For the next five minutes as you read this article, put your series loyalty to the side. Each form of motorsport has great aspects and flaws. These aspects are what draw us to these forms of motorsports. There is one thing we have in common; a love for speed. Racing is a sensory overload for everyone involved. The smell of rich-burning high octane fuel and rubber on the track. The shear heat from the passing exhausts as they roar by. The rubble and shake of the engine you can feel through the souls of your shoes. All these things bring us to love the sport of racing in general.
In this article, I will state the facts of each motorsport series. This will show the core differences between the series, and how the different aspects affect it's racing. For the series not listed here; there is no disrespect. There is many more series with very respectable drivers, these are just the ones I chose to write about.
For decades this debate has gone on. All raging from NASCAR, Indy Car, Formula 1, Le Mans Series (now WEC), and many more. The basis always comes down to this argument; my series has better drivers that the others. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. The series are so far different from each other you cannot compare them against each other, though.
Lets talk about what makes these motorsports so different. Lets start with NASCAR. This series has been around since 1948. We all know in NASCAR they drive around in circles all day long. This may seem boring to many people, but there is so much more to the sport. The race format is different, which makes the series quite interesting. The cars are all similar in almost every aspect. The body, weight, tires, and fuel all must be the same. The teams can change aerodynamics and suspension settings to give them an edge, but usually even those are quite similar in the end. For the team, reliability is everything. The Daytona 500 lasts over 3 hours, with the engine constantly at its max. In that time, they drive over 500 miles. That is longer than the break-in period on many of your everyday cars! This means that to get the ultimate edge, the build of the engine by the team has to be perfect. There is no cheap spark plugs being used (I'm looking at you, Sebastian and the Ferrari team).
On average during the Daytona 500, they have between 5 to 13 (or more) pit stops. Each pit stop lasts only about 12 seconds (seems like forever for a Formula 1 follower) BUT this includes fueling. With this huge number of pit stops, having to fuel every time, and with the cars running so close to each other, it means that every second counts. This means that strategy is everything. When do I have my driver take the pit? If he pits now and there is an accident, how will he fare?
Also, put your mindset into the mind of a NASCAR driver. Due to the banking of the turns, your body feels constant high G-forces for over 3 hours. With that, you are traveling over 200 mph constantly with cars millimeters away from you. This close-packed racing leaves you in sometimes unpredictable air flow, meaning you are constantly fighting at the wheel (even when only turning left). Along with the turbulent flow of air, these drivers are purposefully side-drafting and bumping each other. It is a true contact sport in every bit of the term.
The drivers have to be an excellent condition, because there is no assistance in these cars. They only just when to fuel-injection in 2012, leaving behind carburetors. There is no TCS, no ESP, no power steering. Just 900 horsepower from a naturally-aspirated V8 and the skill of the driver to keep control.
Indy Car is similar to that of NASCAR. These are open-wheel variants that race on majority road courses. They travel over 235 miles per hour with a twin-turbo 2.2 liter V6 running on E85 (ethanol). They use an assisted six-speed paddle shift transmission than help put the 700 horsepower to the ground. Like NASCAR, these cars are very similar to each other while racing. Aerodynamics and suspension setting can be changed, but they are still quite similar to other drivers. like Formula 1, different tire compounds can be used. Each driver has to use more than one type of tire during the race. It allows the comparison to come between the drivers and their strategies, rather than the car manufacturers.
One large aspect of Indy Car strategy comes with the push-to-pass feature, which increases the available boost from the turbochargers to supply more horsepower. They are given a certain amount of time during a race to have the button depressed, so it has to be a huge part of their strategy during usage. This is much like the the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) on Formula 1 cars based on how they affect the performance of the car and strategy of the race. How they operate is much different, though. I won't get into that here.
Indy Car has been around since 1994, and has become one of the world's premiere racing series. In its own right, provides terrific and exciting racing.
What is great about the WEC is that is has uniform respect all around the world. This is where terrific drivers from all walks of racing come together to team up with manufacturers to push themselves to the limit. These different drivers team up with each other, and compete on a world stage. Regulations in this series are different from anything else. Basically, the manufacturers bring they absolute best, give them to some of the most experienced drivers in the world, and see how they do during extreme endurance races.
Endurance races are very interesting to experience. Racing one takes extreme focus and stamina, both mentally and physically. After hours of focusing so hard to push the car to the limit, almost not blinking, you eyes start to play tricks on you. It is truly amazing to see what these driver can do.
The strategies here are still very important. There is multiples drivers that need to take part in the race. How those drivers participate can be fluid, but you have to make sure that you keep the driver's fresh; a unfocused racer will surely lead to a shorter race.
On top of that, your class of car is not the only one on the track. During the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there is LMP1 (the fastest of the fast prototypes), LMP2 (slightly slower prototypes), GT Pro, and GT AM. The GT classes are LM GTE class cars, which are based on production vehicles. These range from Aston Martins, Corvettes, Porsche, BMW, and many more. This difference in speed makes the racing quite intense and dangerous, especially at night.
Now on to Formula 1. This series has been around since 1950, almost as long as NASCAR has been around. The cars used have around 760 horsepower, with 600 coming from the engine and 10 coming from the recovery systems mentioned above. This comes from a turbocharged 1.6 liter V6 using high octane fuel connected to a semi-automatic eight speed transmission. This pushes the car to near 200 miles per hour. Like Indy Car, they have to use multiple tire compounds during a race.
Unlike the other series, these cars are designed with one goal in mind; be the perfection of what can dominate a road course. These cars have blistering acceleration and mind-blowing handles which allows the cars to corner at unbelievable speed, then accelerate out of the corner like no other. With that, the brakes are of carbon fiber composites which allow the discs to be extremely light. This weight it very important, as it is unsprung weight (weight not supported by the suspension of the vehicle). This drastically increased handling, and allows the vehicle to brake extremely late into the corner. Put all of this together and you have a recipe for terrific performance.
The teams can control certain aspects of the body of the car as well as the building of their engines. This means that they have more control over aerodynamics and engine performance. There are still regulation on the engine systems put into the cars, but the materials used and processes vary the performance drastically. This can be see with the racing performance of the different Formula 1 teams.
Another aspect of strategy is pitting. During a race, a driver might only pit three, two, or maybe even 1 time. This means that pitting is even more important. Unlike NASCAR and Indy Car, more people are allowed on the other side of the wall for a pit. Also, F1 cars are not allowed to fuel. All this together with the team's efficient perfection leads to pit stops that last less that 2 seconds. With races having a 2 hour limit (sometimes half that of a NASCAR or Indy Car Race), that can be crucial in keeping or gaining positions. This is important, as passing is not as common in F1 as it is in other forms of racing.
With all this into account, it is like comparing apples and oranges between different motorsports series. Some may be more exciting to some more than others. Each series also has room for improvement. I for one have a huge respect for all forms of racing. One thing we cannot compare is driver quality between them. When doing so, you are losing respect for the racing sport as a whole. Just have respect for those who excel in their respective racing series. If a driver can excel in more than one discipline, then that is something truly special (such as Mario Andretti, Graham Hill, AJ Foyt, and many more).
I'm sure there are some aspects of each series that I have missed. I could go on for much longer talking about each of these types of motorsports. Let us know what you think; what can these motorsports do to increase popularity?
SIDE NOTE: What if we could do something like the Olympics, where the best drivers from all over the world come together, with exactly similar cars, and race both head-to-head and time based?