Like most American kids that grew up in the 80's I watched the Indy 500 every year and became interested in motorsports thanks to that race, but I didn't really get hooked until I started watching Formula 1 racing in the late 90's. My favorite era were those years with the great Mika Hakkinen/Michael Schumacher battles. (I was a Mika Hakkinen fan) So my fondness for Formula 1 waned once Mika retired and Schumacher started winning everything, even at the expense of his teammate Rubens Barrichello. My interest in F1 has only been lukewarm since.

Then I turned to Champ Car racing here in the US for my motorsports fix. However that was quickly extinguished once Champ Car and Indy Car merged and we were stuck with Tony George and his many foibles. (It was entertaining to watch the Hulman/George drama I'll admit.) My interest has been less than lukewarm with Indy Car lately, even without Tony George at the helm.

Over time however, the excitement I once had for motorsports has slowly gone. Maybe it has to do with my age, I don't know. But I think I will pour my efforts into my Trooper and my interests in the outdoors to add excitement to my life.

Thanks for checking out my blog, I hope you enjoy it. I will still post racing news when I find something interesting or noteworthy.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

IndyCar’s Winter of Discontent: Where Does the Series Go from Here?

(by Steven Cole Smith 2-2-15)

Because we’re cockeyed optimists (or at least cockeyed), we have to assume there’s a plan percolating somewhere inside the office at 4551 West 16th Street, the Indianapolis address that houses the main offices of IndyCar. Among the highly paid and exceptionally well-dressed executives that work there is Mark Miles, chief executive officer of Hulman & Company, which not only oversees Clabber Girl baking powder and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also the IndyCar Series.

(Pause for a kick-ass piece of trivia: What exactly is a “clabber girl”? Well, prior to the invention of baking powder, cooks used a variety of items to leaven baked goods, including sour milk. Milk was “clabbered,” or soured for several days, so it could be used for leavening. Presumably, then, a clabber girl is a girl who sours fresh milk. Insert your own Rachel Maddow or Ann Coulter joke here.)

Mark Miles looks a little like a younger version of automotive executive Bob Lutz, so he immediately engenders within observers an impression of both competence and mild unease. He has become the face of IndyCar in the aftermath of CEO Randy Bernard being sent packing in 2012. But where Bernard was an unabashed, if initially uninformed, cheerleader for IndyCar, Miles seems more like an uncomfortable custodian there to stem the bleeding. Presumably he has not done a bad job—IndyCar remains the “Number-One Open-Wheel Series In America,” just as Clabber Girl is the “Leading Baking Powder in the United States.” But exactly where IndyCar goes from here is anyone’s guess.

It was Miles’s decision—based on a study he commissioned—to end IndyCar’s season early. In 2014, the last race was on August 30, as the study suggested that, given a choice, it would be unwise to go up against the almighty NFL. This makes sense on many levels. But a 2014 season that began March 30 and ended at the end of August provided just five months of activity and seven months of, well, inactivity. There is no press agent extant who can keep the sport at the forefront of minds and media coverage for seven race-free months.

Arguably, NASCAR’s February-to-November juggernaut of a schedule is exhausting, but there’s a lot of time on the calendar to build momentum in terms of public interest. (And to lose momentum, and to build momentum again.) Yet as IndyCar tries to do the same leading into its 2015 season, two strange things have happened, the first being that the series announced on January 28 that Brian Barnhart, the IndyCar race director from 1997–2011, would serve as race director for 2015.

This is remarkable because several drivers and Barnhart did not, shall we say, see eye-to-eye during his last tenure as race director. In 2011, Helio Castroneves said this: “It’s impossible to accept the decisions of a race director who is inconsistent, who issues different punishments to identical situations, and who is condescending with some and harsh with others.” That same season, an animated Will Power flipped off, with both middle fingers, race director Barnhart on live TV, after the latter had drivers restart a race at New Hampshire in the rain that resulted in unfortunate events.

The move to give Barnhart back his old job also did not go over well with some avid fans on a prominent racing website. One post asked, “Do the people who run IndyCar get up each morning asking, ‘How can we screw up today?’ ” Another response said, in part, “How is this man still affiliated with open-wheel racing? This man couldn’t run an amusement park go-kart track, and every single fan knows it. I’m at a total loss right now.” Amazingly, the website in question is the official IndyCar site, which at least can be commended for allowing a wide-open expression of ideas.

Whether Barnhart is the best man for the job is, frankly, irrelevant. But when his re-appointment results in such visceral reaction from fans who care enough to go to, one wonders if there wasn’t someone out there who could do this job and not rile so many people.

Then came the second major blow in less than a week: IndyCar’s heralded return to Brazil, scheduled to be the season opener March 8, was canceled by that country’s government last Thursday. To add insult to injury, apparently IndyCar found out pretty much how the rest of us did: via news reports.

Terracap, a government-run company that owns the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet host racetrack, pulled the plug just one day after the race promoter announced a title sponsor and said that two-thirds of the tickets were sold. The government is in financial trouble and it seems the race became a casualty. While the series is not to blame, it’s nevertheless a black eye for IndyCar and a disappointment for Brazilian drivers like Castroneves and Tony Kanaan. Losing Brazil also means the 2015 season now will open, once again, at Saint Petersburg on March 29, making the 2015 season longer than the 2014 season—by one day.

All this adds to ongoing IndyCar issues, including a lackluster TV deal and a field of competitors that no longer includes well-known drivers like Danica Patrick, Dario Franchitti, Paul Tracy, and Dan Wheldon. Aside from Castroneves, Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Power, IndyCar is somewhat short on stars.

Having Montoya back in the field after running NASCAR is a positive, but even accomplished drivers like Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay haven’t resonated with the public. And famous-last-named Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal need to start winning to do IndyCar much good, as does James Hinchcliffe, who could be a next-level personality. Further, of the top 10 drivers in 2014, the only Americans are Hunter-Reay and Andretti. Of the 36 who earned points in 2014, 11 are American, and that includes non-full-timers Kurt Busch and Buddy Lazier.

But there are plusses. For one, new aero kits will debut at Saint Petersburg that hopefully will make the cars look somewhat different from one another. Aside from the choice of Honda or Chevrolet engines, IndyCar was a spec series with all teams running the same bodies, chassis, and tires. (Of course, if one of the approved aero kits turns out to be more “aero” than the others, that will become another headache for IndyCar to deal with.)

The main thing IndyCar has in its corner is some damn good racing. It’s damn good on ovals, damn good on road courses, and damn good on street courses. The Indianapolis 500 remains, far and away, the most anticipated race in America. Long Beach is always a success. High-quality competition is, as you might suspect, a key ingredient in creating a compelling racing series.

And despite early concerns, the Dallara DW-12 car introduced in 2012 races very well, seems pretty safe, and the looks have even grown on us. The engines are reliable and the sound isn’t objectionable. In fact, IndyCar president of operations Derrick Walker has yet to really put a foot wrong. Further, now that Dan Andersen has taken over Indy Lights in addition to the other “Mazda Road to Indy” formula feeder series, Indy Lights should actually become something worth being proud of, no longer running eight-car fields and using 13-year-old unbadged Infiniti engines.

So why does IndyCar seem so stagnant, so lacking in forward momentum? Why can’t it seem to capitalize on the continuing and often confounding popularity of Formula 1? We don’t know. But we do now know what a clabber girl is. Hopefully that counts for something.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Upgrades to IMS planned before 100th Indianapolis 500

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is in a race against time.

Officials are planning to renovate the historic track in time for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 next May. That doesn't leave a lot of time, given that there are races scheduled at the Brickyard in July and August and the construction won't begin until after those are run.

"It's intensive," Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles said. "There's some things that we can do in the beginning stage to get ready, but basically all of this work has to be done from the end of this racing season this year before May of 2016. It's a lot of work to do."

The next phase of this roughly $90 million project will improve gateway entrances, grandstand seating, and the overall fan experience. It's all part of a broader plan to modernize the facilities.

Upgrades started last offseason with the installation of large, high-definition video boards and a new LED scoring pylon on the main straightaway -- all part of the track's historic image that officials are trying to preserve.

"It sort of signaled that we can keep the traditions, but improve them and modernize them without substantively changing the feel of this place," Miles said.

Now the plan is to replace the upper-deck bench seating in the front straight with seats with backs and add better wireless internet capabilities. Miles wants what he describes as the most iconic real estate in motorsports to give fans the kind of comfort they associate with watching NFL or NBA games.

An estimated five elevators will be added, too, for better handicapped accessibility to the sections overlooking the area between the start-finish line and the first turn of the 2.5-mile oval. Miles also said there are plans to change some suites near the fourth turn to give them a more club-level feel.

