Single Seater Frequently Asked Questions

Archive-name: autos/sport/single-seaters Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-modified: 24th June 1994 Version: 1.0 This will be posted monthly to and to news.answers. It answers some of the most frequently asked questions...

Archive-name: autos/sport/single-seaters Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-modified: 24th June 1994 Version: 1.0

This will be posted monthly to and to news.answers. It answers some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) in as well as some others which perhaps _should_ be asked.

The latest version of the FAQ should be available for anonymous ftp at (138-38.24.19) as file /pub/ or at ( as pub/usenet-by-hierarchy/rec/answers/autos/sport/single-seaters. If you only have electronic mail, the FAQ can be retrieved from

For information on how to use FTP, send e-mail to with with no subject line. In the body of the mail, put: send usenet/news.answers/finding-sources

Whilst some care has been taken in the preparation of this FAQ, a few errors may have slipped through the net (no pun intended). Please send any corrections or additions to


The full text of the FIA technical and sporting regulations are available for anonymous ftp from: (198-133.162.1): ~/auto/f1/sporting.regs ~/auto/f1/technical.regs


(The following information is largely - and in some cases solely - from the "IndyCar 1994 Media Guide")

9-1 Chassis ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The 1994 rules allow the cars to have a maximum length of 195 inches, with 190 inches being the required minimum. The maximum allowed width is 78-5 inches measured by projecting a line from the outside rim surface through the hub center. The maximum height of the car from the highest point to the lowest point is 32 inches. The maximum rear wing height is 32 inches at the superspeedways and 36 inches on short ovals and road courses. The cockpit must have a minimum opening of 30 inches by 14 3/4 inches. An unfueled car, complete with lubricants, coolants, tires, etc. must have a minimum weight of 1550 pounds.

9-2 Aerodynamics ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Andy Brown from Galmer gave Racecar Engineering the following figures for the Galmer G92, the car which won the 1992 Indy 500.

                Downforce  Drag      L/D    Cd    Speed for measurements
Short Oval      3460 lbs   1310 lbs  2-64  1.397  165 mph
Street Circuit  3040 lbs   1070 lbs  2-84  1.141  165 mph
Speedway        2835 lbs    972 lbs  2-92  0.669  220 mph

Fuel consumption is higher on a street circuit such as Long Beach than on a short oval such as Phoenix: consequently the car has to be set up so that it pulls less drag.

By way of comparison, in the days before cab roof fairings, a Cd figure of 1-0 was typical for a high-drag truck. These days trucks are down to the region of Cd = 0-6 The figures quoted for the 1991 Indy 500 winning Penske PC20 in speedway trim were 3010 lbs downforce at 220 mph with 1075 lbs drag (Load/Downforce, L/D, = 2-80)

Brown commented: "I'm always a little cautious of comparing figures from different wind tunnels because experience has shown them all to vary slightly. The L/D figure is usually close though, and I'm pleased to see that ours is better than that quoted for the PC20. Provided we're both telling the truth, that is !"

Note: The downforce is approximately double the weight of the car, so the car could drive upside-down with a suitable bit of road.

9-3 Tires ~~~~~~~~~~~ IndyCar racing tires are Goodyear Racing Eagles, weighing 16-29 pounds, depending on whether they are rain or dry tires, and whether the tire is for the front or back of the car. The tires have a rim diameter of 15 inches and are either 10 inches wide (for the "undriven" tire) or 14 inches (for the "driven" tire). The cars are limited to two-wheel drive, with the choice of front or rear-wheel drive being optional. Teams are limited to 28 tires per event at short ovals and road courses, and 44 tires per event at 500 mile events.

9-4 Engine ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Several types of engines are allowed: turbocharged, overhead camshaft eight-cylinder engines with a maximum displacement of 209 cu-inches; production-derived, single non-overhead camshaft turbocharged motors, with pushrod valve mechanisms and a maximum displacement of 209 cu-inches; without the turbocharger, stock blocks are allowed up to 355 cu-inches. Turbines were finally banned in the early 1970's. If you can get a diesel to run on methanol, diesels would still be a legal :-)

Horsepower figures are difficult to ascertain, as these figures are kept closely guarded by teams but are typically 700 to 850 horsepower, depending on turbocharger settings. IndyCar tests have clocked cars accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 2-2 seconds, and from 0 to 100 mph in 4-2 seconds. Engines are typically rebuilt after 400-500 miles of use.

9-5 Fuel ~~~~~~~~~~ IndyCars are fueled by methanol, sometimes called wood alcohol. It is a non-fossil fuel produced commercially by hydrogen and carbon monoxide under pressure and is supplied to IndyCar by Valvoline. IndyCar chose methanol because of its high octane rating and because water is and extremely effective fire fighting agent - when mixed with ethanol, water will quickly dilute it to the point of non-flamability. One of the main dangers of methanol is that its flames can not be seen in daylight. Cars must have a minimum fuel efficiency of 1-8 miles per gallon and have a maximum fuel capacity of 40 gallons.

9-6 So you want to race an Indy car - how much will it cost ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The following information is quoted from the IndyCar Racing, Feb 93. These represents the startup cost of a team. Buses and transporters do not have to be bought every year. A chassis can be sold second hand at the end of the year.

Engine rentals             $2,250,000  Workshop Equipment:          $130,000  
Spare Parts:               $1,350,000  Development parts:           $125,000  
Two chassis:                 $960,000  Workshop Expenses:           $125,000  
Payroll and taxes:           $540,000  Travel & lodging:            $110,000  
Hospitality bus:             $320,000  Insurance:                   $100,000  
Transporter:                 $320,000  9 Sets of wheels              $80,000  
6 Test sessions              $220,000  Entry fees:                   $25,000  
Pit Equipment:               $185,000  Freight:                      $25,000  
Hospitality expense:         $160,000  Uniforms:                     $25,000  
Electronics & telemetry:     $150,000                               ========
                                       TOTAL:                     $7,200,000


Qualifying at the Speedway is unique. The fastest 33 cars from the the four days set aside for qualifying start the race. The actual starting order depends on the day that the qualifying time was set. This means that the fastest cars do not necessarily start from the front of the grid.

The Speedway opens for practice on the first Saturday of May. Practice is daily from the opening day to the last day of qualifying. The track is open for practice starting at 11AM (EST) and finishes at 6PM (EST) or at the discretion of the USAC officials. The first two days of qualifying are scheduled for the weekend two weeks before the race. The second two days of qualifying are scheduled for the week before the race. These days are called the "Time Trials". There is one last day of practice held on the Thursday before the race called Carburetion Day. In the old days, this was the last day of practice where the mechanics would adjust their cars carburetors. Carburetion Day sounds better than Fuel Injection Day, don't it ?

10-1 Which cars start the race ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The fastest 33 cars in qualifying start the race. Officially, its the cars that qualify, and not the drivers. This means that a driver could start the race in a car that was qualified by someone else. This happened in 1993 when Scott Goodyear took over a car qualified by Mike Groff.

With 33 spots in the field, and a lot more than 33 drivers trying to qualify, usually at some point on the 3rd or 4th day, the field fills up. At this point, the car in the field with the slowest speed is said to be "on the bubble". If someone qualifies faster than the car "on the bubble", then that car is "bumped" from the field. A bumped car, cannot be used to try to requalify. The driver can try, but has to use a different car.

10-2 How are the qualifying days organised ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ A run consists of each car running alone on the circuit for one or two warm-up laps followed by four timed laps, over which the average "qualifying" speed is calculated.

Each car can only complete the four timed laps once. During a qualifying run, there is a team member positioned along the pit wall who carries a yellow flag. At any time during the qualifying run, that team member may stop the qualifying attempt by waving a yellow flag (this is called "waving off" the attempt), indicating that the team does not wish to accept that qualifying attempt. Once the car takes the checkered flag at the end of the 4 timed laps, that's it. The car has qualified with that particular run's average speed. It can make no more qualifying attempts.

Waving off a qualifying attempt during the warm-up laps carries no penalty, but you can only take the green flag that starts the timed laps 3 times. You can wave off an attempt after the green flag flies only twice. If you wave off during the timed laps on your third attempt, that's it, and you get no more attempts to qualify.

The night before each day's qualifying, the teams that wish to qualify cars the next day register their car numbers with the officials, who then determine the initial order of qualifying attempts for that day by lottery. On the qualifying day, they go once through that order. When a car's number comes up, the team must either make a qualifying attempt then and there, or step out of the qualifying line. Qualifying attempts are made until the gun sounds at 6:00 PM. If they didn't get all the way through the initial order, they do the rest of the order first thing next day, but those who qualify in this way are grouped with the previous day's qualifiers (thus, every car gets one shot at qualifying on any particular day). If the officials get all the way through the lottery order and it's not 6:00 PM yet, qualifying is thrown open and any not-yet-qualified car can make an attempt by presenting itself at the line.

So each of the 4 days, they hold the lottery, go through the lottery order, then comes free qualifying where any car can present at the line and make an attempt, until 6:00 PM. If a car is rolling before the 6:00 PM final gun, it is allowed to finish it's qualification run. The car can be starting its warm-up laps too, it only has to be rolling away from the inspection area when the gun sounds.

Before a qualifying run can be made, the car must be inspected to check that it meets all the rules. It takes only a few minutes for this to be completed but it can yield a bit of drama just before 6PM on Bubble Day. A line usually forms at the tech inspection area at this time.

