I've had a lot of questions and comments about the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series' on-board, driver-controlled fuel mixture switch so I thought we'd explore the effect this switch has on racing.
Many people relate the fuel mixture switch to fuel mileage racing but that's not necessarily accurate. Many times we hear from drivers and teams about the need to save fuel, but why?
Here are some examples:
- During pit stops, changing tires and adding fuel are completed almost simultaneously, so in order to reduce the stop time with a lightning-fast tire change, it's quicker if less fuel is added.
- Opting for an alternate strategy by adding less fuel results in a shorter pit stop that can lead to a gain of position, particularly when teams don't change tires.
- If the laps remaining and the fuel required to make it to the end don't equate, teams will save fuel to avoid having to make an extra stop for a splash.
- Sometimes teams elect to short-fill (take on less than a full tank) in order to try and gain positions during a stop, resulting in the need to save fuel later in the stint and get back on sequence.
Through the years, both CART and IndyCar have tried racing with and without a mixture switch but it's made little difference. I remember a CART race at Fontana (RIGHT) where the entire field was drafting nose to tail at a reduced speed in order to save fuel and get to the end. Mixture switch or not, the same thing would have happened in order to make the final stint without stopping.
You could argue it's actually safer to have an on-board switch, particularly on speedways. The driver still runs flat-out, but at a slightly slower speed due to less fuel being consumed by the engine – therefore creating less power – rather than having to lift off the gas to save fuel. Either way, the requirement of wanting to make a certain fuel mileage while racing will never go away. Only the driver can control his or her own foot so the driver will always have the final say.
The distance of the races is important when miles-per-gallon/distance is calculated but, with the possibility of unanticipated yellows, things quickly become very unpredictable for teams. IndyCar considers a number of factors when calculating a race distance, such as miles per gallon and distance covered per tank of fuel, along with the television broadcast window.
With IndyCar having multiple engine manufacturers in 2012, there may be a need for one to run lean for a portion of a race for any number of reasons but generally there's a level of risk associated. It's quite unlikely all engines will achieve the same fuel mileage, particularly early on in their competition cycle. Like many things in racing, risk quite often equals reward and that can be exciting. Teams may have miscalculated on their setup or downforce required, and running lean may be a way to hang in there until their next pit stop when they can make adjustments. Sometimes being able to use more fuel than others may work to a team's advantage due to unforeseen circumstances allowing drivers to hang in the draft and still be in with a fighting chance.
My personal conclusion is that saving fuel has always been and will always be a part of racing in some way. Is the mixture switch really a bad thing or just an alternative way to go about saving fuel during a race?
Generally, each individual team controls most aspects of racing and that's how it should be. Fuel mileage is merely one of those aspects, and IndyCar's job is to provide a set quantity of fuel to be used during any given race. Teams may utilize fuel as they wish, just as they do with tires or downforce levels. Tire pressure adjustments or downforce changes are tools teams can use throughout a race. You need to use all options to the best of your ability to beat the competition. So, naturally, many races have been won and will continue to be won by teams and drivers outsmarting the competition by doing a better job of saving fuel in some way.
Maybe if saving fuel wasn't such a focal point from teams or television commentators, or if it wasn't the subject of the driver's first comments after stepping out of the car at the end of a race, it might be less of an issue…
As far as the rest of the 2012 car is concerned, things are moving on schedule and we are on pace with a targeted July date to have a prototype on track. It's a complex project because we're designing the car as we go and the design will have an impact on the final rules.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays,