Indy 500 2015–flipping with the stars

With Formula 1 evolving its way into becoming a spec series with a hierarchy, it is time to turn our eyes to the Indy series and the Indy 500 race where the month of May is reserved for the teams to perfect their cars for this enormous track event.

The Indy series is slowly evolving out of a spec series and into something akin to a true racing series.  Yes, they still all use the same brand of tires and all teams use a Dallara chassis, but now there are two engine manufacturers involved and this year aerodynamic modifications are allowed that are specific to the two brands, Honda and Chevrolet.

While the first races of the series this year were road courses and had aero features that are reminiscent of what you would find in F1, the Indy 500 is an “oval” track and the aero features are much more basic looking although the challenges are far more complex.

Wednesday, Helio Castroneves caught air in a bad way and flipped his Chevrolet car in spectacular fashion landing on four wheels.  Then yesterday Josef Newgarden took a similar ride in his Chevy powered car.  Both drivers appear to be unhurt although no one can be subjected to those kind of forces and not be affected.

The speeds this year are astounding – with Ed Carpenter reaching a top speed of  227.422 mph that was exceeded by Simon Pagenaud by a slight margin at 227.628 mph.  Neither of these were the result of an aerodynamic “tow” by a car in front.

These speeds are well beyond the take-off speeds of commercial jet passenger planes. Aerodynamics must provide down-force to keep these race cars in touch with the track surface, but not too much.  Because down-force includes a penalty of drag which limits top speed.  Race car drivers hate limitations.

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(the above photo copyright Marshall Pruett)

As Marshall’s photo above shows, there is a center wicker bill on the cars.  Well, there was.  Apparently the Honda cars could not pass the lateral lift tests without it, but when dancing boy crashed on Wednesday, the Chevy teams were told to cut it off their cars.

Some say that the bigger problem is the rear bodywork acting as air brakes and in certain conditions the front wants to flip.

The Indy track is known for its wicked cross winds which will interfere with production of down force, and in traffic, lead cars produce enormous amounts of turbulence making it difficult for the cars following.  The fact that aerodynamic aids are static makes it difficult for a car in the wake of another to cope.  Yes, this is dangerous folks.  No, I don’t wish for any injuries, let alone fatalities, but this is what automobile racing is all about.  Finding the edge of the envelope and pushing beyond.

For that reason this year’s Indy 500 is more than worth watching.  Not in anticipation of carnage, but in the skill of the engineers and drivers, supported by their teams, racing.  Racing on the edge with some much needed individuality in the cars.

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Could Vettel have been Sandbagging?

Watching Sebastian Vettel last season was watching someone who just didn’t like racing any more.  There was no enthusiasm from the four-time winner.  He complained about the sound of the power units ( I didn’t like them either) and said that he felt the car was just not right.

Meanwhile Daniel Ricardo was driving the Red Bull car and having a blast.  He would grab a podium at every opportunity while Vettel would have a lackluster race that quite often ended early for him with some kind of failure.

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Then the word is out that Sebastian is moving to Ferrari while Alonso moves to McLaren providing Vettel with his seat. 

Tongues were wagging about Vettel being quickly past his prime since he couldn’t seem to cope with the new formula.  Was it that he could only win when his car had a blown diffuser and a mighty V8? 

With the Australian GP opener for this year’s F1 season Vettel  came in third and by the next race he qualified second and finished first!

Was last year’s poor performance an act so that RB would not hold him to his contract?  So he could slip over to Ferrari who couldn’t seem to put together a competitive ride for Kimi or Alonso? 

Suddenly Sebastian is making the new Ferrari fly and is joking with the Mercedes team.

It sure looks like a case of sandbagging to this viewer.

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Formula 1 for 2015–what???

Formula 1 is never without controversy, but this past weekend leads one to wonder – what’s the point?

I can understand that Mercedes is enjoying being top dog.  Who wouldn’t?  But to dominate to such a degree and block all other teams from enhancing their power units is not providing a racing environment.  It is stifling competition.

F1 rules are monumental in their detail and it is difficult to get a view of if you are not directly involved as a competing team.  There exists a bizarre points and chit system whereby teams can spend them to make certain upgrades to their power units.  When teams asked for the ability to make additional modifications and fixes that would allow them to be competitive with the Mercedes power units, Mercedes vetoed the request.  Yes, the way the rules are, a single team has veto power.

So it has gotten unbelievably expensive to fund a complete team in F1 and last Sunday’s race in Australia showed just what has happened as a result.  Only 11 cars completed the race and only 17 actually can be considered to have even participated.  It was pitiful to see that the third place car was over 30 seconds behind the Mercedes winners.  Not even in Vetel’s dominance with Red Bull were there gaps like that.

And Lewis Hamilton’s hair.

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Sheesh, he is starting to look like Grace Jones…

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Oh well, to each his own.

Teams are losing interest in F1 almost as fast as the fans, which is an incredible shame.  Its questionable that the “power unit” formula is really appropriate to what should be the premier automotive racing category on earth.

I’m not totally sold on the argument that tight rules restricting F1 car design is really cost saving at all.  From what I’ve seen the more an area of engineering is limited the more money is spent to maximize return within the allowable box.

Bernie Ecclestone needs to get his head wrapped around reality quickly or competitors just might stay at home.  For the moment it would be a more interesting competition if the race was just between the two Mercedes drivers.

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The North American International Auto Show 2015

It was electric.  There I said it.  The E word.  My trip to Detroit’s NAIAS was electric in many ways.  Detroit has come forward with a recovery that shows itself clearly at NAIAS.  Just traveling from the airport to the COBO where it is being held I could tell that the driver was feeling good about his city and what the future might hold.  At the show itself, where over $600 million dollars had been invested I talked to the workers doing their jobs amongst the glitter and lights.  Their attitude was very positive and their perspectives were of the future and their expectations of a bright one.

