Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview

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As we prepared for our third of four straight weekends at IMS, fate has played a welcomed hand in out travels. On Tuesday, Susan was asked by her company if she could go to Greenwood, IN on Wednesday to help out a co-worker. Wednesday through Friday, she is to work in Indiana – even though she had already scheduled a day off for today. She was happy to do it, because she did not have to burn a vacation day for today. The best part for me was that I drove up here last night after work and stayed in her company-paid hotel. I can now get to the track extra early this morning – long before the gates open.

Susan will work the day today and we’ll meet up at our usual hotel this evening. She’ll be the first to admit that she doesn’t like to keep the same pace as I do, so everything is a compromise. If I want to be at the track at 7:00, she wants to be there at noon – so 9:30 or 10:00 ends up being the norm. Today, I can do whatever I want and whenever I want to. Susan’s good with that, which is why she’s such a good sport and racing travel companion.

Susan will be with me at the track for both days of qualifying What she will miss today is what is traditionally known as Fast Friday. This is the final day before qualifications. It is the day when the cars have supposedly been figured out and trimmed out. Hopefully, they can sort out the aero kit issues with the Chevys that saw Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden walk away from frightening crashes in the past two days.

What’s really scary is that no one really knows what the problem is. I’m no engineer, so I will not even speculate. But I hope someone figures it out so that we won’t be seeing any more upside down race cars.

Today is also the day that teams are given the extra turbocharger boost. This is one of my many pet-peeves that I will be careful and not write the entire post about. That being said, this is what I consider manufactured drama. What’s the point in giving the extra boost this weekend and then dialing it back down for the race? Those in the know, say that there is a good chance that the track record may be flirted with next year. I’m thinking that if a new track record is set with added boost that is only available for one weekend, then there should be an asterisk by it since those boost levels were not available for the entire month, including the race.

Granted, speeds are always faster during qualifying than for the race, but that’s because the teams completely trim the car out for qualifying, then add more downforce back into their race setup. But the added boost is strictly sensationalistic so that they can talk about how much faster the cars are now. Give them the same amount of boost for the entire month. If it’s dialed back, fine. If it’s increased, that’s fine too. Just keep it consistent throughout the month. But don’t artificially inflate the speeds for qualifying. OK, I’ll get off of my soapbox now.

Based on the speeds we’ve seen earlier this week, it doesn’t look like any records will be broken this weekend. I’m not even sure that Ed Carpenter’s pole speed of 231.067 mph from last year will be eclipsed, but based on what we’ve seen for the last couple of days, it will. After the May 3rd open-test, everyone thought that the pole speed would be 235. I predicted 232. I’m sticking with that number, but what do I know?

I’ll admit that I’m still not 100% up to speed on this new qualifying format. The main thing to know is that the Sunday’s Fast Nine will be set tomorrow. I also think that the one car to be bumped will be sent home tomorrow (I think). But after positions 10-33 qualify on Saturday – for some strange reason, those cars re-qualify on Sunday morning to determine their starting positions. There is also something screwy about setting the last row that is so convoluted I can’t describe it.

Then the Fast Nine Shootout takes place between positions 1-9 to determine the first three rows and, of course, the pole position. Common sense tells me that it will be a Penske car, but you never know. Scott Dixon has been consistently fast all week. I will say this, there are more contenders for the fast Nine than there are slots. The surprise probably won’t be who makes the Fast Nine, it’ll be who doesn’t. Between three CFH cars, four Penskes and at least two contending Ganassi cars and one good KV car – that’s ten right there. Throw in a Honda or two from Andretti, Rahal or Schmidt and there’s some real non-manufactured drama.

So, I won’t even try to guess the pole winner. It would be a crap shoot. But I will guess the team – Ganassi. Either Scott Dixon or Tony Kanaan will win the pole, that is if their team doesn’t run them out of fuel like they did a few years ago.

That’ll do it for now. Please check back throughout today and all three days of the weekend for updates and trivial opinions. Also, another gratuitous Twitter reminder – for up to date comments and photos, please follow me (@Oilpressureblog) and Susan at (MrsOilpressure). Please check back later today.

George Phillips

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18 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Qualifying Preview”

  1. Brian McKay in Florida Says:

    Have fun.

  2. SkipinSC Says:

    Even though team Penske has more “bullets in the gun,” I’m going with Ed Carpenter. He seems to have a handle on making the DW 12 go fast whatever the conditions.

  3. So bored with Penske and Ganassi. Really hope Bourdais or Carpenter gets pole. Maybe Newgarden, but the wreck hurts that.

  4. Nick (@thespeedwaygay) Says:

    Any unqualified cars can still attempt to qualify Sunday, but only for the last row. You have to be in the top 30 on Saturday to prevent the possibility of being bumped Sunday.

  5. George, we could see history made if Ed wins the Pole: nobody has won the Pole three years in a row… could we see it this year?

    I’ll be there, hope to see you!

  6. billytheskink Says:

    I think Ed finds a way to take pole. Unless the weather is bad, I would expect pole to be at least 1-2 MPH faster than last year. Top practice speeds have been up all week vs. last year, though today will really tell us something.

    Nick has it right on qualifying. No one is bumped on Saturday, all cars that failed to make Saturday’s top 30 qualify for the final 3 spots in between the re-qualifying for positions 10-30 and the fast 9 pole qualifying. From what I understand, you don’t have to even put in a qualifying run on Saturday in order to make a qualifying attempt for one of the final 3 spots on Sunday. Confusing, yes, but interesting to watch when there is limited or no bumping to be had.

