The Armchair Racer’s Guide to the Indianapolis 500

indy500

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With the fastest field of drivers in the 2021 Indianapolis 500 ever, and the third-closest spread of speeds of all time, how do you know who’s the driver most likely to move forward in the field and who will be fading fast? Fortunately, for the more-than-casual fan, we have access to the NTT IndyCar Series App which provides the end user with valuable data on how to predict who got their setup right and who got it wrong.

The app provides live streaming telemetry with data such as speed, gear position, throttle position, brake pressure and perhaps one of the most telling pieces of data – steering wheel angle.

If you watched qualifying, you’ll know that every single driver was “flat out” for the entire four laps. That means that their foot was buried on the floor with the throttle pedal never lifting off even while hurtling into those 90 degree corners in excess of 230mph! If you watched the speeds heading into and out of the corners there was about a 10 mph difference between entering and exiting. The best way to go fast is to keep the steering wheel pointed straight. However, this of course would be the wrong thing to do at Indy. Since you have to turn the wheel to navigate the course, you want to turn as little as possible to avoid “scrubbing” off speed. Yet, you don’t want the car to be so loose (oversteer) that it’s too hard to control for 500 miles.

Most teams will set the cars up with just a bit of understeer to make it more predictable for navigating through traffic during the race. Keep in mind that when the drivers are in heavy traffic and close to the rear wing of the car in front of them, the aerodynamic pressure is reduced on the front wings causing an “aero wash” or lack of front grip. This is the aerodynamic equivalent to hydroplaning on wet roads. The problem is that if you pack up to close to the car in front you’ll lose grip which then puts you onto the dirty part of the track (the marbles) which is then like driving on ice. In most occasions you’ll soon be having an intimate visit with the SAFER Barrier and a trip to the infield medical center – not to mention tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars of crash damage.

So, while you’re watching the 500, open up the app and look at the steering angle of your favorite driver. Also, look for a driver in the lead and back in the pack. If you see their steering angle over 20 degrees, you’ll know that the car has too much understeer. If it’s less than 10 degrees, they’re likely battling a loose car. The drivers that consistently have less steering angle than most are typically the ones up front or making their way there. Watch to see how much and for how long they’re lifting off the throttle in the corners as another indicator of handling. When it comes to the last ten laps, you’ll be seeing drivers battling for the win going flat out in their quest to drink the best milk they’ve ever had in their life. Come to think of it, I think I’ll raise a glass in their honor, although I’ll have some cookies with it on the side!

Copyright © 2021 By Larry Mason - Instuctor, FastLane Racing School

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