Aerodynamics Case Study: Engine Covers at the Indy 500

Even though we are living in a spec world during 2012, there are still many things that teams can do to make a car perform better at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and beyond. The majority of these tweaks and tricks revolve around the aerodynamics of the racecar. I spent a few days wondering around the garage finding examples of these very differences. The cars aren’t totally identical if you have an eye for detail. There were many examples of different tricks and nuances seen all over Gasoline Alley.

I have settled on posting pictures from the tail of the engine cover. From what I could tell, there are four or five configurations that teams were playing with. The teams all receive a standard set of body work from Dallara, but there is still speed to be found depending on how in depth the teams want to search. The sample area of the engine cover is the portion that nestles in between the rear wing uprights. This was the area where I saw the most differences from team to team.

Here is what I believe is a “standard” engine cover tail, found on James Jakes ride. Notice the holes present above the slits for the uprights. On this example, Dale Coyne Racing has just put a few pieces of helicopter tape over them to smooth the airflow over the tail of the car.

And another example from the same team, attatched to Justin Wilsons rear. I find it curious that the team has actually filled in the holes on this example as opposed to using tape to cover them as seen in the Jakes picture. From my totally untrained eye, this looks to be the most efficient way to “work” this portion of the car. Could this be an indication of who the #1 driver on the team? This curiosity is seen again and again on team after team.

Oriol Servia looks to have the holes simply covered with helicopter tape, but on this example a little bit more care was taken in application of said tape. The team made a nice little circular patch for them; this is in contrast with the Jakes entry where the team just haphazardly smacked some tape on the holover them.

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing looks to also have the “preferred” type of construction on Josef Newgardens car; similar to the Wilson entry. The holes have been totally rebuilt; it is impossible to tell that there were holes in the cover to begin with.

The Ganassi entries all had very clean construction as well, but again there are differences within the team. Rahal’s is very similar to the SFHR entries and the Wilson entry.

You can see that the entire plate between the slots for the rear wing supports is missing. I don’t know how this could be a better way to build this piece, but remember that this was the winning Dario Franchitti entry. Maybe Chip knows something we don’t.

KV Racing was garaged near the Ganassi group and it looks like at one point in the week they may have tried the trick on EJ Viso’s car that was seen on the Franchitti entry but abandoned it for one reason or another. The plate has been replaced with allen head bolts. Come on Vasser, there had to be a better to do this. It is worth mentioning that Viso and Franchitti were the only two entries I saw that has the semi-circle cutouts on the outside of the rear wing support slats. I have no idea why…

These are all of the Team Penske covers; Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Will Power all had identical construction. The team chose to cover the holes with more than just helicopter tape. It looks to be some type of fiberglass patch that has been applied to fill the mystery holes on the engine cover.

There were many more examples of how each team had prepared a given portion of the car. The front wing mounting points on the endplates were another area that looked different from team to team. Although these differences can be nearly unnoticed, they have all been constructed in such a way to give teams a feeling of aerodynamic advantage. Over the course of the race these microscopic advantages are more or less moot as the wind facing edges of the chassis are literally eaten away by debris. But this shows how important these few points of drag reduction are to teams. So much so I did not see a single cover that had the holes exposed to the air. It’s still spec, but the differences are there. The real question is if it actually matters to the casual fan.

Eric Hall

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2 Responses to Aerodynamics Case Study: Engine Covers at the Indy 500

  1. Bubba221 says:

    Yes it matters! Why you think people follow racing? Again, NASCAR has it figured out. They have the chopped in half car that McReynolds routinely refers to during the race to explain items of interest. Indy car tech coverage is Scott Goodyear droning on about something like he’s talking to an 8 year old who’s watching his first race.

    New cars, engines and manufactures, how about more tech coverage???!

  2. Pingback: Welcome to May! | anotherindycarblog

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