10 Banned Race Cars


The Audi Sport Quattro S1 was one of the banned Group B rally cars. © 2014 Nic Redhead/“Audi Sport Quattro S1”/CC BY-SA 2.0

When it comes to sports, it's important to adhere to the rules to ensure a level playing field. Cheating is frowned upon (unless you're the New England Patriots). However, there's often a thin line between cheating and a new or innovative way of doing things. Run right alongside that line, and you win. Cross it, and you can get banned from competing.

Banning certain race cars or types of race cars seems counterintuitive. After all, isn't the whole point of racing cars to see who can go the fastest? Innovative drivers and racing teams have always found ways to maximize speed as long as there have been car races. The problem is, those innovations don't always fall within the bounds of racing rules.

Cheating isn't the only reason to ban race cars, however. Certain types of cars or modifications have been banned due to safety concerns, either because they're just too fast to reliably control or because some of their features put other drivers at risk. Here are 10 race cars that have been hit with the ban hammer.

10
Sneaky Pete Robinson's Jumping Jack Dragster
Pete Robinson, pictured here driving a dragster, got a leg up on his competitors by using folding jack stands to raise the rear of his car. © 2007 Insomnia Cured Here/“Pete Robinson”/CC BY-SA 2.0

When a guy's nickname is "Sneaky Pete" you can be sure that he's going to have some racing "innovations" up his sleeve. You can almost picture Sneaky Pete racing in an all-black suit, twirling his moustache (he didn't actually look like that).

In the case of Sneaky Pete Robinson's Jumping Jack Dragster, the innovation that racing officials determined had crossed the line was incredibly simple. As Robinson lined up at the start of the race, he'd use a simple lever attached to folding jack stands to raise the rear end of his car. That allowed him to rev his engine and start his rear tires spinning during the series of yellow lights that serves as a countdown for the start of a drag race. Once the race started, he'd drop the rear end, and his tires would hit the ground spinning while the other driver was still spooling his up. After one race with his jumping jack stands, National Hot Rod Association, the governing body of drag racing, banned the device [source: Philpot].

9
Hendrick Motorsports' 1997 T-Rex
The T-Rex was a lot more powerful than the regular Chevrolet Monte Carlo. © 2009 Brian Snelson/“1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo ‘T-Rex’”/CC BY 2.0

I'm going to try to go easy on the extinction jokes in this section, but a few might slip through like a meteor headed for Earth to eradicate species. In 1997, Jeff Gordon drove the Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlo in the All-Star race. However, this was not your granddad's Monte Carlo. It was designed from the ground up by Rex Stump, a former Corvette engineer who designed the T-Rex to be as fast as possible. The car got its name from Stump, though it also had a Jurassic Park-themed paint scheme to promote the movie release.

Gordon and the T-Rex dominated the race like two raptors gorging on a herd of diplodocuses. At the post race inspection, NASCAR officials told the Hendrick crew that they shouldn't race the car again, though it complied with all NASCAR rules. The design was too radical [source: Hendrick Motorsports]. If you want to see a T-Rex without the risk of being devoured, the T-Rex is on display at the Hendrick Motorsports museum in Charlotte, North Carolina.

8
Brabham BT46B
The Brabham BT46B is also known as the “fan car” because of this feature. Bryn Lennon/Allsport/Getty Images

As important as powerful engines are to race cars, all the power they generate has to be controlled. That's why race cars have spoilers: They help the car's wheels maintain contact with the ground and keep things under control when the engine is spitting power.

Spoilers work by generating downforce. Air flows over the spoiler, pushing it down and helping the car maintain its contact with the ground so no engine power gets wasted. The 1977 Brabham BT46B, also known as the fan car, had a fan at the rear of the engine bay that not only cooled the engine but also generated incredible downforce. In the car's only race, the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, driver Niki Lauda easily won [source: Grossinger]. The problem with the BT46B was that according to Formula One (F1) rules, any feature that generated downforce had to be fixed — and a fan that spins is decidedly not fixed. The car was legal at the time because of a loophole in the rules, but it wouldn't be for long. The fan car era ended as soon as it started.

7
WRC Toyota Celica GT-Four
The Toyota Celica GT-Four, a rally car, was banned because of its illegal turbocharger. © 2010 Smudge 9000/CC BY-NC 2.0

Prior to the mid-1980s, rally races, which are car races held on public roads and wooded trails, were won mostly by cars from European manufacturers. In 1988, however, Toyota started racing the World Rally Championship (WRC) Celica GT-Four. It won its first race in the 1989 Rally Australia [source: Car Throttle].

Time passed, and rally cars kept getting faster, which raised safety concerns for both the rally drivers and race fans. In 1995 the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) required that cars have restrictor plates in their turbochargers [source: Grossinger]. Turbochargers work by forcing air into the engine, allowing it to generate more power. The restrictor plates limited air flow into the turbocharger, which slowed power output, which, in turn, limited speed and made the races somewhat safer. Toyota's engineers figured out a way to have the restrictor plate in the turbocharger, but as the car picked up speed, the restrictor plate automatically moved out of the way, which fulfilled the spirit (the restrictor plate was in the turbocharger!) if not the letter (but it wasn't doing anything!) of the law. The FIA banned the car when it discovered the ruse.

6
The Chaparral 2E
The spoiler on the Chaparral 2E was outlawed. Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

If there's one theme that you should pick up on in this list, it's that most cars get banned for messing with engine power or downforce. The Chaparral 2E is in the latter category. We've already talked about how spoilers increase downforce, which helps the car grip the road. However, there are times when you don't need as much grip and you want more speed. For example, when you're in a corner, you want grip. When you're on a straight, you want speed. Most spoilers split the difference, which means you give up some grip on corners and some speed on straights to have overall control. It's a trade-off most car racers are fine making.

Enter the Chaparral 2E. It had a moveable spoiler that the driver could manipulate. The spoiler could be put at a steep angle for plenty of downforce and grip in corners, then put at a less aggressive angle for the straight parts of the track, where less downforce is needed. As a result, the Can-Am racing series the Chaparral 2E competed in outlawed aerodynamic parts that moved.

5
Group B Rally Cars
The Lancia Delta S4 was a Group B rally car. © 2015 jambox998/“Lancia Delta S4 - Parade Lap”/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

So far we've listed race cars that have been banned to create an even playing field, but in some cases, entire classes of racing cars have been banned. Such was the fate of Group B rally cars, which weren't banned because of a competitive advantage but because of safety issues — a ban even the most ardent thrill seeker could support.

Group B rally cars could make upwards of 500 horsepower and went well over 100 mph (160 kph) [source: Barry]. That doesn't sound too concerning until you remember that Group B rally cars were raced on public roads, dirt roads and other trails in a thrilling test of speed, control and communication between driver and co-driver. Rally fans don't sit in grandstands. Rather, they line the roadway, with little protection.

Sounds like a thrilling day of racing, right? The only issue with Group B rally cars is that they kept crashing, killing drivers and spectators. The FIA, which oversees rally racing, decided that the entire Group B class was simply too dangerous and shut it down.

4
Williams FW14B
The Williams FW14B was banned because of its active suspension. © 2011 Andrew Basterfield/“Williams-Renault FW14B”/CC BY-SA 2.0

As the moveable wing on the Chaparral 2E shows, if your car can adapt to changing conditions, you're going to have an advantage over cars with a static setup. The Williams FW14B, a F1 race car, did just that but not with its aerodynamics. Instead of changing its aerodynamic components to adapt to track and race conditions, the Williams FW14B had an active suspension.

If you've been car shopping recently, a salesperson might have told you about a car with an active suspension. However, the Williams FW14B is an F1 car, which is more powerful and higher-tech than anything on the new car lot.

The Williams FW14B used a hydraulic system to adjust the suspension based on the individual loads of each of the four tires. That allowed the car to hunker down for more grip in the corners and to rise up slightly for less drag and more speed on the straightaways. Between the 1992 and 1993 F1 seasons the FW14B racked up wins. The FIA, which oversees F1, banned active suspensions on the grounds they were an unfair advantage because not all teams could afford them.

3
Tyrrell 025
Mika Salo drives the Tyrrell 024, the predecessor to the 025, at the 1996 San Marino Grand Prix. Salo also drove the 025 in the 1997 Formula One season. © 1996 Restu20/“Mika Salo – Imola 1996”/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Tyrrell 025 was a pretty run-of-the-mill F1 car, although as far as automotive technology goes, it was incredibly advanced. The Tyrrell 025 had a carbon fiber body, V-8 engine (though competitors had V-10s) and a double wishbone suspension. It also had a fairly undistinguished racing career, winning just two points in the Monaco Grand Prix in 1997 [source: Racing-reference.info].

This is where you start wondering why a car with an undistinguished racing career is on a list of banned cars. If it wasn't winning, why would race officials be worried about an unfair advantage? This is another banned car that lost racing rights because of safety concerns.

When the Tyrrell 025 was driven in races where the course required a lot of downforce due to curves and turns, the team would put X-wings on the Tyrrell's body near the cockpit. Soon, other teams were doing the same, and all the extra X-wings raised safety concerns when the cars were in the pits — it was just too easy for crew members to get caught up in them. The FIA banned X-wings in 1998 [source: Spurgeon].

2
Chaparral 2J
Vic Elford drives the “vacuum car” in a 1970 Can-Am race. Fred Enke/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images

Chaparral is the only racing team that has the distinction of making it on this list of banned race cars twice. Way to go, guys.

The Chaparral 2J is one of the strangest race cars ever built, and it showcases the kind of imagination racing teams have when doing what it takes to win. The Chaparral 2J had two engines: a pretty unexceptional large Chevy V-8 that powered the car and an unexpected smaller engine. Why? The smaller engine drove two fans that pulled air out from beneath the car. That sounds utterly ridiculous until you realize that sucking the air out from under a car increases downforce and allows a car to corner better.

In effect, the Chaparral 2J had a tiny engine acting as an extra spoiler. Despite the car's many mechanical problems, competitors claimed the 2J's fans were illegal movable aerodynamic devices to thwart its impending success. The Chaparral 2J raced in the 1970 season of the Can-Am series, picked up a lot of wins and was quickly put out to pasture.

1
Dodge Charger Daytona
The Dodge Charger Daytona was the first car to break 200 mph in a NASCAR race. Racing One/ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Most people are familiar with the classic Dodge Chargers of the late '60s and early '70s — after all, them goshdarn Duke boys drove one. The Dodge Charger Daytona, however, was a whole different species from the classic car your parents and grandparents tinkered on in their driveway.

The Dodge Charger Daytona had a huge wing on its rear end and a massive nose piece that made it more aerodynamic. Dodge developed it specifically to compete — and win — in NASCAR races. That's exactly what the Dodge Charger Daytona did.

The Dodge Charger Daytona was the first car to break 200 mph (321 kph) in a NASCAR race and ended up winning so many races that NASCAR banned it and its sibling, the Plymouth Road Runner Super Bird [source: Davenport]. What's really cool about the Dodge Charger Daytona is that it raced back when NASCAR was a lot closer to true stock-car racing than it is today. That's right: A few lucky people got to waltz into their local Dodge dealership and drive off in one of these. Good thing NASCAR bans don't extend beyond the racetrack.

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Author's Note: 10 Banned Race Cars

Look, I'm all for a level playing field. I'm also all for safety. But isn't the point of racing to, you know, see who can go the fastest? In researching this article I found that some of the bans made sense to me, like the Group B rally cars. In order to make those cars safe, you'd have to change the whole nature of rally racing. But some of the cars and technology behind them don't seem like they needed banning. Guess I'd be a pretty unscrupulous race team owner.

Related Articles

Sources

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