The RACER Mailbag, November 24

The RACER Mailbag, November 24

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 24

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Q: Last week in the Mailbag, the subject of Pocono came up, and I can tell you from experience all the way back to the first race in 1971 — Penske’s first win with Philly local hero Mark Donahue — that there are two reasons why it has poor attendance despite the proximity to metro Philly (pop. 4.5 million) and NYC (pop. 20 million): The place is still a dump (my last race there was 2014); and very poor highway access, which you can blame on both the late Joseph Mattioli and on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

When Bill France was building Talladega back in 1968, he demanded of Alabama Gov. George Wallace that he build the access road from I-20 to the track site before he started construction. Gov. Wallace tried to talk Big Bill into building the track first, but he was having nothing of it.

Now, look at Pocono: Coming up from the Delaware Valley on the Penn Turnpike NE Extension to I-80 is easy, as is coming in I-80 from the east from NYC. But then, you get off onto PA 115, which is a narrow, 2-lane road for the last three-and-a-half miles. The first year, it was only single lane; but at least from 1972–on it was both lanes; but it’s still a disaster when you have a large crowd.

Not so much because of the reasons you gave, but the crappy fan facilities and poor road access are reasons enough for IndyCar to not return to Pocono. Even the facilities and road access to Langhorne in the late ’60’s (I was there in ’68 & ’69) and Trenton in the ’70s were better than Pocono is today.

Yours truly,
Dan Schwartz

MP: I haven’t been to Pocono in recent years, so if they’ve made upgrades, I’ve missed them. But I can say that Pocono was one of the few tracks I’d drive into and had no problem imagining what it was like back in 1974 (or whenever) because it looked and felt like the track was preserved in period-correct form from decades ago – a retro-modern museum of sorts.

Q: I am an IndyCar/racing fan from New York City, not very common. In my childhood bedroom, I held on a copy of AutoWeek from early 1992 announcing the Grand Prix of New York City to take place in 1993 as a street race around the World Trade Center promoted by Chip Ganassi. Obviously the race never took place, but I never have been able to find anything on the internet about it. I would have sworn I hallucinated reading this if not for this magazine. Do you have any recollections/stories about why this didn’t go forward? (I finally got around to taking this picture when visiting my parents this month.)

Jeremy Ribakove, Astoria, NY

MP: Chip and IMG were indeed in a partnership, and they promoted the Meadowlands IndyCar race in New Jersey for three years but wanted to move it to Manhattan. Together, Chip and IMG had 27 meetings with David Dinkins, the Mayor of New York City. Upon receiving the approvals from New York City, they signed Phillip Morris Companies (aka Marlboro) as a sponsor for the Grand Prix of NYC, which would have run around the World Trade Center. At the same time, Phillip Morris was under heavy scrutiny for tobacco advertising, and with that scrutiny came title sponsorship problems that ultimately canceled the event before it became a reality.

What might have been. Image via Jeremy Ribakove

Q: The same people doing the new IndyCar game have a new NASCAR title out – NASCAR 21: Ignition. YouTube sim racer (and real-life Britcar series winner) Jimmy Broadbent tried the game, and it was a mess from start to finish. From being unable to use his steering wheel to races where other cars would wreck by just passing by them, it was one of the worst racing sims I’ve ever seen. No, it was the worst. If these are the people doing the IndyCar sim, don’t be expecting much.

Arthur Alford

MP: Actually, this sounds like the most realistic NASCAR game, ever. If we’re fortunate to get the same realism with the IndyCar game, be prepared for nine-hour qualifying sessions as race control messes around with endless delays to debate blocking penalties. Can’t wait. 😉

Q: My question has to do with the special prep that teams do on their 500 cars. I heard more comments from drivers, engineers this year than ever before, talking about car prep starting in October for the May race.

What is the special prep that is done where a team will literally replace every piece connected to the tub after a crash rather than going to a back-up car?

Ed Kelly, Studio City, CA

MP: All about reducing friction. Reducing mechanical rolling resistance and reducing aerodynamic resistance, aka drag. We get this question somewhat often, so let’s do a decent dive here so we can refer to in the future as needed.

The crazy dedication of time and personnel and money to the “Indy 500 chassis” compared to the non-500 cars is significant for some obvious and less obvious reasons. Some folks ask why the same intense level of aero and mechanical perfection isn’t done for every race, and it’s mainly due to practicality. There’s so much bumping and scraping and pounding that takes place at a St. Petersburg or Laguna Seca that the effort would be quickly wasted with all the contact and abuse fired through the car from curbs and walls. Plus, winning at an Iowa or Portland doesn’t pay $2.5 million and get your mug on the Borg-Warner.

So, with Indy being a giant proving ground for aerodynamic excellence and mechanical smoothness, teams spend all that time making the bodywork fit perfectly to the chassis, and to each connection point – the sidepods to the floor and tub, for example – to avoid tiny gaps that trap or slow air as it passes by. Picture the bow of a ship sailing through the ocean. If the bow is perfectly smooth and has no tiny holes or cracks, the water flows over it without resistance. If that bow has some tiny holes and imperfections in it, small stream of water will shoot through, slow the ship, and rob performance. Have too many holes, and you’re sunk.

Same theory applies with letting small streams of air sneak in through gaps in the bodywork, or to sit and eddy in bodywork seams that aren’t flush. In performance terms, you can lose 1 mph or more per lap, and if that’s the case, you’re sunk.

Expand all that out to the mechanical side with reducing friction with the rotating parts like wheel bearings and all the bearings in the transmission, and that parasitic drag acts just like aero drag. If the wheel bearing aren’t optimized, for example, it takes extra horsepower to push through that resistance, and if you’re wasting a few HP on spinning the wheels compared to the next team whose cars have wheel bearings that spin freely, that’s where you lose speed each lap.

For the better teams, they’ll have their own in-house gearbox dyno where they’ll spin up the gears and measure the frictional losses. Just like an engine dyno is used to measure and benchmark how much power and torque is made, the gearbox dyno serves the same purpose, but you’re looking to get the numbers as low as possible. They’ll make adjustments, look for friction reductions, run the ‘box again, measure the numbers, and keep going until they get as far as time and money allows. Fun stuff.

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