Racing is one of the most popular sports in the world. Over 350 million people tuned in to watch Formula One races last year, for instance, which is about the whole population of the US. Those are some big numbers, and with those big numbers we have some of the most incredible, expensive, craziest race cars to watch.
Teams put up millions of dollars every year to keep their cars tip-top and competitive. Everyone is always trying to outdo the competition. Some of the top teams in F1 even spend low- to mid-NINE figures on their cars and drivers (remember that seven figures is a million…).
So we have tons of speed, danger, money, and adrenaline. No wonder racing is so popular! Races let us watch these daredevils compete on the highest levels from the comfort of our own homes. And anyone who watches NASCAR, Formula One, drag racing, or whatever Class of racing they might watch, is probably heavily opinionated about their cars and drivers.
We’re here to set the record straight on some of the most popular misconceptions about race cars, including some specific famous cars and drivers in the first few entries, some broader facts about racing in the second half of the list, and in the last part of the list, some common cheats that teams try to employ to gain a tactical advantage over the competition.
Here are 20 strange and weird things that people believe about race cars, but they’re wrong about—or at least misinformed.
20 “Godzilla” Isn’t From Japan
One of the biggest names in the JDM realm is called Godzilla, and ever since the Group A R32 car demolished everyone at Bathurst, the name stuck. People have even started calling R33, R34, and R35 Godzilla, but the fact is that the true Godzilla, an R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, isn’t even an icon in Japan. The Group A R32 that was prepared by Nismo was already fast, but it wasn’t until it got in the hands of Gibson Motorsports that the R32 became the fastest. Team owner Fred Gibson decided to make his own parts, and the end result was a car with 95% home-built parts from Australia! Only the body, engine block, and front and rear cross members are “stock” for this legend from Australia.
19 The Mazda 787B Wasn’t Banned Because It Was Too Fast
Back in 1991 at the 24-Horus of Le Mans race, the Mazda 787B ended up winning and everyone thought they’d found the fastest car on the circuit of all time. But that’s not the case, actually, as the 787 set a time that was almost 13 seconds SLOWER than the Sauber C11 driven by Jean-Louis Schlesser. But the Mazda won with a dash of good luck and reliability. Despite being capable of 900 horsepower, the 787B was limited to 700 horses on the track. 1991 was a transitional year, and by 1992 all Group C cars had to be powered by naturally aspirated 3.5-liter engines. While almost every other team suffered from mechanical failures, the 787B soldiered on and ended up winning, but it wasn’t allowed back next year.
18 Most Supra Race Cars Aren’t Powered By The 2JZ Engine
The 2JZ engine is a legendary engine for Toyota Supra racers (and street drivers), and it basically set the tone for the car after it was introduced. The big, strong straight-six can handle four-digit horsepower figures, which is perfect for drift and drag cars, but not for actual circuit race cars. That’s because the engine is tall, big, and heavy. So, the majority of Supra cars in JGTC were powered by smaller, lightweight 2.0-liter 3S-GT turbo four cylinders. When JGTC evolved into Super GT, the 3S-GT was replaced by a naturally aspirated 3UZ-FE V8 engine. It weighed more, but it was still more compact and responsive than the 2JZ, which everyone assumed was the MVP for Supra engines.
17 The Mercedes CLK GTR Did Not Flip At Le Mans
If you mention the Mercedes CLK GTR to any racing fan, they’ll instantly reminisce about the car “that did a backflip at Le Mans.” And while it’s true that a Mercedes had the most memorable crash at that race, it wasn’t the CLK GTR. It was the CLR that did the inadvertent stunt—the car was lower and had a sleeker body compared to the earlier CLK GTR, and it was powered by a different engine. The incident was a major déjà vu for Mercedes, as their V8-powered Sauber C1 had the exact same accident happen at the exact same spot 14 years earlier!
16 The Truth About Ford GT40 Vs. Ferrari At Le Mans
Anyone who likes racing knows about the heated rivalry between Ferrari and Ford at Le Mans, and how the end result was the 1-2-3 Ford GT40 finish at Le Mans in 1966. The GT40 also won the next three years in a row, from 1966-1969, but this came after Ferrari won from 1960-1965. One year later, though, Ferrari got revenge. At the 1967 Daytona 24 Hours, Ferrari entered in the new 330 P4, an improved version of the P3 that got beaten at Le Mans, with 30 more HP, a new 5-speed gearbox, and wider wheels/tires. And it paid off, as the prancing horses pranced across the finish line with their own 1-2-3 finish, right in Ford’s playground! Enzo Ferrari even got a painting of the Ferrari squad crossing the finish line as a birthday gift, and he proudly displayed it in his office.
15 An F1 Car’s Exhaust Gets Hot Enough To Melt Aluminum
Formula One racing is some of the most intense racing on the planet, and the most dangerous. Modern F1 cars can accelerate from 0-62 mph in less than two seconds, can hit a top speed of over 200 mph in qualifying, and can hit as high as 220 mph overall. This all comes from their insane engines, which get so hot during racing that they can reach 1,000 degrees Celsius. Aluminum melts at 660 degrees, by the way! As a result of this, F1 engines are made out of exotic metals that are so expensive that the average road car costs less than a set of F1 tailpipes. True story.
14 Race Cars Will Literally Suck Up Manhole Covers
The Monaco Grand Prix is a Formula One race that is held every year on the Circuit de Monaco. It’s been going since 1929, and is widely considered one of the most important and prestigious races in the world. Together with the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it forms the Triple Crown of Motorsport. A fun fact: F1 cars at high speeds produce huge amounts of vacuum underneath their floors to keep the cars sucked to the ground. And for a potentially loose manhole cover, that’s a huge problem, and has caused wrecks before. So every manhole in Monaco is welded down prior to an F1 race, to keep the cars from sucking them up.
13 The Average Formula 1 Pit Stop Is Less Than Three Seconds
Pit stops for four tires and fuel at a NASCAR race can last anywhere from 12 to 16 seconds, depending on the team, and a stop for two tires and fuel may take 5 to 7 seconds. If it’s late in the race, and the car only needs a small bit of fuel to make it to the finish line, this “splash and go” might take as little as 2 to 3 seconds. But for Formula One, nearly two dozen crewmen change all four tires and set the cars off and running in as little as three seconds (or less), which is absolutely remarkable timing!
12 Many Race Cars Can Drive Upside Down
As we mentioned earlier, race cars have a huge amount of vacuum underneath their cars that’s created by their low-ness to the ground and speed and… physics. The amount of downforce that an open wheeled car produces will vary depending on what league it races in (among other things). But the downforce generated is frequently in excess of the car’s weight. In other words, one a race car reaches certain speeds, these cars can literally drive upside down… if they had to. Luckily, there aren’t any space-aged tracks yet on the circuit, so we won’t see too many upside down acrobatics (save for accidents) in the near future.
11 A Top Fuel Dragster Hits 300 MPH In Just Over Three Seconds
It takes a Formula One car less than two seconds to hit 62 mph from standstill, as mentioned earlier. That’s pretty remarkable, but when you consider that a Tesla Roadster can do the same thing in about 2.4 seconds, it’s not THAT crazy. But how about this—a top fuel dragster can hit as high as 300 mph in just over three seconds flat! The time is actually 3.05 seconds, to be precise (and that 0.05 is a LOT of time in the drag racing world). You can compare that to how long it takes a jet to take off on a runway, and the dragster will win.
10 Those Dragsters Also Have Over 10,000 Horsepower
The reason that drag racers can hit such high speeds so quickly is no secret: the cars are basically gigantic engines on wheels (with a big spoiler, of course). So, a Formula One car might not be able to reach 300 mph, ever, but it also doesn’t have the kind of power that a dragster has. And we’re talking 10,000 horsepower, here! That number can be pretty tough to fathom, so just picture the power of 22 Corvettes compressed into one engine, and that’s about the same strength as a dragster engine. If it’s still tough to fathom, then just imagine 10,000 horses as part of a Mongolian horde, compressed into… okay never mind.
9 The Fuel Consumption To Power Dragsters Is Absurd
With such ridiculous speeds of over 300 mph, and engines that can crank out 10,000 horses in one go, you have to imagine that the fuel consumption on these dragsters is equally insane. And you’d be right. The kind of fuel consumption required to make that kind of power is off the charts—we’re talking 65-80 gallons per MINUTE. To get a feel for what 65-80 gallons per minute means, just imagine turning on 30 showers at full blast, simultaneously, and then imagine that it’s gasoline jetting out of the spigots, rather than water. Then you’d have an idea of what we’re talking about here.
8 Top F1 Teams Spend Around $500 Million Each Year
Formula One is not only one of the most expensive and highly watched racing series on television, but it’s also one of the most highly watched sports, overall, on TV. Millions of people all around the world tune in to watch their country duke it out against their rivals, for every race. In 2017, for instance, 352.3 million people watched F1 on all devices. That’s more people than the entire population of the USA! And this being the case, there’s big money in F1, and teams don’t skimp on costs. The top F1 teams in the world spend around $500,000,000 (500 million) each year on their cars and drivers and endorsements and such. That’s about five times what the top NFL teams spend each year.
7 F1 Cars Versus Space Shuttles: G-Force
This little known fact is pretty crazy, maybe even more than the 10,000 horsepower coming from dragster engines, or the 65-80 gallons per minute being used by the cars: A Formula One car pulls more Gs in cornering than a space shuttle at launch. Yes, Formula One cars can hit up to four Gs of force when cornering, and even more under braking. And a shuttle? Only three Gs. So next time you think that race car drivers aren’t real athletes… just imagine the focus, concentration, and ability that’s needed in order to successfully pull a move like that off. And that’s just one corner!
6 Almost Everything On Your Car Was Originally Developing For Race Cars
It’s no secret that most road-going production vehicles these days have some history mired in racing. But it’s more than you think. Whether it’s technology that advances a car’s power and performance, or tech that ups the safety systems, or your tires, or your rearview mirror… almost everyone on your car is actually derived from something that was originally developed for a race car. Long before your “standard safety features” were made to keep you safe on the road, that same technology was developed to help someone else go faster on the track. And with technology advancing so fast these days, who knows what we’ll see next on the circuit!
5 Fuel Tampering To Cheat Races
There are many ways to cheat in racing, and many teams take pride in their sneaky endeavors, trying to pull one over on the officials. One of the most common ways is fuel tampering. Racing fuel is almost always specially listed in the rules of a given class: pump gas, leaded race gas, alcohol, nitromethane, and other fuels are specifically allowed or disallowed depending on the performance gain each one offers. It’s rare to be tested for illegal fuels, except in the highest forms of motorsports, however. Additives can change the composition of fuel, but offer minimal gains. More exotic chemical blends, however, like nitropropane, can burn more completely than regular fuel, and mixed 20-25 percent with gasoline, and you’ll have a nearly undetectable gain.
4 Niki Lauda’s Unique Fan Engine Cheat (Brabham BT-46C)
Niki Lauda is one of the most famous race car driver’s of all time (he was the bad guy in that Chris Hemsworth movie, Rush). At the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, Niki Lauda drove the Brabham BT-46C “Fan Car” and won the race. The team behind the Brabham realized that a hovercraft uses a large lift fan to inflate a skirt and float over obstacles… so what if that fan direction was reversed? The Brabham was sucked on the road surface by a large fan located at the back of the car, which pulled a vacuum under the car and pulled it down onto the track. The resulting downforce didn’t add drag by placing wings in the path of the air flow, and therefore kept the car aerodynamically clean. Lauda won the race, but then the FIA banned the unique engineering trick.
3 Using Water Weight To Cheat The Scales (Tyrrell F1)
Back in 1984, the Tyrrell Racing team’s Formula One car had a very simple but very effective arrangement to cheat and gain an advantage. The minimum weight for non-turbocharged Formula One cars was reached by including a few water tanks for “liquid cooled brakes.” The water was included at the initial weigh-in before the race, and then expelled on the track to cool the brakes during the race. Then it was refilled before the car came off the track! The resulting weight shaved off made for an underweight car that was almost impossible to detect, as it was technically “legal” whenever it was inspected.
2 Cheating With A Dynamic Ballast To Reduce Weight
Reducing weight is one of the most effective and tricky ways to cheat during races, as you can probably tell. Here’s another way: limited and unlimited chassis both include minimum weights, typically. A lighter car is faster, the suspension doesn’t have to work as hard, engines are less stressed, and reduced inertia means better handling. Car builders go to great lengths to reduce any weight they can, including giving the car a ballast if it doesn’t meet the minimum weight. A conventional ballast offers no benefit, but a dynamic ballast can shift the center of gravity when the car needs to during braking or acceleration, offering an obvious advantage. Classes that disallow traction control and similar driving aides can benefit from the distribution of a ballast, too.
1 Modifying Tires To Cheat
One of the other most common ways to cheat, that is hard to detect, is when a team modifies the tires. Spec tires are the norm for Formula One, all the way down to Spec Miata racing. Tire restriction is designed to keep costs down, tire lifespan up, and performance controlled. There are obvious size restrictions and tread patterns that affect the contact patch. Rubber compounds—aka chemicals—determine the grip that a tire holds on the pavement. Rubber compounds are a mix of oils, catalysts, and vulcanizing techniques. Commercial and private tire softening mixes are used by cheaters to change the rubber compound properties, making stickier tires with improved braking, acceleration, and cornering.
References: turnology.com, thrillist.com, drivetribe.com