Rules, as the age old motorsport adage goes, are there to be broken, or at the very least bent to breaking point, then bent some more. Engineers have always sought to gain a tactical or performance advantage through careful exploitation of the rule book, it’s a practice that’s existed at all levels of motorsport since the dawn of the petrol age. Some of the solutions cooked up to defeat the motorsport rule makers were more successful than others, a few were acrimonious, and a handful downright dangerous. All were ingenious however, and these are 5 of our favourites.
1 – F1 – Tyrrell 012 – Lead Shot
Formula One in the mid ’80s was in a state of flux, the FIA (or as motorsport’s governing body was known at the time, FISA) still grappling with how best to pit the turbocharged front-runners against the naturally aspirated also-rans. This period would go onto give the motorsport world some of the surprise results of the century, and also one of F1’s most ingenious cheats (or rule bending at the very least) – the water cooled brakes on Tyrrell’s 012 of 1984. Tyrrell were a spent force by this point, the glory days of the early ’70s a distant memory, which explains why it found itself running a naturally aspirated, short stroke Cosworth DFV, a motor incapable of beating the turbocharged monsters further up the grind on most tracks.
The only silver lining from Tyrell’s perspective was that, thanks to them being the sole team on the grid still running a naturally aspirated engine, they were permitted to run under the FIA mandated weight limit. Tyrell’s 012 ran water injection, the sizeable water tank being the means by which the car was ballasted to meet the minimum weight limit after the race. Tyrrell took things a stage further by running the car underweight in the race, then, in the dying laps, topping up the water injection tanks with a mix of water and 140 lb of lead shot.
The ruse was only discovered after the Detroit Grand Prix, midway through the season and immediately after the team’s best result of the season, a 2nd for Martin Brundle. Ironically it wasn’t the shot that got the team excluded from the race and the entire season, it was the water mixed with 27.5% aromatics, a brew the powers that be deemed constituted an additional fuel source.
2 – BTCC – Volvo 850 – Headwork
There’s a good reason why the British Touring Car Championship’s Super Touring era, running from the mid to the late ’90s, is held up as the pinnacle of tin top racing; it was competitive and frenetic, the cars looked and sounded great, they were driven by plenty of ex-F1 pilots, and pretty much every mainstream car maker was represented. Volvo joined the fray in 1994 with its infamous 750 estate, a car that’s since passed into motorsport folklore for obvious reasons, and this despite it failing to trouble the top step of the podium all year.
What’s less well known is that the TWR-run Volvos were running cylinders heads that, while not strictly illegal, most definitely went against the sprit of the regulations. BTCC regulations permitted teams to adjust all manner of valve train variables in their quest for extra performance, they just weren’t allowed to alter either the angle of the valves themselves or weld extra material to the inside of the head. Volvo, or more likely TWR’s legendarily conniving boss, Tom Walkinshaw, opted to circumvent the rules in the most literal of senses, by re-mounting the ‘production’ head at an angle, having first chopped out a portion of its underside in order to achieve a suitable mounting face between block and head. This in turn created a more advantageous inlet and exhaust valve angle, which, when combined with the enlarged valves and chunky cams, gave well over 300bhp in race guise.
3 – WRC – Toyota Team Europe – Turbo Restrictor
Perhaps the most devious cheat of them all, so ingenious that it prompted Max Moseley, head of the FIA at the time, to admit grudging respect. Toyota Team Europe (TTE) found itself in something of a quandary as the 1995 World Rally Championship progressed; its Celica ST205 was proving both harder to drive and slower over the course of a special stage than its ST185 predecessor, and neither Didier Auriol or Juha Kankkunen was especially enamoured with the car. Lacklustre results in the opening half of the season helped convince a group of engineers and their boss, Dieter Bulling, to devise a means of negating the FIA’s turbo restrictor rules, and a motorsport skullduggery legend was born.
It says a great deal that TTE’s ingenious workaround was only discovered after a series of suspect instances, the first of which occurred on Rally Australia, specifically the Langley Park stage. This saw two rally cars pitched against one another directly, starting the course side-by-side and therefore an ideal opportunity for the powers that be to compare the relative performance of the Works rally cars. It was noted that the Celicas were markedly faster off the line than the Imprezas, Evos and Cosworths they were competing against.
This might’ve been dismissed as nothing more than an anomaly had Juha Kankkunen not carved out a commanding lead in the opening stages of Rally Catalunya a few weeks later. An three time champion he might’ve been, but Kankkunen never bothered to disguise his distaste for tarmac rallying and his pace relative to his team mate, an established asphalt master, therefore raised paddock eyebrows.
