How Did We Get Here? Pt. 3 The Indy Effect

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on OpenPaddock.net on 1/27/2014. My writing at OP will all be archived here to keep my work compiled in a single location at least one week after originally appearing at OpenPaddock.net.)

(NOTE 2: Part one here. Part two here.)

After years of instability, the championship had finally become recognized and repeatable. Historical mistakes were made, but the sport is well on its way to greatness and The Indianapolis Motor Speedway finally takes the helm of championship racing for the first time.

Board track racing was at its height in the early 1920’s. Millions of trees were felled to accommodate the hundreds of miles of the highly banked wooden autodromes that popped up all around the nation. These facilities led to a decline in interest from the general public. The high banking and speeds almost guaranteed there would be no passing; the highest starting car that could stay in one piece would nearly always claim victory.

National championship regulations had allowed more or less bespoke racing machines to contest the trail. This equipment was foreign to the general public, bearing almost no resemblance to the automobiles they drove on the street. Interest was slipping and the first threats to the Championship started to expose themselves. Audiences were clamoring for the unpredictability of dirt track racing, and more recognizable machinery.

Fans got their wishes very quickly, safety hazards and the cubic dollars required for the upkeep of autodromes saw the last board track race take place at Altoona in 1931. The facilities quickly faded from existence. Outside of the bricks of Indianapolis, all championship races took place on the dirt.

During the same time, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker pushed through a rule set that has more recently taken on the misnomer “Junkyard Formula”. What looked like a relaxing of the rules to allow cheaper and less technical shade-tree mechanics to enter equipment into the race was actually a move to entice automotive manufacturers to come back to the championship. They had been all but absent for over a decade, citing the bespoke equipment as no interest to them.

The equipment that contested the championship in the 30’s was more akin to sports cars or stock cars than the fire breathing thoroughbred monsters that had previously graced the circuits of America. Large displacement naturally aspirated engines and riding mechanics replaced the tiny supercharged single seat equipment from years past.

This was also the first time IMS flexed its muscles in the face of the sanctioning body. Series bosses had almost always deferred to The Speedway on technical matters, but this time IMS pushed the agenda that it saw as correct. Although a massive fixture in National racing, IMS had finally positioned itself as the beginning and end of American open-wheel racing from a technical standpoint.

The late 20’s also saw the total decline of racing in the US. Transitioning from the post-WWI boom of 20 championship races to the pre-WWII bust of only a handful each year was a difficult process. Unstable rules, uncooperative promoters and financially poor owners ushered in the most tenuous time ever seen in big time racing. The late 30’s and early 40’s were shells of its former championship glory. Seasons saw an average of three or four rounds a years during this period. US racing was dying, and the merciful cancellation of big time racing in 1942 for WWII could not have come at a better time.

1946 saw the resuscitation of big time racing in the US. However, there were few facilities prepared to host championship racing. Even Indianapolis was questionable due to its neglect during the war. The decision was made to include sprint car events in the national championship trail to pad event and entrant numbers during this complete rebuild season.

Six Championship car events, historically defined as a race over 100 miles in length, and 71 sprint car events were included the calendar that year. Better than expected car counts led to a fair bit of confusion regarding what is and isn’t championship history during the 1946 season.  Whatever confusion is present in period sources, AAA released a memo ahead of the 1947 season stating that championship scoring for the 1947 season will revert to only Champ Car races, plus the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

Dirt racing had been the predominant style of racing after filling the void left by board track racing. Only Pikes Peak and Indianapolis being the two non-dirt events until the inclusion of paved Darlington Raceway in 1951. It took a few years to catch on, but by 1956, a third of the championship was held on pavement and the divergence of pavement and dirt cars started in earnest.

1955 marked a time of new beginnings and rapid change as AAA withdrew from race sanctioning, instead choosing to focus on public automobiling services and programs. The power vacuum allowed Tony Hulman, then owner of IMS, to step in and create the United States Auto Club (USAC) to handle championship sanctions. By doing this, Hulman had consolidated IMS, big time auto racing, and technical control of the championship into one unified behemoth.

Indianapolis did indeed take full power of Championship racing, but it wasn’t with the single knockout punch of creating the 500 that sealed its place. Once board tracks fell to the wayside, IMS was the last strong promoter and track owner to compete with fairground horse racing tracks. This allowed Speedway brass a more free hand in guiding the technical regulations on behalf of the manufacturers and owners. A move AAA clearly had no motivation to make, evident by the missing but promised supercharger equivalency formula following the riding mechanic era.

Next week will examine the Split era’s and how in choosing where and what to race in the championship has led us to IndyCar racing as we know it today.

Eric Hall

Posted in History | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How Did We Get Here? Pt. 2 When Did It Go Sideways?

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on OpenPaddock.net on 1/20/2014. My writing at OP will all be archived here to keep my work compiled in a single location at least one week after originally appearing at OpenPaddock.net.)

(NOTE2: Part one here.)

Welcome back to the weird and wonderful world that is AAA and INDYCAR history. Racing through the 20’s was political, but more or less straight forward in its execution. The late 20’s bring a whole different problem. Instead of making history, AAA was finally interested in documenting its history correctly and accurately. You can decide how successful they eventually were.

In 1926/1927, AAA Assistant Secretary Arthur Means, for reasons unknown, created false season tables for 1909-1915 and 1917-1919 and reworked the 1920 season  stripping the championship from Gaston Chevrolet and awarding it to Tommy Milton. By 1929 Chevrolet reappeared as the champion and the Motor Age picks were considered cannon. Means’ work had slipped into oblivion and was filed away for the time being.

This version of history persisted until Russ Catlin found the Means crib sheets in early 1951. He, in his eyes, recovered history, and “restored” Milton as the 1920 champion; going as far as to award the still living Milton with a championship medal. (Chevrolet’s brothers were still alive in the late 20’s but had passed by this time; coincidence that no one was left to fight for Gaston?) Catlin also created champions from 1902 through 1908 to coincide with AAA’s golden anniversary. He wanted 50 years of champions for 50 years of operation and were folded into the ever changing cannon.

All of the early nineteen-naught picks were totally bogus; proof can be seen in his 1905 pick. Catlin chose Victor Hemery (the years Vanderbilt Cup winner) instead of Oldfield, the official 1905 champion. Showing that Catlin probably had no idea the proper 1905 season existed, not to mention period media is at complete odds with Catlin’s accounts. Why he did not reference contemporary media is unknown. Now it is thought that Mr. Catlin may not have been the crack historian he was once thought of as. Why did he choose some of Means’ work, but not all of it?

Sometime during the CART era, the 1902-1908 listings were finally dropped, but Catlin’s 1909-1915 and 1917-1919 champions proved to be a bit more persistent. It seems to me that sometime during the Champ Car era, as they had control over the old CART records, officials rectified some of the issues that had plagued history books for nearly 75 years. Gaston had been rightfully restored and at least an asterisk had been placed beside the false early seasons.

CART historian Bob Russo had always sided with Russ Catlin through many, continued attacks from up and coming revisionist historian John Glenn Printz. Starting in 1981, Printz actively lobbied CART to change its historical records to reflect what really happened. CART held firm, but in the 1985 CART media guide, the original, unaltered championship list was present with Chevrolet as the 1920 champion. CART had printed the listing by mistake and in 1986; the false list replaced the correct one. Printz and Russo proceeded to engage in a public feud carried out on the pages of “Indycar Racing” over the next few years.

Throughout the years, the AAA records had been stolen, thrown away or simply lost, leading to a few records finding their way to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection, with the bulk of what little surviving paperwork exists residing in the Racemaker Press storage room. By all accounts, a single box remains, its contents tainted by Russ Catlin.

Donald Davidson’s, the current IMS historian, connections with the Automobile Competition Committee for the United States  (ACCUS), the same organization that Bob Russo was part of, is probably what is stopping him from looking too closely at these early seasons. It’s easy for him to stay relegated to IMS history, and I’m not sure I blame him.

What our media guide holds now are the 1952 Catlin picks from 1909-1915 and 1917-1919. There is no official entry for 1905, and Gaston Chevrolet is the 1920 champion. But, of course, there is an asterisk and a lengthy admission that something is indeed funky with early history along with the Motor Age picks from 1909-1915 and 1919. The 1902-1908 picks are long gone.

When did our history start? 1896? 1899? 1902? 1905? 1909? 1916? Do our roots lay with the ACA and MCA as well as AAA? Is early Grand Prix racing included? I believe it started in 1905 with the first championship, took 11 years off and started again in 1916, was cancelled for WWI and fired up a third time for the 1920 season.

What do you think? How important is it that INDYCAR presents its records correctly and accurately? This discussion is about things over 100 years old, it can be difficult to change that much history, even if it is changed to reflect what actually happened. It surely did not start in 1909 when The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened, or in 1911 when the first 500 was contested. How The Speedway fits into all of this will be looked at in detail next week along with even more confusion at the hand of AAA.

Eric Hall

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

How Did We Get Here? Pt. 1 When Did We Start?

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on OpenPaddock.net on 1/13/2014. My writing at OP will all be archived here to keep my work compiled in a single location at least one week after originally appearing at OpenPaddock.net.)

The prospect of American open-wheel racing is a fractured endeavor at best, and has been for nearly the entirety of its history. How long is that history, and how do we differentiate between the massive gaps in execution, ideology and technology that has graced the dusty roads of North America for over 100 years?

We can at least agree that what we watch now can trace its history back a very long time. But how long depends on who you ask. The first race in the US was held in Chicago in 1895, and it was early events like this that directly led to the creation of the Automobile Club of America (ACA), in 1899, to arbitrate US racing and liaise with the newly created Automobile Club of France (ACF), the earliest vestige of the FIA.

The ACA continued uncontested for only three years before the first competing sanctioning body was created in opposition to the perceived bourgeois ideology of the ACA. The Automobile Association of America (AAA) was founded in 1902 along with the Racing Board, later to become the Contest Board in 1908.

The board sanctioned its first race, The Vanderbilt Cup, in 1904. It is unclear why William Vanderbilt chose AAA and its Contest Board instead of the more established and internationally aligned ACA to sanction his event. Had the roles been reversed, we could have been witnessing a totally different face of American open-wheel racing today.

1905 saw the Contest board sanction the first championship decided by points take place anywhere in the world; a season largely forgot by history and not even considered an “official” season by the current keeper-of-records INDYCAR due to its relegation to the sidebar and not included in history proper.

INDYCAR believes the championship to be “abandoned”, however, period sources state the championship did indeed run to completion with Barney Oldfield taking the crown. Oldfield was the only competitor to take the green flag regularly throughout the season. His lack of consistent, season long competition made him the de facto champion regardless of points awarded.

When the AAA Contest Board superseded the Racing Board in 1908/1909, it was assumed the new organization transferred and filed the old records, if any were even created, for reference. As time has moved on, and more questionable events that have transpired regarding the sports written history, it is clear these records most likely did not seen the light of day post 1908.

The other side of the days sanctioning war saw the ACA create the American Grand Prize in 1908. This event, along with AAA’s Vanderbilt cup, are the earliest traces of European Grand Prix racing in the US. And to make things even more difficult, the Manufacturers Contest Association (MCA) was created in 1909 by US auto manufacturers to pressure AAA into more favorable rules for automakers.

This ushered in an era of European Grand Prix car domination at Indianapolis and US manufacturers were unable to competently compete at the highest national stages, Indianapolis or otherwise. This focus on AAA by the MCA and the ACA’s relationship with the international racing world led to the two organizations to draw definitive lines regarding the “who and what” of US racing. AAA would handle national contests and the Vanderbilt Cup, while the ACA would handle international events, or basically just the American Grand Prize races.

