Crossing the line in motorsports. How not to get disqualified!

Racing is very much about passion, about the unstoppable dedication to improve lap by lap, to take calculated risk and exploit the technical regulations to their absolute limits.

Rules have always played an integral role in enabling competition in racing events. Its the race event’s regulations that allow race drivers and teams to compete against each other in a measurable and fair way. The championship’s rules define which categories teams race in, what the allowed specifications of engines, equipment and vital components such as fuel are.

Earlier this week 3 race drivers were disqualified from the Swedish round of the FIA European Rallycross Championship in Touringcars due to noncompliant fuel. One of the drivers, Norway’s Sivert Svardal was the crowned European Champion in that category prior to his disqualification¹. It’s hard to imagine how upsetting it must be to be stripped of the European Champion title after no doubt tremendous perseverance and hard work during the season.

Our company P1 Racing Fuels is the official fuel supplier for both the European and World RX Championship and has identified the noncompliant fuels mentioned above during our regular on-event fuel analysis. I felt compelled to write a series of posts on how fuel analysis at world championships looks like and provide some guidance to race drives on how to remain compliant and not fail fuel tests.

F3 World Cap in Macau, China fueled by P1 Racing Fuels

Throughout the world of motorsport it is usual to see technical regulations governing the use of fuel in competition, and to test competitors to ensure conformity. However open or restrictive those regulations are it is now usual to have them in place whether it be at club, national or international level; circuit racing, rallying or off road competition.

The principal governing body of automobile motorsport which makes and enforces these regulations is the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

In this post I won’t go into the nitty gritty details of the individual fuel regulations, I’ll rather focus on the main notion of how fuel compliance is measured and the two main analytical methods utilized at world championships. We’ll dig into the regulations and other aspects in upcoming posts.

The most efficient way of testing fuel compliance at motorsport events is using comparative or “Fingerprint” testing, which is a rapid comparison analysis between a sample of a given reference fuel taken from a controlled source at the beginning of a competition and the fuel drawn from the competitor. This methodology only requires a single small fuel sample (50ml) and is employed during the event in championships where a single control fuel has been specified by the FIA, or where fuel(s) to be used by competitors are required to be registered with the FIA prior to each event (E.g. Formula 1). With the fingerprint method a graphical profile of the fuel is generated for both samples which are overlaid one on top of the other. In this way any changes in composition and concentration of the competitors fuel (and hence the profile of the graph) when compared to the reference sample can be easily and quickly detected.

If the result of a comparative test indicates conformity no further action will be taken. However, in the case of an indicated non-conformity the entrant may be subject to further analysis depending on the championship’s regulation.

Gas chromatography (GC)

GC is a type of automated chromatography (a technique used to separate mixtures of substances) in which the sample mixture to be analyzed is vaporized and injected into a stream of inert carrier gas (such as nitrogen or helium) moving through a column containing a stationary phase composed of a liquid or particulate solid. As the test vapor passes through the column it becomes separated into its component compounds according to their affinity for the stationary phase which are analyzed by a detection device. The result is the identification of individual chemical components present in the mixture. These components are usually displayed as peaks in a graph.

Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy

FTIR is an optical technique used to identify chemical bonds in molecules by producing an infrared spectrum of absorption (or emission) for the solid, gas, or in this case liquid which is being analyzed.

The spectrometer collects high resolution data over a wide spectral range. The resultant graph gives a unique profile of the sample, a distinctive molecular fingerprint that can be compared to that of the reference fuel and used to rapidly screen and scan the sample for differing components.

In the upcoming posts I’ll share best practice for teams to follow when being analyzed, recommend procedure and outline the most common mistakes, which teams make.