What defines a race car? The age-old question…
There are many descriptions when it comes to defining a race car. These can depend what country you are in, what series you race in or what dictionary you have on hand!
Just look at how many different types of race car we offer on the Racing Edge Paddock!
But when it comes to car culture, there is one term that is thrown around more than any other: ‘race car’.
You can refer to whatever sits in your garage as a race car, but it does not mean it is true. You can also own a factory model that is faster – but it still doesn’t make it a race car! Buying a ‘sport’ model might get you from A to B quicker, but it is still not technically a race car.
So what IS a race car?
In its simplest term, a race car is a car built or modified specifically for auto racing.
They share several common features with a road car – it will usually have four wheels and headlights, for example. But there are certain thresholds a vehicle has to cross before you can call it a race car.
More often than not, these vehicles are not street-legal. That means you cannot drive it on the road, or it is unsafe to drive on the road. (For example, if you are strapped into a racing harness you cannot fully turn your head to check for blind spots). So you either have to transport it to a racetrack or store it at the circuit.
The reason most race cars are not road legal is down to their modifications. Usually, they will be completely gutted to make lighter and, therefore, faster around the track.
For example: think about your everyday car. What do you do when it’s hot outside? You turn on the air conditioning. How do you listen to music? You flick on the radio.
Race cars do not need these features – they add unnecessary weight and, in some instances, use too much power.
However, it is not just about getting rid of things. By nature they need certain features installed or fitted to make them safe for the track.
What makes a race car?
Each race car is different and there are various types. Depending where you are based in the world, or what race series you wish to enter, there will be certain technical requirements your vehicle needs to meet before you go racing. The requirements will cover a variety of things, from mandatory safety equipment to accepted engine dimensions and specifications.
These requirements are usually set by the governing bodies of the race series (such as the FIA and IMSA) or race clubs responsible for organizing historic/vintage events. Racetracks will also carry strict guidelines on what you need to meet before track days and race days.
You must always read and adhere to any official technical guidelines. Once your vehicle has successfully passed inspection, it will be cleared to race.
Let’s take a look at some of the main requirements that is standard for all Race Cars:
One of the things that sets a race car apart from a ‘fast’ road vehicle or supercar is safety equipment. The fitting of a roll cage or roll bars is usually mandatory. It helps protect the driver should the vehicle roll after an accident. Roll cages/bars have to give a certain amount of clearance for the driver’s helmet, depending on the vehicle.
Fire suppression system
Any race car should be fitted with a quality fire suppression system. On board fire extinguishers are mandatory and should be securely fastened within the cockpit area. A sticker is often placed on the exterior of the bodywork to mark where the fire extinguisher is located.
Master electrical cut-off switch
Another safety feature that is more compulsory than not on a race car – a master electrical cut-off switch. This switch will interrupt and cut power when turned ‘off’. You should not be able to turn the engine on if the switch is in its ‘off’ position.
Race cars need to be fitted with a racing harness or driver restraint approved by a governing body (such as the FIA). There are several styles and brands, but the most common type is a 5-point racing harness.
Harness belts must be in excellent condition and some series will not let you race if the belts are frayed.
Likewise, different racing series require different specifications of harness or harness belts. Always check your series requirements before investing in a racing harness.
Fuel cells are another important safety feature required on a race car. A fuel cell is much stronger and more durable than a standard fuel tank. It is flexible and designed to prevent fuel from sloshing and spilling. Especially in the event of a racing accident.
Essentially, a fuel cell is made so it does not rupture on impact. Therefore, no fuel will spill out and increase the chances of fire. Its design is often dictated by how it is raced: length of stint, aerodynamics, expected fuel consumption and the like.
What else changes on a race car?
There are many other features you would find on a race car that you wouldn’t be able to fit on something road-legal. These are not necessarily mandatory and can vary between racing series.
For example, slick tires or ‘slicks’ as they are known are not street-legal tires.
Different types of spoilers and wings may be allowed to improve downforce and aerodynamics. But they may be too big or specific to fit on a commercial road car.
What type of fuel you use differs to what you would use in a road car. Fuel used in race cars is usually a higher octane, higher quality fuel.
Race Cars Not Road Cars
To summarise, there are many different types of race car but each will have the same mandatory requirements as listed above. A high percentage of race cars are not road legal, and carry modifications to make them faster on the racetrack.