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Radar leaps from road to race track


Radar units are normally fitted to the front of luxury cars to maintain a safe distance with the traffic ahead when the cruise control is activated. But the boffins at German technology company Bosch came up with the idea to move the radar unit to the rear of race cars to improve safety in endurance races where the vehicles have vastly different speeds.

The Fiat 500 Abarth -- the smallest and slowest car in the 50-car field at this Sunday’s Bathurst 12-Hour race -- will be equipped with a Bosch radar mounted on the hatchback that warns the driver of cars approaching from behind. A screen on the dash shows which direction the car is likely to be overtaken on, by flashing an arrow.

It is only the second use in the world of the technology, which debuted in the LeMans 24 Hour race last year. The specially-built race-ready Fiat 500 Abarth has a top speed of about 220km/h on Conrod Straight, but the front-running Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Mercedes-Benzes, Audis and Porsches are all capable of reaching over 300km/h and lap faster than a V8 Supercar.

“With a closing speed of between 80 and 100km/h our drivers need all the help they can get,” said veteran motorsport manager Alan Heaphy, who has turned his expertise to the pint-sized Italian cars after years of managing teams in V8 Supercars, production cars and tarmac rally events.

The two-car Fiat team has calculated that its cars will be lapped every five laps by the front-runners, which will average out to being overtaken every six seconds over the course of the race. Inside the cockpit, the team has also fitted an ultra-wide view mirror used in V8 Supercars.

Leading drivers have welcomed the addition of the technology but many believe their faster cars will be so quick that the feisty Fiat will be overtaken before the driver even realises it.

“The closing speeds at Bathurst are going to be phenomenal and, of course, the (Fiat) driver is going to be looking ahead at the racing line, not always looking at the mirror,” said Audi R8 driver Warren Luff, who is one of more than half-a-dozen race V8 Supercar drivers moonlighting at the event. “But of course anything to make the racing safer and give the driver as much warning as possible is a good thing.”

IN THE THICK OF IT

Carsguide’s Joshua Dowling and Paul Gover will have a driver’s view of this year’s Bathurst 12-Hour -- and what it’s like to be overtaken approximately 7000 times -- sharing driving duties in the Fiat 500 Abarth. Full report next week.

This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling