Marshall Pruett's Tech Mailbag for March 7

Friday, 07 March 2014
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For years I've wondered why Indy cars don't have starters. It's infuriating to see a 7-lap caution when someone spins and stalls the car. The safety crew is not quick to get to the scene and the almost arbitrary selection of who gets started first can really screw up a driver's day. Starters have been in road cars for 80 years now. Sports cars have to use them every time they make a pit stop. Why can't Indy make them work?
Max, Cleveland

MP: No argument there, Max. Thankfully, IndyCar has changed the rules for 2014 and now require manufacturers to enable anti-stall. It was optional from 2012-'13. It isn’t the same as having on-board starters, but provided the systems work consistently, it’s a decent workaround.

My first question is something I've been curious about for years, and I'm sure will be similar to many of the other questions your first week. What I'd like to know is what parts on the current Indy car are spec, and which can be developed/built by teams?

In layman's terms, I've assumed in recent years that the chassis itself, the engine, and the wings were all "spec" but that parts of them were adjustable with different settings. The areas I think are more open to development are the suspension pieces, mirrors, and end plates (at least prior to the DW12). Basically my question is, how wrong am I? And to put it a better way, what's the best way to describe all of this to a "Car guy" I'm bringing to the "500" this year.

A few years back when Buddy Rice was driving for D&R I remember him talking about how the team had just discovered something and made a new part accordingly. I assumed this was suspension-related, but I've always wondered what the rules are on this.
Kyle Jenkins, Shiloh, Ill.

MP: There was some wiggle room for teams to express themselves when there was chassis competition in IndyCar, but that has been locked down with the new car. Let me apologize in advance to your friend because if he’s looking for design creativity at Indy, you’ll need a time machine set for no later than 1994.

There’s a ray of hope, however, as IndyCar’s Derrick Walker (how many times have I mentioned that old guy’s name so far?... ;-) has outlined a plan to allow some form of team-based modifications in the next few years. It’s currently undefined, so it could be suspension, could be aero, or maybe both.

No one, at present, wants to see costs rise as a result of opening the door on creativity and individuality, so look for that concern to govern whatever allowances are made. From a philosophical standpoint, that door cannot be opened soon enough. Few people get motivated or inspired by sameness. Most people look for ways to be different, which is counter to everything the IndyCar Series and other spec forms of racing currently deliver.

I've been curious to know why Honda's single-turbo approach didn't pan out. Wasn't the single turbo supposed to give them better top-end power and speed as compared to Chevy's twin? It seems like Pocono was the only time it seemed clearly a Honda advantage (though I remember that race being a lot about fuel mileage).

MP: Well, they did manage to win nine of 19 races last season with that single-turbo configuration after getting their behinds kicked by Chevy in 2012. As you rightly pointed out, Chevy had a stronger season up to Pocono, but Honda took six of the remaining nine races. Chevy won the Manufacturers’ title, but Ganassi’s Scott Dixon took the Drivers’ title – the team’s final season with Honda.

As for the single-turbo setup not panning out, a rule change for 2014 that requires all manufacturers to use twin turbos had been in the works for a while, so I wouldn’t associate Honda’s switch with any specific lack of performance with their single setup. I would have loved to have seen how the single vs twin battle went down this season.

I’d like to pay more attention to sports car racing besides Sebring and Daytona, but I’m confused by all of the different series. Can you give a simplistic description between IMSA, WEC, TUDOR, Pirelli World Challenge and SCCA?
Curt Larson

MP: You bet.

  • IMSA: Sanctioning body for the TUDOR United Sports Car Championship, Continental Tire Series and a bunch of other junior categories. Because IMSA was once the name of North America’s premier sports car series, it’s easier for some of us to refer to the TUDOR Championship, which tacks a decent acronym (TUSCC doesn’t really pull at one’s heart string), as IMSA. You’ll get some manufacturer participation here, but not much, and all the races are two hours or longer.

  • WEC: The top international sports car series – like F1 for prototypes and GTs. It’s run in a partnership with the ACO, the organizers and rule makers for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the FIA, the sanctioning body for F1, WRC and many other series. Other than the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sports car racing has lacked a consistent international championship to fill out the rest of the year before and after Le Mans. The WEC achieves this in the same way IndyCar fills its calendar with races on either side of the Indy 500. It’s loaded with manufacturers and pro-am teams, and has, among the factory P1 entries from Audi, Porsche and Toyota, possibly the highest state of technology in road racing. Every round is an endurance race.

  • TUDOR: Explained above.

  • Pirelli World Challenge: Owned by the SCCA and run/licensed by team owners, it’s packed with classes ranging from tiny Fiat 500s to exotica from McLaren. Possibly the most diverse collection of cars racing on our soil, it’s a bit of an independent series that lacks a tie-in with IndyCar, IMSA or NASCAR, but that doesn’t diminish its quality. Great racing that feels like you’re watching more of a run-what-ya-brung event than something with narrowly-defined rules and limited inclusion. Every race is a sprint race. If I have only one hour to watch a race, PWC is a perfect fit.

  • SCCA: The biggest racing club we have. Club and Pro Racing divisions, and for many, the entry point for becoming a driver, mechanic, official, corner worker, etc.

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