If a car's qualification attempt is interrupted by the track officials to clear up debris, the car is allowed to refuel and move to head of the technical inspection line to try again without an attempt being charged to it.

If a driver wishes to qualify a different car (let's say that Adrian Fernandez qualifies his backup car, but discovers that his primary is running 10 mph faster, for example), then that driver must withdraw his/her current car from the field, or let another driver drive it. If a car is withdrawn, it may not attempt to requalify.

If a car has qualified, the engine cannot be changed for one of another make. You'd have to requalify in a completely different chassis with a new engine make

10-3 How is the order of starting line for the race up decided ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The first days qualifiers are "locked" into position in front of the second day's qualifiers who are "locked" into position if front of the third day's qualifiers, etc. The qualified cars are arranged from fastest to slowest among that day's qualifiers. In this way, faster cars will sometimes end up behind slower cars.

Pole Day is the first day of qualifying which has traditionally given the Pole Sitter. The car on pole position can still be bumped from the field, but it is not very likely. In this case, pole position would go to the fastest car from the second qualifying day.

If a car is "bumped" from the field. The new qualifier (car) will be inserted into the starting field based on the speed and the day that the car qualified - it does not take over the position of the bumped car.

If someone starts the race in a car that was qualified by another driver, they start from the back of the grid.

10-4 How big is the track at Indy ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a 2-5 mile square oval. The straights are 50 feet wide. Two of the straights are 3,300 ft long, the other two are 660 ft long. There are four turns, each of which is 1,320 feet long 60 feet wide tarmac. The 2-5 mile circuit is measured 3 feet from the inside white line. The turns are banked at 9 degrees and 12 minutes. Eleven three car rows start the Indy 500.

10-5 Qualifying for other IndyCar Races ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Qualifying takes place in two sessions over two days on the Friday and Saturday before race Sunday. Each session is split into two halves, the "slow" half and the "fast" half. All drivers in each half can go out any time they want to, so more than one car will be on the track at a time. Timing is handled electronically by a sensor in the car. On Friday, "slow" and "fast" drivers are determined by order of finish in last week's race. On Saturday, they are determined by Friday's times (thus it's possible to run in the "slow" group on one day and the "fast" group on the other). Drivers are ordered on the grid in order of the fastest time they were able to turn in their qualifying sessions. Thus, the pole winner will always have turned the fastest lap, unlike the Indy 500 where this is not guaranteed.


11-1 How does the F1 points system work? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The first six finishers get 10, 6, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points respectively. Pole position and fastest laps get no extra points. All 16 races count towards the drivers and constructors championship.

FOCA gives subsidised travel for the top ten teams. The exact value of this as well as the prize money for the teams is a closely-guarded secret. For the first half of the season, the teams are chosen by the previous year's constructors championship. From the ninth race onwards, the results from the last half of the previous season are combined with those from the first half of the current season.

11-2 How does the IndyCar points system work? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Finish Points Finish Points Finish Points Points 1 20 5 10 9 4 Pole position 1 2 16 6 8 10 3 Led most laps 1 3 14 7 6 11 2 4 12 8 5 12 1

The extra points for pole position and leading the most laps can both go to the same driver. For this reason you sometimes see a driver conquering 22 points, which means, he won the race (20), got the pole (1) and led for more laps (1).


12-1 What are the IndyCar flag rules ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Blue flag with the yellow stripe (stationary): displayed to slower cars indicating that a faster car is attempting to pass. It is NOT a move over command on road courses (not sure what it means on ovals). It is merely advisory, although drivers can be called in for not checking their mirrors.

Yellow flag (stationary): displayed when there is a car stopped off line. it is also displayed at the flag station prior to waving yellows as a "backup". There is no passing allowed from the flag to the incident.

Yellow flag (waving): displayed when there is great danger such as a car stopped on the line (or just about anywhere on the pavement at a natural terrain road course). Again, no passing until you pass the incident.

Double stationary yellow: displayed on road courses indicating a full course caution.

Yellow flag with red stripes (stationary) (aka surface flag, debris flag, hazard flag or oil flag): displayed when there is oil, water, debris, etc on the course. Anything that could create a hazard. Normally kept up for 1 lap until everyone has seen it, then it is dropped.

Black flag (from designated black flag station and the bridge): displayed when they want the driver to report immediately to his/her pit. Reasons vary from rule infractions to a mechanical problem that requires immediate attention. If the black flag is displayed from all corner stations, the session/race is red flagged and immediately ends until the course condition that causes the red is cleared.

White flag (waving from a corner station): displayed when a safety truck is between that station and the next station. White flag (stationary) is displayed at the station prior to the waving white. It is also displayed for 2 stations for a slow moving race vehicle. The white flag is waved from the bridge indicating last lap.

Checkered flag: displayed at the end of the race.

Green flag (from the bridge): starts or restarts a race.

Green flag (from a corner station): displayed if its been waving yellow for more than a lap.

Red flag: displayed only from the bridge to stop a session or a race.

12-2 Andretti vs Mansell ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ In 1993, Michael Andretti was faced with an unfamiliar car which was reported to be tricky to drive. He did relatively little testing. He had little time to learn many of the circuits on the race weekends. Whether his lack of success was due to a combination of these factors or from a lack of talent has been debated at length.

In 1993, Nigel Mansell was faced with an unfamiliar car which was well sorted. Apparently it was comparatively easy to drive on ovals, where Mansell was most successful. He was able to do a lot of test miles. He had little time to learn some of the circuits, and struggled at some of these. Whether his success was due to a combination of these factors or from his talent alone has also been debated at length.

12-3 What are the pros and cons of gravel traps, tyre walls, armco & walls? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ When a car leaves the circuit, the aim is to slow it down as smoothly as possible to reduce the peak deceleration on the driver. The car and debris should also be kept out of the way from the oncoming traffic if at all possible. The kinetic energy of a car is proportional to its weight and to the square of its velocity.

The physics of the situation is comparatively simple. Generally a fit driver can survive 50G impact if they are well restrained and so long as it doesn't last for too long To slow a driver from 185MPH without exceeding 50G, the shortest time in which you can stop the car 1/6th of a second (185mph=82 m/s / 490 m/s/s) which takes a minimum of 22 feet (82/2/6=6-8m). It doesn't much matter what you crash into, as long as the driver is protected from intrusions and that crucial 50G is not exceeded. Realistically, whatever you hit is not going to slow you uniformly, so you need to spread it out even more.

There are different ways to slow the cars, some of which are better for some types of accident. The optimum solution for one type of vehicle might be very bad for another.

Large grass run-off areas are cheap and easy to maintain and are one of the best solutions for motorbike accidents. However, they mean that the areas for spectators have to be set back a long way from the track. They are obviously not an option at street circuits.

Gravel traps are commonly used on Formula One circuits. They work very well for single seat racing cars and motorbikes. However, they are not so effective for heavy saloon cars, as in NASCAR, where there is a lot more energy to lose in an accident. Gravel traps are useless when a car gets airborne. They also trap cars that stray into them so that marshalls will not be able to push cars away from dangerous positions. This means that tow trucks or cranes have to be available for each and every race which makes them an expensive solution for a long circuit - a problem if you want to run low budget racing series at a profit. If a car manages to rejoin the track after visiting a gravel trap, the circuit may get covered with gravel.

Tyre walls are a cheap way of cushioning walls. They work well for low to medium speed crashes, but if a car hits one at high speed, it can be bounced back onto the circuit, possibly into the following cars. The car may also get snagged on the tyres and get thrown into violent spins and rolls which may launch debris towards the spectators. High speed crashes may also dislodge tyres from the wall into the oncoming traffic. This problem can be solved by using water-filled barriers instead of tyre walls like at Mickey Thompson stadium off-road races. Another alternative is a large block of expanded polystyrene. These are easy to move around for temporary circuits.

Armco and concrete walls are good where cars hit them at a shallow angle - on a super-speedway for instance. The aim is not to absorb the whole of the impact, but to deflect the car back along the track to lose speed slowly. They are bad when a car hits them at a sharp angle. The worst accidents on super-speedways occur when a driver tries to correct oversteer by steering towards the wall. If he regains grip, he gets sent into the wall at a sharp angle which then causes a series of violent spins and rolls. Armco (crash barriers) can absorb some impact. However, the barrier is still solid around the supporting posts. Sometimes, single seat racing cars have been able to "submarine" underneath the barrier which causes a very rapid deceleration. Both types of barrier are bad for motorbike accidents.

Catch fencing was used for a while in the 1970s. Stretches of wire netting was strung between lightly fixed posts. They worked well for closed wheel cars, but if the nose of a single seater dipped underneath the fencing, the drivers neck was left in a very exposed position. They were particularly dangerous for motorbike accidents.

If adequate crash protection cannot be provided at a corner, the track can be modified - to allow extra run-off area or to slow the cars with a chicane.

12-4 Where can I send condolences to the Family of Ayrton Senna ? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Milton & Neide Senna da Silva Rua Dr. Jose Manuel # 67 17mo andar Sao Paulo, S.P. BRAZIL 0123200

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ The FAQ

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series General
Drivers Scott Goodyear , Michael Andretti , Nigel Mansell , Ayrton Senna
Tags _1