1916 saw the power of the MCA fade and AAA was finally able to relax the rules to allow thoroughbred race machines to reenter into competition. The same year, they also inaugurated what would become to be known as the first true and recognized US championship season. Our history is finally starting to take shape.

The ACA sanctioned its final event in 1916 and quickly faded into memory along with the MCA, leaving AAA as the final say in American racing through the 1955 season, but that isn’t the end of the AAA story. The automobiling magazine Motor Age selected a “Driver of the Year” for the 1909-1915 and 1919 seasons. These picks were contemporary and printed each year in the publication.

It was pressure from motoring enthusiasts and Motor Age that forced AAA’s hand at inaugurating the national championship. For many years until the late 20’s when new, but still just as unofficial picks were created, these picks stood side by side official history. Beside the Motor Age picks, history is very much straight forward at this point. The general public understood the magazine picks were not official and AAA obliged Motor Age by creating a championship. We were well on our way to greatness, but it all went wrong very quickly. Next week we will look at how the decisions of a few men tainted history and forwarded misinformation that still persists to this day.

Eric Hall

Posted in History | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

One Final Dance with 2013

(NOTE: This post originally appeared on OpenPaddock.net on 1/6/2014. My work at OP will all be posted here to keep my life work compiled in a single location.)

Eric Hall here, you may remember me from such word-hack outlets as anotherindycarblog and Podium Magazine. After the tragic passing of Mr. Kevin Neely, I have been tapped to continue his fantastic work here at OpenPaddock.net. There is no way I, nor anyone, will be able to fill Mr. Neely’s shoes, but I do promise to keep spreading the love of IndyCar to the best of my ability.

2013 was another historic year for IndyCar, with the highest of highs and nearly the lowest of lows experienced at different times throughout the season. We saw another championship come right down to the wire with Helio Castroneves again failing to cement himself into the pantheon of open-wheel greats by missing another championship title. The year also brought us four first-time winners in, Kimball, Sato, Pagenaud, and Hinchcliffe, with the latter two drivers making multiple visits to victory lane.

Scott Dixon’s championship winning season and Helio Castroneves’ near miss also highlights the slow but gradual changing of the guard at the top over the past decade. Penske last stood atop the year end standings in 2006 eight years ago, a lifetime for Team Penske. Although Andretti Autosport is slowly on its way to former glory, it’s Ganassi Racing that has solidified itself as the team to beat.

Not only did Dixon absolutely steal the championship, but Kimball also showed us he has what it takes to compete at the top. Even though Will Power looked like the man to beat for three years running and Andretti clinched in 2012, the IndyCar championship runs through the Ganassi garage. For a man as successful as Mr. Penske, his team has a steep mountain to climb with a path littered by small but powerful teams and the gate at the top guarded by Ganassi and Andretti.

Speaking of the little teams that could, on a race by race basis, the top step of the podium was up for grabs between at least 15 drivers during any given round of the championship trail. AJ Foyt Enterprises, KV Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports can all claim the title of “Giant killer” in 2013 by fighting off the monsters of Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi to the top of the podium.

However, as good as these small teams were, there were a few that were out to lunch for most of the season. Barracuda racing has been searching for it since the miraculous 2011 500 win. Sarah Fisher Hartman is still building but couldn’t seem to put it all together for longer than a single race, and Dragon Racing was… well… Dragon Racing. The team was only bolstered by the pure talent that was Sebastien Bourdais , the rest of the team looked totally and utterly lost all year.

We also saw the tragic end to Dario Franchitti’s illustrious career after his tremendous aerial impact with the Houston catch fence. But as a testament to the technical superiority of the unloved DW12, Franchitti was able to tender his resignation in person and hear the high esteem and celebration that has filled his 20+ year journey to the top of the sport. Thank you, Dario.

