Inside CART

CART conducts special test at Michigan
Dan Maldonado

June 12, 2001

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Note the black 3" extra plate on the Handford Device below the word Marlboro.  More advertising space = $$$
All Photos by Dan Maldonado

Michigan Speedway has been the sight of some of the most exciting racing since the introduction of the Handford Device. The purpose of the Handford Device is to slow the cars by creating drag without creating downforce thereby increasing passing opportunities and creating some exciting racing. Today's test was to further enhance the effectiveness of the original device. CART added an additional 3 inches to the original device. The added length increases drag and should help slow the cars down. 

I traveled to Michigan International Speedway today to observe the test and get some insight from drivers, crew members and CART officials. Additionally, in an effort to slow the cars down CART asked the engine manufactures to present 2 cars from their stables to test a further 1-inch reduction in boost pressure. In attendance today were Christian Fittipaldi, Dario Franchitti, Gil de Ferran, Max Papis and Bryan Herta. You'll notice that there is only one Toyota team present. This is due in part to the fact that CART is also holding rookie testing at Mid-Ohio tomorrow and Toyota has more than there share of this year's rookies. 

The track was full of debris in the early morning

Because this test occurred just 2 days after the NASCAR race the track condition wasn't in the greatest of shape. Chris Kneifel the new Chief Steward and a group of mechanics and Firestone engineers formed their own adopt a highway program and cleaned the track. Second, the skies threatened of rain all morning. It wasn't looking like fate was cooperating with today's activities. 

Finally about 11:30 AM, the track went green. It was about 2 hours behind schedule but this is a test after all and not a race weekend. Christian Fittipaldi was the first to put a wheel on the track. It seemed that the Newman-Haas crew unloaded their Lola Toyota ready to go racing. Christian did a little work for Firestone while putting in his laps but according to Firestone the total laps run for them were only about 10 laps. The rest was evaluating the new Handford Device and the 1-inch reduction in turbo pressure. It might be interesting to note that Fittipaldi was running a single-wastegate turbo spec engine for this test. While Toyota's have a distinctive scream, it was painfully obvious that there was a hint of natural aspiration adding to the exhaust note. However, when asked about it, Christian smiled and shrugged the question instead choosing to say that Toyota engines are always loud. 

The original format for today's test was to have the morning dedicated to running individually with the new Handford Device and the afternoon session would include some running in the draft to gauge any increase in turbulence. As mentioned before, morning track conditions were such that the scheduled turned to a play it by ear format. 

Gil de Ferran talks to Christian Fittipaldi about the results

I asked Christian about the difference between this configuration versus the original wing and he felt that it was not much different at all. I asked the same question to Bryan Herta but he said that the car is difficult to drive right now because they haven't found the proper balance. I wasn't sure if Christian was playing it cool for the media so I asked Chris Kneifel what he was hearing. Kneifel said that a couple of drivers had described a "floaty" feeling. Floaty in this case meant that the cars didn't have a real precise connected steering reaction like usual. Instead, the turns are lazy in a way. One Rahal engineer said that it was like an anchor dragging 10 feet behind the car. 

In terms of slowing speeds, if I recall correctly Paul Tracy ran 234 MPH last year on his way to the pole position for last years race at Michigan. Running alone Christian Fittipaldi ran 221.955 MPH with Gil de Ferran pulling in a 224.278 MPH. That is about 10-12 MPH slower than last year. This comparison is relevant because the teams described today's set up as a qualifying set-up. The real question here is whether the reduction in speed is a result of the wing or the boost reduction. One of the Ford engineers working on Herta's team suggested that the boost reduction only represented about a 15 or 20 HP difference and wouldn't have too much effect on the overall speed. Given that answer, I'd say that the reduction is as a result of the wing. The real answer is that the reduction is probably due to a combination of the new wing and the boost reduction but no one was really saying. 

Dario Franchitti jokes around with John Oreovicz

Today's test yielded several questions. 

Are the cars much slower? Right now, they are seemingly about 10 MPH slower. Remember though, the race at Michigan is not until July 22. That is over 6 weeks of development time in the wind tunnel. In fact, Ian Watt and I joked that it is CART's job to try to slow the cars but it is their job to try and get that speed back. 

How fast did they run today versus last July? Again, the individual speeds today were about 10 MPH slower than what we saw last year with Tracy's record setting qualifying run. 

Is this speed slow enough for a return to Texas? For this question I thought I'd ask Chris Kneifel. He suggested that today's speed reduction is not enough of a reduction to return to Texas. Then it begged the question, give this past weekend's IRL race, should CART go back to Texas? Kneifel said that there really is no comparison to what the IRL does versus what is done by CART and couldn't answer the question as stated. He did say that it would be extremely difficult to reintegrate Texas into the schedule. The CART schedule is tight as it is and Texas is undergoing a repaving project. 

Testing the draft

Really, the test was interesting from the standpoint that CART is being proactive in slowing down the cars and is trying to ensure that development isn't taking away the excitement of the superspeedways of Michigan and California. However, the information is for the series and the engineers to mull over and make a decision. 

Driver Speed (MPH)
Gil de Ferran 224.278
Christian Fittipaldi 221.955
Dario Franchitti 220.406
Max Papis 219.740
Bryan Herta 219.727

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