"You don't have to buy an 80-person suite," Miles said. "You can get your two seats and go up there and share the club-like hospitality with whomever else is in there."

The track's entrance gateways will receive a makeover, too, including the gate between the first turn and the street outside the ticket office. That's where fans set up an impromptu memorial to the late Dan Wheldon after he was killed in a 2011 crash at Las Vegas.

"We want that to be an iconic front door to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," speedway president Doug Boles said. "We have people 365 days a year that stop by Gate 1 and have their picture taken."

Both entrances will have large, colored pylons and a structural look that gives the entrance a historic feel.

Miles said that over time, with the changes to and around the track grounds, Georgetown Road where revelers have long partied on Saturday before race day could eventually become part of the track and be closed to all vehicles and foot traffic outside the track fences. That part of the plan isn't expected to take place within the next year.

Right now, that part of the facility can become crowded and event organizers are limited on what they can do in terms of fan amenities.

But modernizing the historic Brickyard is never easy.

"It's a balancing act," Boles said. "But it's a balancing act that we all feel is very important so we work really hard to make sure that we pay attention to what's important and the historic feel of this venue, but at the same time give our fans a more modern experience that they expect when they come to a stadium."


Monday, May 25, 2015

Mika and Michael

Mika explains to Michael how he pulled off an amazing pass at the 2000 Belgium Grand Prix.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Indy 500 produces quite a show

(by Ryan McGee 5-24-15)

"Hell no, it wasn't a great race. We didn't win, did we?!" said the Indy 500's largest living legend.

The 99th Indianapolis 500 was barely in the books. From Gasoline Alley one could hear a wave of roars from the crowd as Juan Pablo Montoya finished chugging his jug of milk and started the traditional convertible ride around the Racing Capital of the World.

Mixed in with those cheers was also more than a little relief.

As a parade of motorized vehicles towed the nonwinning race cars back into the garage, every nose cone was streaked with melted rubber and a handful of sidepods were marked with the beginnings of black doughnuts delivered by the tires of opponents.

That's the kind of bruising that one expects from a stock car race at Martinsville or a sprint car race on some countryside dirt track. But these scars came on a 2.5-mile superspeedway via open wheel cars racing at speeds exceeding 220 mph. Badges of honor earned during one of the most thrilling final stanzas in the history of the world's most famous racetrack.

"OK, yeah, OK ... it was a pretty good race," A.J. Foyt finally confessed as he dismounted the cart he'd just driven back into the garage, his three cars having finished 13th, 17th, and crashed. "The guys up front looked like they were having a good time, didn't they?"

Yes, they did. Finally.

Both the celebratory and the defeated couldn't help but crack grins when they were asked to recap a race that featured 37 lead changes, second most in the event's storied history. A stunning five of those took place over the final 16 laps. And those were only the official lead changes as they were recorded at the start-finish line, a statistic that doesn't include the swapping that takes place all the way around the racetrack.

"I am exhausted, yes. I am disappointed, yes. But you can see that I am also smiling," said Scott Dixon. He walked hand-in-hand with his wife back to the Ganassi Racing garage, having just led a race-high 84 laps, but falling from the final four-car throwdown after making contact with Montoya with four laps remaining. "There is something to be said for an exciting day at the office. And that's exactly what that was. And as exciting as it was, it was also safe."

In the end, safe would have been enough.

The two weeks leading into the race had become testy at best, terrifying at worst, thanks to a series of frightening practice crashes, three of which featured cars sailing into the air. For the drivers, the pre-Indy media rounds became a never-ending series of questions about safety.

Were they scared? Had the cars become too fast? Were their lives being carelessly placed in harm's way? Was this brand-new speedway aerodynamic package doomed to be scrapped before it had barely made it off the engineers' laptops?

On Sunday, they finally answered.

"I think what we saw here today is all the proof people should need that IndyCar racing is the most exciting racing in the world," Montoya giddily pronounced to the crowd as he made his winner's lap around the place they call The Speedway. Then, referencing his time in CART, Formula One and, most recently, NASCAR, he stated, "I know because I have done all of the other types of racing, too."
Though no operating officer of any motorsport sanctioning body would ever admit so publicly, the best races are the ones that consistently ride the razor's edge between thrill and terror. The second half of Sunday's race rode that line like a skateboarder on a stair rail.

There was a multicar crash early. Like, really early, on Lap 1. There was a heartbreaking crash as the race headed for the final segment, involving fan favorite and 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan. And there was a visually shocking incident that ultimately set up the race's final dash to the finish. The three-car crash created a rain of debris, some settling into the Turn 4 grandstands and along the wall.

There were also two incidents involving pit crews, including an accident that silenced the grandstand and the media center as two Dale Coyne team members were flipped by an onrushing car and left laid out on pit road. One walked away OK. The other was taken to the hospital with an ankle injury.
In the end, they were the only things to flip at Indy all day.

"On a positive note, we didn't go upside down," Kanaan said in typical self-deprecating style after his solo crash. "No one flipped. And some of us really tried."

Yes they did, almost as hard as this 99th edition of the hallowed month of May tried to be a total mess. But as those tattered and torn race cars and egos were towed back into Gasoline Alley, the people who were doing the towing weren't talking about cold weather, clandestine qualifying sessions or aero kits that put a little too much emphasis on "aero."

"What did I tell you the other night?" Roger Penske said as Montoya's celebration began to break up. He had just extended his record for Indy 500 wins by a car owner to 16. On Thursday night at the annual Penske Racing media dinner, the man they call The Captain had explained that all of the controversy and fear and speculation of May's first two weeks could be erased with a great 500.

He pointed to this year's Daytona 500 Speedweeks, a February that was every bit as wonky as May at Indy, perhaps even more so. That strange buildup ultimately ended with a great race and one of Penske's cars, driven by Joey Logano, sitting in Victory Lane.

"Yeah, at the end of it all we saw a tremendous race and one of our drivers won that race," Penske had said nearly 72 hours before Sunday's finish. "Let's hope that this unusual May has the same outcome as that unusual February. All the way down to the team that wins."

And that, race fans, was the only accurate prediction of this most unpredictable Indianapolis 500.


IndyCar gets through mostly safe Indy 500 race

 (Tony Kanaan)
( 5-24-15)
Derrick Walker looked and sounded relieved after Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

Five crashes, no serious injuries and no cars in the air -- a good day for IndyCar's biggest race and a welcome one for Walker, who heads competition for the series.

"It showed the decision we made in qualifying made a big difference," Walker said in Gasoline Alley. "We had a great race. That's the takeaway from today."

For Walker, the race may have been the easiest part of May.

The debate over fast qualifying speeds came to a frightening end when three drivers -- three-time race winner Helio Castroneves, two-time Indy pole winner Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden, Carpenter's teammate -- all got their cars turned backward and flung upside-down during a five-day span of practice. None of them was seriously injured.

Walker responded to the flurry of crashes by requiring all cars to qualify in the slower race-day trim. The change worked.

Despite some hard hits and big spins involving big names, nobody's car went airborne over the past seven days at the 2.5-mile Brickyard.

"We finally proved that we don't flip every time we crash," 2013 Indy winner Tony Kanaan said after a big hit in the fourth turn during Sunday's race. "I'm glad I'm OK. I'm glad that we're able to prove a lot of people wrong. It's a very unfortunate thing that happened to me, but if I have to prove that we don't flip cars anymore, here it is for the critics."

It wasn't a perfect day.

IndyCar's safety team, which saved James Hinchcliffe from a life-threatening leg wound Monday, took its time helping Saavedra out of the car then carried him to the ambulance. The Colombian driver was transported to Indiana University Methodist Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a bruised right foot. Track officials said he needed additional evaluation before he would be cleared to drive next weekend in Detroit.

Walker said Saavedra also sustained a bone bruise in his right knee and that several of the hits -- including Saavedra's -- could have created an injury similar to the one Hinchcliffe suffered when the wishbone of the suspension pierced the tub of the car and went into his left thigh.

But the pre-race decision to add a part to the suspension prevented a repeat of Monday's scare and could prompt series officials to add a titanium plate or more bracketing to the driver tub before the next race.

"There were several of those kinds of incidents I saw that could reproduce that situation [Hinchcliffe's injury]," Walker said.

Drivers weren't the only one put in harm's way Sunday.

Three crew members were taken to the infield medical center after getting hit in the pits, with two men hurt in a bizarre accident involving all three cars from Dale Coyne Racing. Pippa Mann and James Davison collided as they left the pits, and Davison's car, which was on the inside, got turned into Tristan Vautier's crew. Greg Senerius, Vautier's chief mechanic, was treated for a left foot injury and released while rear tire changer Daniel Jang was taken to a hospital for surgery on a broken right ankle.

One driver who didn't feel safe Sunday was Castroneves.

"Honestly, I'd rather go airborne than get to the last 15 laps of this race just to see the level of aggressiveness," the Brazilian said. "I am not happy with these guys. I don't care if they crash each other; they can go ahead and hurt themselves. But when they put me into that scenario, that is when I get upset."

Walker acknowledged he will continue looking for ways to race safely at higher speeds.
But at least for one day, he didn't have to talk about flying cars.

"I think the changes we made, although temporary, worked," Walker said. "We know we can do more, and now we have more time to do it before the next race."


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Hundred million dollar baby

(by Kate Walker 5-21-15)

One hundred million pounds sounds like a lot of money. To most of us, that's because it is. But for those rarefied individuals who are accustomed to negotiating in the tens of millions of any currency, £100 million doesn't go as far as you might like.

A one-bedroom apartment in One Hyde Park, London will set you back over £9 million, but a penthouse in the exclusive address - the world's most expensive residence at the time of development - sold for £145 million despite being an empty shell in need of full refurbishment.

A Learjet 85 is a relatively inexpensive $21 million to buy, although operating costs make the private plane rather less of a bargain. And if exclusivity is what you're after, why not go the full-hog and buy an Airbus A380 for personal use - $300 million for the plane, and up to $200 million for the custom interior.

And then there are the yachts. In Formula One there is a saying which goes 'if it floats, flies, or f***s, rent it don't buy it'. In addition to the potential billions spent on a world class yacht - such as the $4.8 billion History Supreme with its dinosaur bones and 100,000 kilos of gold - there are the staffing costs, mooring fees, and endless tipping of harbour masters to contend with.

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that while Lewis Hamilton's new Mercedes deal might sound like it involves a heck of a lot of money, there are an awful lot of very rich people out there wondering why on earth a racing driver has accepted a deal that leaves him living so close to the poverty line.

In a casual conversation with a team PR earlier this season we discussed the F1 cliche that driver salaries are not paid in order to get the men behind the wheel to commit feats of derring-do inside the cockpit. Racers don't need to be paid to go racing - they would happily do it for free, so strong is the impulse to drive, to compete, to win.

Instead, drivers are paid for all of the rest of the work that their job entails: the sponsor dinners, the photo shoots, the media commitments, the meet and greets... It is here that a driver is said to earn their keep, for without the fan and media interest that makes teams more appealing to sponsors, competitive budgets are harder to come by.

Like any driver at a top tier team, Hamilton's days away from the track involve a number of corporate or sponsorship duties unrelated to pre-race preparations, or to time spent in either factory or simulator.

In his years with Mercedes thus far, the team have been careful to balance Hamilton's off-track duties with time off for the man himself. A motivating factor for Hamilton's switch from McLaren was said to be the endless list of glad-handing of sponsors that a race drive with the team entailed when the Woking racers were riding high in the championship standings.

An excess of sponsorship commitments (and the rest of it) can lead to burnout, and off-track duties need to be carefully managed to ensure a driver remains on top form throughout the season. But opportunities also need to be managed, and a championship-winning team with the title-defending driver needs to capitalise on their success in order to strengthen the foundations for more success in future.

Details of Hamilton's new contract are confidential, but the Briton's increase in salary - widely reported as a reflection of his market value as defending world champion - will also see an increase in those off-track promotional and media duties so detested by those who would rather spend their days in the thick of competition.


Philip Morris renews Ferrari sponsorship on the quiet

( 5-14-15)

Tobacco company Philip Morris renewed its backing of the Ferrari F1 team over a year ago, but opted not to publicise the news.

The current deal was due to expire at the end of 2015, but Bloomberg reports that Philip Morris agreed to extend its sponsorship until the end of 2018 at a board meeting last year. Tobacco advertising is banned in Formula One and Philip Morris has not had clear Marlboro branding on the car since 2008. However, it continues to back the team and uses its association with Ferrari to promote Marlboro cigarettes in certain territories.

The links between the tobacco company and Ferrari deepened last year when former Philip Morris marketing executive Maurizio Arrivabene took over the role of team principal. Philip Morris is the only tobacco company remaining in Formula One and Sports Pro Magazine reports that it is spending somewhere in the region of $160 million a year on its deal.

Marlboro has a long history in F1 dating back to 1972 when it first sponsored BRM and Iso Marlboro. From 1974 to 1996 it had a series of sponsorship deals with McLaren before switching to a title deal with Ferrari. In 2010 the Ferrari deal came under scrutiny when Marlboro was accused of running subliminal advertising on the cars with its barcode design on the engine cover. Soon after a new Scuderia Ferrari logo appeared in its place and is still carried on the cars today.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Sebastien Bourdais: Stop making assumptions Indy is safe

(by Matt Weaver 5-21-15)

Veteran IndyCar champion Sebastien Bourdais accused the media Thursday of overblowing the rash of incidents during the buildup to the Indianapolis 500 this past week, claiming the rhetoric coming from the media center has made fans lose sight of the fact that open wheel racing is inherently dangerous.

Bourdais was not willing to say whether or not the aero kits or changes to the floorboard of the cars may have played a role in the violent crashes that befell Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Ed Carpenter and James Hinchcliffe over the past week. However, he believes with 100 percent conviction that Indy car racing will never be 100 percent safe, a point he claims both the league and the media that covers it has done a poor job of illustrating to the masses.

“At the end of the day, we need to stop making assumptions that what we do is safe,” Bourdais said. “We need to get on with the program. People are not coming into the grandstands to watch parked cars after someone had a crash. This is part of it.”

Bourdais says that fans and media have forgotten the carnage associated with Indianapolis due to the recent lack of crashing over recent seasons. The four-time Champ Car World Series champion was quick to point out that he saw Chip Gannasi Racing lose five cars in one week back in 2005 “and that was just one team.”

Bourdais didn’t stop there, claiming the perception of safety surrounding the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has changed and the picture painted isn’t entirely accurate.

“We need to be careful,” he said. “Because the more attention we give to these incidents and more ‘Oh my god, what is going on,’ reactions we give and the more we spin this story around, the more freaked out people are going to get about it.

“This is just what we do. Whether it’s right or wrong, some people actually come to see this — not that I like it but that’s the reality. If we take that away — I’m not saying people need to get hurt — but there is the spectacle [we lose].”

Bourdais added that Indianapolis is the “Greatest Spectacle” and not exactly a great spectacle of safety or the best overall race. The Frenchman says he has to make peace with his own mortality every time he straps into his machine and that this aspect of the sport has to be acknowledged.

In the aftermath of the Hinchcliffe crash, which sent a piece of suspension through the driver’s leg and pelvic region, national and motorsport media alike have been calling for IndyCar to reduce speeds and place canopies over the DW12 cockpit.

These changes are in direct conflict with two of IndyCar’s most cherished traditions — open-wheeled, open-cockpit cars and the pursuit of speed. Bourdais, for his part does not want to see them tossed out in the name of unachievable safety.

“I just think we need to be careful not to lose our heritage, because this is at the root of what we do,” the former Formula 1 driver added. “I’ve witnessed in Europe what improvements in safety can do to tracks that were once awesome and now have no personality.

“I don’t want that to happen to IndyCar. I think it’s one thing to do everything you can to make the car safer, to race better and smarter while improving safety with the SAFER Barrier and fencing and things like that. It’s another thing to destroy the purpose of why we do the things we do and how we do it.”

Bourdais said he was alarmed to see so many fans leave the speedway in the hours following the Hinchcliffe crash on Monday afternoon as IndyCar launched an investigation into the combined cause of all four crashes. In comparison, he recalled a time where drivers and cars would burst into flames, hit the wall at 180 mph and perish only for everyone to stick around. In those instances, cars would be back on track just half an hour after the track officials cleaned up the mess. While the veteran doesn’t want the sport to return to the “killing years” he urged the racing community to hold back on potential major changes.

“Absolutely, (people are overreacting) this month,” Bourdais said. Absolutely. We’ve seen a lot less crashing with the DW12, which is a good thing but we shouldn’t take them for granted and think it isn’t going to happen anymore.

“People make mistakes, whether it’s human mistakes or mechanical mistakes and it’s going to happen. I think it has to be acknowledged and respected. When you travel at the speed we travel, things can go bad. And when they do, there’s no need say, ‘Oh my God, what happened,’ because what happened is the danger associated with what we do.

“That’s the end of it and there’s nothing else to it. Nothing.”

At the end of the day, Bourdais said IndyCar manufactured their own negative reaction to the crashing at the speedway. He believes that stopping the practice session on Monday for three hours ultimately led to the rash of negative media coverage and it was ultimately unnecessary.

“If they didn’t stop the practice, if we kept going when someone hit the fence and turned it around, I don’t think people would have made a big deal about it,” Bourdais said. “You can investigate and try to find solutions without going all out and sending everyone home.

“But again, it’s a personal thing and it’s something I’m going to bring up at some point.”

Bourdais said he understands the modern day pursuit of safety but not the current rhetoric prevailing on the eve of the biggest race of the season.

“This is something else,” he said. “Something different. We’re going close to (240 mph) between walls. I mean, let’s put this in perspective. Did anyone really believe this was safe?”


IndyCar driver raises concern about design of wishbone that injured James Hinchcliffe in crash

(by Nate Ryan 5-21-15)

While airborne crashes have sparked much of the discourse about safety the past week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one driver is as concerned about what’s happening beneath the cars.

James Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening leg injury Monday after a piece of the wishbone – part of the underbody suspension that connects the wheels – pierced his car’s tub. Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Oriol Servia suggested Thursday during Indianapolis 500 Media Day that it might have been avoidable.

“To me, that’s unacceptable,” he said. “I think there were things that we were doing on these cars for 20 years that all of a sudden we have forgotten on this car to avoid wishbones going (through the tub).”

Hinchcliffe’s injury mirrored a 2003 crash at Twin Ring Motegi in which Tony Kanaan’s leg also was speared by the steel piece. Servia said IndyCar reinforced an area to help prevent such injuries, but that the design changed when the DW12 chassis made its debut three years ago.

“We used to have a connecting rod,” he said. “All that did was to avoid one of the two sides (of the wishbone) going in (the car). For 20 years we had that on all cars, and all of a sudden, this car, it wasn’t needed.

“I don’t know why. I might be speaking out of turn, and they’ve done other things to avoid it, but obviously whatever that is, it’s not working. So that’s why I’m not happy. I know there are a lot of smart people working on it. I just don’t know what can be done for this race.”

It’s also uncertain what can be done to keep the cars from going skyward after spinning backward, which was a common denominator in wrecks involving Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter. Servia said he watched a replay of the 2014 race and noticed that Scott Dixon spun backward at high speed without his car taking flight.

“It’s very difficult to solve with two days to go without knowing exactly what makes them fly,” Servia said. “There’s something I feel is in the rear bumpers — the whole body is different, so it could be many things playing at once — but it is different, and it’s worse.

“Already we’re having this bad sensation about how the week was going. Then Hinch has this crash, nothing related to the other crashes, just one failure in a suspension (part) that happened. But the way he crashes, and the  wishbone gets into the car. The guy is alive and great, but it’s just so lucky.”
Though Servia said Sunday’s race “may not be as safe as I’d like us to be,” he also accepts there are limits to preventive measures.

“This will never be a safe race,” he said. “It’s an open wheel car going 230 mph over three hours trying to win. Safe is not really what defines it. It will never be. But I think it could be safer than what we’ll do Sunday.”


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How fast is too fast?

(Stefano Coletti - KV Racing)

(by John Oreovicz 5-20-15)

The Verizon IndyCar Series held a news conference Sunday to explain changes being made for safety reasons to slow down the cars that will race in the Indianapolis 500.

At that same news conference, those same officials said they still hope to make those same cars some 10 mph faster next year in an attempt to set a new Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record on the occasion of the 100th Indy 500.

In the wake of five accidents at the Brickyard in the space of six days, one of which will sideline popular driver James Hinchcliffe for the foreseeable future, those were two very conflicting messages coming from series management.

And before proceeding with the notion of trying to flirt with 240 mph at Indy, some hard questions need to be answered to determine whether it's a goal that is really worth pursuing.

The plan that IndyCar put into action three years ago to eclipse Arie Luyendyk's two-decades-old standard for speed took a serious hit this week when the latest generation of open-wheel racers with new bodywork produced by series engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda showed a worrying propensity to fly after crashing.

While the search for fixes to that fundamental problem was already flat out, the wisdom of chasing even higher speeds was brought into doubt when Hinchcliffe crashed heavily on Monday afternoon after a front-suspension-component failure.

It's unlikely Hinchcliffe's injuries would have been substantially less severe had he suffered the same failure at 200 mph instead of the reported 228 mph he was traveling before he hit the Turn 3 wall.

But Indy car drivers from the present and past continue to believe that major and fundamental changes need to be made to the way that Indy cars are designed to achieve their speed, no matter what that number is.

"In years past, we were much quicker in a straight line and slower in the corners," observed 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan. "Nowadays we are kind of doing the opposite. So I would say there is a balance that we need to achieve."

When Luyendyk set the track record in 1996, there was still a considerable difference in the peak velocity the cars achieved on the straights compared to their speed through the corners.

These days, there is little more than a 5 mph difference between the speed at which a driver enters a corner and exits. On big ovals, Indy car drivers are essentially battling a restrictor-plate effect.
"I've been saying that ever since I joined the series that we need more power and less grip," said defending IndyCar Series champion Will Power.

"As soon as you add too much grip and not enough power, it takes it out of the driver's hands and you're just guiding the car, you're not driving it."

Throughout the history of the sport, every auto racing sanctioning body has reduced engine power in an effort to keep speeds under control. But developments in other areas of the car -- mainly aerodynamics -- have fundamentally altered the way race cars achieve a lap time.

With straight-line speed tightly controlled, engineers have concentrated on creating higher cornering speeds, whether in Indy cars, stock cars or Formula One cars.

Modern F1 cars already look like speeded-up slot cars, and the F1 Strategy Group recently announced a plan to reduce lap times by no less than five to six seconds by 2017. Meanwhile, high cornering speed is an issue being brought to the forefront in NASCAR by several drivers, including Carl Edwards and six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears believes that the IndyCar Series needs to examine a different balance between power and downforce.

"Today, aerodynamics controls the sport," Mears said. "It dictates everything about the car. They've been going down a path with more and more downforce, and they're just boxing themselves into a corner. The drivers don't want pack racing, but they can't escape a formula that produces pack racing.

"I want to feel like I'm driving the car," Mears continued. "There's driving and there's guiding, and they're two different things. To me, the fun part was: Give me more power than I can use and let me figure out how to use it better than the next guy."

Luyendyk maintains that the key to his one- and four-lap records at IMS (237.498 and 236.986 mph, respectively) was an ideal balance between power and downforce in the Reynard/Ford-Cosworth he drove.

"It wasn't frightening at all because the cars back then had a lot of downforce and a lot more horsepower, and the combination of that produced those speeds," he said. "Also in 1996, the track had just been resurfaced, Firestone came out with a better tire, and they did away with the rumble strips, so they gave us more racetrack.

"The following year, in 1997, they went to the normally aspirated IRL cars with less downforce, and I was doing 218 with the new car," he added. "But believe me, it was more frightening to do 218 in that car than it was the to do 238 the year before."

For years at Indianapolis, the prospect of longtime public address announcer Tom Carnegie proclaiming "A new track record!" was part of the lure of being there.

It happened fairly steadily until 1973, when a difficult month of May left two drivers and one safety worker dead, prompting significant changes to Indy car regulations the following year, including much smaller wings and reduced fuel capacity.

The magic 200 mph barrier was eclipsed by Tom Sneva in 1977, and speeds continued to climb at a controlled pace until peaking in the 230-235 mph range in the 1990s.

This week, the new generation of cars featuring turbo V-6 engines and aerodynamic components produced by Chevrolet and Honda produced the highest lap speeds seen at Indianapolis since that period.

But it also created the uncomfortable spectacle of race cars traveling through the air and upside down.

Which means it's once again time to ask: How fast is too fast? Without a stopwatch, can a fan in the stands tell the difference between a 215 mph lap and one at 225?

"If you can tell the difference between a car going 230 miles an hour and 235 on the straight, then you're my hero," said Team Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya.

There's also the very real question of just how much physical force the drivers' bodies can take. A CART-sanctioned IndyCar event scheduled at Texas Motor Speedway in 2001 was canceled the morning of the race when it was revealed that the high G-forces produced while turning 235 mph laps around the high-banked TMS ovals was causing some drivers to get dizzy or black out.

Kanaan was one of the drivers who practiced and qualified for the Texas CART race that never happened. And while the former "500" winner and IndyCar Series champion supports every effort to make the sport safer, he admitted that the element of danger isn't enough to stop him from strapping into a car.

Whether he's trying to crack 220 mph or 240.

"I think as drivers, we're fully aware of that," Kanaan said. "Every time we hop in that race car, we don't know if we're going to come out of it in one piece, if something's going to happen to you. And that's something that we're going to have to live with. That's what makes us different than other people.

"That's why not everybody can do this," he added. "It's never easy to see a friend of yours get hurt or lose a friend of yours. But this is the sport that we chose.

"If people feel uncomfortable with that, you shouldn't be in the race car."


IndyCar's accidents have made a mess of the Indy 500

(by Jenna Fryer 5-18-15)

IndyCar had a crisis looming well before James Hinchcliffe was injured in another spectacular accident during preparations for the most esteemed race in motorsports.

Three cars have gone airborne, and one of the series' most popular drivers was in the intensive care unit Monday night after surgery on an injury to Hinchcliffe's left thigh suffered when he crashed following a suspension part breaking. IndyCar said he was in stable condition.

As Hinchcliffe's car shot back down the track toward the apron, it quickly tilted on its side and seemed headed to a rollover before it snapped back down on all four wheels.

Hinchcliffe's car did not go airborne - oh, it certainly tried to, even after a good bit of speed had been scrubbed from it when it slammed into a wall - but that might have been because half the car was destroyed. He also wasn't in a Chevrolet, the automaker under scrutiny since three of its cars took flight during wrecks last week.

Although his crash was unrelated to last week's wrecks, it was still ugly and Hinchcliffe joins a list that includes Helio Castroneves, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, flipping his car last Wednesday. Josef Newgarden went airborne the next day, and finally on Sunday, Ed Carpenter, an Indianapolis standout and an heir to the family that controls all things IndyCar, became the third Chevrolet driver in five days to go airborne.

But this crisis had been in the works since the season-opening race two months ago, where a woman suffered a fractured skull when a piece from one of the new aerokits on the cars flew over the St. Petersburg, Florida, grandstands and hit her.

From that very first race, it was clear there are many unknowns about the bodywork kits and IndyCar has been reacting nearly every week to situations that no one predicted.

Why? Because they didn't do enough testing, and when any bit of contact was creating debris fields all over the race track, someone should have had the sense to say 'Maybe we should get the speedway kits out and make sure they don't also have any unforeseen problems.'

Alas, the speedway cars didn't hit the track until the beginning of May, and until cars started sailing, no one had any idea that could happen.

Cars aren't meant to leave the racing surface, and when they do, it's a very big deal. Such a big deal that the three flips have overshadowed Pippa Mann's tremendous hit last Wednesday into both an inside wall and then into the attenuator in pit lane.

A day before that, Simona de Silvestro watched her car erupt into flames in a standard incident that made for tremendous photographs but was mundane in the world of racing.

All of these incidents create the images that are drawing worldwide attention to the ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' a full week before the renowned event.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing for IndyCar, the besieged series that just can't seem to get anything right, but stays in business year after year in part because it calls the Indianapolis 500 its own. Some buzz around this crown jewel event can only help.

Not like this, though.

It shouldn't be accidents followed by the appearance of an amateur hour in crisis management from series leadership creating the narrative leading into Sunday's race.

This is a mess - a hold-your-breath-and-hope-for-the-best situation - at a time when IndyCar was so excited to show off the new bodywork on the Chevrolets and the Hondas and the increased speeds around the famed Brickyard.

Instead, it's possible that Chevrolet's design contributed to its three cars going airborne. And even though Honda had yet to have a serious problem - unless, of course, you count the total domination Chevrolet has had of the speed charts - IndyCar ordered both manufacturers to make changes before Sunday's qualifying session.

But as a weary Mark Miles and Derrick Walker met the media Sunday, it was clear series management was overwhelmed with the problem at hand.

Racing is dangerous, we're told that after every wincing wreck, even the ones that end in injury, or, on rare occasion the past decade, death. But it's the responsibility of the series to create the safest conditions possible, and Miles and Walker have a mess on their hands.

IndyCar was badly wounded following the death of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon in the 2011 season finale. Wheldon was killed racing for a $5 million prize in a gimmick designed to draw more eyeballs to the series.

One of the most charismatic drivers in the under-marketed series was a victim of a rules package that created dangerous pack racing on a high-speed track where very few competitors in the field had any experience.

Many tried to voice their concerns in the days leading up to the accident, but they were shouting in the wind: Leadership was committed to the finale, and when a series is struggling for attention, there aren't very many people to complain about a possible problem.

Four years after Wheldon's underdog Indy 500 victory, people are paying attention and noticing that something seems to be amiss in Indy.

IndyCar learned from Wheldon's death, and everyone understands the series doesn't want to endure another such heartbreak. But the series has only itself to blame for this mess.

Maybe they've hit on something that will keep the cars on the track, and hours after Hinchcliffe's accident brought Monday's action to a halt, the drivers were back on track for a flawless final session filled with inter-brand drafting, slingshot passes and the tight racing which fans have come to expect of Wheldon's namesake DW-12 chassis.

Maybe Sunday will be void of any major incidents, and maybe, just maybe, the 99th running will be the greatest Indy 500 in history.

But it's just a guess at this point, and IndyCar officials better be crossing their fingers that they've gotten this right.


Quick safety team response key in critical Hinchcliffe crash

(by Robin Miller and Marshall Pruett 5-19-15)

Great response by IndyCar's safety and medical teams more than likely saved James Hinchcliffe's life on Monday.

The personable Canadian driver was bleeding profusely after a vicious accident in Turn 3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, according to one of Hinchcliffe's associates who asked not to be identified when speaking with RACER, it was a life-threatening situation that was handled to perfection by IndyCar's HOLMATRO Safety Team, and by doctors inside the ambulance that rushed him to IU Health Methodist Hospital before surgeons completed the save.

In the impact, which flattened the right side of the chassis, one of the suspension wishbones penetrated the Dallara safety cell, and subsequently caused the majority of the physical damage Hinchcliffe received. RACER has confirmed through multiple sources that Hinchcliffe had the steel wishbone enter and exit his right leg, then enter his upper left thigh, and continue into his pelvic region before it came to a stop.

The suspension component pinned the 28-year-old in the car, leading the safety team to cut the wishbone from the chassis to allow Hinchcliffe's extraction.

With the multiple intrusions, Hinchcliffe experienced massive blood loss at the crash site, and despite the gravity of the soft tissue injuries to his lower extremities, stopping the bleeding became an immediate priority for the medical staff to address once he was pulled from the chassis.

After being placed in the ambulance, the doctors and technicians inside evidently stabilized Hinchcliffe's injuries. It's not known how long he was in surgery but it was "touch and go" for a while, according to the source.

"He's probably not going to race anymore this year but the most important thing is that all those great people saved his life," said his friend.

Hinchcliffe, who serves as Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's lead driver and won the IndyCar race at New Orleans in April, crashed entering Turn 3 during Monday's practice session. According to timing and scoring data, he was carrying at least 228mph of momentum before a right-front suspension failure sent the No. 5 ARROW Dallara-Honda into the SAFER barrier nose first. Without the ability to steer the car, Hinchcliffe was unable to alter his course. The force of the impact reportedly measured 125 Gs.

Many observers, including those who've witnessed some of the most troubling crashes at Indianapolis, believe Hinchcliffe's impact was among the most violent on record. Upon reaching the crash site, emergency workers radioed the incident in as a "Code 5," which is reserved for traumatic situations.

Hinchcliffe remained in intensive care but was resting comfortably on Tuesday morning.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

James Hinchcliffe's Honda briefly overturns in wreck

( 5-18-15)

James Hinchcliffe is in stable condition after becoming the latest IndyCar Series driver to crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Hinchcliffe underwent surgery at Indiana University Methodist Hospital on an injury to his upper left thigh suffered in the crash, the IndyCar Series announced.

Hinchcliffe's leg was pierced by the car's right front rocker and the piece of equipment needed to be removed, according to two people familiar with the crash who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because IndyCar and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports were not releasing details of the injury. The surgery also was needed to stop massive bleeding.

"Obviously we're relieved that James is awake and out of surgery," Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt said.

"That's the most important thing on our minds right now, and we will do absolutely everything required to ensure a complete recovery."

A suspected mechanical failure sent Hinchcliffe's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda hard into the Turn 3 wall Monday.

Replays showed sparks trailing from the No. 5 Honda when it shot directly up the track and struck the SAFER barrier with the right front wheel first. The car spun around one and a half times and briefly overturned before landing on its wheels and stopping in Turn 4.

Hinchcliffe had just completed a lap at 221.3 mph and was drafting the Team Penske Chevrolet of Juan Pablo Montoya when the accident occurred.