The leadership structure of INDYCAR was crafted into a slightly more efficient operation when Mark Miles started to coalesce the INDYCAR and IMS corporate offices under the Hulman Racing banner in a bid to create more power and efficiency within both. INDYCAR also saw the hiring of Jay Frye as the Chief Revenue Officer and CJ O’Donnell as the Chief Marketing Officer. The front office is starting to resemble an actual corporate entity instead of a mom and pop store, a sign for the hopefuls that better times are on the horizon. We actually have a businessman at the head of our business with the right technical and marketing people in the right place. I am nothing but bullish about the near future of our series.

Goodbye 2013, you were a great year and a fantastic contest. For the first time in a very long time, I was not embarrassed by the series at any point last year. Of course there were some questionable moments and decisions, but IndyCar racing just felt better in 2013. And it has provided a good base to build on in 2014 and beyond. Viewership was down, but strength and competency was up and for INDYCAR, which is a huge gain in the fight to make the future a bright and secure place.

Eric Hall

Posted in Brain Vomit | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Goodbye for Now and New Horizons in 2014

Hello all seven of my faithful anotherindycarblog followers, and welcome to 2014!! You may have noticed we have gone into silent mode over here during the end of 2013, I regret not being able to share the end of such an amazing season with you. I am back, but instead writing for the wonderful full service motorsport site OpenPaddock.net.

After the tragic passing of Mr. Kevin Neely, I have been tapped to continue his fantastic work over at OpenPaddock.net. There is no way I, nor anyone, will be able to fill Mr. Neely’s shoes, but I do promise to keep spreading the love of IndyCar to the best of my ability.

My writing will still appear here in-full at least one week after original posting over at OpenPaddock.net. If you want my articles RIGHT NOW, make sure you bookmark OP and peruse the rest of the amazing motorsport commentary and independent photography galleries. I hope to see you all over there!

Thank you all for the amazing memories here at anotherindycarblog. This will always be my original home and first love, who knows what the future may bring for this little hole on the web.

Thank you for everything

Eric Hall

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Grand Prix of Indy, a Few Local Reactions

Road racing is on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and there were more than a few questions concerning the whole package. As the self-appointed every-mans indianpolis based indycar lifer and racing addict, I think some pedestrian opinion could be just what the doctor ordered.

The first bombshell dropped was an unfathomable statement from Mark Miles that goes something along the lines of: this new race will help expose the Indianapolis area to indycar. WHAT??? How does the city that hosts the only true blue-chip indycar event need even more exposure to indycar? Let me tell you that the days of show cars in liquor store parking lots, checkered flags on front porches anywhere except the city of speedway itself, cardboard cutouts at gas stations and element school indycar drawing contests are a thing of the past and have been since the start of the split. The circle city is not the kool-aid drinking, indycar loving city it once was, if it ever was outside of May.

NASCAR draws about three times the TV audience in Indianapolis on a regular basis. Is more proof needed? Of course, the majority of the super-duper-unquestionably- hardcore fan base reside right here, but what better people to use as unpaid tour guides into the intricacies of road racing than this very group of nuts? I can name countless accounts of amazement from long-time Indy 500 fans upon learning that there is a rest-of-the-schedule attached to this 500 thing. The second largest TV market for indycar is the St. Pete/Tampa/Ft. Meyers area, aka the Indianapolis retirement region. In 2014 they are looking to get a double header event. Sounds more to me like indycar is taking care of the most concentrated fan bases.

That’s all well and good, but won’t you think of the tradition?  Another indycar race at The Speedway, and in May no less? I see the addition of a road race in May as the completion a 100 year old vision: to create a facility where all types of cars could be tested and compete against each other, and to give the residents of Indianapolis three huge race and automobiling weekends a year on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends. That vision was completed in 1910 when each of those holidays were included on the schedule of activities with full programs of racing all three weekends. Carl Fisher’s initial vision also included… road racing at his magnificent facility. Finances, difficulties with the oval, and waning interest most likely doomed this dream to a couple of historic artistic renderings of what could have been.

