MMR Blog

Indy’s 100th:Winning is the Sum of Many Parts | Part II

Posted on June 4, 2011 Comments (0)

The People

Despite the money spent to make it happen and the money to be won, the Indianapolis 500 is a race of “haves” and “have-nots” and there are far more “have-nots” than “haves”.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

Dan Wheldon sharing the milk

The large teams, Penske, Ganassi, Andretti, and Letterman Rahal bring in millions to run their operations. The middling teams KV Racing, Dreybold Rhinehart and other lesser knowns struggle all the time to bring in fresh money to keep going. Then there are the smaller one- and two-car efforts that rely on drivers who pay for their ride with either personal fortunes or corporate sponsors. They struggle to make the show and pray for the winnings to cover expenses. Although 33 cars line up to race at Indy, they are not all equal. Better funded teams have better equipment, better drivers and far less stress. But they do all have one thing in common. They are there because they are competitive and they love racing. While everyone comes to Indy to make money, money is only part of the story.

Dan Wheldon’s win was a great story and gives hope to everyone in the paddock. The Penskes and the Ganassis know that they were not beaten by a better driver or better equipment. It was race strategy and execution that allowed Weldon to win. And one more thing, a small thing called luck. His good luck and several other drivers’ bad luck.

Wheldon is a sympathetic character. He is talented, telegenic, and has a great story. He was cut from a permanent drive at the beginning of the year by lack of funding. Indy was his one chance this year to be noticed and perhaps pick up a ride for the remainder of the season or sign a contract with a big team for next season. He has won before and he knows just how important it is that the stars align for it to happen again. In an interview last week, he explained that he had several offers to drive but it was important that he have a car capable of winning. Car failure or a low place finish could mean the end of his career.

Dan Wheldon Indy 500

When his friend Bryan Herta, a respected former top driver, now team owner, called to offer him a drive, Wheldon knew this wasn’t a top team and he bluntly explained his situation and asked one question, “Can you give me a car that can win?” His friend knew that the question wasn’t about a car; it was about a team that could execute under pressure, a team that could field equipment that was capable of winning the 500 mile race. That meant a team that would always get the same quality parts and pit lane support as the big guys. Tires and engines are the key components and getting the right parts is crucial. Those parts only go to the teams that the manufacturers deem capable of winning. And everyone in the pits knows this and knows who those teams are.

In the Winner’s Circle, when Dan Wheldon thanked Firestone and Honda he meant it and he had good reason. And all the people in the pits knew exactly what he meant. They took care of him. He got top stuff. As for his sponsors, those whose money made it possible, he mentioned them and he made their year. People who have never heard of Rast jeans before Sunday might just support a company that put its name on the side of a car that went against the big guys. Lots of people and companies at Indy won with Dan Wheldon.

But the biggest winner was the Indianapolis Speedway.


Indy’s 100th:Winning is the Sum of Many Parts | Part I

Posted on June 3, 2011 Comments (0)

The Track

This past Sunday’s Indy centenary celebration was the perfect example of why the Indianapolis 500 race has survived for 100 years. It was unpredictable, exciting and the essence of what Indycar racing is all about!

Satellite view of Indianapolis Speedway

Satellite view of the Indianapolis Speedway

The original 2½ mile oval was paved with bricks, hence the nickname; “The Brickyard”. Dick Gail, the very literate former Racing Director of the Champion Spark Plug Co., called it “Grant Wood at speed.” Picture American Gothic and imagine a helmeted Parnelli Jones in the picture and you get his drift. Indy is simply a very old track on which very fast modern cars are made to adapt in order to compete. Unlike the Indianapolis Speedway, today’s ideal racetrack would be much shorter and have steeply banked corners.

100 years ago a 500 mile race on a track of this size posed unique challenges. The distance itself made simply finishing an accomplishment. Also the primary car design consideration was speed. No serious thought was given to fire prevention or safety equipment. Quite the opposite, it was felt that being thrown from an out of control car was preferable to staying in it. So survival was a factor.

Aside from instant fame, what really attracted entrants to the Speedway was the instant fortune that came with it. The event was the premier American motor race of the year and the purse was so big that entrants would modify otherwise uncompetitive dirt track race cars in an attempt to make the show and thereby win a piece of the purse. Qualifying and finishing guaranteed a handsome payday and would fund many a future race weekend, or purchase or fund the building of a newer and faster car. An entire field of purpose built Indy cars as we now know them, didn’t develop until the late forties.

Surprisingly, it is the original design of the track that 100 years later continues to pose the major challenge to competitors. Cars that travelled at 100mph on hard, narrow tires, had virtually the same problem turning quick times as today’s 250mph cars do on sticky wide ones. Indy’s long straights allow cars to travel into the corners with far more speed than the relatively flat turns will allow them to sustain. Drivers must find the proper balance of speed, power and grip that will allow them to skid, or more accurately, rotate the car so that it comes out of the corner with maximum momentum and prepared to accept the application of full power once again. Because the skidding process scrubs off speed, the wider the arc of the turn, the less the skidding and the higher the entrance and exit speed. Unfortunately, the wider arc, the greater the distance to be travelled and that represents greater time expended. The fastest time around Indy requires almost brushing the outside wall at the entrance to the turn with the outside wheel, clipping the inside edge of the track at the center of the turn with the inside front wheel and almost brushing the outside wall again at its exit. That compromise between the shortest distance and the highest speed describes the fastest way through the turn and it allows the driver to achieve a higher exit speed on the subsequent straight. Doing it consistently is the driver’s challenge.

Indianapolis 500 100th Anniversary logo

So today’s Indy cars have the same issue at the original racers. Where and when to lift off the throttle and where and when to get back into it? At one period during the evolution of the Indianapolis race car—the last days of the front engine Offenhouser powered cars—there was a short period where the tires and the car design had evolved to a point that allowed brave and talented drivers to go through Turn Four without lifting. Because cars qualified singly, everyone in the pits could hear the sound of the engine and knew when a driver lifted his foot from the gas pedal. Drivers like Foyt, Jones and Andretti were in demand because they could do it consistently whether or not they had the best car. They may be celebrated today by race fans for their wins, but they were respected in the pits for their talent and their ability to get the maximum out of a car.

Aerodynamics, tires and the suspension set-ups determine how well the chassis works. Wind speed, temperature and track conditions determine the adjustments engineers must make to the set up to maximize effectiveness of their equipment. That is the engineer’s challenge. The driver can also make his own limited adjustments to the car as the race progresses and conditions and/or competitors demand.

As the race progresses a building up of small pieces of used rubber scrubbed from the edges of the racing tires forms to the outside of the line or perfect arc. This pinches the usable line inwards and the outside wall no longer becomes the furthest usable boundary. The line where the marbles or loose rubber dirt begins, determines the outer line which becomes what drivers call the dirty area and which is visible as a different texture and gray in color. This gray area inhibits grip and the car, particularly in turns where there is sideways pressure, becomes uncontrollable and slides up into the wall as though on ice or marbles. This tightening of the racing arc or line means slower entrance and exit speeds and diminishes the actual racing surface on which cars can pass.

When Indy rookie JR Hilldebrand went into the last turn leading the Indy 500, he had one backmarker—a slower non-competitive car—between him and the chequered flag. He had two choices; back off, thus scrubbing speed, and follow the slower car through the turn on the clean line. Knowing that Dan Wheldon was not far behind and not having a car in his way, may have been able to maintain greater momentum through the turn and catch him before the finish line, Hildebrand chose instead to put two inside wheels on the clean line and two in the “gray” area and hope that his car would stick. It didn’t and he slid up into the wall and crashed. His slide took him across the line in second place.

The clean racing line is very narrow and at elevated speeds cars must have all four wheels on clean surface through the turns to perform safely.

JR Hildebrand learned that today. Dan Wheldon knew it.


Buell is Back!

Posted on June 1, 2011 Comments (0)

The Erik Buell story is fairly short: Motorcycle racer finds success as a bike builder.

Eric Buell Racing 1125R DSB

Eric Buell Racing 1125R DSB

Adapts engines from a different style bike to his purposes and grows a successful business. Engine maker buys him out and retains him to run their new division. Hard times hit and the engine maker shutters his business. Racer goes back to the drawing board and tries again. This time he has more capital and a reputation for having built a winner.

Erik Buell is a charismatic character. He is intelligent, articulate and passionate about motorcycles and motorcycle design. Listening to him speak you quickly realize that he is a visionary with definite ideas. Patience doesn't appear to be a virtue he possesses in abundance.

Eric Buell Racing 1190RR

Eric Buell Racing 1190RR

Now he has a clean sheet of paper and some jingle in his jeans. Erik Buell Racing is building high end track bikes. The time will come when he is building street bikes again and this time the power will be better suited to his designs. Possibly with a forward looking company like Bombardier. We can't wait.

Check out his bikes!


MMR 2011 Competition Headlines Preview!

Posted on December 21, 2010 Comments (0)

MMR Competition Headline Predictions!

MMR has consulted the oracles, gazed deeply into our crystal balls and read the sediment at the bottom of countless bottles of mediocre wine to bring you these predictions! Look for these headlines coming soon to a website just like this one. Or... only this one.

2011 Formula 1:

  • Adrian Newey has been found guilty of "over designing" and will only be allowed to do one line on the 2011 Red Bull car! Competitors insist it must be the tire! 
  • The traditionally inept FIA race stewards will now have expert help: "Rex" the Seeing-Eye Wonder Dog will attend every race and bite every little driver who does a "no-no" on the track or "wee-wee" in his driving suit!
  • Hermann Tilke has been commissioned to design “the most exciting country in the world”! Based on his F1 experience, he has chosen Switzerland as a model. One person in Switzerland recently yawned! The remainder are lying about waiting for Prince Charming to come and kiss them on the lips!  
  • In order to put an end to the confusion, every car on the grid will be called a Lotus! Except the Virgin... which will be called a Virgin because…God knows, Virgins are hard to find in racing.

 Nascar:

  • Rather than simply give him the 2011 Winston/Verizon/Holiday Inn/ Nextel Cup, Jimmy Johnson has been asked to retire!
  • The Association of Mental Health Professionals has released the results of their study showing that every Nascar driver, except for Jimmy Johnson, needs sociopathic adjustment counseling!
  • Michael Waltrip is missing! He may have disappeared six years ago but his family didn’t notice until they turned on the TV and noticed he was not starring in consecutive ads for Maytag, Preparation H and Baby’s Own Shampoo.
  • Road races, exceptionally popular with the fans, have been eliminated! Nascar officials fear drivers will cheat once they get out of sight of the tower.     

 Indycar:

  • Rules have been changed to allow rodeo clowns in fiberglass “pretend” barrels to run out on the track during caution periods to try and distract the drivers. Car owners say “We fought Randy tooth and nail on this one. He wanted to stampede bulls on the track during qualifying. We settled for the clowns.”  
  • Roger Penske has bought the Indianapolis 500!

 Moto-GP:

  • The 2011 rules have been changed to compensate for over-talented riders! Valentino Rossi will be forced to compete this year on a uni-cycle!
  • Upon receipt of his signed agreement to the change, Moto-GP promptly cancelled the season and awarded him the title, thus saving all the manufacturers a fortune! Racing will resume when he is old!

 LeMans:

  • All non-French cars will be compelled to use Mercedes aerodynamic packages in 2011!
  • Audis have been banned because French announcers cannot pronounce the name of the car without sounding like lonely cowboys.

 That’s all the news that’s fit to print…here?


Red Bull Gives You Wins

Posted on November 18, 2010 Comments (0)

Red Bull have won it all! And deservedly so.

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

Excited and exciting Seb Vettel wins Drivers Championship

The energy drink people at Red Bull have proven once again that unfettered money can beat the Fiats, Mercedes and Renaults of the world at what should be their game. Benetton were the last wholly owned non-automotive oriented team to win both Drivers and Constructors Championships and that was fifteen years ago.

But this was an interesting season. Not as much for the racing as for the people. We appear to have a group of drivers who have let their personalities shine through the corporate sponsorships and we find they are a diverse group.

The following are the impressions they left with me as the year ended.

Sebastian Vettel: His little-boy exuberance can be alternatively refreshing and annoying but there is no doubt that he can drive. He had the best car, he won the Championship and he really deserved it.

Mark Webber: Flashes of brilliance but not enough of them. Nobody ever thought he would accomplish what he did at his age and stage of his career. He has a sympathetic following but a dim future.

Hamilton: Quick and competitive. Somehow appears one dimensional. He will be better as he matures.

Alonso: Quick and competitive and smart. Interesting to see him being consoled by Ferrari after the race. I would have thought the check was enough. He has been with four teams in nine seasons.

Massa: Great guy who needs to step up his game. He is number 2 at Ferrari. The new Barrichello.

Button: In two years he has built a reputation for being smart, fast and easy on equipment. Moved from Mercedes at the right time and can give his teammate a run on any day. He was impressive this year.

Schumacher: Gave every aging F1 driver hope. Then dashed them with uncompetive drives. His crash on the first lap of the final race should be a message.

Rosberg: Quick and smart. Handled being Schumacher's teammate very well. He deserves a better team and car. I would love to see him at Red Bull.

Kubica: Very quick. Needs a top ride and then will be very, very competitive.

Kobiyashi: Exciting to watch and would be interesting to see what he could do in a better car.

Domenicali: The most refreshing team principal in years. After years of Dreary Ron and Silent John, he is a breath of fresh air.

The only difference between the cars is Adrian Newey and Renault power.

The last two races were good strategic battles on boring courses. If Abu Dhabi would have been the first race it would have been called a disaster for its lack of passing opportunities.

Formula One drivers are pretty evenly matched. Vettel had a car in which at least five other drivers could have won the championship.

A lot of people seem to speak for Red Bull but we never hear enough from the guy who really makes it all work, Adrian Newey.

Hopefully next year will see more teams competing at the front. Mercedes and Renault seem poised, Williams, less so, but could surprise. A few less boring Tilke tracks would help.

On to 2011, let the testing begin!