But the main way this show was electric were the cars themselves.  It looked like every manufacturer had an electric car to showcase.  Walking into the exhibition hall I was immediately confronted with the concept of electric cars.

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Yes, even Porsche.

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Seeing a Prius at the Toyota stage area was not a surprise.  But here was a hydrogen powered drivetrain…

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Chevy showed its Bolt electric vehicle which they claim will provide 200 miles of driving before requiring a recharge.  If so, it will really shake up the industry.

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VW’s E car subtly incorporated the letter E into the side of its tail light.

How about a vehicle of the future from the folks at Toyota?

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Interesting and while a stretch it is more plausible than a flying car.

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The Chevy Volt with more improvements for 2015.

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Mazda had a couple examples of the new Miata MX-5.  One in left hand drive and one in right.

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A big part of getting fuel economy out of today’s cars is aerodynamics and here is a good shot of the underside of a car where things have been smoothed out as much as possible…

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The car companies are going for the revenue in aftermarket parts and accessories.  ford is even offering more aggressive tuning of the ECUs of some of their cars.

Car shows are the place where you expect to see some really amazing concept cars as well as the unveiling of new hot vehicles and NAICS was no exception.

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The Mini concept car above shows the BMW influence.  I love the windshield treatment.

Maserati had their car to celebrate a century of their brand.  It was stunning.

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I wasn’t sure how Buick feels about the portholes used on Maserati.

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Speaking of Buick, they had their own stunner in this long wheelbase sedan that would be a real hit in the China market.

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Here is the replacement for the NSX.  Another stunning vehicle that is a hybrid sports car.

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Mercedes has their own concept car.  Interesting ideas…

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Honda showed off their product line of cars and much more.

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Honda’s Indy series winner:

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As well as its F1 history…

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Honda will be reentering F1 and teaming with McLaren Racing.  This is the engine they use in the Indy Series…

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We know of Honda in lawnmowers and motorcycles…

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…but now they are ready to introduce their jet!

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The most stunning of the new cars debuting were the Ford cars…

…but before we get there let’s whet your appetite with a few Ford historical legends.

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the Ford GT40 above…

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The Ford GT street car from just a few years back…

…and now…

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The NEW Ford GT.

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On top of that there is the Shelby Mustang with magnificent handling and 600+ horsepower.

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Ford also has their aluminum F-150.

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Dodge has its Eco Turbo Ram truck…

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Nissan broke a 12 year rut and has come out with a new full-size pickup truck with a Cummins diesel engine.

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Take a look at the underpinnings…

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Its time to look at the various race cars that were on display…

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Not quite sure what I was supposed to take away with this race truck from Toyota.

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Not to loan them my truck?  Not to be a passenger?  Tough truck though.

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Toyota is in so many forms of racing.

This is a Lexus that while billed as a concept racer is highly likely to be seen in competition.

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These vintage race cars from Alfa Romero were eye catchers to introduce their new sports car…

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which looks suspiciously like a Lotus.

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Hyundai does their share of racing…

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And the new Corvette in racing trim…

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Ford…

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Mercedes

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Formula E

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Red Bull

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As a special treat the Autoweek editorial staff gave a group of us Autoweek Advisors a walking tour of the show.

There is nothing quite like having all their car knowledge on tap and being receptive to your questions.

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This show continues in Detroit through January 25.  It is an amazing show that is well worth a trip.  The venue is fantastic and the displays are outstanding.  The talent that helps to display the cars also know all the technical details.  A big part of their job is to listen to the attendees and gather the comments and information for input back to the automobile companies.

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Its not just the car companies that make up the NAICS, there are the key suppliers and vendors.

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Much of the thanks for the success of NAICS should go to the people of Detroit that have shaken off the down side of the economy and are coming back with all their heart and soul.

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Coming Soon–North American International Auto Show

Flying out to Detroit soon…

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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PRI 2014–the People

Yes, its all about racing and parts and cars, but there are plenty of things about the PEOPLE at the PRI show as well.  Sometimes its just the unbelievable number of people at the show:

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As you walk along you will come across some people that you see in the industry like Tony Stewart:

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You continue around the exposition hall and see a familiar face from Overhaulin’.

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Why its Cherielynn Westrich!

Of course you don’t have to be a celebrity to be noticed.  There are always the people having the time of their lives, like this lady at an Iracing simulator that Indy had set up.

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Keeping on the correct line is tough, but heck, these simulators sure are fun!

Then there was the Racemaker Press booth.  This company out of Boston, MA, produces books on cars and racing.  There was Jim McGee signing copies of the book about his career as a crew chief.

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Sitting next to him was the author, Gordon Kirby.

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It was great to be able to get a copy of his book as well as have a chance to chat with Jim. 

The quality of the printing of Racemaker Press is exceptional.  Having been in the printing business myself, I am impressed with the quality.

One of the high spots was when I came across the Isky Cam booth.

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Isky has a long name in the world of racing as Ed Iskenderian not only became a legend in cam design, but he was instrumental in the formation of what is now known as SEMA, the entity that owns PRI.  He was at the booth and he and Don were nice enough to let me take their photo together.

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PRI is a great show and one where you will always make new contacts and friends as well as run into some pretty special people.

Posted in Automobiles, Car Shows, Car Stuff, Cars, Life and Cars, Modifying Cars, Racing, Road Trips | Tagged | 2 Comments