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
Indianapolis 500
 
USA Today's 10Best Readers Choice Voting Open for 'Best Motorsports Race,' 'Best NASCAR Track'
Voting is now open for USA Today’s 10Best Readers Choice in the “Best Motorsports Race” and “Best NASCAR Track,” with IMS featured in each.
Read More
2016 Indy 500 Logo
 
IMS Offers Special Ticket Discounts for 2016 Indianapolis 500 Fans
As a thank you to the greatest race fans in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is offering special pricing for selected days for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 29, 2016.
Read More
Juan Pablo Montoya
 
Montoya Earns $2.4 Million for Winning 99th Indianapolis 500
Juan Pablo Montoya earned $2,449,055 from an overall purse of $13,397,315 for his victory Sunday, May 24, in the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Read More
Juan Pablo Montoya
 
Monday Racing Roundup: Montoya Wins Thrilling Indianapolis 500
Montoya, who won the race 15 years earlier in his first start, held off reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and teammate Will Power by .1046 of a second -- the fourth-closest finish in race history -- in a thrilling battle over the final 15 laps that also included pole sitter and 2008 race winner Scott Dixon. Five of the 37 lead changes occurred in those 15 laps following a restart, with Montoya overtaking Dixon in Turn 1 for second place and Power in Turn 4 to lead Lap 197 by .0420 of a second.
Read More
Charlie Kimball
 
Kimball Surprises as Ganassi's Top Fighter in '500'
Kimball had never finished better than eighth in four previous Indy 500 starts, but when Dixon faltered late due to an understeer, the door was open for third place. Kimball took advantage of Dixon lifting off the throttle with two laps to go.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 1,941
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
Did you catch the big names on the red carpet for the 99th running Indianapolis 500? Who's Who - Indy 500 Style: http://t.co/vcLBg0Oeps
about 11 hours ago