Punching A Hole In the Air
Rather than watch the six hours of hype prior to the Super Bowl this past Sunday, I spent my Super Bowl Sunday afternoon watching the full replay of the 2013 Indianapolis 500. This was my first time to watch the race since I viewed the replay upon our return home last May. There were several things that struck me while watching.
First of all, even knowing the outcome – I still found myself getting goosebumps watching Tony Kanaan taking the checkered flag. I thought of all the disappointments he had had in his previous attempts. I thought back to when I was growing up and how Lloyd Ruby had suffered through even bigger disappointments. The problem was, “Hard Luck Lloyd” never got to drink the milk at Indianapolis. On such a cold and gloomy day this past Sunday, it was certainly heart-warming to watch Kanaan fulfill his life-long dream.
Another thing that stood out was a question – how in the world did Andretti Autosport manage to lose that race? They completely dominated with three of their five cars – Carlos Muñoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti – at or near the front all afternoon. Those three cars ended up second, third and fourth respectively, behind Kanaan. A side-note to that is how impressive Muñoz was. Now that he will be full-time for Andretti Autosport for the upcoming season, I consider him to be a force to be reckoned with.
After the excitement of Tony Kanaan’s victory subsided, it occurred to me all of the lead-changes that had taken place (64). As exciting as the last fifteen laps were – I found the constant changes for the lead to be a bit tiresome. Sure it’s great for SportsCenter, but it seemed a little cheap and gimmicky – even though that was an unintended consequence of the design of the DW-12 Dallara.
I will probably get in trouble here, as I know really nothing about aerodynamic design – but from what I understand, the bulbous design of the rear-sidepods essentially punches a big hole in the air. This makes it very easy for the car or cars behind the lead car to draft and slingshot out to the lead. That lead sometimes only lasts for one lap, before another car does the same thing and assumes the lead.
To me the Indianapolis 500, or any race for that matter, should be about who brings the fastest and best prepared car to the track – and who can manage to keep the car together and on the track for the entire race. It shouldn’t be about who wants to be in second place when the white flag waves. This is what the Daytona 500 has devolved into – whoever can manage and anticipate the draft.
Tony Kanaan had just assumed the lead on a restart, when Dario Franchitti crashed with two laps to go. There was no time to clear the track, so everyone got to savor the moment of Tony Kanaan cruising around to take the white flag and then the checkered flag, while under the caution. As happy as I was for Kanaan, had the race stayed green – it’s quite likely that either Carlos Muñoz or Ryan Hunter-Reay would be the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion. But the history of the Indianapolis 500 is filled with “what-ifs” so I won’t start worrying about that.
What I would like to see are some aerodynamic changes in the DW-12 for Indianapolis. We didn’t see this “punching a hole” effect at Texas, Pocono or Fontana – the other three tracks where the Speedway configuration was run. Only the Indianapolis 500 had a ridiculous amount of lead changes last year. Fontana had only about a third of the lead-changes compared to Indianapolis.
Not only do I not know anything about aerodynamic design; I know nothing about the rules for the aero-kits that we are told to expect in 2015. Are the new kits allowed to eliminate the huge bulge in front of the rear tires? Is that even the cause of the excessive lead changes in the Indianapolis 500? I have to think that if an aero-kit can come up with a way to allow a driver to hold the lead and not make it so easy for trailing cars to close up behind and pass – that would be good for the 500.
It wasn’t that long ago, that announcers would tease us with the stat that the driver leading the Indianapolis 500 at Lap 190 usually does not win the race. The way last year’s race was shaping up, there could have been six or seven lead changes had there not been two yellows in the last ten laps. While the Indianapolis 500 is always in search of better ratings, is it worth cheapening the entire event?
It used to mean something to lead the Indianapolis 500. In 2013, fourteen different drivers led the race at one time or another. That’s getting close to half the field. For comparison’s sake – the 1991 Indianapolis 500, which has always been one of my favorite races, had six leaders. The 1994 race only had three leaders, though that may be too few for even my liking. Anyway, I think you get my point.
By now, some are thinking that I’m just another case of a crusty old goat harkening back to the good old days. Perhaps I should just get on board with this new form of racing and embrace it, or else go find another hobby. After all, the days of the roadster, an all-brick straightaway and thirty full days of track activity in May have all gone the way of the riding mechanic – meaning they’re gone and they’re not coming back. I don’t think so.
The old-style Dallara, which ran from 2003 through 2011 had the opposite problem. In 2009, series officials mandated certain aerodynamic restrictions that caused severe turbulence behind the car, making it very difficult for a trailing car to come up behind and make a pass. Once fans complaints about the quality of the racing got loud enough, Brian Barnhart reluctantly allowed teams some freedom as to what they could do with certain aero pieces. The result was better racing in the remaining races.
Again, I don’t claim to have the answers as to what series officials or aero-kit designers can do to prevent the slingshot drafting. Maybe I’m the only one that doesn’t care for it, but I doubt it. Here’s hoping that the aero-kits in 2015 give the cars more than a different appearance.