National Motorsport Academy

Wacky Races: Where’s the line between cheating and just playing dirty?

Cheating has been around in motorsport since the dawn of the combustion engine. We’re not talking about drivers cutting corners here, but the smoke and mirrors created by motorsport engineers to circumvent the rules. Some cheats or ‘workarounds’ have been down-right ingenious! Remember Ferrari’s flexible floor which only raised when in motion but was perfectly level and in tolerance when the car was still? What about Toyota bypassing the restrictor plates in the 1995 WRC? It gave them additional 50bhp over the competition and when discovered saw them banned from the Championship for 3 years.

Anyone who’s anyone in motorsport will know of skulduggery in the sport so we asked NMA Tutor Roger for his best rule benders, liars and downright cheating 🤬s


Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or Innovative Heroes?

Toyotas cheating celica

I had a few little pieces left in the series on improving your lap time, but in all honesty, it would have taken ages to create a decent blog. So, I put my devil’s race suit on and though ”What if I can’t be bothered with all that hard work? Why not take a short cut?”

Now, I’ve been round the race paddock for a few years and have known some right scallywags and have seen fracturing of the rules to downright vandalistic breaking of them! So, let’s have a few anecdotes shall we with all names left out to protect the innocent……

Winners Never Cheat and Cheaters Never Win – Or do they?

Back in the days before COVID, (This tale sounds pre-decimal currency. Do get on with it….Ed.) when cars didn’t have ECU’s and trick bits, someone very highly regarded as a team owner now, used to race Historics. In one particular season he was just tickling the bottom end of the podium and gaining racecraft in what seemed to be some decent peddling of a racecar. Next season, same car, many of the same winning cars back out there too. This year things had changed. He was never off the podium! Winning a good number of the events as well. Of course, Historics are scrutineered and declared legal just like any other series, and this car passed every time so it was considered that this driver had spent the previous season earning his spurs and then used his experience and skill to mop up in this season. Did he follow my tips for driver health? Nope, he cheated!

His car was supposed to have a 4 speed gearbox but this one had a 5 speed – cleverly, he only used 1,2,3,5 or 1,2,3,4 or 1,2,4,5 , ie he only ever used 4 of the gears when he went through the box but effectively he had an overdrive which was pretty handy on those circuits with a decent straight.  So why didn’t he get caught?

He had a 4-speed gear knob on the end of the shifter and no scrutineer thought to check!

Beware the Scrutineer

On the subject of gearboxes, and this one is little more recent, I am told that when a certain one make series went to fixed ratios (including the final drive) there were some racers and teams who considered that the MSA scrutineers weren’t going to ask for a ‘box to be dismantled to check them, so they left the more advantageous ones in. Whoops!

A particular MSA scrutineer, who happened to be a student of ours by the way, did his maths and came to a meeting with some chalk and a tape measure. Could you do the maths? Here it is:

One turn of the crank = x turns of the box with the correct gear in = y turns of the diff = a turns of the roadwheel which is ZZcms.

If you mark the wheel rim and the correct distance on the tarmac, use a degree wheel on the crank end pulley and voila, you can see straight away whether the right ratio is in the box or not! I understand that some cars were very late for scrutineering after the first non-compliant one got found out. A quick tip for you wannabe cheaters out there – scrutineers are often also engineers. They will find you out!

The ‘Wondermap’

In the earlier days of the non sealed ECU cheating was rampant. It became he who had the best laptop won the race. The series I was running in at the time (Mini Challenge in the R53 supercharged cars) was terrible for it. (Are you sure you’re not just making excuses for your p### poor performance?? Ed.)

We’re talking super-sneaky here. Remaps that once the engine was turned off reverted to the proper map so could not be detected unless the scrutineer got to the car in parc ferme before it was switched off (never gonna happen!)

This was proven when one user of this black magic, span and stalled. His wondermap reverted and the 1 second a lap advantage disappeared as he couldn’t even keep up with the backmarkers! His claim of flat-spotted tyres was twaddle because he didn’t touch the brakes and there was no smoke at all.

Next plan from the organisers was to seal the OBD port in a vain attempt to stop this, so, another enterprising fellow put in a “spare” one. As the organisers didn’t have a checksum (What?? Ed.) (Look it up! RG) calculator on their laptop they couldn’t tell whether the ECU had been opened up, so couldn’t do anything.

In the end it caught up with a few of them as they changed series and didn’t win any more, or if they stayed in MINI Challenge, the new R56 ecu was sealed. Still they tried to fiddle it but trying to flash the code resulted in a checksum change which was detectable at this stage and they were disqualified.

So, Where's the Line?

M Schumacher

Of course, it is considered to be bad management NOT to exploit every area of the rules that are loose or silent on a particular point. Just because the makers of the rules haven’t thought the whole thing through from end to end, surely that isn’t the teams’ problem if they can gain an advantage from it? It is often said there is a fine line between cheating and staying ahead of the game – Think of F1, where hugely paid rulebreakers, sorry, designers, sit in darkened rooms looking for the edge over their competitors.

In the past some haven’t even looked at trying to manipulate the grey areas of the rules and gone straight for intentional crashing or stealing other ideas. Most teams have moved on or re-invented themselves so to save blushes, let’s say 2 of the most recent scandals included teams that Alonso raced for and you can go and research from there if so inclined.

A particular friend of mine who is an awesome ECU and race car software chappie was hired by a team running in the Britcar series. The team had analysed the previous 24 hour races and like most long races, they nearly always had a long pace car period or periods because someone had rolled their car up into a little ball on the barriers – this gave them an idea.

Cylinder cut on road cars is now relatively common, but then it was not and seemed to be a dark art. Anyway, the map was written and coded then tested ready for something that may or may not occur.

In the race, their car was top 3 all the way but just couldn’t pull free from the other two until the inevitable happened – a long pace car. As soon as the pace car came out and the lap speed dropped, plan X was put into operation. The map was changed and 4 of the 8 cylinders cut. As long as they didn’t go over a certain speed this was safe for hours.

The result was a huge drop in fuel consumption. So much so that this car needed one less fuel stop in the complete race that the other two cars. As a fuel stop cost a minimum of 2 minutes in the pits by regulation, and their car won by 1 minute 30 seconds from one of the other two harrying competitors, it was obvious that this long shot piece of strategy had been executed brilliantly. Cheating – no, exploiting the regulations, yes!

For your enjoyment, have a look at the details of these “legal” ish yet banned race cars; these were the ones I could think of in a couple of minutes. Feel free to share some others. Or head over to this blog of 10 Banned Racecars.

Or you could just watch Wacky Races on You Tube…….

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