Indycar Lore Pt.3; The Fastest

It has been more than a few months since the last installment of indycar lore, so in the bleak tundra that is the off season… might as well pick it back up now. I have great aspirations for this series of articles. I would like to…eventually… author a Wikipedia entry for indycar lore. The NASCAR section of Wikipedia is amazing. Indycar? Not so much! So I will continue to compile great moments of our sport and one day there may be a neat page somewhere on Wiki concerning these times. The NASCAR lore page can be found here. This is what I am ultimately shooting for.

Why Wikipedia? These are often the first hits to return from a search engine, and indycar is sorely under represented considering out 100+ year history.

As always, I am no Donald Davidson. I do not claim to be an all knowing sponge of motoring trivia, but I promise due diligence in research. These are, to the best of my knowledge, historically accurate and correct. If you have any addendums, corrections or requests, please contact me through the usual routes.

Fastest racecar in the world – In 2000, CART was racing some of the fastest machines in the world. Engine competition was in full swing with Honda, Toyota, Cosworth-Ford and Mercedes; all full season participants. Chassis competition was heated as well, with both Lola and Reynard updating the cars on a yearly basis. Nine of twenty races were on ovals, and there were a few noteworthy Americans behind the wheel. This was truly the banner year for the series before slowly eroding away beginning in 2001. At the season finale in 2000, the drivers were reaching record speeds at the relatively flat, in comparison, but long Auto Club Speedway. Gil de Ferran set the official-unofficial-depending-on-who-you-ask closed course speed record in qualifying with an average speed around the two mile D shaped oval of 241.426 MPH.

Fastest race in the world –As a testament to the relative light skill set needed to wheel the IRL cars; seven of the ten fastest races, by average MPH, are during IRL or INDYCAR sanction.  A mere two years after de Ferran’s record qualifying run, the rival IRL broke a speed record of a different sort. In 2003, Sam Hornish Jr. won the Toyota 400 at Auto Club Speedway with a record average speed of 201.151 MPH over 400 miles. Bryan Herta brought the days only caution for contact on lap 8. The race ran caution free through to the checkers and by the end of it Sam Hornish Jr. and the IRL held the record for the fastest circuit race in history.

Fastest Indy 500 – The 1990 Indy 500 marks USAC’s first foray into the list of races with average speeds above 180 MPH at 13th place. This is one of only two entries in a list of 27 races gaining this particular distinction. The race actually started with a different sort of record being broken. Emerson Fittipaldi consecutively led the first 92 laps of the race, a new record. And by halfway he was averaging 174.192 or just an eyelash under the half distance speed record. By the time it was finished, Emmo had dropped to third, thanks to a blistered tire, and Arie Luyendyk would walk away with the win; his first of two. cleanup was quick during the four cautions of the day, he would also claim the distinction of winning the fastest Indy 500 in history with an average speed of 185.981MPH over 500 miles.

IMS speed record – During the first year of the now infamous split, the upstart IRL series was contesting races with used, year old equipment from the CART championship. The ”vision” of having more cost efficient engines and chassis had not quite reached its completion, and possibly a bid to sway a few CART teams to defect for the Indy 500, the race was run to similar technical regulations as the 1995 edition. The main difference in 1996, and possibly the key to the record breaking speeds seen, was the continuing tire war between Goodyear and Firestone. Both companies pushed the edge of cohesion, reliability and longevity to sometimes grisly, but often unheard of levels of speed. The culmination was the second day of qualifying. Arie Luyendyk smashed the one lap qualifying record with a speed of 237.498 on lap four of his run. He also clinched the four lap average record with a speed of 236.986.

Arie would go on record years later to discuss his record breaking achievement. Although the verbatim quote escapes me, when asked if he was scared when he turned his quick lap Luyendyk responded: “If the car is working, there is nothing to be scared of. My lap was smooth, easy and natural. If the car is not working it’s dangerous. In a less able chassis, I was much more scared doing 220’s.” The chassis was on edge, as the new equipment had finally appeared for the 1997 edition. Arie won that years pole with a speed of 218.263. He couldn’t possibly have been referring to the switch to inferior equipment for 1997 could he?

Some speed related craziness to add to the fun… or pick the scab that is the new 2012 chassis and engine combination, depending on how you look at it. Next week should return us to out regularly scheduled programming, but its nice to think about faster times every now again. We can take comfort in the fact that, almost always, when a new chassis is introduced it is often much slower than the one it is replacing. Since 1997, the series has tried to clamp down speeds a number of times, often dropping pole speed by ten miles an hour from the previous year. Speed was once again found quickly, and we forgot about the growing pains of the initial year of development. Hopefully this aspect of history is one that repeats itself sooner rather than later.

Eric Hall

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2 Responses to Indycar Lore Pt.3; The Fastest

  1. Jerry Cruz says:

    Nice article but I’m not in agreement with the “light skills needed” on the IRL races. These were wheel to wheel races all the way, not the boring passing-once-and-gone racing that CART provided. 

    The reason I dropped from seeing CART races were the amount of street/road races and one-groove ovals. The oval pack racing with the SKILLS to keep the cars close and fast w/o lifting was better than anything I had seen before except the Indy 500.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Yea, I agree as well. I am just not too sure how to quantify the all time lists. Although the IRL pack racing was my favorite, it seemed if you could keep the car in your lane everyone could run wheel to wheel for 4oo miles. Different skills, just as dangerous and on the edge… even more possibly. I am not detracting from the top drivers of this era, just the sometimes too clean and easy racing.

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