IRL locks down oval wheelbase
There's an under-the-radar rule change this year as IndyCar Series teams tackle the first oval of the season this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Wheelbase options are out; 122 inches is in.
Partly another cost-saving move passed along by the sanctioning Indy Racing League and partly a competition enhancement, the uniformity (with a half-inch tolerance for caster adjustments) puts more of the emphasis on drivers and their maintenance crews.
"It won't affect the short tracks because everybody had to run the long suspension on the short tracks just to get the car to handle," IndyCar Series technical director Kevin Blanch said. "On the big tracks it will make a difference because what you run into when you have 118, 120 and 122 inches -- and every possibility in between -- is every one of those suspension, because it changes the relationship of the wheel to the sidepod, changes the way the air flows over the car so you have to wind tunnel, shaker rig and 7-post test all those suspensions in every possible configuration.
"It will save money because you only have one suspension so you don't have to have spares of 118, 120 and 122 plus all the bits and pieces that go with it."
The next six races are on a variety pack of ovals - Kansas Speedway (1.5 miles; 15 degrees banking in turns), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5 miles; 9 degrees, 2 minutes banking), The Milwaukee Mile (1 mile; 9 degrees, 2.5 minutes), Texas Motor Speedway (1.5 miles; 24 degrees), Iowa Speedway (.875 miles; 14 degrees), Richmond International Raceway (.75 miles; 14 degrees).
"Because (the wheelbase is) longer, the cars won't be as sensitive in traffic as a short car," Blanch said. "The shorter the car is like driving a Volkswagen compared to a limousine. It should make it easier on the tech side to check things and check relationships to the wheels and wings, too.
"It limits the options the engineer has, but it makes it more important to get it right every time and it makes it more important for the guys working on the car to really pay attention to what they're doing. If you're wheel isn't spinning free and the next guy's is, you're talking hundredths of a second top to bottom (of the field) on an oval in qualifying. Just how easy your wheel spins could make the difference.
"On an oval car, you're almost building a worn out race car. You wear out the rod ends and make the wheel bearings spin as free as you can. You don't want to wait for the car to wear it out. It's a constant kind of game of making sure you get it worn out just the right amount. If you could just change to a different part and go faster, then it's not as important that every little thing you're doing is right.
"There's not a magic bullet now that's going to gain you 2 mph. We took the magic bullet away and the guy next to you has the same silver bullet. It's just who polishes them the best." IndyCar.com