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Various forms of motorsport

Motorsport(s) or motor sport(s) are sporting events, competitions and related activities that primarily involve the use of automobiles, motorcycles, motorboats and powered aircraft. For each of these vehicle types, the more specific terms automobile sport, motorcycle sport, power boating and air sports may be used commonly, or officially by organisers and governing bodies.[1][2][3][4]

Different manifestations of motorsport with their own objectives and specific rules are called disciplines. Examples include circuit racing, rallying and trials. Governing bodies, also called sanctioning bodies, often have general rules for each discipline, but allow supplementary rules to define the character of a particular competition, series or championship. Groups of these are often categorised informally, such as by vehicle type, surface type or propulsion method. Examples of categories within a discipline are formula racing, touring car racing, sports car racing, etc.[5][6][7]

Governing bodies[edit]

The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), formed in 1904, is the oldest and most prominent international governing body. It claims to be the sole international motor sporting authority for automobiles and other land vehicles with four or more wheels, whilst acknowledging the authority of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) over vehicles with one to three wheels, which FIM calls motorcycle sport.[8][7]

FIM and FIA are both recognised as international sports federations by the International Olympic Committee.[9][10]

FIA hierarchy[edit]

Within the FIA's structure, each affiliated National Sporting Authority (ASN) is recognised as the sole authority in their nation. Permission of the ASNs must be obtained to organise events using their rules, and their licenses must be held by participants. Not all ASNs function in the same manner, some are private companies such as Motorsport UK, some are supported by the state such as France's FFSA, or in the case of the US's ACCUS, a council of sanctioning bodies is the national representative at FIA meetings.[11][12][13][14]

ASNs, their affiliated clubs or independent commercial promotors organise motorsport events which often include competitions. A collective of events is called a series, and a grouping of competitions often forms the basis of a championship, cup or trophy.

Hierarchy of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (showing selected nations)
International National Sporting Authority[15] ASN Members/Associates etc
FIA United Kingdom Motorsport UK BRDC (British GP), BARC (BTCC), BRSCC (British GT), …[16]
Australia Motorsport Australia Regional associations of motor clubs, motor/driver/racing clubs
New Zealand MotorSport New Zealand
Republic of Ireland Motorsport Ireland
Canada Sports Development Group
France FFSA ACO (24 Hours of Le Mans) …
United States ACCUS IMSA, Indycar, NASCAR, NHRA, SCCA, USAC[17]

Unaffiliated automobile sport bodies[edit]

Not all nations have a sporting authority affiliated with the FIA, some disciplines may not fall within the FIA's remit of control, or organisations may choose to ignore the claim of the authority of others. Examples include banger racing and stock car racing in the United Kingdom which are claimed by both the Oval Racing Council and the National Stock car Association,[18][19] despite the claim by the FIA affiliated ASN, Motorsport UK, to be the "governing body of all four-wheel motorsport in the UK".[20] SCORE International, National Auto Sport Association and National Off-Road Racing Association of the United States are also not members of the FIA affiliation system but may work with members for international matters.[14]


In 1894, the French newspaper Le Petit Journal organised a contest for horseless carriages featuring a run from Paris to Rouen. This is widely accepted as the world's first motorsport event.[21]

In 1900, the Gordon Bennett Cup was established. Closed circuit racing arose as open road racing, on public roads, was banned.

Motorsport was a demonstration event at the 1900 Summer Olympics.

Following World War I, European countries organised Grand Prix races over closed courses. In the United States, dirt track racing became popular.[22]

After World War II, the Grand Prix circuit became more formally organised. In the United States, stock car racing and drag racing became firmly established.[23]

Disciplines of automobile sport[edit]


Although English dictionaries do not unanimously agree and singularly define that a race is between competitors running head-to-head,[24][25][26] in its International Sporting Code, the FIA defines racing as two or more cars competing on the same course simultaneously.[27]

Circuit racing[edit]

Circuit racing takes place on sealed-surface courses at permanent autodromes or on temporary street circuits. Competitors race over a set number of laps of the circuit with the winner being the first to finish, or for a set length of time with the winner having completed the highest number of laps, with others classified subsequently.

Circuit racing replaced point-to-point (city-to-city) racing early in the history of motorsport, for both spectator appeal and as safety concerns brought in regulation of the sport, forcing organisers to use closed, marshalled and policed circuits on closed public roads. Aspendale Racecourse in Australia in 1906 was the first purpose-built motor racing track in the world.[28] After which, permanent autodromes popularly replaced circuits on public roads.

In North America, the term road racing is used to describe racing and courses that have origins in racing on public highways; distinguished from oval racing, which has origins at purpose-built speedways using concrete or wooden boards.

Single-seater open-wheel racing cars
  • Single-seater racing involves cars with minimal chassis and bodywork material, with capacity only for the driver and necessary mechanical components. As the wheels protrude from the body of the car these thorough race cars are also known as open-wheel cars.
Enclosed-wheel racing cars
A BMW M4 DTM touring car, racing in the DTM
Glickenhaus prototype sports car at Le Mans
Truck racing
  • Sports car racing involves two categories. One includes production-based grand touring (GT) and sports cars. Although these are separate vehicle categories when built for road use; and historically they were raced as manufactured, these vehicle types have little difference when prepared for modern racing. The second category includes racing prototypes, thorough closed-bodied race cars with wheels enclosed by the bodywork and with the historical connection to a sports car's requirement to have two seats and a minimum width. The flagship race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans which takes place annually in France during the month of June. It is a constituent race of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
  • Stock car racing originally used production 'stock' cars, the vehicles are now purpose-built prototype sports cars or single-seater cars. In the most prominent series organised by NASCAR in the US, Canada and Brazil amongst others, the cars maintain a silhouette body of a production road car. Stock car racing series' in the UK and New Zealand also use open-wheel, single-seater race cars with little to no bodywork.
  • Touring car racing involves modified production cars intended for road use. In FIA regulations, touring cars must be recognised with having a minimum production quota and have a minimum of four seats, although the cars are still heavily modified and prepared for racing. Some national bodies accept cars with two seats as touring cars.[33]
  • Truck racing involves racing of modified large goods vehicle tractor units.

Off-road racing[edit]

Rob Hall driving SCORE Stock Mini in Baja 1000

Off-road racing can take place on open terrain with no set path, or on circuits that do not have a sealed surface such as asphalt or concrete.

Notable off-road races on open terrain include the Baja 1000 desert race, organised by SCORE International.[34] The FIA authorise Extreme E, an electric off-road series whose organisers have announced a hydrogen fuel series, Extreme H, to begin in 2025.[35]

Examples of off-road racing disciplines and series include:

  • Rallycross, short sprint races of touring cars on compact circuits of both asphalt and dirt surfaces. The discipline was born in Great Britain in 1967, when some entrants of the cancelled RAC Rally used their rally cars in a televised race instead.[36]
  • Lawn mower racing, involves the racing of ride-on lawnmowers on dirt surfaced circuits or point-to-point cross-country courses. The British Lawn Mower Racing Association organises an annual World Championship which consists of one event.[37]
  • Autograss, a British off-road racing series sanctioned by the National Autograss Sport Association. Ten classes of various vehicle categories are accepted, and races for each class are usually four to ten laps long and have up to eight vehicles competing.[38]
Two vehicles about to race on a dragstrip

Drag racing[edit]

Drag racing is an acceleration contest from a standing start along a short and straight course. Vehicles of various types can compete, usually between two vehicles. Winners can be the first to finish of competing pairs or by setting the fastest time, and competitions may have heats and/or series of runs.


Kart racing is a form of circuit racing using very small and low vehicles not considered as automobiles known as go-karts. It is one of the sports regulated by FIA (under the name of CIK), permitting licensed competition racing for anyone from the age of 8 onward. It is generally accepted as the most economical form of motorsport available on four wheels. As a free-time activity, it can be performed by almost anybody, and as karting circuits can be indoors and not take as much space as other forms of motorsport, it can be accessible to retail consumers without much qualification or training.

Hill climbs, time-trials and sprints[edit]

Non-racing speed competitions have various names but all carry the general rule of participants completing a course individually with the intention of setting the shortest time or highest average speed. This form of motorsport can be recreational or when competitive, rules may vary slightly such as whether to include the total time of several runs, the best time set, or the average pace of multiple courses to classify competitors.

Qualifying sessions for circuit races and special stages in rallying take the general form of time trials and sprints.


Prescott Hillclimb, United Kingdom

Hillclimbing is the most widely known form of time-trial due to its status as the only time trial or sprint form to have international FIA championships and endorsement. Its origins begin near the start of motorsport, particularly with the trials held that tested the capabilities of early automobiles to tackle uphill gradients. Contestants complete an uphill course individually and against the clock, the winner having the shortest, lowest average or total time. Hillclimbing events often include classes of competition for various categories and ages of vehicle and so may be incorporated into car shows or festivals of motoring such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Hill climb courses can be short at less than 1 mile, or several miles long such as the 12.42 mile Pikes Peak course in Colorado, USA.

Sprints, time trials and time attack[edit]

Sprints are governed by national FIA member ASNs in United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia, amongst other places. They are held on courses that do not climb a hill, at private and closed roadways where higher speeds and distances can be reached than at an autotesting course for example.

Time attack are terms used by series that run sprints at racing circuits where competitors try to set the quickest lap time rather than racing head-to-head with others.[39][40]

Time trials are run by the Sports Car Club of America, amongst others.[41]


Rallysprints are mainly sanctioned and held in continental Europe. Ultimately, they are similar to other time trial sprints but originate from the cars and courses used in special stage rallying with the elements of navigation and itinerary removed, and not necessarily requiring a co-driver to call pacenotes.


A Ford Fiesta S2000 rally car during 2010 Rally Finland

Rallying involves driving to a set itinerary, following a prescribed route and arriving and departing at control points at set times with penalties applied for diverging from the route or arriving late and early.

Rallies nearly always involve routes on open roads, closed special stages are used on some rallies where competitors drive against the clock. The classification of these rallies are determined by summing the times set with the fastest crews being victorious, as found in the World Rally Championship. This method is often called rally racing or stage rallying informally, whilst rallies that do not include special stages are distinctly regularity rallies.