  7. I agree this qualifying format is confusing and inexplicable just like all the management of IndyCar, who would expect it to be otherwise – enough on that. I also am no engineer but I can say, based on my observations, that these cars rely almost exclusively on aero grip to the exclusion of mechanical grip. All the manufacturer development was in that area with little or no consideration of increasing mechanical grip. The cars have very sophisticated aero and relatively simple suspension mechanics. Aero grip is either there or not there – it’s essentially 100% or zero. Mechanical grip goes away gradually and is very forgiving. In addition you need mechanical grip if you’re going to have any chance of “catching” the car when it breaks loose. The question is not why are these cars flying but why are they going suddenly extreme loose. Mann’s crash seemed to be driver error. HCN and Newegarten on the other hand showed both to be on line and not at limit. I propose 2 possible explanation for those spins (we all know why they fly when they are going backwards) either there is a aero design issue that is causing the rear wing to stall at a certain yaw or there is a left rear suspension component that is failing under stress or camber issues. I’d start looking at left rear wheel bearings. There have been problems with these before on big ovals. When Sato pulled off on Wednesday he immediately inspected the left rear of the car and I understand he said that he stopped because of a noise in the left rear.

    • Sorry “Newgarden” fat fingers strikes again

    • “Catchfence Complains About Stuff”. Stop the presses.

      Please enlighten us: at speeds well in excess of 200 MPH, how exactly are you going to have “mechanical grip” be the bigger determining factor of handling over “aerodynamic grip”? Shocks are already open for development, but there’s only so much you can do with a standard shock absorber to make more grip (it’s not like you can make infinite grip just via shock tuning…at some point, the tire is going to break away). And there’s only so much you can do with suspension geometry or any kind (see above parenthetical). Lift (aka downforce, in this application) and drag are HUGE at those speeds, so if you want to do what you’re suggesting, you have two options: 1) double the width of the tires, or 2) slash downforce by some 75-80%. The first is basically impossible, unless you want some tire company to develop a tire the likes of which we’ve never seen before and would also reduce the ability of the cars to pass, because they’d hardly fit two wide anymore. The second would require a fundamental rethink of what the cars look like, how they race, and even what the identity of an “IndyCar” is. It’s easy to suggest such a thing, but you’ve got to get a LOT of people on board first.

      • I like to keep it civil. what you apparently don’t grasp is that it is not either/or between aero grip and mechanical grip – you can have both in adequate supply. in fact you can actually enhance mechanical grip with aero grip. Increasing mechanical grip does not necessarily mean reducing aero grip. My point is that these cars are using enhanced aero with suspension designed on the basis of old suspension configurations. The suspension specs need to be enhanced to use the aero grip to improve mechanical grip – to reach an optimal balance. This is why active suspension is optimal, in that, on-board computers, constantly, in real time, adjust this balance and is why it has been banned by most racing series.

        • I like to keep it civil, too, but I tend to get my hackles up when somebody says “I am no engineer” (which you said in your first post) and then goes on to second guess a bunch of engineering decisions that were made by guys who have put in years of schooling and untold years of hard work on the job to develop and refine designs that were made using those engineering principles. When it comes as another of a long string of critical comments (I think I’ve yet to see you make one complimentary comment anywhere in the 6 or so months that I’ve seen your comments all over IndyCar blogs), then I get more frustrated yet.

          I will admit, I was not in the wind tunnel with the guys who worked on the aero kits, nor was I in front of any of the CFD tubes where the kits were simulated. Having said that, I am an engineer who has followed this sport for nearly 25 years, has done untold hours of reading on the technology used in the sport, and untold further hours working on cars inside and outside of the automotive industry. I can’t understand what you’re trying to say in that second post. What I can say is that when you get north of 200 MPH, aerodynamic forces (that’s downforce/lift and drag) are ALWAYS going to play a bigger part in how a car handles, percentage-wise, versus anything that the suspension can do. At those speeds, the suspension is basically a tuning device. If you want to make drastic, wholesale changes at speeds that high, it’s basically gotta be aerodynamic.

  8. I don’t think cars should be allowed to fly. They should go as fast as possible without becoming Frisbees. Until they know why they are flying and make whatever changes they need to make so that they stuck to the ground, I’m not certain they should be on a track. Sorry to be such a downer, but flying cars are not good entertainment.

  9. Look at the panels in the rear side pods of the Chevys, where the numbers are located. The are angles at about 45 degrees. When the car gets backwards they will provide lift. The Hondas have vertical panels at the bottom of the rear side pods. We haven’t seen what happens when a Honda reverses ends, but their design seems less likely to provide lift beyond that of the under wing common to the Dallara chassis.

  10. Ron Ford Says:

    “Flying cars are not good entertainment”. Amen to that.

    Given the way that IndyCar does things generally is it any surprise how convoluted the qualifying format has become.

    The boost deal is a gimmick, but if a qualifying record is set using the boost deal, I don’t think an asterisk is needed. It is just having another 40 HP or whatever available. No different than if more horsepower was built into the engines during the offseason. The skill needed to deal with more horsepower is the same.

  11. Whats worse: Qualifying speeds are fake or qualifying speeds have a big effect on the points standings?

    • Matt B. (Dayton, Ohio) Says:

      Manik, I do not like either, but between the two I’d get rid of qualifying points first.

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