In 1916, the year of the 300 mile Indy 500 that was scheduled as such, a weekend of racing dubbed the Harvest Auto Racing Classic was included on the championship trail to take place at The Speedway in early September. This was the first year of the new championship and the schedule would need some help getting off the ground, so The 500 was shortened and an additional event was added at the stronghold of racing. Sanctioning body AAA knew the facilities were capable, intrest was high in the surrounding areas, and media would be present to help pump the new series into the news cycle more often than a single weekend a year. If it weren’t for the intervention of WWI and the total shutdown of all national racing in 1917, we would probably still be running the Harvest Auto Racing Classic.

My only real concern about the addition of yet another Midwest race is market oversaturation. Yes, we have good fans to draw from, but those same fans make the trip to many venues on the schedule. My usual race budget comes out to about three races a year, indycar or not. Now IMS and INDYCAR are asking me to choose between the new road race and a trip to Milwaukee and mid-Ohio or even MotoGP and Super Weekend. My entertainment options are far and wide as an Indianapolis based racing fan are nearly limitless, are we just spreading the same butter even thinner?

Regardless, I will be there sitting in the grass with the rest of the loonies. 50 bucks for a four-pack of tickets with general admission coming in at 25 seems plenty reasonable. IMS got the pricing package right the first time out. No one is going to pay for the 75 dollar seats because we all know better, but that makes the event look big from any curious ticket pricers and most importantly, to the still missing in action title sponsor. Throw in the entire Road to Indy and you have one heck of a bang for your buck. With all the races I have been to, I still don’t think I have seen the Pro Mazda guys in the flesh.

NASCAR, F1, MotoGP, Nationwide, IROC, Grand-Am, CTSCC, Indy Lights, Formula BMW, Moto2, Moto3, 250cc Championship, 125CC Championship, Red Bull Riders and Rookies Cup, XR1200 series, eRoadRacing, Ferrari Challenge, Porsche Super Cup.  Although there may be even more series that have raced across the hallowed bricks, the only other facility to even come close to boasting this kind of lineup is the Circuit of the Americas. What sits as 16th and Georgetown Road is a rarity in the racing world. It is a facility that has tried to stay with the times by not pigeonholing itself into a single form of racing, and has catered to its local customers by providing a wide range of racing. This May, will only add to the heritage of the amazing facility. Next on my wishlist of series to see at The Speedway? How about Motocross on the infield during the painfully bleak and boring Saturday before the 500?

Eric Hall

Posted in Brain Vomit | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Ramble on Tires, Push and the Future

As the season reaches the halfway point the future of indycar is starting to look quite bright. Something as simple as an in-depth look at the odd link between downforce, pushy racecars and tires, a bone of contention in their current iteration, easily leads to package improvements simply by going faster at Indianapolis.

After a 2012 season of having the sticky red and more durable black tire compounds just a bit too close in grip and construction, Firestone made a few changes coming into the 2013 season. The gap was widened and the tires, if managed properly, are able to do their jobs. The reds are noticeably quicker through the first half of a run all while losing grip and normalizing somewhere below the blacks nearer to the end of the run. The black side walls have been more or less bullet proof. You can push and push without too much damage taken by the tires. Although starting slower, the more consistent grip allows faster times to be turned all through a run.

However, the cars look planted. The DW12 is an inherently pushy chassis. It has a hard time establishing front end grip on initial turn in and want to pull out to the wall on corner exit. The teams have had to do rethink their setup sheets to break the rear end loose and free up the chassis. Because of this, drivers have adjusted their driving styles to lay more in line with the natural tendencies of the chassis instead of using a compromised setup to bring the car closer to the driver.

This has led to a full field of “easier” to drive racecars in the name of tire longevity and rethought setup sheets. “Loose is fast” is an often quoted line that holds more truth than could be understood. Loose equals rotation, faster cornering, and machines that must be man handled to extract the most from the equipment. It has been noted that we have had a relatively clean season in terms of crash damage on both the ovals and road and street circuits. I do not feel this is a sign that our drivers are improving, rather it is more indicative that the cars are a bit easier to hold on to this year.

Downforce is known to be high on the twisties, but decreasing wing angles won’t necessarily lead to looser racecars; the chassis will still have its natural push tendencies. With all of that said, the confidence that these cars instill on the drivers is evident by the moves and risks that these guys have been willing to take. The racing has been top level so it is hard to fault anyone on the way these machines handle the roads. Maybe in the future Dallara will be able to work back to a more balanced chassis when, or if, the league and manufacturer decide to revise the basic DW12 once speeds at Indy start ramping up.

On the ovals, the story is totally different. The single tire compound seems to only have a handful of laps in them before grip starts to drastically decrease. At Texas, drivers were unable to drive quickly, let alone push, for an entire fuel run. Tires dictated pit strategy, and the race was an evening of drivers trying to find their way into the wall on corner exit.

Iowa and Milwaukee were better in terms of tire degradation, but this leads me to believe that the increased tire life was due to increased downforce instead of better compounds. The league mandated the use of a modified road and street course kit for these two short ovals. The billboard wings produce more aerogrip, thus reducing sliding and increasing tire life. The cars still wanted to push into the wall, but drivers could still run to the edge of grip for most of the fuel stint and manage that push effectively.

This leads to Indianapolis where the same basic aerokit was used as Texas, but speeds were 10-20 miles an hour faster on average per lap. This defines the concept of an aero lull, a grip valley, or whatever you want to call it. For a winged racecar to work effectively there must be enough air passing over the aerodynamic elements to “turn on” and do their job of pressing the car into the track. At Indy, there was enough speed to produce stability, downforce and grip leading to better use of the tires. At Texas, with the shorter straights, once a driver lifted there was no chance to recover the speed. Grip at the next corner would suffer, as would exit speed and therefore straight line speed. This led to a very quickly, downward spiraling cycle of available aero grip causing sliding and the dreaded cheese grater effect on the tires.

The contrast between how well the package is designed on the twisties, verse ovals is staggering. The Indy, Milwaukee and Iowa tire could display the same characteristics as seen in Texas, but the downforce levels work more harmoniously with the tire.

The long straits of Pocono and the wide, sweeping corners of Fontana should give the chassis just enough speed to stay in that aero sweet spot. But it may be time for Firestone to rethink their oval compounds now that we are in year two of a totally different chassis than the type these tires were designed for.

Personally, I like where downforce levels are at. I like seeing the cars blast down the straights and lift or brake when entering a corner, but the tires need to be more sympathetic for the new style of oval racing we are attempting to create. They “got it” on the twisties and there is no reason to think the same thing won’t happen on the ovals. Again, when speeds ramp up at Indy in the coming years, Firestones hand may be forced anyway.

We are tantalizingly close to a complete season technical package.  Oddly enough, the bits and bobs for the twistie portion of the schedule are pretty well nailed down. Ironically, considering where the current iteration of American open-wheel racing came from, the oval package still needs a bit of work. But as a whole, the series has come a long way in terms of giving the cars back to the drivers, even if they are inherently more stable than we would like.

The entire package is primed for the performance increases laid out for the coming years and it will take the combined effort of Honda, Chevy, Dallara, Firestone and Indycar to make these goals happen. After a few races of having Derrick Walker at the technical helm, I am convinced we are in good hands moving forward. Instead of having a huge problem (breaking up pack racing with the IR07) with little to no solutions, we have a few niggling issues that are already being handled in a professional and sporting way.

The tire, chassis, downforce and even the pining for more power are all being actively evaluated by looking to the future and higher speeds at Indianapolis. The simple act of adding ten miles per hour in qualifying trim at Indy will hone an already stellar all around package. For the first time in a very long time, the future looks bright for indycar racing. It’s been a long time coming, now let’s hope people tune in to see it.

Eric Hall

Posted in Brain Vomit | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment