|De Ferran averaged over 241 mph in a CART Champ Car at Fontana in 2000. The record still stands.|
I spent many of my growing up years in Indy, including the bit where ole Tom Carnegie would bellow out, “It’s a new track record." It was a time of gloriously rowdy large crowds, drivers whose names were (and are) household names, and cars that were as beautiful as they were fast. But the reality is that I can’t go back. My old house on 105th Street still stands, but I’m sure that precious few of the people that I grew up with are around, many probably dead by now.
The high grass “swamp" fields I played in are now covered with houses. And I should never see a return to that era of “new track records" at Indy.
You CART fans (you are NEVER a “former" CART fan, right?) remember what happened when ever-escalating oval speeds, in hopes of marketing buzz, overrode the exercise of common sense. Remember Texas, arguably the even that signaled the end of CART as a viable series, when speeds were so fast that drivers couldn’t remember making laps?
Do you recall Michigan, where speeds routinely hit 247 mph (254 at California!), but a tragic accident killed fans, relegating MIS to a weak venue until the plug was finally pulled on the event?
Do you recall the angst at MIS, including that “soft" barrier on the exit to turn 2 in that last race? I once asked Robbie Gordon if he missed doing those speeds, and I got the fastest “NO!" answer in recorded history.
And it’s not like going faster is an engineering exercise anymore. Honda officials told me that current motor, with the boost level used for Push-to-Pass on the street and road courses, would provide ample horsepower for a record run. With perhaps modifications to the wings, the current chassis is also capable. Depending on down force, probably about half of the field have the skill to pull off a record run.
IMSA did a “new track record" run last winter by turning up the boost. I imagine that an unleashed P1 car would blow that away – but then again, in 1986 Tim Richmond did just over 240 in a ‘Cup car for a magazine test. It's just not that difficult.
But IndyCar and IMS officials aren’t doing this for an engineering exercise. Rather, they are doing it to attract fans and hopefully sponsors. The reasoning goes that, in the old days, the place would be packed with fans looking for new track records, and we can recapture that excitement if we simply turn up the boost and go faster. Let’s look at that conclusion:
– Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 one-lap record stands at 37.895 seconds, 237.498 mph. The 4-lap record is 2:31.908, 236.986 mph. Ed Carpenter’s speeds were 1 second per lap slower (morning practice speeds were 8/10 slower that the record). Roger Penske among others have begged the question – unless the track announcer is announcing it, can anyone see 1 second or less on a 38-second lap?
– Conversely, I recall going to MIS to watch pre-Hanford CART events. All I could see of those cars was a “color." I couldn’t see the sponsor logos – forget about the number! – and whatever beauty those chassis had was totally lost on the fans. Isn’t this event paid for by sponsor logos, driving by drivers who make a number famous (and hence, draw more sponsor dollars)?
– Current IndyCar teams are getting by on about 1/2 to 1/3 of the inflation-adjusted dollars they had in 1996. Speed costs money. For instance, the motors might last for 4 laps at that speed, but obviously having them last 2500 miles with a few qualification runs might be iffy. Throw in the testing, a return to serious wind tunnel time… yup, it will cost money. Will we gain speed at the expense of car count?
– And finally (for this rant) – IMSA did that record run last winter, and it’s not like it somehow drew interest from anyone but the True Faithful. In fact, IMSA is currently without a viable TV contract, and teams are dropping like flies. NASCAR set a few new track records over the past couple of years, but I see dropping TV ratings, empty seats in stands – in fact, grandstands being torn down – and racing that often looks like Interstate traffic. I’m looking for proof that 2014-era crowds want “new track record" speeds, but… can someone point me to such proof? ‘Cause I don’t see it.