News & Multimedia

What Makes One INDYCAR Faster Than Another?

With the exceptional talent behind the steering wheels of the 26 cars on the grid, the decades of engineering experience on most timing stands and countless hours of R&D spent on aerodynamics, handling and engine performance, the differences between a pole-winning car and one that struggles to crack the top 20 are becoming harder to distinguish.

It’s often down to little things like a pound of tire pressure or a click in one direction on an anti-roll bar. It could be raising or lowering the rear ride height by a few thousandths of an inch, or changing the width or height of a wicker on a front wing element.

Knowing that most IZOD IndyCar Series teams come incredibly close to finding the right chassis setup, watching someone like Will Power claim second place in qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park can be attributed to marrying his preferences on the small handling details to how the car is adjusted to perform.

If it feels right, not only will Team Penske driver Power push the Chevy-powered No. 12 car to its limit on each qualifying lap, but the car, as shown from the on-board footage, and his effort inside the cockpit will flow smoothly.

By the numbers, Power’s on-board video should look night-and-day different from that of JR Hildebrand, who qualified 24th.

Without watching the footage, one might expect Hildebrand’s Chevy-powered No. 4 car to be undriveable or for Hildebrand to make errors that rob him of crucial time on the stopwatch.

The most fascinating part of the equation is how similar the on-board footage is between Power and Hildebrand, between Team Penske and Panther Racing. Once the knockout qualifying session on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber track has ended, Power was a half-second faster than Hildebrand--.506 of a second to be exact, and that .506 turned out to be a difference of 22 positions on the grid.

.506 of a second … 22 positions…

How insanely competitive and tight is competition in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series? There’s your answer.

Measuring the time gained or lost on their laps is the subject of this post-Barber video feature, and we’ve added in a running timestamp to help gauge where Power and Hildebrand differ on the road throughout a qualifying lap.

 

(The timestamp is for reference only—it isn’t an exact counter depicting their actual lap times. For the record, Power’s best was a 1:07.334 to Hildebrand’s 1:07.836.)

Watch their respective hand movements and listen to how and when each driver applies the throttle or brakes (I’ve put Power’s audio on the left channel and Hildebrand’s on the right).

What you’ll pick up right away is how stable Power’s Verizon Wireless-sponsored car is on corner entry, at the apex, and corner exit. His hands and steering wheels movements are sharp but smooth. There are no major instances where he’s fighting the car to turn in or to keep the back from sliding. It’s a fast, subtle lap.

Hildebrand is dealing with a more lively rear with his National Guard-sponsored car on corner exit, and often after needing to give repeated extra inputs to turn the car on corner entry and at the apex. His hands are making small corrections on a more frequent basis to get the car to rotate or to keep it from rotating, but nothing is drastic.

And for every one of those corrections made by Hildebrand, Power inches ahead.

The two teams also took a different approach to gearing, with Power using a longer ratio in fifth to carry the faintest bit of extra speed and momentum through Turn 7 (the right-hander coming up at about the 00:00:28:00 mark) and again in Turn 9/10 (the flat-out section after the Turn 7/8/8a complex at roughly 00:00:40:00).

Hildebrand’s car was geared to shift into sixth just before Turn 7 and before he arrived at Turn 9/10, giving up some engine revs and a few more inches to Power.

The biggest difference on the lap comparison comes in the final set of corners, Turns 12 through 14a.

Power, feeling a rock-solid car beneath him, charges over the crest at Turn 12, and the right-right-right Turn 13/14/14a. To attack Turn 12 and the subsequent corners through Turn 14a, a driver needs to feel the back of the car will stick as it gets light, and as the footage and audio reveals, Power is loaded with confidence.

For Hildebrand, and with the slightly tail-happy handling of his car throughout the lap, attacking Turn 12 with the same vigor as Power would most likely result in a spin. To compensate, Hildebrand isn’t as aggressive (starting at about 00:00:50:00), works with what he has, and makes it cleanly through the rest of the lap.

Hildebrand’s car control is among the best in the series, so while it might be tempting to say he needed to push harder over Turn 12 and deal with the oversteer, it would have resulted in a slower lap.

Watch the video a few times and pick out the minute items that add up to why one car went P2 and the other went P24. For all the time and money spent, that half-second advantage doesn’t look like much, does it?

Show More Show Less
Now Viewing
What Makes One INDYCAR Faster Than Another?
 
What Makes One INDYCAR Faster Than Another?
With the exceptional talent behind the steering wheels of the 26 cars on the grid, the decades of engineering experience on most timing stands and countless hours of R&D spent on aerodynamics, handling and engine performance, the differences between a pole-winning car and one that struggles to crack the top 20 is becoming harder to distinguish.
Read More
Related Media
Ryan Hunter-Reay
 
Hunter-Reay Prepares For The Race of Champions
Hunter-Reay and Busch, Andretti Autosport teammates for the Indy 500 in May, will represent the U.S. in the Nations Cup competition.
Read More
Ryan Hunter-Reay
 
The Man Behind The Faces on Borg-Warner Trophy
So many winners have kept him company in his North Carolina studio because Behrends morphs one race champion to another from the same clay he’s been using since the beginning of the project.
Read More
Ryan Hunter-Reay with his son Ryden Hunter-Reay
 
Hunter-Reay's Likeness Unveiled on Borg-Warner Trophy
Ryan Hunter-Reay experienced one of the greatest spoils of victory for winning the 2014 Indianapolis 500 by seeing his likeness on the famed Borg-Warner Trophy during an unveiling ceremony today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.
Read More
Alexander Rossi
 
Rossi Shifts Focus To America
With F1 becoming a difficult place to secure a full-time ride, Rossi began actively pursuing IndyCar opportunities a few months ago and has been proactive throughout the process.
Read More
Ryan Hunter-Reay
 
Double Points On Tap Again For 2015 Indianapolis 500
Double points for the 99th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and an elimination of the standing start for the 2015 Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis are among the sporting and technical regulations that comprise the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook issued to teams.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 870
Reserve one of our hospitality suites for your next event!
To start planning your event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway please fill out our Information Request Form or contact Phil Sparks at (317) 492-6463 or email at psparks@brickyard.com.
Latest Tweets
We couldn't do what we do without our awesome fans! We've highlighted some of the biggest fans of 2014… http://t.co/wTksQj6xNW
about 19 hours ago