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
Tony Kanaan
 
Past Champs Kanaan, Dixon Not to be Overlooked From the Middle of the Grid
Although his No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet qualified 18th for Sunday’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Kanaan finished Monday’s final extended practice No. 2 on the speed chart.
Read More
Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award
 
Five Drivers to Battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award
After the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil this Sunday, one driver from a field of five “500” newcomers will become the 63rd winner of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, along with its new trophy and $50,000 prize.
Read More
PennGrade Motor Oil
 
From 'Sneaking In' to a Seat in the Pagoda, PennGrade's Miller Takes Emotional Journey to 100th Running
In the early morning hours of May 30, 1969, a father and his 15-year-old daughter drove through a north Indianapolis Motor Speedway gate and parked a 1966 blue Ford Falcon in the dark.
Read More
101st Running of the Indy 500 Logo
 
New Indy 500 Logo and 'Race to Renew' Campaign to Set Pace for Exciting 2017
The buildup for the 101st Running starts with “Race to Renew.” Beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, May 30, fans will have 500 hours to purchase their tickets for the 2017 Indy 500. Those who do so will be able to lock in their current seats at the most recent price or be first in line for upgrades.
Read More
Panasonic Pagoda
 
Historic Sellout Marks 100th Running of the Indy 500 Local TV Delay Suspended for 2016
Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials announced the first sellout in the history of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race today. All suites, reserved seating and infield General Admission tickets for the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil are sold out.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 2,225
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 Laura Wyamn at (317) 492-8557 or email at lwyman@brickyard.com.
Latest Tweets
A special message from IMS president @jdouglas4 for fans before you head to The Speedway before the 100th #Indy500 https://t.co/iqddyCct9f
about 5 hours ago