Indianapolis Motor Speedway is racing's enigma wrapped in a riddle surrounded by mystery. Let two-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti explain some of its secrets...
Now that I've won the Indianapolis 500 twice, people seem to believe that I've mastered the art of driving at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That's flattering, but the truth is, after seven years of running there, I feel like I'm still learning something every lap I drive around the Brickyard.
It's a four-corner track, so how tough can it be? Well, it's probably the most difficult track I've ever driven. Each end is supposed to be identical – Turns 1 and 2 are supposed to mirror Turns 3 and 4. Therefore 1 and 3 are supposed to mirror each other, but they are completely different. Turns 2 and 4 are the same radius and the same banking as 1 and 3, but again, they're completely different from each other.
Damn, it's a frustrating place! The “Month of May” schedule is down to two weeks but they're the hardest two weeks of your life. That place can drive you mad if you let it. You spend day after day dialing in the car and working on your driving technique to the point where you can actually be close to the pace. And then the wind changes direction, or the temperature goes up or down, or the sun comes out or disappears behind the clouds – and it all completely changes and you've got to start over again.
It's definitely a place where experience counts. I remember the first time I went there in 2002 with Team Green. Paul Tracy and I tested in April and were running around with 225mph averages. We looked at each other and said, “This isn't so difficult.” Then we showed up in May when it was 20 or 30 degrees warmer and it was like, “Who tightened up the corners? Where's all the grip gone? Help!” But that's the Speedway.
How you set your car up depends on what you want from it and also on weather conditions. Some say loose is fast, but we've had the car so loose at times that it slowed it down. You don't want to be in that zone. We've also had the car with so much understeer that it slowed it down. There's a real fine line there and, in fact, a neutral balance is what you want. Finding that is the hard thing.
As well as we know this car, increments of less than 10lbs of downforce make a difference. That's one of the crazy things. You make such small adjustments, yet it can wake the car up or completely screw it up. We've done both. Because it's such a narrow speed differential between fast and slow, the microscope the setup is under and the adjustments and the differences they make are magnified. You get everything so close to the ultimate that when the wind blows, you are slightly out of sync. There's no compromise on setup at Indy, whereas on a road or street course there's more leeway.