THE GRIPPY TRIANGLE
IZOD IndyCar Series teams have come up with a number of ways to produce speed at the three-turn, 2.5-mile Pocono oval this weekend, but with three long straights to navigate, the seemingly obvious choice of running low downforce has not been the popular solution.
Rather than pulling all of the aerodynamic aids off the car and tilting the rear wing back to its negative 10.5-degree maximum, most teams have opted to pile on the downforce (within reason) while working to extract the most mechanical grip possible in the corners.
Mechanical grip is always a sought-after quality in a racecar, but with the downforce produced by an Indy car, it's a setup tool that isn't always exploited to the maximum. At Pocono, and with three exceptionally long corners with varying levels of banking, the secret to success so far has been to use the dampers, springs and tires to eke out an advantage.
A quick look through the trap speeds in qualifying confirmed what everyone has known—and seen—all year: the Andretti Autosport cars are unmatched in the mechanical grip department. Marco Andretti's pole-winning laps revealed the small difference (that his teammates also shared) that stood in contrast to the majority of the field.
The minimal loss of speed in speed in the corners, as evidenced by Andretti reaching 222.050mph at the timeline between Turns 2 and 3, saw a drop to just 221.237mph in Turn 3, a 0.813mph reduction. Compare that to Team Penske's Will Power in fourth, the first non-Andretti car and also a Chevy user who reached 221.493mph and dropped to 220.244mph for a 1.249mph reduction.
Doing the math, Andretti carried .436mph more through Turn 3. Using that as a general number to work from—he could be slightly up or down in the the other two corners, Andretti should be something in the range of 1mph faster over the course of a lap. Based on their qualifying averages, Andretti's pole speed of 221.273mph was 0.987mph faster than Power's 220.286...
Asked about the importance of mechanical grip at Pocono, Andretti's teammate James Hinchcliffe confirmed everything I'd already suspected.
“[It's] paramount,” he says. “This place is tricky; it's earned that reputation. If you look at how flat Turn 3 is, mechanical grip is at a premium. Trying to balance that setup between the high banks of Turn 1 and the flat nature of Turn 3, it really is going to make or break a racecar.”
PAGENAUD'S PEAK PERFORMANCE
IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud is fresh off his debut at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb driving a Honda Odyssey minivan and shares his insights on the experience--including a run through his turn-by-turn pace notes--with RACER: