From disc brakes to multi-valve engines to electronically shifted transmissions, the list of technologies that migrated from race cars to street-legal vehicles is long. Rarely, however, does technology pioneered for regular production cars move from the road to the track.
The turbocharger is an exception. The technology that made turbochargers an ultra-sophisticated, high- performance device for cars, SUVs and even pickups also has benefited vehicles that are raced, both on road and off.
Suppliers such as Garrett Motion, BorgWarner and Valeo have spent billions of dollars on turbocharger research and development over the last 20 or so years. Those investments have yielded breakthroughs that have made turbochargers lighter, more responsive, and most importantly, more reliable.
"Turbos now are kind of a fit-and-forget thing now," says Stephen Eriksen, COO of Honda Performance Development, American Honda's racing entity. "It does need attention, because it is a critical component of the powertrain infrastructure, but it's not a big worry bead. It's a piece that has become very, very reliable."
That's a notable achievement for the industry considering the superheated temperatures the turbo endures and the speed of the engine, the car and the turbo's inner components. Eriksen said a typical Indianapolis 500 car runs at 230 mph, the engine runs in a range of 11,500 to 12,000 rpm, and the turbine and compressor wheels spin at upward of 90,000 rpm for 500 miles.