Slowing Speeds, But Keeping the Show - by Gordon Kirby, CART.com Editor There was a chorus of complaints from the Champ Car drivers at Nazareth last weekend about racing on the little .946-mile oval for the first time with tiny, ...
Slowing Speeds, But Keeping the Show - by Gordon Kirby, CART.com Editor There was a chorus of complaints from the Champ Car drivers at Nazareth last weekend about racing on the little .946-mile oval for the first time with tiny, single-element wings.
In an effort to cut cornering speeds and reduce cornering loads from close to six G's -- generated with higher downforce, multi-element wings -- last November CART mandated the use of smaller wings, previously used on the bigger ovals, in this year's 1-mile races.
The move cuts downforce by about 40 percent from 5,000 pounds to 3,000 pounds. The result at Nazareth was an increase of about 1.5 seconds in lap times, cutting lap speeds by 12 mph or more. But the reduced downforce turned Nazareth into a single groove track and made it all but impossible to pass. The three-cornered Nazareth oval originally was a dirt track, and not only is it very narrow, the track lacks a straightaway long enough for passing. It's always been very difficult to pass at Nazareth. With this year's reduced downforce, passing was almost nonexistent.
Mark Blundell caused a stir Friday by declaring in a post-practice press conference that he didn't believe CART should race at Nazareth. "I don't enjoy driving here compared to the other ovals, because there are no opportunities for passing. You need a wider track, longer straightaways, more open corners so you can race side by side. For me, that's what oval racing is all about, and you can't do that here."
Greg Moore was even more pessimistic. "If you want to watch some carnage, it will be entertaining," he quipped. "If you want to watch follow-the-leader racing, that's what you'll get to see."
Thankfully, Moore was wrong about the carnage, but spot on regarding the high-speed procession on race day. Fans voted with their feet Sunday: Many walked out of the grandstands in the last 50 laps.
"The reason we made this change was because we knew the G loads on these cars were going to be excessive -- around six G's," said Kirk Russell, CART's vice president of competition. "There was a choice. Either continue with cars that had too much downforce for this racetrack and the cornering loads [that] were too high for this racetrack or go to the extreme. We didn't have a midpoint in the various combinations of aerodynamic packages we have. That's why we're here with the package we have today."
Russell said CART has settled on new aerodynamic rules for 2000. Champ Cars will race on 1-mile ovals with more downforce than this year but less than 1998. The hoped-for happy medium will see around 4,000 pounds of downforce generated.
The rules won't be announced until later in the season, but Russell briefed the press at Nazareth on the concept. "For the short ovals we will get rid of the diffusers and reduce the size of the underbody exit so the underbody will be essentially the same as we're running at Michigan and Fontana," Russell said. "On the road courses we're going to shorten the cord of the wing from 14 to nine inches. It will be a wing that will generate a moderate level of downforce and will also produce a certain amount of drag that will help stabilize the cars."
Russell said the Handford Wing, used successfully last year on the high-banked, 2-mile Michigan and California superspeedways, will be used next year. "That hasn't been ratified yet. But all indications are that the Handford device will continue."
Since the Handford Wing works effectively only at speeds in excess of 200 mph, it cannot be applied to the short ovals.