Race previews from teams seldom have much meat in them. Often they're headed up by either a cliché about whichever country or state they're racing in – “Michael Gofaster is Hungary for success in Budapest,” – or, particularly in IndyCar where principal sponsors change on a regular basis, there might be a clumsy pun involving the name of the latest company that no one's ever heard of: “The No. 44 Icebox entry can help Jeremy Crashalot keep his cool.” And if the writer is too uninspired to even be crass, there's always the brain-pulpingly banal, “Jonny Skidmark hoping to do well this weekend.”
Truly? You mean he's not aiming for his usual blend of mediocrity in qualifying followed by incompetence in the race? Well, well, well: good for Jonny. One click-'n'-drag later, the offending email is deleted.
But then there are press releases that provide genuine insight, and Chip Ganassi Racing's Lorin Lukas has this year been picking the brain of Brad Goldberg, Charlie Kimball's race engineer, to reveal some interesting stats. CGR's pre-Iowa release was a case in point. Did you know, for example, that the drivers are pulling 1G for 14 of the 17-point-something seconds it takes to complete a lap? Or that, in the turns, they're pulling 5G?
That makes sense when you know that IndyCars are lapping a 0.875-mile track at an average of 185mph, but now and again you need a reminder of the sheer physicality of top-level open-wheel cars. What appears reasonably simple on the surface is anything but in the cockpit.
So with no track action at Iowa on Friday, it was a good chance to ask Goldberg to elaborate on the special demands of IndyCar's shortest venue, as well as the series' oval package as a whole.
RACER: It's common among media to think that drivers find oval racing mentally challenging but physically undemanding. That's not the case here, right?
BRAD GOLDBERG: Right, you're only straight for about three seconds along the back stretch, and the rest of the time you're turning. That's not a big stress in the course of a qualifying run, but when you're doing 250 laps, it's a lot, especially when you're pulling 5Gs in the turns at each end of the course. That G load is higher here than in Texas, for example.
But then added to that is the massive bump over the tunnel between Turns 1 and 2. Because the winters are so nice up here (!), the ground settles, and that has created a section where you fall into a dip and then launch the other side. And that is right where you are pulling the most lateral load, too. So at the same time as you're getting 5G lateral load, you get at least a 2G vertical load under compression.
I've always thought that it would be really cool from a fan's standpoint if IndyCar could create a simulator that could reproduce that feeling! I'm not sure many people can comprehend what 5Gs feels like. A roller-coaster can only do so much.
So do the drivers have a lot of extra neck support around here?
BG: Absolutely. Charlie has a pad thick enough to actually tilt his head over a little bit, so that when he's turning, his head is straight up and down. And on the left of the cockpit, theres a bit more padding so that when he hits the bumps, there's just enough to keep him from rocking too much. Dario [Franchitti] is even more sensitive to that rocking sensation, and has even more padding.
Around Iowa, do you set it up so the driver is counter-steering against the banking, and then he's straightening it up to make the turns?
BG: Yeah, you can offset the steering wheel so that when he's going down the straight, he's right-hand down. But it's interesting because there's a whole psychological game going on there. Because if you ask any driver, their biggest fear is that, like driving a road car in the snow, you'll turn so much and then the right-front will grab. Well, when that happens on an oval track, the rear comes around and you go backward into the fence.
At Indianapolis, you're lapping and you're just making tiny delicate adjustments, but at Milwaukee and even more here, you're using more lock because the corners are narrower. Well, if you've set the steering to just be straight along the straights, then once the driver turns and his hands are that much further around in order to make the turn, he starts getting very nervous and doesn't want to turn the wheel any further. Then he'll come into the pits and say that he's got a lot of understeer! So if you then fix the understeer by putting more downforce on the front or taking more off the rear, then of course you really do have a problem, because now the rear end is loose and it really will whip the tail around into the wall.
So one of the first things we taught Charlie was that if he got to the point where he didn't want to turn the wheel more and felt he had understeer, come in and we'll fix that. We've had it wrong at Milwaukee in the past where the steering was just straight along the straights, so in order to make the turn, the steering was at 90 degrees or more. At 170mph in qualifying trim, that makes a driver feel nervous!
At Iowa, add to that the fact that you've got this bump over the tunnel, so they'll hit that and for a fraction of a second they're pointing straight at the wall, and then they'll make the turn. So you have to get your car to have really good compliance because a confident driver will be a fast driver.