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Why The Motor Racing Industry Is Better Than The Yacht Racing Industry

I guess a few of our readers will have been taking at least a passing interest in what’s been happening with the America’s Cup yacht race and the attempts of Team New Zealand to get the Auld Mug down on the right side of the equator, even if it’s not coming back to Australia… yet. Back in the 1980s when the Americas Cup race was held in Fremantle, the yachts looked a lot different to those catamarans with hydrofoils they have today.

And that got me thinking about the motor racing industry. It’s time for a small rant.  You see, a lot of the things that designers and engineers tinker about with and fine-tune in racing cars eventually find their way into regular production cars driven by the average Joe and Jane Smith. More and more cars these days are tested on racing circuits to make sure that their handling’s perfect (the Holden VF Commodore and its recent feats on the Nürburgring circuit, for example).  Paddle-shifters and carb-fibre components were the sole preserve of racing machines, but now they’re everywhere. Even something as simple as a spoiler – back in the 1980s, you hardly ever saw a regular car on the road with them, even though you did see them on racing cars. Nowadays, lots of cars incorporate them into the design.

The racing industry has been good for drivers in general. It’s been a way for designers to make cars – all cars, not just race cars – lighter, stronger, safer, more fuel-efficient, more powerful and more responsive.

However… the yacht racing industry.  Most sailing boats I see look pretty much the same as they did back in the 1980s or even before. Now, with all the emphasis on being environmentally conscious and using renewable resources and all that, wouldn’t you think that somebody somewhere would be interested in making water transport more eco-friendly by going back to using wind power but with all the added technology they’ve developed for yacht racing?  Doesn’t somebody else want to use the sort of thing we see on the racing yachts put onto other craft?

Some people might question the demand for using this sort of technology on a yacht, as there’s no commercial need for sailing boats like there is for cars. However, there are water taxis, coastal patrols, tourism operators and light fishing boats – to say nothing of the pearl industry up in the north of Western Australia and Northern Territory. These still seem to use regular motor boats… but there’s no real reason why they couldn’t switch to eco-friendly wind power when you really come down to it.  I heard a commentator on the America’s Cup say the other day that they could generate 700 hp (that’s 512 kW) from cleverly designed sails in those racing boats. Your typical outboard motor gets about 150 hp, while larger ones as seen on water taxis might have two 250-hp engines. More powerful and much more fuel-efficient… sounds like a winning idea to me. Heck, if there was some means of getting a car’s engine from 250 hp to 700 hp without using any extra fuel, we’d all be demanding it and probably getting it, too.

One could argue that wind-powered means of transport are dependent on weather conditions. But aren’t we all? Ever slipped on ice while driving? Ever felt a strong wind buffet you or create a bit more drag?  Ever had to slow down because the rain was so strong that you could hardly see, in spite of the best efforts of your windscreen wipers? Cars are affected by weather conditions, too.

The motoring industry is doing its bit for the planet, playing around with alternative fuels, hybrid engines and electric vehicles, as well as making petrol-powered things work more efficiently, and what’s been learned on the race track has helped these efforts.  The airline industry is also getting on board with improved design features and even fuel types. But what about the marine industry?

I’ll close by saying that I’ll be overjoyed if I’m proved wrong and there are some operators who are using wind-powered boats on a commercial basis somewhere.  Let us know.

1980s corolla





Toyota Corolla in the 1980s and from 2013: spot the little additions from the race circuit?


  1. Mark says:

    The yachting industry has developed massively in both design, materials and manufacturing methods over the past 20years, in fact every bit as much as the motor industry. Yachts and boats in general today are markedly different both in looks and tehnnology than those from past decades. Your article merely hilights your total ignorance of the marine industry.

    September 24th, 2013 at 5:28 pm