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I recently watched an episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, in which the larger-than-life and famously wealthy American talk show host visited a race track with Audi, who brought along two identical cars, except that one was driven entirely by an on-board computer. The autonomous Audi was lapping only 0.2 seconds per lap slower than the human-controlled car. It occurs to me that the computer will just get better with  time, until a human cannot match it.

If motorsport is all about the skills of one driver beating the skills of another, does this mean that motorsport will be limited to historic cars only, or at least to cars which are forced by regulation to have old-fashioned, manual controls?

If, on the other hand, motorsport is about manufacturers fighting against each other to prove which car is best, will we care who wins when all the cars are autonomous? The rules could require that each car must carry a ‘driver’, albeit one with no real purpose. If no people are on board, there will be no need for heavy safety equipment, and no reason for cars not to knock each other off the track, making circuit races like a giant version of Robot Wars.

Rallying could survive for a while if the sport returns to secret stages, where the crew are given only the entry and exit points of a venue  and must rely on map reading and eyesight. Computers will eventually become better at this, too, but we would have a few more years of human supremacy…

What do people think? What, if anything, can be done to keep drivers in the loop while not pissing off the manufacturers, whose cars and money we want to retain?

Colin Wilson, CDWrite.

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