It took the IndyCar safety team several minutes to extract Hinchcliffe from the car, which sustained heavy right-side damage. The driver was reported to be awake and alert before being laced on a backboard and transported to IU Methodist Hospital.

Hinchcliffe's right front suspension failed, Honda spokesman Dan Layton said. Layton said Honda officials aren't concerned about the safety of the company's aero kit but are more concerned about what caused the suspension problem as Sunday's Indianapolis 500 nears.

"It's gut-wrenching," said defending Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, a teammate of Hinchcliffe's until this season. "It's terrible. There's no other way you can think about it."

This was the fourth time in the past week that an Indy car was pitched upside down, but the first involving a Honda car. The three previous rollovers all featured Chevrolet-designed bodywork.

Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden went airborne in crashes last week that raised concerns about the safety of the new oval aero kits. On Sunday, Ed Carpenter flipped his car on its side in practice leading up to Indy 500 qualifying.

IndyCar Series officials made a last-minute rule change for qualifying in the wake of the three Chevrolet accidents, reducing turbocharger boost to decrease power and removing aerodynamic panels.

Scott Dixon of New Zealand took his second Indy pole with a four-lap average of 226.760 mph Sunday -- and there were no wrecks.

The series halted Monday's scheduled 3½-hour practice session and investigated the Hinchcliffe crash. Practice resumed at 4:15 p.m. ET.

"It was shocking," driver Townsend Bell said. "The worst possible accident that you can have here is to be fully loaded right in the middle of the corner and have something break. It was a really horrible circumstance for him."

Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations, has blamed Castroneves' wreck on an aero balance setting that was pushed too far and Newgarden's on a cut tire, and said Carpenter simply had an accident.

A year ago, Hinchcliffe sustained a concussion when struck in the head by debris from another car in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. After the road course race, he missed five days while waiting to be cleared and then qualified second, despite limited practice time.

Hinchcliffe, who won at New Orleans last month and is eighth in the driver standings, qualified 24th for this year's 500.


(video of Hinchcliffe's crash)

Chaos causes IndyCar to dumb down pole day

(by Gregg Doyel 5-18-15)

This was chaos. This was Indianapolis' Ed Carpenter skidding upside down at 200 mph, his car disintegrating and his helmet inches from the sparks that became a blaze. This was media surrounding the IndyCar operations trailer for answers, and fans surrounding the media seeking the same, and team owners like Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta standing around the same trailer, waiting for the bad news they knew was coming.

This was avoidable. Let's get that bit of hindsight out of the way. Fair, that hindsight? Oh, probably. Seeking the delicate combination of added safety and speed, IndyCar switched this season from universal Dallara bodywork to distinct aero kits by Chevrolet and Honda — but didn't test the designs until the series reached Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 3. That wasn't enough time. That's hindsight. And, as Sunday showed, factual.

"We set out an ambitious schedule, no doubt," IndyCar president of competition Derrick Walker said. "Hindsight gives us a different perspective."

But …

"Clearly we'd like not to be where we are right now."

Where they were Sunday is chaos. In a morning practice session Carpenter became the third driver in five days to get turned around, hit a wall and go airborne. All three drivers — first was Helio Castroneves on Wednesday, then Josef Newgarden on Thursday — are in Chevy kits.

That's the same manufacturer that dominated the first five stops on the 2015 IndyCar Series, winning all but the rain-shortened March 12 event at NOLA Motorsports Park. Those were road courses, and Chevy's kits manhandled Honda's.

IndyCar never came to Honda's aid. As far as arguments go that one is a non sequitur — a speed differential is not equal to a safety differential — but it's a complaint that was raised to me in multiple Honda garages Sunday: IndyCar did nothing to help Honda keep up with Chevy on the road courses, but made the enormous decision to scrap the qualifying trim and have cars compete on pole day with the same — slower, safer — setup they'll use during the 99th Indy 500 on Sunday.

Basically, IndyCar dumbed down — neutralized — one of the most exciting days of the series: pole day at the Indy 500. No Fast Nine Shootout. No shot at a speed record. No danger.

"It was a flat, easy go-around," said Will Power, who qualified second on Sunday, one spot behind pole winner Scott Dixon.

Sitting next to Power in the press room was his Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud, who craned his neck to see the qualifying times on a TV screen before adding his two cents.

"We're talking (a difference of) just 5 mph, and it feels like you're going really slow," said Pagenaud, who qualified third. "This level in down force and boost, is not really hard for us."

Said Power: "That's what's always been cool about this place. You can trim out, you can get fast through the straight, but can you hang on around the corner? You don't want your grandma to be able to drive around on your back rear, like some of these places we drive at."

But that's what IndyCar did, slowing down both manufacturers because it had no idea what was making one — Chevy — go airborne. Or if the issue was just to Chevy.

moderately injured in the last week — but enough's enough. IndyCar realized that after watching Carpenter skid upside down, summoning both teams to its competition trailer to hash out what Honda knew was coming.

The scene was surreal. After meeting with IndyCar, Honda engineers literally ran out of the trailer to their garages to make the setup changes. Honda owners stood around the outside, forming a semicircle around the trailer. Media formed a larger semicircle around the Honda owners. Fans formed an even larger semicircle around the media. We became a 500-person Russian nesting doll.

On the outer semicircle, with the fans, a dour-looking man was standing too close to Gasoline Alley when an IMS security guy in a yellow shirt yelled, "Keep this area clear, please."

The dour-looking man walked away. Tony George, member of the track's ownership family. He was as lost as everyone else.

And everyone's lost, believe it. Some of the smartest people in town were in that trailer on Sunday, engineers and Ph.Ds who were studying video and data and talking to drivers and each other. And after all that, IndyCar emerged from the trailer with no answers. Why does Chevy keep getting airborne? Is this just a Chevy issue? So many theories. No answers.

"We don't have complete clarity, and that is the reason to be careful right now," Walker said. "It would be fairly negligent on our part if we focused on one manufacturer. …

"I don't believe a year from now we'll still be sitting here, scratching our head. We just don't have the time … (but) the problem is solvable."

Sure, just not here. Even if someone figures it out before Sunday, qualifying is over and cars will use the same setup next weekend.

On the other hand, with less horsepower available on pole day to separate good drivers from the great ones, legit Indy 500 contenders like defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (qualified 16th), 2000 winner Juan Pablo Montoya (15th) and three-time top-10 finisher Ed Carpenter (12th) will start back in the field. Cars will be passed next week, count on that. Could make for an exceptionally exciting edition of the Indy 500.

And wouldn't that be something — for this race, and this racetrack, to see this weekend's chaos become next weekend's catharsis.


Has Indy hit on solution for flying cars?

(by John Oreovicz 5-17-15)

This was supposed to be the year that aero kits brought speed and style back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Instead, unproven aerodynamic components have made safety the watchword in a week when three cars got upside down and airborne during testing at IMS.

Ed Carpenter's crash in a Sunday morning practice session was the third in the past five days in which a Chevrolet-bodied Indy car snapped out of control and took to the air, a disturbing pattern that cannot be viewed as coincidental.

Carpenter's situation prompted IndyCar Series officials to delay qualifying by more than five hours. They also implemented changes to both Chevrolet and Honda cars, reducing engine power for qualifying and requiring Chevrolet teams to remove several aerodynamic components that they believe may have contributed to the three crashes and subsequent flights.

An additional hourlong practice session and qualifications went off without incident. But heading into Sunday's Indianapolis 500 serious questions remain unanswered about the stability of the latest generation of Indy cars in general, and cars running the Chevrolet aero package in particular.

"It's definitely a concern and we don't know enough about it," Indy car legend Mario Andretti said. "We haven't seen whether a Honda car would pick up speed when going backward and I hope we never see that.

"The cars today have such huge square inches of floor area, and unfortunately they are susceptible to flying," Andretti added. "I've said that from the beginning and I'm one of the ones who had experience. That's one of the issues that may need to be addressed, narrowing the sidepods. I think it may have to be done."

Andretti retired from full-time driving in 1994, but famously went for a flight in a Dallara Indy car while making a test run for his son's team in 2003. On that occasion, Andretti's car took off like an airplane after hitting a piece of debris on the track from a crash that had just occurred in front of him.

The three accidents involving Chevrolet cars this week appeared relatively innocuous by Indianapolis crash standards until the cars spun around backward and launched into the air after hitting the wall.

In the only Honda wreck of the week, Pippa Mann's machine remained planted to the ground despite hitting two different walls.

The similarity between all three Chevrolet accidents has focused attention on the company's aero kit, specifically an unusually small rear wing that features no traditional end plates or fences.

