One-Design is a racing method which may be adopted in sports which use complex equipment, whereby all vehicles have identical or very similar designs or models. In motor racing, it is also known as one-make racing and spec racing.

Features of One-Design

As manufacturing technologies became more efficient and effective over the course of the 20th century, racers in a number of sports realized that there was an important need to equalize the design of the equipment that they were competing in. One-Design racing is the ultimate result of this. Most often, the members of a One-Design class are near identical as a direct consequence of all deriving from the same production line. Sometimes they are checked or measured at stages in their use to guarantee continuing conformity to the standard design. The important factors being measured in One-Design racing help to equalize the vehicles and put more emphasis on the skill of the competitors.

One-Design is utilized in a variety of racing sports.

It is heavily used in sailboat racing. All competitors in a One-Design race are judged simply on a 'first to the finish' basis using a single start time. Other approaches to racing involve either a handicapping process (adjusting each competitor's elapsed time over the course by a factor based on the handicap figure for their boat), or restricting participants to using boats of some recognised class or type, or allowing only boats which conform to some formula or other specification. In the United States, the One-Design Class Council creates, monitors, and enforces the rules that define what classes of sailboats are One-Design boats.

It can additionally refer to airplanes or motor vehicles, such as IndyCars, where teams are required to meet certain specifications such as vehicle weight, engine displacement, weight, fuel capacity, and a variety of other factors are measured and regulated, or classes limited to a single make, such as the Yamaha RD Cup.

In motorsport, this term is commonly known as one-make racing and this term is predominantly given to series for production based cars such as the Porsche Supercup.


There are two primary methods of competition in sailboat racing: One-Design and handicap (see: Portsmouth Yardstick,[1] PHRF[2] and LYS (Leading Yard Stick)). One-design refers to a racing class that consists of just one model or design of sailboat. In one-design racing, the first boat to finish wins the race. This is contrasted with handicap racing,[3] where time is added or subtracted from the finishing times based on design factors and mathematical formulas to determine the winner.[4]

In between One-Design and handicap racing, a number of other approaches exist. One-Design can be contrasted with a development class, the classic example being the America's Cup 12-metre class, or to the Box Rule[5] used, for example, in the TP 52 class.[6]

A further category, the formula based class setup, is sometimes confused with one-design. The Mini Transat 6.50, the Volvo Open 70 monohull, the large ORMA trimaran, and the Formula 18 racing beach catamaran are the exponents of the formula approach. Class-legal boats race each other without any handicap calculations in both setups. However, under one-design the boats are virtually identical except in details, while the Formula setup allows the boats to differ much more in design while keeping a few important specifications the same. As a result, the identifier "One-Design" has been used more and more exclusively to denote a class that races only identical boats.

Having a rigid one-design specification keeps design experimentation to a minimum and reduces cost of ownership. The popularity of one-design increased in the 1970s with the introduction of laminate construction using fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) and mold building technology. This process allowed the mass production of identical hulls of virtually any size at a lower price.

The one-design design idea was created by Thomas Middleton of the Shankill Corinthian Club located 10 miles (16 km) south of Dublin, Ireland in 1887. He proposed a class of double ended open dinghies of simple clincher construction in pine with a lifting boiler plate capable of being lifted. The boat was called The Water Wag. The idea was quickly adopted by sailors in Ireland, England, India and South America. The Water Wag Club still thrives in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.[7]

The Solent One Design Class was one of the earliest O.D. classes formed after discussions took place in 1893 and subsequent years. It quickly became popular, and was patronised by some of the most energetic and best known yacht owners in the Solent, Portsmouth and Southampton waters including Sir Philip Hunloke, the King's yachtmaster. Formed under the auspices of the Solent Sailing Club, the class was adopted by the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Island Sailing Club in 1895. The dimensions of the boats were length overall, 33 ft 3 in; Waterline length, 25 ft; Beam, 7 ft 9 in; Draft, 5 ft; Sail area, 750 sq ft.; Displacement, 5 tons with 2 tons 13 cwt. of lead in the keel. Cutter rig with 6 ft bowsprit. Designed by H.W. White, ten were built in 1895/6 by Messrs. White Brothers of Itchen Ferry, Southampton and another twelve were built in the following year. The class enjoyed ten years of keen racing but the Metre Rule, which was introduced in 1907 effectively killed the class. The only boat still afloat is Rosenn, formally Eilun, sail number 6. Now, fully restored, she has been identified as meriting inclusion in the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom. She is kept in Lymington where she is still racing and winning on the Solent.[8]

As a general rule, the tolerances are strictest in smaller boats like dinghy classes and small keelboats. In some cases the tolerances are specified in a confidential Building Specification and often everything is designed and produced at the same factory or a very few factories. Examples are the Laser, Melges 24, and several small keelboats designed by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, such as the 12½. In others the specification is published but the boats may only be produced by licensed manufacturers with usually only one builder in any country or region. Examples are the Olympic Finn and 470 but in both these classes a single manufacturer has succeeded in building faster boats than all other manufacturers. In yet others, for example the Optimist anyone may manufacture but tight controls of measurement result in strict one-design.[9]

In medium- to large-sized boat classes, One-Design would refer to conformance to a standard specification, with the possibility of alterations being allowed as long as they remained within certain tolerances. Examples of this are the Dragon, J/24, Santana 20, Tartan 10, Etchells, J105, Schock 35, C&C Mega 30 One Design[10] and the Farr 40. After the hull length overall (LOA) exceeds 27 feet (8.2 m), people generally refer to the boat as an offshore one-design boat or yacht.

In other classes, the one-design class may have organized around an existing fleet of similar boats that traditionally existed together often for commercial purposes such as sailing canoes, dhows, and skipjacks, or boats that developed a common hull form over the years (such as A-Scows).[11]

In contrast to 'one-design', other sailboats race under a variety of handicapping rules and formulas developed to allow different type boats to compete against one another. Formula rules include the Square Metre Rule, the Ton class, the Universal Rule, and the Metre Rule. Handicap rules include Portsmouth Yardstick, PHRF, IOR, IMS, IRC, Americap[12] and LYS.

Motor racing

One-make racing[13] (known as spec racing[14] in North America) is a racing category in which all competitors race in identical or very similar vehicles from the same manufacturer and suppliers. Typically, this means the same type of chassis, tyres, brakes, fuel, and powertrain are used by all drivers. One-make racing series may allow some non-spec parts, for example, Formula E allows teams to develop their own powertrains, and IndyCar teams have a choice of engine manufacturer. Conversely, series such as Formula One are not considered one-make racing series however may mandate some spec parts, such as tyres and sensors.

The idea behind one-make racing is that success will be based more on driver skill and car setup, instead of engineering skill and budget. One-make series are popular at an amateur level as they are affordable, due to the use of a common engine and chassis.

Examples of one-make racing series from around the world include the Porsche Carrera Cup[15] and Supercup, Radical European Masters, Power Maxed (formerly John Cooper Works) Mini Challenge[16] and Commodore Cup. There are also various formula categories that utilize one-make racing, such as Formula 2, Super Formula in Japan, Formula Renault,[17] Formula Mazda[18] and the Formula Car Challenge.


There have been several attempts to bring the advantages of one-design to the sport of competitive glider racing. The most successful of these has been the Schweizer 1–26 class with 700 aircraft completed and flown between 1954–1981.[19]

Schweizer Aircraft principal Paul A Schweizer was a proponent of the One-Design concept. He intended the company's 1–26 to be the aircraft to establish a one-design class in the United States. He wrote:

"The true measure of pilot ability and experience is usually shown by his final standing in a contest. What could be more indicative of this when pilots are flying identical sailplanes with identical performance. One-design competition is the sure test of soaring skill."[20]

Other one-design gliders have included those made in Russia by Aviastroitel, in Poland by Warsztaty Szybowcowe Orlik, and Germany, where for example the DFS Olympia Meise was planned for the 1940 Olympic championships.


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