TONY STEWART: It's aero again at Michigan. ATLANTA (June 11, 2002) - "We're doing what we can do. We're surviving. That's all we're doing. But we knew it coming in here. Now we're going to Michigan, and it will be the same dang thing ...
It's aero again at Michigan.
ATLANTA (June 11, 2002) - "We're doing what we can do. We're surviving. That's all we're doing. But we knew it coming in here. Now we're going to Michigan, and it will be the same dang thing again."
Those were the frustrated words of Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for the #20 Home Depot Pontiac driven by Tony Stewart, following last Sunday's Pocono 500 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. The "thing" Zipadelli refers to is aerodynamic downforce, or in the case of the Pontiac camp, a lack thereof.
Aerodynamic advancements, specifically in terms of downforce, are simply more prevalent in the newer models introduced by Ford and Dodge the past two seasons. The Pontiac, meanwhile, is in its seventh year of competition under its current configuration, and the last time it received an aerodynamic rules break from NASCAR was well over two years ago.
But even with the numbers being stacked against the Pontiac, Joe Gibbs Racing has managed to massage as much speed from the contours of the Grand Prix as possible. With two of the best drivers in Winston Cup - Stewart and Bobby Labonte - the Gibbs stable has still been able to win races. Of the 19 point races Pontiac has won since the 2000 season began, 18 have been by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers - 11 by Stewart alone.
And while Sunday's Sirius Satellite Radio 400 at Michigan International Speedway might very well be "the same dang thing," Stewart is far from surrendering.
We've been hearing all year of drivers complaining of an "aero push" while racing in traffic. What exactly is an aero push?
"You have two types of balance on your race car. You have mechanical balance and aero balance. Your mechanical balance is comprised of springs, shocks, sway bars and suspension pieces. Your aero balance relates to the total aerodynamics of the car - how the air flows over the top of the race car and how it creates downforce in different areas.
"If you're running with a car right in front of you, you don't have the air hitting the front of your car as you would if you were running in clean air, where there's no one in front of you. When someone is in front of you and you're not getting that air pushing down on the front of the nose, the car isn't getting the downforce it needs to stick to the race track. That creates an understeer condition, which makes the car push out toward the wall. That's what's happening when you hear drivers complain of an aero push."
Is it overall downforce where the Pontiac is deficient or is it specific to either the nose or the decklid?
"It's just overall. You go in the corner and it's tight, and you get on the gas and try and come off of the corner and it's loose. That's just total downforce, because The Home Depot Pontiac is typically really good without any changes. So it wasn't a bad set of tires. The tires have been pretty consistent all year. The only thing that's left is downforce. You hate to gripe about it, but all of these teams are spending a lot of money going to wind tunnels. They're not just out there watching the wind blow around them. They're making their cars better and better, and it's making the aero side of this business more important."
Will the aerodynamic issues you've been facing this year with the Pontiac present a problem at Michigan?
"Michigan doesn't tend to be normally as bad as some other tracks on the circuit because there's such a different variety of grooves you can run that you're able to move around on the race track and find a spot that you're car likes. You still have the same aero problems you've always had, but the good thing is that the surface at Michigan has historically developed so many different grooves that you're able to go different places and find a spot that your car likes."
Because of the aerodynamic disadvantage you're dealing with, how much harder has this team had to work to overcome the aero issues associated with the Pontiac?
"We definitely have to work every bit as hard as everybody else does. The good thing is that we're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We're just trying to take what we've got and find a little bit here and a little bit there to keep making our Home Depot Pontiac better than what it already is. If we're able to do that, it'll keep us toward the front all day. If we're not able to do that, we're going to struggle."
Are you in favor of having a common template, so that instead of a make's inherent advantage being the deciding factor in a race, it's a matter of which team puts forth the best effort?
"Absolutely. It would make things a lot easier for all of us if we could do that. You wouldn't hear the complaining that we have now of who has what or who doesn't have what. If all of us had the same thing, the racing could finally take the place of the politicking."
As you said earlier, Michigan is a track where a driver can search for different grooves, as opposed to Indianapolis or New Hampshire, where there is really only one true groove. As a driver, do you appreciate that more?
"It's nice knowing that as a driver you can help yourself out and you're not relying so much on the car. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, you can find a way to help yourself out. It makes you feel good knowing that because the place is so wide, you can move around, and basically, earn your money that day."
At what point do you start to move around on the race track to find a better handle for your race car?
"As soon as you feel like you're not where you need to be. If you feel like you're slower than the pace you need to be running, you're going to move up the race track and find a place that helps balance your race car. Really, from the drop of the green flag, you do it from there on out."
How big a role does drafting play at Michigan?
"It's big since Michigan is such a momentum track. You can work the draft pretty well, and if there are some guys racing up in front of you, it'll help you catch up to them. It's a place where you really have to watch and pay attention to the draft."
Do certain makes of cars, or more specifically, do certain team cars affect your car differently in relation to aerodynamics?
"Sometimes it does. It depends on what little things are done by each team to their car's bodies. Sometimes it makes it more difficult. Sometimes it makes it easier. You just have to go out there and run with guys during practice and find out which cars makes your car draft better."