Honda's rear wing appears much more substantial, with rectangular end plates and additional winglets for additional downforce and stability.

Arron Melvin, the chief designer of the Chevrolet aero kit, said that the tapered "Coke bottle" aspect of the Chevy's side pods helps the chassis create sufficient levels of downforce that reduces the need for a highly effective rear wing.

"We emphasize downforce in areas that aren't the rear wing," Melvin said Monday night at the public launch of Chevrolet's superspeedway aero components. "We need a very slender wing and therefore endplates are not particularly powerful or efficient anymore.

"On a higher downforce configuration, the endplates add more aerodynamic power and value, and we didn't need them," he continued. "The main plane looks very small because we can make a very efficient wing for oval events. It actually has just as much [aerodynamic] strength as the old wing and most of the time it's just providing a small amount of trim. It also has the nice side effect of lighter weight, which is a big factor for these cars."

The question is whether Chevrolet went too far in its quest for efficient downforce. Is the lack of rear-wing endplates contributing to the way the cars are suddenly snapping loose without warning, and to the seeming propensity for them to fly?

Carpenter says it's far too early to rush to judgment.

"There's a lot to understand and I don't think it's fair to say that this is an aero-kit issue," Carpenter said. "We have multiple variables going on this year. We have new tires, there's a new underwing [floor] with a huge hole in it, and aero kits.

"It's all just speculation at this point and we really need to learn what's causing this."

Still, it's a question that we probably wouldn't be asking right now if the IndyCar Series had been more adequately prepared for the introduction of the speedway version of the aero kits.

In an effort to maintain secrecy about their designs, Chevrolet and Honda did little on-track testing, by traditional standards, trusting their designs to wind-tunnel studies and computational fluid dynamics.

Teams did not receive the new wings and other parts until April 27, and for most drivers, a May 3 test at Indianapolis was their first experience with the new package.

Nobody ran more than 95 laps that day. And nobody crashed.

But the issue at Indianapolis really isn't the fact that cars are crashing. That's a natural and normal part of racing.

What isn't normal is the way the Chevy cars are taking flight. And until a crashed Honda car gets upside down, it's going to take time and real world testing to determine whether IndyCar is dealing with a Chevrolet aero problem or a problem endemic to the current iteration of cars in general.

That's why IndyCar mandated the changes it did Sunday morning, to try to make the cars as stable as possible for the short term while it buys the time it needs to research a more permanent solution.

With an oval race coming up June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, arguably the most dangerous oval the series races on, the pressure is on IndyCar to get to the root of this problem quickly.

"Since the first incident that we had with the No. 3 car [Helio Castroneves' crash on Wednesday], we're working with both manufacturers and trying as fast as we can," IndyCar competition president Derrick Walker said. "They're running supercomputers day into night to try and compare what we have been doing in the past and what we're doing now and see if there are any big red flags that say we're going the wrong way here.

"Crashes are very hard to simulate," Walker added. "They have such good computing power nowadays. They can simulate a car in yaw or 180 degrees going the opposite way, and that, quite frankly, is the best way to get there as quick as we can."

Because it was a safety issue, Honda took the high road and didn't complain that changes were required for its cars when the problems that occurred this week all involved Chevrolet cars.

However, there's a strong feeling that Honda was disadvantaged by the changes. Honda's top qualifier was Justin Wilson in sixth place, 1.5 mph slower than Scott Dixon's 226.760-mph pole speed.
But the drivers supported IndyCar's efforts to make things as safe as possible for them under the circumstances.

"It was a pretty hard decision, but I think they did the right thing," second-place qualifier Will Power said. "The problem was the fact that when you crash, the car flies, but I think that this is the first year we've ever had with this car that you could trim enough to make it quite hard to drive and people were making mistakes and crashing.

"I think it has kind of identified a problem with this car and until they get that fixed, I'm not sure what they can do. It's a pretty tough problem. But I don't think it's just Chevy, either. I think it's just the fact that the floor is built for a road course, and we're running it on an oval and it's quite steep. That's maybe one problem. But I'm not an engineer; I don't know."

Two days of on-track activity remain between now and race day: A full day of practice on Monday and Friday's hourlong Carburetion Day shakedown.

One thing is for certain. Whether it's a Chevy problem or, as Andretti suggested, a more basic issue associated with the wide, flat underbody of the current generation of cars, the IndyCar Series truly does have a problem. How IndyCar reacts moving forward is of utmost importance to the safety of its drivers and spectators and the integrity of the sport.

"Safety is obviously a big part of the sport and oval racing is one of the most dangerous forms, so it's always in the back of your mind," Dixon said after claiming the pole at 226.760 mph, a reduction of 4.309 mph from Carpenter's 2014 Indy pole speed. "All the crashes have been in very different scenarios and different situations.

"We don't want to see cars get in the air, but there are very few tools in the box for us to make changes to the cars," he added. "IndyCar used what they had and with the speeds down, I think safety is going to get better."


Monday, May 18, 2015

Ed Carpenter crashes into Turn 2 wall during Indy 500 practice

( 5-17-15)

Ed Carpenter crashed during practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, delaying scheduled qualifying for the race.

Qualifying, which was originally scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, was delayed until 3:15 p.m.

"This morning we saw a third car get into the wall, turn backward and lift into the air. We've said all along we want to go faster, but we want to do so safely," Mark Miles, the CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent company of IndyCar, said in a statement.

"As a precautionary measure, IndyCar will require that the cars qualify today in the same aero setup that they will run in the Indianapolis 500 next weekend. Also, for today, boost levels will return to race conditions. Given these changes, we have elected to not award points for today's qualifications.

"Safety for drivers and fans is the top priority for IndyCar and we will continue to be proactive in our research and development to improve all safety aspects of our sport."

Each of the 34 cars will be given one qualifying attempt and the top 30 spots will then be locked in. If time and weather permit, a 45-minute qualifying session will determine the final three starting spots in the May 24 race, and which car will be headed home.

Carpenter, who is trying to become the first driver to win three consecutive Indy 500 poles, spun into the Turn 2 wall and flipped over before the car came to rest on its side.

He was checked and released from the track's infield medical center a short time later.

"It caught me by surprise,'' Carpenter said. "I wasn't expecting to swap ends. The car was actually feeling pretty good, better than it did yesterday. Things are a little unpredictable right now.''

Carpenter's crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was similar to that of his CFH Racing teammate Josef Newgarden.

Newgarden lost control, hit the wall, and flipped his car on Thursday, a day after Helio Castroneves also went airborne during a crash that first raised questions about the safety of the new superspeedway aero kits.

Carpenter, Newgarden and Castroneves all drive Chevrolet cars.

Sunday's crash prompted a closed-door meeting between IndyCar Series officials and team owners from the Chevrolet-powered teams as track workers tried to fix the damaged catch-fence.

"Chevrolet met with IndyCar this morning and the decision was made to run race-level aerodynamics and engine boost during qualifying in an effort to reduce speeds and increase downforce. We continue to review all available data from the crashes. Safety is our priority," Jim Campbell, Chevrolet's U.S. vice president for performance vehicles and motorsports, said.

That was followed by meetings with officials from Honda Performance Development and Honda team owners, who are reportedly unhappy about being forced to make last-minute changes to their cars in response to what they perceive as a problem unique to the Chevrolet cars.

"Even though we have every confidence in our design, we support IndyCar in their efforts to improve safety," HPD president Art St. Cyr said in a statement.

IndyCar Series officials refused to single out Chevrolet's aero kit, which features an unusually small rear wing with no traditional end plates, as the cause of the three crashes this week that ended with cars upside down and airborne.

As the series' only owner/driver, Carpenter was in the unique position of attending the manufacturer meetings with IndyCar as a Chevrolet team owner.

"There's a lot to understand and I don't think it's fair to say that this is an aero kit issue," Carpenter said.

"We have multiple variables going on this year. We have new tires, there's a new underwing [floor] with a huge hole in it, and aero kits.

"It's all just speculation at this point and we really need to learn what's causing this."

Pippa Mann was the only driver to crash a Honda this week in practice, but that car remained upright on the track.

"Ultimately if we are not certain what is causing this, we can't say for certain if this is a Chevy problem or a Honda problem," Miles said. "We're left in a situation where we need to be cautious.
"This is a complex technical situation, but ultimately, the decision was based on that."

Saturday's session was rained out after only two drivers completed the four-lap qualifying procedure. A third driver, Scott Dixon, finished one lap before the yellow flag came out because of light rain. They wiped out the averages of both qualifiers, Carlos Huertas and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Organizers then revised Sunday's schedule to give drivers two short practice sessions in the morning.


(video of Carpenter's crash)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Aero package is center of attention

(by John Oreovicz 5-15-15)

 It's the year of the aero kit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

And already, Chevrolet's and Honda's unique modifications to the IndyCar Series' standard Dallara chassis are causing a buzz -- the kind that comes with updated looks, faster speeds and the shadow of risk that has always followed speed, as seen here Wednesday when Helio Castroneves pulled a 200 mph somersault in a practice lap and walked away without a scratch.

In the first five races of the season, all on street or road courses, Chevrolet had the speed advantage, winning four races to Honda's one.

Now, as action switches to IMS for the first oval race of 2015, "low drag" replaces "high downforce" as the design brief for engineers. And just as series officials had hoped, Honda's solution for the 240 mph demands of the Brickyard not only looks markedly different from Chevy's, it also appears to be a much more competitive proposition. Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz set the fastest speed of the month Wednesday at 230.121 mph in the No. 26 Honda.

The aero kits were implemented this year for several reasons: to help fans differentiate between Chevrolet and Honda cars, to create an engineering and marketing platform for the manufacturers outside of the 2.2-liter turbocharged V-6 engines they have supplied to the IndyCar Series since 2012 and, hopefully, to achieve a new track record at Indy in 2016 in conjunction with the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The current one- and four-lap records (237.498 mph and 236.986 mph, respectively) were established in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk. The following year, IndyCar mandated lower-tech cars with the intention of cutting costs and reducing speed in the name of safety. Luyendyk claimed pole position for the 1997 race at 218.940 mph and speeds have generally stayed at 230 mph or below over the last two decades.

This year's pole speed is expected to be in the 233-234 mph range.

Of course, as speeds increase, so too does the potential for danger. The decision to pursue a new track record was not taken lightly; advances in chassis safety, and most importantly, the development of the SAFER barrier, make high-speed ovals like Indianapolis a much less dicey endeavor than they were 20 years ago or more.

The dangerous side of chasing speed was put on display Wednesday, when a mundane-looking oval crash involving Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis winner, turned spectacular.

Castroneves had just warmed up with a 219 mph lap when he lost control and spun 180 degrees in Turn 1. Traveling backward at around 200 mph, the rear end of Castroneves' Chevrolet lifted and the car performed a graceful aerial backflip, landing on its roll hoop before bouncing back onto its wheels. Castroneves quickly clambered out, extremely fortunate that he did not hit a fence or anything else during his airborne adventure.

The scene repeated itself in part on Thursday when Josef Newgarden's Chevrolet also hit the wall and flipped, though not as spectacularly as Castroneves'.

The problem with racing accidents is that they cannot be created or replicated in a laboratory, nor are any two incidents the same. Speculation immediately centered on whether the Chevrolet aero kit played a factor in Castroneves' car taking flight, or Newgarden's car flipping over.

"The surprising thing is he got airborne while the car was going backwards and we're going to have to look at that," said Castroneves' car owner, Roger Penske. "It's the first time we've run the speedway bodywork and it's pretty hard to simulate that in a wind tunnel.

"But we've got smart guys and we're going to investigate."

On Thursday, the Chevrolet teams were allowed to remove a three-quarter inch wicker "spine" that bisects the center line of the chassis in the belief that the component had contributed to Castroneves' flip. Honda's cars retained the trim piece, which is intended to stabilize the car and prevent it from flipping when it gets sideways (in a state of yaw).

But the stability of the Chevrolet aero kit was again called into question Thursday when Newgarden crashed heavily late in the day. His Chevrolet spun 360 degrees before striking the Turn 1 wall almost head-on. The car then nearly went upside down before flipping onto its side as it came to a rest. Newgarden appeared fundamentally OK, but shaken, before being transported to the IMS infield care center.

For the time being, drivers, teams, fans and series officials will be waiting with bated breath for the next crash, wondering whether the car will react as expected upon impact without taking flight.
Even after an accident, the show -- and the search for speed -- must go on.

The aero kits haven't come without controversy. They were prioritized by Chevrolet when it re-entered Indy car competition in 2012 after six years of sole Honda engine supply. The biggest fear was the return to a competitive engine market would reduce the parity that the IndyCar Series used as a selling point during what was essentially a spec-car era from 2006-11.

To some extent, that has held true. Since the turbo V-6 formula was instituted in 2012, Chevrolet has won 37 of 55 races and the IndyCar manufacturers championship every year. However, Honda won the 2013 drivers championship with Scott Dixon and two of the last three Indianapolis 500s.

"Aero kits improve the diversity of the fan experience and renew technical engagement, while providing a controlled cost structure," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations. "This is an important step in making incremental changes to our cars toward further enhancing speed, innovation and safety."

The additional variable of aerodynamics increases the possibility of one manufacturer becoming more dominant, and that's been the case so far in 2015. But Honda claims that Indianapolis was the priority when it designed its aero kit and the balance between manufacturers has been much closer this week.

In fact, most of the top speeds achieved without the benefit of a draft or tow have been achieved by Honda cars.

Still, Michael Andretti, owner of Munoz's Honda and four other Indianapolis 500 entries, isn't convinced aero kits were the right move for the series and its manufacturers.

Costs for the components are capped for teams, starting at $75,000 for the first kit and rising incrementally. But the manufacturers are absorbing millions of dollars in development costs, and Andretti questions the need.

"You're adding huge expense to the series, and you're messing with the product on the race track, which I think is the best racing out there," Andretti said.

"Now we potentially have a split field and I can't see how it is going to get any more people in the stands or watching on TV."

In defense of the aero packages, Walker said they will drive innovation and make the series more interesting to casual fans and gearheads alike.

"Car development has been frozen since the chassis came out in 2012, and at Indianapolis, the pole speed has increased nearly 5 mph since then even without any aerodynamic development," said Walker.

"When you say to designers and engineers, 'OK, you can make some changes,' you'll get some different shapes and certainly you'll get more performance.

"Records will be broken, and for the casual fan or the technical enthusiast, there's a lot more to look at."


(video of Newgarden's crash)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Helio Castroneves OK after scary Indy 500 practice crash

( 5-13-15)
Helio Castroneves has been cleared and released from Indianapolis Motor Speedway's infield medical center after his car went airborne in a spectacular crash Wednesday
His car wiggled as it went through the first turn early in practice for the Indianapolis 500, then spun into the outer wall and started rolling backward in the short chute between the first and second turns.
A gust of wind caught the car and flipped it over. The car landed upside-down before rolling back over on its wheels.
Castroneves, a three-time 500 winner for Team Penske, climbed out of the car without assistance.
Castroneves had just warmed up with a lap at 219.183 mph and started his first hot lap of the day when the crash occurred at 12:46 p.m. ET.

"Unfortunately I still do not understand what happened," Castroneves said in a team statement. "I got loose in Turn One and spun out.

"The good news is the impact wasn't very strong and the landing was smooth as well. In all aspects, I have to say I was very lucky there was no big shunt."

Earlier in the day, IndyCar Series officials docked Castroneves eight points for violating a rule about avoidable contact in Saturday's Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Castroneves was deemed guilty of causing a first-lap accident when he tapped Scott Dixon into a spin, sweeping in several additional cars.

The penalty dropped the Brazilian from second to third in the season standings, 18 points behind his Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Damage to Castroneves' Chevrolet-Dallara was remarkably light, although team owner Roger Penske said the team likely will switch to a backup car. Castroneves is expected to return to the track on Thursday.

"The accident was most impressive, but the good news is I am feeling very good," Castroneves said. "This just set us back one day since it is Wednesday.

"The good news is we still have Thursday and Friday before qualifying. I'm counting on my guys, my boys, to put the car back together and go back to work."

The IndyCar Series opened up the rulebook this year to allow engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda the ability to design their own aero kits -- front and rear wings and other bodywork that fits to a standardized Dallara chassis.

The Indianapolis 500 is the first outing for the speedway version of the aero kits, following five races in which the cars were set up for road-racing venues.

The speedway aero kit uses smaller wings and emphasizes low drag for higher top speed rather than downforce for cornering grip.

"We're playing with new areas from the aerodynamic standpoint," Penske said. "Of course, going backwards at that speed, you don't know what kind of lift it had.

"But obviously, it got airborne, which we were surprised [about]," he added. "We'll take a good look at it."

Later Wednesday, Dale Coyne Racing's Pippa Mann spun her car into the wall. The English driver was checked and released from the infield medical center.

She lost control of her car coming out of the fourth turn, spun and hit the inside wall, then slid up the track and made a hard sideways hit with the attenuator in pit lane. She stayed in the cockpit for several minutes, but was able to walk away under her own power.


(video of Castroneves' crash)