Is It Time For The Hanford Device?

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This past Sunday, as I was watching the NASCAR race at Michigan drone on and on and on…I was wondering why the stock cars ALWAYS put on a snoozer at this track, while open-wheel races were always so entertaining. As I literally drifted off to sleep a couple of times, my mind would wander back to the CART races at Michigan International Speedway in the late 1990’s when they ran the Hanford Devices.

The Hanford Device was a simple device that was added to the rear wing in order to slow the cars down on super speedways.987_rear330x350 Quite frankly, it looked like a board hanging from the trailing edge of the rear wing. It served its purpose in slowing down the cars, but an unintended result was the drafting effect it produced. It acted almost like a parachute as it slowed down the cars. In so doing, the device created a giant aerodynamic hole behind the car. The result was a large vacuum that allowed cars to get a run up behind a car and slingshot past.

The on-track result was that it did slow down the cars, but it created multiple lead changes per lap and provided exciting side-by-side racing similar to what the IRL used to have at Texas. The obvious question is…why doesn’t the IRL install a Hanford-like device on its cars for the ovals?

The answer is not as simple. These are different cars with much different engines than those that ran at Michigan and Fontana in those days. I will not pretend to be an expert on aerodynamics, but I’m told that the difference in horsepower along with the heavy downforce that the IRL cars carry, would play a role in reducing the effect of a Hanford-type device as far as producing better racing. It may, in fact, make the cars so slow and predictable that the racing could become much more boring than what we have seen already this year.

It might be worth a try, though. At this point, I think anything might be worth a try. While the league is conducting tire tests as they did at Chicago this week, why don’t they bolt on a Hanford Device on about six cars and run them in a pack to see what the result would be? Find out what lap times are produced, but more importantly…what does it do to the handling characteristics of a car, especially in traffic? They may find that it completely disrupts the balance of the car and would be totally impractical to run such a wing. If so…fine. Let us know.

My problem goes back to an article I wrote last week on whether or not the IRL cares about its fans. A reader sent me an e-mail that brought up an excellent point. If Brian Barnhart and the IRL would at least acknowledge that there IS a problem with the lack of racing, then a lot of us would stop complaining. If my power goes out and I call to report it but the power company never answers, I get frustrated. If they answer, acknowledge they are aware of a problem in my area and are working on it…I’m satisfied. Without any acknowledgement from the league, how do we know if they are looking at other alternatives? Lack of communication makes for a very frustrated fan base.

The Hanford Device may prove to be the dumbest idea ever tried on a Dallara, yet it might solve some problems rather easily. Just try it.

Smokey Yunick brought one of the strangest looking cars ever to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1964, when he unveiled the sidecar. The theory was that it would shift the center of gravity far to the left, thereby making it more stable in the turns. In actuality, it was only marginally successful in practice and crashed during its only qualification run. The point is…he tried. Yunick tried something different. It didn’t work out as expected, but at least he tried.

I am hoping that Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee will have Brian Barnhart on their show to discuss the parade-like racing that has infected the series this season. I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon, but I know they are going to have some non-league personnel on this week (Larry Curry), to discuss the problem. Fair enough. Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee are a sensible duo. I think if they initiate enough discussion on this matter—word should get to the league.

In the meantime…whether it’s a Hanford Device, a different tire compound or any other aero tweaks they can come up with; I hope the IRL will be proactive and let us know they are trying to solve the problem. Otherwise, the small fan base they have will start to become smaller – while the league gives the appearance that there is no problem.

George Phillips

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10 Responses to “Is It Time For The Hanford Device?”

  1. bickelmom Says:

    Try something! Anything! I miss the excitement of racing!

  2. Jack in NC Says:

    I think you might be onto something, George. What I would like to see would be something under the driver’s control, sort of like the small airbrake that “Silent Sam” the STP turbine powered car in 1967 had.

    What I have in mind is some type of airflow disrupter that could give the driver more control of his own car, while possibly also giving him some control over what kind of air the car behind him is driving in.

    I’m an old yacht racer, having raced a number of different kinds of sailboats over the years. Some of my favorite yacht racing is “One Design” racing, where the rules specify the design of the boats completely and the only difference between competitors comes from their skill in rigging and racing the boats. That is pretty much where the IRL is today with each car running the same engine in the same chassis. The problem is, there is so much parity in the field that we have these single file parades.

    What makes yacht racing more interesting is that the track is wider, so to speak, and each boat can choose its own path to the mark, looking for favorable winds. However, there are a couple of places on the course where all the boats have to be in the same place – at the starting line and at the marks where they make turns. In these places, the winning boat usually has taken advantage of a position where they can use the backwash off their own sails to “blanket” their closest competitor.

    I think it would be interesting if Indy cars had some aerodynamic device like a spoiler or an airbrake under the control of the driver that could slow their own progress but also disrupt the airflow behind them.

    Who knows – it might make the parades even more inflexible, but it might also make for some very interesting racing.

    Your basic premise is correct – in order to try any fix, aerodynamic or mechanical, first the League has to admit that there IS a problem.

  3. Boo Boo Says:

    Hate to bust yer bubble there, Bub, but it’s already on the car.

    At Texas.

    WRT CART racing at Mich: It’s real entertaining to watch Montoya and Andretti passing each other back and forth, until about the fourth or fifth pass… that’s when you realize it’s a circus act—and an extremely dangerous one at that. I pass you, now you pass me! Then I pass you, and you pass me! The person unfortunate enough to be leading the race coming off the last turn is a dead duck.

    It’s at that point that the guy in the lead starts trying scrape the other guy off on slower traffic at 240 MPH. Real safe racing there. End of day, CART racing on ovals was entertaining because it was insanely dangerous. Those days aren’t coming back anymore than the blood sport days of the 70s when even the fans were getting killed.

    Scott Goodyear stated during a broadcast from Mich that the only thing he liked about racing at Michigan was driving OUT of the parking lot after the race. Said he was just happy to be leaving in a car and not a helicopter. Said most of the drivers hated the place and would rather not race there.

  4. redd carr Says:

    It seems like so many times a car will get a run on another one, but the car goes wacky when they actually try to pass. Like you, I’d at least like to hear Barnhart acknowledge the problem.

  5. In the Texas pre-race they had a segment that profiled a device that they attached to the back wing of the cars. It was an air scoop on the top and bottom of the back wing used to slow the cars down. They mentioned that it created a huge hole in the air behind the cars. They indicated that they hoped it would lead to more close racing and passing. Sounds like the Hanford device – or some variation on it.

    Problem is that it didn’t work. That was one incredibly boring race.

    • oilpressure Says:

      I saw that piece on the pre-race. That was a glorified wickerbill. The Hanford Device hung straight down from the entire trailing edge. I have inserted a picture onto the article. –GP

      • Yup, not really a “Hanford”—I meant to mention that in my other post, but forgot. The one on the Indy Car is a much smaller fence with a wicker on it. Nonetheless, the “glorified wicker bill” still has the effect of opening up a hole behind the car.

        The reason the real Hanford was so big, though, was because the CART machines were so fast, not because they wanted to make passing easier. They were trying to slow the cars down. You really want to slow the IRL cars down more?

        Here’s the deal: a CART racer is not an Indy Car. An Indy Car gets much more of its down force from its wings (its often referred to as the “big wing” formula). They got little teeny tiny tunnels underneath the pods, whereas CART/ChampCar machines have the full monte. That’s why the Hanford is doable for a CART race; because even when you totally foul the air with these planks on the rear wing, following cars still get all the down force they need from the underbody.

        Surely, everybody knows by now that, in the current big wing formula, when the leader is running around the bottom line, and the following cars can’t close the gap, it’s because they are running in dirty air. They are losing down force, and they don’t have enough grip to make a run at the lead car using a draft—which is still there, folks, even without the fabulous Hanford device.

        Hanford = even more dirty air, therefore

        Hanford = even less passing.

  6. How about adjustable wings like what they have in F1 now? It hasn’t helped massively on road circuits, but it’d be interesting to see how it’d work on an oval track.
    Essentially, the front wing can be changed a few degree in either direction twice a lap – worth a try?

    • The adjustable front wings F1 has this year are controlled by the driver. There are only two positions – more downforce or less downforce. I don’t recall any of the F1 dirvers talking about using the adjustment during a race this year: it would be interesting to know how well this is working.

      Adjustable front wings should allow the dirver to have more grip while drafting then switch to less drag when pulling out into clean air. Of course the car in front would also be set to “less drag”. So the device wouldn’t increase the relative speed difference in this situation, but should allow the driver to feel more comfortable while trying to draft to pass.

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