Rallies that include routes that cover terrain off-road are also known as rally raid or cross-country rallies, the most famous example being the Dakar Rally. In the United States, the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) was founded in 1967 along with the Baja 1000. Since the 1990s, this race has been organised by SCORE International whilst NORRA's events have closer followed the FIA regulations and standards for cross country rallies, although the association has no affiliation to ACCUS, the US's FIA member.[42]


Drifting is a form of motorsport where drivers intentionally lose rolling traction in corners through oversteering but maintain momentum with effective throttle control, clutch use and corrective steering. In competition a panel of judges award marks on artistry and car control through the corner or series of corners. Competitions often feature pairs of cars driving together where a lead car and a chase car go head-to-head, with only one car going through to the next heat or winning the competition.

Autocross race in Germany
Autocross run on a temporary course in Canada
360 degree 'donut' around a barrel at a gymkhana event in Spain


Autocross has multiple general meanings based on country of use.

  • Prescribed by the FIA and in continental European nations is a form of off-road racing on short circuits entirely on unsealed surfaces. The cars are typically enclosed single-seaters called buggies; touring cars or tubular-chassis cross-cars.
  • In United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland is an off-road time trial over a short temporary course. Multiple competitors may be on the course at one time but are not racing head-to-head.[43][44]
  • In United States and Canada is similar to Autotesting in the United Kingdom and Australia. It is a form of low-speed time-trial on short circuits or courses that are often temporary and reconfigurable allowing for multiple passes of new routes at one compact venue.[45][46]

Autotesting / Gymkhana[edit]

Also known as Autocross in US and Canada and Autoslalom in Continental Europe, these similar disciplines are held in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. They involve precise car control, usually but not always against the clock on very short and compact temporary courses. Rather than being a high-speed test, car handling manoeuvres can be tested such as precision drifting, donuts, handbrake turns, reversing and so on.[47]


Other disciplines of automobile sport include:

Non-automobile forms of motorsport[edit]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Motorcycle Sport & Bike Racing News | MotoGP, World Superbikes & More | MCN". www.motorcyclenews.com. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  3. ^ "Union internationale motonautique". www.uim.sport. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  4. ^ "The Federation". World Air Sports Federation. 2017-06-28. Retrieved 2023-09-26.
  5. ^ "Organising Events for Different Disciplines". Motorsport UK. Retrieved 2023-10-07.
  6. ^ "Types of Motor Sport". Motorsport UK. Retrieved 2023-10-07.
  8. ^ "ARTICLE 1.1 INTERNATIONAL REGULATIONS OF MOTOR SPORT". 2023 FIA International Sporting Code (PDF). FIA. 2023.
  9. ^ "International Motorcycling Federation - Recognised Federation".
  10. ^ "International Automobile Federation".
  11. ^ Næss, Hans Erik (2020). A history of organizational change: the case of Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), 1946-2020. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-3-030-48270-1.
  12. ^ "Competition Licences". Motorsport UK. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
  13. ^ "Missions". www.ffsa.org. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
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  17. ^ "Member Clubs". ACCUS-FIA. Retrieved 2023-10-08.
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  19. ^ "the national stock car association". Retrieved 2023-10-07.
  20. ^ "FAQ". Motorsport UK. Retrieved 2023-10-07.
  21. ^ Gifford, p. 7.
  22. ^ Gifford, p. 10.
  23. ^ Gifford, p. 11.
  24. ^ "Meaning of race in English". Cambridge Dictionary.
  25. ^ "Definition of 'race'". Collins Dictionary.
  26. ^ "Definition of RACE". www.merriam-webster.com. 2023-11-03. Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  27. ^ "Definitions". 2023 INTERNATIONAL SPORTING CODE (PDF). FIA. 2023.
  28. ^ Gifford, p. 9.
  29. ^ Jonathan Noble; Mark Hughes. "Discovering What Makes Formula One, Formula One". Formula One Racing For Dummies. Archived from the original on 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2015-08-10.
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  34. ^ "Off-Road Racer: The Grandfather of Off-Road Racing: BAJA 1000 - race-deZert.com". race-dezert.com. 21 December 2014. Archived from the original on 18 April 2018. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  35. ^ Baldwin, Alan (2023-09-07). "Extreme E plans switch to hydrogen as Extreme H from 2025". Reuters. Retrieved 2023-10-19.
  36. ^ "What is Rallycross?".
  37. ^ "Championships". BLMRA. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  38. ^ "ABOUT". National Autograss. Retrieved 2023-10-22.
  39. ^ "About – Global Time Attack". Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  40. ^ "About Time Attack – Time Attack® – It's not racing… It's Time Attack!!". Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  41. ^ "Main - PHILOSOPHY". SCCA Time Trials. Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  42. ^ 2023 General Rules Version 4.0 (PDF). NORRA. 2023.
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  46. ^ "What is SOLO?". Atlanta Region SCCA. 2017-06-22. Archived from the original on 2017-06-22. Retrieved 2023-10-27.
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