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.
(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.