, Formula One is smooth, sweet and easy to love. Just like chocolate.
– Tracy Chamberlin