The RACER Mailbag, April 27

The RACER Mailbag, April 27

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, April 27

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Q: I apologize if this has been asked before, but it’s related to ground effect and the porpoising phenomenon we see in F1 today. Looking back at an era in F1 and IndyCar of the late 1970s/early ’80s, two dominant cars come to mind with regards to ground effect — the Lotus 79 (Mario’s 1978 championship car) and the 1980 Chaparral-Cosworth (Johnny Rutherford’s Indy 500 race winner). I don’t recall in race reports or in TV broadcasts either of these cars, or other ground effects competitors, experiencing porpoising. I’m sure it happened, and if so, how was it addressed with those cars?

This year’s issue in F1 seems to have the designers baffled. Is it too late for Mercedes to abandon the current design and resurrect the chassis design from the first test in Barcelona? It has to have been considered, at least.

Terry J.

MP: Going backwards is almost never the answer in these situations, Terry; they need to solve the problem with what they’re racing.

Yes, porpoising was indeed a major issue when big ground effects tunnels made their way into the CART IndyCar Series. The problem was resolved by going to massive springs that could not be overpowered by the gigantic amount of downforce, and while that stopped the aerodynamic hiccups, it also robbed the cars of a ton of mechanical grip. The fix was far from optimal.

More than anything with what the F1 teams are dealing with today, their schedule has been a big contributor to the lingering aero issues. Lots of races, lots of international travel, and minimal time to go and do proper track testing to try and resolve the problems is at the core of why some teams are making limited gains. As the porpoising has shown, CFD, simulators and virtual testing can’t predict or resolve everything. Sometimes, the solutions are only going to be achieved in real-world running, and there isn’t enough time during a GP weekend to erase fundamental problems and prepare for a motor race.

CHRIS MEDLAND: On the Mercedes point, the problem with that solution is it throws away all of the potential performance in the developed car. The base model was just to check systems and learn about tires, etc., with little focus on performance, but Mercedes is very confident in the outright aerodynamic numbers of the car it has run since Bahrain, it’s just unable to exploit that performance. If and when it finds a solution, it thinks it will be right up there snapping at Ferrari and Red Bull’s heels, but it’ll never do that with the Barcelona-spec car.

Q: With my limited understanding, the porpoising effect going on over in F1 is essentially the ground effect engaging disengaging, yes? Do you think this issue could have been avoided if they had proper testing where test drivers actually test drove instead of just relying on computer models?

Shawn in MD

CHRIS MEDLAND: In a nutshell, you’re right — it’s the downforce working, then not working, then working again, all in a rhythm. But if you watch most of the cars on track, they’re still struggling with it and haven’t solved the issue after four races, which means six days of pre-season testing plus roughly 19 hours of track time during a race weekend. The fixes are going to come in tandem with simulations, but I think that shows that if they were doing extra testing in pre-season it would still take a long time to resolve. You’d need at least an extra three-day test just to be at the point we are now.

Q: Haas has had a major step forward in performance this year. Curious to hear your thoughts on the biggest contributor for those gains. Could you break down, say percentages of car/propulsion system/driver pairing for us? And a follow-up: If you packaged this year’s Ferrari engine in last year’s car, what sort of improvement might have we seen at Haas last year, all else being the same? Thanks!

Andy Rolfe, Brighton, MI

CHRIS MEDLAND: I think it’s important not to underestimate the car in all of this, because Haas wrote off last year and was heavily focused on 2022 for a long time. I’d probably go 50% car, 20% power unit and 30% driver, because if you look at what Kevin Magnussen has achieved compared to Mick Schumacher, he’s scored all 15 of the team’s points and scored in four of the five events offering points. If this was last year’s line-up, Haas would have a single point on the board (because Schumacher’s P11 in Bahrain would become P10 without Magnussen ahead of him) and wouldn’t look anywhere near as big a step as it does now.

That also tells you not to overstate the power unit, which is clearly a good improvement with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo both being so strong, but it’s not that any of those cars are reliant on straight line speed only. All of them have good aero performance, so if you put this year’s Ferrari PU in last year’s Haas, I think you just get a few more Q2 appearances and maybe the odd lucky point, but not a lot more.

However you crunch the numbers, Haas is roughly 82% less sucky than last year. Carl Bingham/Motorsport Images

Q: Should A.J. Foyt be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame? (He is on the 2023 ballot). Will Smokey Yunick ever be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Kurt Perleberg

KELLY CRANDALL: I don’t see A.J. Foyt being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and as a first-year voter myself I can say he won’t be on my ballot. While Foyt is a Daytona 500 winner, I think more of open-wheel accomplishments and legacy than NASCAR when it comes to Foyt. I’m not sure he’s made enough of an impact for folks to consider voting for Foyt versus someone with a much stronger resume who is on the ballot. As for Smokey Yunick, never say never. But Yunick is a name that is mostly brought up (passionately) each year by outsiders and not those within the sport. Nor has he ever made the ballot. Maybe someday we’ll learn why he keeps getting snubbed.

Q: Not the biggest NASCAR fan since the retirements of J.G. and T.S.  but a bit reinvigorated since Kyle Larson was reinstated. Is there a way to control these cars at the superspeedways? Can they stop bump drafting, or last-lap “wreck the leader” wins? Do they want to? How can the teams afford all of the carnage? Does it take someone getting killed, as Ryan Newman almost did, to change things?

Tim B.

KELLY CRANDALL: If you want to stop bump drafting then NASCAR needs to make a rule that bumpers can never touch — which would lead to a ridiculous level of officials getting involved in the race — or just stop going to superspeedways. Daytona and Talladega have been on the schedule for decades, so that doesn’t seem likely. So as long as teams race at those two tracks there will be wrecks and aggressive driving. As much as teams and drivers complain about the racing, they show up every year and always have inventory so I’m not sure that talking about what they can afford matters. To its credit, NASCAR is always working on the superspeedway package to make sure it is the safest it can be for the next Daytona or Talladega race. It is constantly learning from each wreck and driver feedback, which points to why we have not had a fatality since 2001. It’s an easy thing for drivers to say and they certainly have a point, but they also are the first ones to credit NASCAR for the ever-evolving safety of the cars when they walk away from a crash.

THE FINAL WORD
From Robin Miller’s Mailbag, April 30, 2014

Q: Although the DW12 has raced very well at Barber, there really is only one good passing zone on the track. It seems like a great passing zone would be created if they took out the chicane on the back straight. Even Dixon alluded to that in his interview. If they intend to continue hosting the Verizon IndyCar Series, why not lay some pavement and turn that into a high-speed kink? It wouldn’t turn it into Elkhart Lake, but it would be a terrific improvement.

Matt McGowan, Collegeville, PA

ROBIN MILLER: George Barber’s facility is the most pristine in North American road racing and the IndyCar races are well promoted and the fans have embraced it. Initially, I recall the drivers making suggestions to track changes that would enhance passing and, one was what you pointed out here, but nothing has been done just yet. However, behind Alabama and Auburn football and the NASCAR races at Talladega, the IndyCar race is in the top five sporting events in ‘Bama, so it would behoove them to make the track even racier for Indy cars.

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