IRL: Switch to ethanol means shorter pit stops

One of the biggest changes for the IndyCar Series in 2007 is the change in fuel, from methanol to 100% ethanol. Ethanol, an agriculturally based fuel, which can be made from corn, presents the best opportunity for the United States to decrease its...

One of the biggest changes for the IndyCar Series in 2007 is the change in fuel, from methanol to 100% ethanol. Ethanol, an agriculturally based fuel, which can be made from corn, presents the best opportunity for the United States to decrease its dependence on foreign fuel sources.

The switch to Ethanol has been a smooth one but it has necessitated some changes, including a welcome increase in engine displacement, from 3 to 3.5 liters. The increase in power is most notable as the drivers pull onto the backstretch at the Speedway, where racing speeds are easily attainable before reaching the third corner. Drivers have also lauded the increase in power on road courses.

Since Ethanol provides better fuel mileage than methanol, officials have reduced the size of fuel tanks from 30 to 22 gallons for 2007. This allows pit stops to fall into the same range as last year. Even with the increase in engine size, pit windows still fall into the same range, approximately every 75 miles.

All of this creates a big change in the length of a pit stop, as it takes a lot less time to fill a 22 gallon tank. The time to refuel a car has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds. Eight seconds is about the same time it takes to change 4 tires on the car. It took closer to 12 seconds to fill a tank last year, giving the tire changers a precious extra second or two to perform their high-speed task.

Now the pressure is on. It takes the same amount of time to change the tires as it does to refuel the car.

"We don't have a situation where we're today where we're waiting for fuel," said Roger Penske. "Once or twice a week we train the pit stops because today we can fuel as fast as we can change the tires."

Working with a trainer, Team Penske employs an electric Indy car at the shop during pit stop training. "Execution from the standpoint of the pits" is really important. "That's one of the things Tim (Cindric) has really emphasized since the beginning of the season."

While there have not been any problems with the new situation, most team owners agree, including Kim Green of Andretti Green Racing that, "it puts increased pressure on the guys changing the tires."

Mike Hull, Managing Director at Target Ganassi Racing, thinks the pressure will be felt by more than just his team. "I think it puts a lot of pressure on everybody, not just the fueler, not just air jack person, not just the people changing the tires. It puts pressure on your neighbor in the pit box. It puts pressure on the driver. It puts pressure on the strategy. It does a lot of things because now you're waiting equally for both things to be done, whereas it used to be that the car would be on the ground and we were waiting for the fuel."

Hull notes that there haven't been any problems, nor he does expect any. "We certainly wouldn't vote to change anything at this point because we've worked really hard to be in this position along with everyone else."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Kim Green , Mike Hull , Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing