Nice job Chuck, on translating the thrill of racing into engineering challenges that other engineers, even if they don't work on the race car circuit, can relate to and are grappling with every day for their own types of products. Those minor design tweaks and keen attention to simulation outcome are what can set one company's offering apart from another--whether it's a highly competitive IndyCar race or components for commercial cars.
Good point, Beth. It's amazing to learn that IndyCar's number one engineering challenge -- vehicle reliability -- is the same as for production cars. It's true they only need to go 500 miles at the Indy 500, but it doesn't mean that reliability is any less important. In fact, a simple failure -- like the one on Parnelli Jones' vehicle in 1967 -- can be devastating.
Absolutely, there is far less room for error (likely no room in fact) for those 500 miles since at those speeds, lives are at stake. One teensy, little glitch in something as small as a misplaced fastener, and you could be primed for disaster.
The comment about the aerodynamic vacuum under these cars at speed reminded me of the Chaparral 2J car from the Can-Am series in the 70's. The car has side skirts and an on-board "vacuum cleaner' powered by a snowmobile engine which generated a downforce which exceeded the weight of the car. It was so much faster than the competition that it was banned under a questionable rule interpretation. Unfortunately, engineering brilliance in car racing can be overruled by the need to put on a good race for the fans (unfortunate) or by the need to hold down top speeds for safety reasons (probably a good idea).
I fully agree with the reliability and handling of racecars. What good is a racecar if it breaks (fails) before the end of the race? I've seen many interviews from top competitive drivers sorely disappointed in their provided equipment that broke just before the race ended. Racecars that can't handle well look slow on the race tracks compared to the better handling cars, and that very much includes NASCAR. Tires and suspension adjustments are critical to success (tires can be adjusted by air pressure).
Architect is right about the IndyCar race this past weekend. Because all the cars need to be "spec" machines, they all look alike except for the paint. Now I believe next year other manufacturers can offer "aero kits" which supposedly will make the cars a little different but how much is anyone's guess.
Roger Penske himself said the cars are essentially giant vacuum cleaners and literally sucked up the temporary asphalt. One could argue that using asphalt to patch a concrete surface was just asking for it, but I will focus instead on the huge amount of downforce these cars create.
The reason why the teams spend so much time on shock absorbers, suspension tuning, and CFD is to make sure the car stays firmly planted to road surface so the aerodynamics can work. There is way too much attention being given to making sure the attitude angle and ride height don't vary much. Springs are incredibly stiff. Shocks are close to be overdamped. All in the name of aero.
While certainly some downforce is necessary to keep the cars from flying off the road, the huge amount now generated is clearly excessive. It is said that the current IndyCars generate 2 - 4 times the car weight in downforce. That seems absurdly high. It makes marginal drivers the equal of really good ones. To me, racing is about car control, not having the guts (or stupidity) to plant your right foot firmly to the floor and hang on.
There are an incredible number of variables that need attention when setting up a race car. Engines are not the same, close maybe but not identical. When maximum torque occurs and how fast it climbs, greatly affect handling, same with horsepower. Two 750 HP engines with the same displacement may have entirely different performance maps depending on the driver and track. Front/rear down-force, tire pressure and pressure build rate are significant. Not every driver is comfortable at driving ten tenths for 100 laps, let alone 500 miles. A driver who can drive 20 laps within 1/10th of a second difference per lap while adjusting for wind, temperature, tire pressure, engine variables is a far better calculating machine than the finest computer ever made. The difference between "push hard" and "not so hard" may end up only changing the lap time by 2 or 3 tenths of a second but may extend the life of a component by a hundred miles. The rules package has made Indy racing somewhat less fun for the casual race fan who sees a 500 mile parade of identical looking cars interrupted by occasional crashes. It in no way diminishes the remarkable success achieved by the winning team.
bob from maine...nice post! You did a good job of summarizing many of the basics about racing seemingly identical cars. Yes, race conditions constantly change, and each car has a different driver...adjustments are needed that most casual race fans are not aware.
At Detroit's Belle Isle Gran Prix last weekend, Dario Franchitti improved from a 15th start to 2nd place finish. ...that's good racing by Dario and team!
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