Friday, June 30, 2006


As the cycling world is rocked to its foundations with yet another huge doping scandal the day before the Tour de France begins, it got me thinking about why we don't often see widespread cheating in motorsport.

Although physical fitness is an absolute necessity in motor racing, especially of the two-wheeled variety, the level of fitness required can be attained without the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Now if someone was to come up with a drug that sharpened hand-eye coordination, improved the brain's ability to understand balance and g-forces or diminished a competitor's propensity for fear we might have to be more alert to this issue.

It should be noted that Noriyuki Haga lost the 2000 World Superbike championship due to points deducted for testing positive for ephedrine, a drug that assists with weight loss. In a sport where millions of dollars are invested to save mere ounces from machinery it's understandable that weight loss drugs might be appealing to riders who suffer from "slow metabolism" - hence the continued need for routine drug tests in motorsport.

The area where cheating is most common in racing is inevitably vehicle preparation. This kind of cheating is rife throughout the sport from the lowest levels to the very top. I've been to, and competed in, rallies where we knew for a fact that other competitors in our class were using non-regulation technology. In Rally America's Production GT class, designed for essentially stock turbo or 4WD cars, engine management systems with anti-lag devices, non-stock gear ratios, missing safety equipment (removed for weight reasons) and even illegal restrictors are commonplace. It's not unheard of for a car to pass through tech, have it's restrictor measured, then return to wherever the car is staying prior to the event and have the restrictor changed again. During the final service, the crew will swap out the illegal restrictor for a legal one in order to pass post-race tech. The solution to this of course is a Parc Ferme for cars after they pass through tech - something that would require extra resources such as space and manpower to initiate, which RA can't really spare.

If regional rally teams that aren't relying on prize money are getting up to these kind of tricks, imagine the lengths that professional racing teams are going to in order to gain an advantage! The highly publicized example in NASCAR at this year's Daytona 500 is a great example. Crew chief Chad Knaus had added a device that altered the height of the rear window of Jimmie Johnson's car to gain an aerodynamic advantage. A 2-race suspension and $35,000 fine seemed appropriate, until you realize that the team probably paid the fine, and Knaus would still be able to help direct the team's progress from offiste via cellphone, instant messanging or other technology.

The only real solution to these kinds of infractions should be informed by the approach that cycling organizations employ: extreme, draconian penalties. If the punishment is harsh enough, people won't cheat. In cycling, if you're caught cheating you get an instant two-year ban. Now that's a stiff punishment! Kudos to Formula 1 for handing down a two-race ban last year to BAR for fuel tank infractions. The cost to them through lost TV revenue and sponsorship income was substantial, and I'd like to see the rest of motorsport take cheating as seriously.

So, to answer my own question, why we don't see cheating in racing, I believe that it's simply because it is neither caught nor enforced often enough. The fact we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there, and I'm sorry to say that motorsport is no cleaner than any other kind of sport. Bummer.

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