The bombshell dropped on the morning of the final day of the rally, when the FIA demanded to see turbochargers from all four of the Works teams. These were subsequently disassembled and poured over at length, whereupon it was discovered that TTE had devised an intricate system whereby extra airflow around the mandated turbo restrictor could be achieved. The fiendishly clever setup involved a silicone hose running from air intake to turbo, with steel reinforcements housed within its internal diameter. This allowed the reinforced hose to actuate a series of springs, which in turn would force open an additional channel of air around the restrictor, increasing the volume of air passing through, and thus, performance – as much as 50bhp by some estimates.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect was that the system was engineered to revert to its ‘legal’ position when not fitted, meaning it would look legit to all but the most probing of investigations and going some way toward explaining why it took so long for the cheat to be discovered.
The FIA acted swiftly, annulling the team’s results for 1995 and excluding it from the following season entirely, forcing Kankkunen and Auriol to seek alternative employment. Even now, in the face of one of the most blatant motorsport cheating scandals of the modern era, the FIA couldn’t help but admit begrudging respect, Max Mosely calling it “the most ingenious thing I have seen in 30 years of motorsport.”
4 – WRC – Ford/M-Sport – Surge Tank
Don’t go thinking that motorsport rule-bending is a thing of the distant past (or at the very least the mid ’90s), the WRC has seen more than its fair share in the modern era, most famously with M-Sport Ford’s Mk1 Focus WRC of 2003. By this point, the first gen Focus was an elderly machine in WRC terms, and with an ‘Evolution’ model still some months away, M-Sport sought to level the playing field with some boost-based shenanigans.
The cars ran with larger, US-spec rear bumpers that year, ostensibly as a means of giving the Mk1 Focus a visual overhaul but actually a clever means of increasing performance via a 45L ‘surge’ tank, completely hidden by the bumper itself. The tank, connected to the inlet manifold by a stretch of tubing complete with an electronic valve, could be filled with pressurised air and was fed directly from the turbo when off boost. Opening the valve at high revs would release a considerable volume of air back into the engine, and in turn a much needed spike of performance, at least for the opening portion of a special stage.
This wasn’t in itself illegal – the full volume of pressurised air within the tank had already passed through the FIA inlet restrictor, remember, but the powers that be were singularly unimpressed by the team’s out of the box thinking, and it was banned after 3 events.
5 – F1 Brabham/Alfa Romeo – BT46 Fan Car
This entry isn’t so much a cheat as an example of F1 engineering maestro, Retropower hero (click through to check out the Ford Escort we’re building for him) and all round good guy, Gordon Murray, rooting out loopholes within the F1 regulation of the day, and the result has gone down in history as among the most innovative race cars to ever grace a circuit.
Exhibiting his characteristic flair for completely off-the-wall thinking, Murray realised that creating an area of low pressure beneath the car would enable it to achieve hitherto unheard of corning speeds. It’s worth noting that Murray first conceived of the idea of the Fan Car in 1978, less than a year after Lotus had upended conventional F1 thinking with its 78 and its more potent successor, the 79. Whereas the Lotus and other early ground effect cars used a mixture of skirts and Venturi tunnels to achieve the desired low pressure area, the BT46 achieved it through the large fan mounted to the rear of the car and driven by the gearbox, a device which sucked air under the car and thus created a vacuum.
The team claimed that, rather than being an aerodynamic device with a performance benefit, the fan was merely used as a means of cooling the BT46’s heavy, thirsty and thermally inefficient Alfa Romeo flat twelve, a story the motorsport authorities believed. This meant that the ‘Fan Car’ was cleared for its one and only race, the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix, with Niki Lauda and John Watson charged with giving it its debut.
The Brabham pair qualified in 2nd and 3rd, places generally reckoned to have been a result of the team ‘sand bagging’ to disguise the car’s true race pace from rival teams, and proceeded to drive off into the distance. Well, Lauda did; Watson spun off and out of contention early on, while the Austrian revelled in the Fan Car’s pace and grip, even driving around the outside of erstwhile race leader Mario Andretti, before blasting into the distance to win by a full half a minute.
Bernie Ecclestone, Brabham’s owner and candidate for the presidency of FOCA (Formula One Constructors Association), opted to retire the car after this one, crushing demonstration of its superiority, reasoning that taking control of one of F1’s principle bodies would be the more valuable prize in the long run.