Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A week of crashes behind at Indianapolis

The Indianapolis 500 is approaching; the qualifications are behind as well as all practice sessions but one-hour Carb Day practice on Friday. Then on Sunday, it's time for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
This year has seen the introduction of the new aerokits. An aim in opening the aerodynamics for competition was to get visible differences between different manufacturers. And it seems that aim was achieved; there are clear differences in the Chevrolet and Honda aerokits and the manufacturers had even designed different parts for the qualifications and the race.

In my previous text, I was carefully positive about the introduction of the aerokits. The aerodynamically more sensitive cars haven't hurt racing, at least too much. But we may have seen another harmful effect of aerodynamically sensitive cars. There have been five crashes on the oval at Indianapolis this year, in four of them the car turned upside down. At first it seemed like it might have been an issue of the Chevrolet aerokit as the first three flips happened with it. But yesterday also a car with the Honda aerokit turned upside down when James Hinchcliffe had a heavy crash and his car was sliding sideways.

Maybe the new aerokits are so sensitive that they have caused the tendency for the cars to flip this year. Or maybe the new aerokits being faster is a reason for crashes and subsequent flips. Or maybe a bit of both, or maybe that could've happened also with the old Dallara aerokit. A thing to be noted is that all flips with the Chevy aerokit happened with the qualifying parts which were abandoned later as it became required to run the qualifying with the race trim.

But what should have been done otherwise, if anything, and what should be done in the future? Well, clearly something should be done to avoid these flips in the future; we don't want that to happen in a race with a group of cars coming behind. And all these flips can't have been a coincidence; there is something wrong at least in the Chevy aerokit. Actually, I'm less worried about the suspension failure that caused the crash of Hinchcliffe, despite it being the only of the crashes where the driver got injured. That crash may just have been a one-off failure and very bad luck for Hinch. There will always be the risk of a mechanical failure, and on an oval it can have severe consequences. 

I think IndyCar should have tested the speedway aerokits already before May. To start testing them only in May meant they didn't have time to fix the arisen issues before the 500, they can only hope the race setup leads to less crashes and isn't so prone to flip. Had they tested the speedway aerokits in winter, they could've addressed and solved their issues before the Month of May.

As for what they should do now, I don't know as I'm not an aerodynamics engineer. But here's a bit radical idea. Make the car less aero-sensitive. Distinctive differences between manufacturers are the only good thing I can imagine of the aerokit competition. Otherwise advanced aerodynamics don't improve racing on track and as we've seen on the past week, they can make a spinning car behave unpredictably. I'd reduce downforce and compensate the loss in lap times with more mechanical grip and power. Of course, this is no short-term solution, rather an idea on what they should do when they set the regulations for the successor of DW12. A short-term solution is just to find what makes the cars flip so easily and how to avoid that from happening without a complete redesign of the car.

Crashes have taken the attention on the first week of this year's Indy 500. But hopefully on Sunday there will be a great race. Later this week I will write a preview of Sunday's race.

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