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Low downforce Indy Car? UPDATE In this latest Gordon Kirby article Al Unser Jr. agrees with AutoRacing1.com - if the IRL switches to a low downforce setup it will be a disaster.  Unser Jr. knows as he lived through that era as a driver when CART tried it.  It was a disaster on the ovals.  How soon we forget.  Mark C.

Key excerpt from article: "The IRL is changing a little bit now because we're starting to get on some road courses which separates your A drivers from your B drivers," Al observes. "But you can't see it on the mile-and-a-half ovals and the superspeedways. They run so much downforce in them today that when you go to Texas, Chicago, Kansas, Kentucky, or Nashville, it really is about the car.

"The driver comes into it as far as not making a mistake. It's not a performance thing. It's about not running into the guy in front of you, or trying not to let the guy behind you run into you. The way it is now in the IRL it's about giving each other enough room and that has allowed the eighteen or nineteen-year old who gets with a good team to be a frontrunner.

"Even Indy is just wide-open all day. Your car has to be just close and you can run every stint, the whole 500 miles, wide-open. You come in to get fuel and new tires and the Firestone tire technology is so good the tires don't go off at all."

The combination of massive downforce and superb tires makes everyone equal and these things in turn make passing on the ovals almost impossible. Unser believes the IRL will make some detail changes to the aero package for next year at Indianapolis, at least.

"They'll be looking at what to do to make it a better competitive situation," Unser says. "What I saw this year (at Indianapolis) was the leaders got within three or four car lengths of each other and that was it. That was as close as they could get to each other and they all ran the same speed, wide-open."

But Unser does not agree with Andretti, Rahal and others that downforce should be dramatically reduced. In fact, he's come to believe in the opposite approach to the problem.

"I think they should put more downforce in them and run them two-abreast around Indy. That would be like the Indy Lights which put on a hell of a show at Indy this year. They ran two-abreast around there and, of course, if you do that you're going to have guys running into each other.

"When you take the downforce out of the car and you make the driver lift the reason you're lifting is because you're out of control. They don't have the grip. Oval racing is not like a road course where you have different speeds. The oval is a high-speed, continuous-speed type of track."

Al believes cutting downforce will make the cars difficult to drive, much like the early, flat-bottom ground-effect cars which were fearsomely pitch-sensitive.

"Back when they first started discovering what ground effects was and they had those flat bottom cars--and Mario would agree to this--when you got that car at a certain angle and a certain ride height it created just a ton of downforce. And when you got out of the throttle just a tiny bit, you lost all the downforce.

"It was like driving in a tornado where you don't know if the wind is going to come from the left or the right, or the front or the back. As a driver the worst thing is a wind gust. If it's a crosswind, you can hang out with it. But if it's a gust you can't because it surprises you and seriously messes you up.

"If you go to less downforce that's what you're going to get--a car that is unpredictable," he adds. "Yes, it will separate the field, but that's not what today's oval racing is all about."

Al believes the development of new, more energy-absorbing materials, including substantial improvements in seat and cockpit construction, will allow the IRL to open-up the IndyCar rules so the cars will be able to safely lap the fastest superspeedways at 250 mph while running in close packs.

"Today's oval track racing is about running two-abreast, sometimes six rows deep," Unser says. "They run around places like Texas and Kentucky all day like that, and you put that at Indianapolis and you're going to see a hell of a show for 500 miles.

"That would be the direction that I would go. Make the cars safe and make the fans safe with the latest technology so that when they do get into each other none of the pieces go into the crowd, because when you run that close, they're going to get together. But it will be exciting!" 

06/24/08 A reader writes, Dear AutoRacing1.com, I read Bruce Ashmore's opinions for the next IndyCar in Gordon Kirby's latest article.  He proposes a low downforce car with a 1.5L twin turbo V6.  What do you think?  Donny Osbourne

Dear Donny, How soon we forget.  CART tried the low downforce car one year and it failed miserably.  The drivers could not pass and they were spooked.  Because of low downforce if the track was off the cars became diabolical.  Hit the marbles and you're history for sure.  Side-by-side racing?  Will never happen.  It's one thing to have low downforce and 400 to 450 HP (which is where it was before wings came along) and quite another to have low downforce and 700 to 800 HP.  Human reflexes go only so far unless you want to reintroduce traction control and active handling.

He proposes 25% of today's downforce levels.  That is ludicrous.  No less than 50% and I would start at 75% to see how it works.  If OK then work down from there.  I do like the twin turbo concept for the engine, makes a lot of sense (reuse of exhaust energy to create power) but as for a V6 to reduce parts and cost - if that argument held water why not an inline 4-cylinder?  Or taking it a step further, how about a 2 cylinder farm tractor engine? In all seriousness, a smaller high revving 4-cylinder engine would allow room in the back for a KERS system - probably a battery storage system like today's hybrids that stores energy from braking and the internal combustion engine and then can be expended to give the driver overtaking power i.e. a push-to-pass system. Mark C.

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