CHAMPCAR/CART: Mid-Ohio IndyCar notebook (personal reflection)

Mid-Ohio IndyCar notebook by Pete Cage <Pete_Cage@hp.com> Having been interested/involved in this racing stuff for most of my adult life, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I've just now attended my first IndyCar race. It was worth the ...

Mid-Ohio IndyCar notebook by Pete Cage <Pete_Cage@hp.com>

Having been interested/involved in this racing stuff for most of my adult life, I'm almost ashamed to admit that I've just now attended my first IndyCar race. It was worth the wait.

We got to do it up in style, leveraging heavily off of Hewlett-Packard's sponsorship deal with Team Rahal. Long-time pal Les and his new bride Chris got us the super whiz-bang E-ticket weekend ride, including pit passes, grandstand seats, catered chalet access, a Kraft-sponsored dinner tour, meals and beverages, presentations by the crew chief and Bryan Herta, and VIP access to the Rahal motorhome area. My head is still spinning. Here are some random observations from the weekend:

All of the car/shop transporter semis are parked in crisp, even rows, about a foot apart. They are spotless - no dirt, grime, or even bugs on the windshields. Several had the hood open, displaying a perfectly detailed engine bay. They must have a full-time crew just to keep the transporters clean.

Even professional team mechanics drop the occasional bolt. Then they say the same things that we do.

The engines are surprisingly quiet at idle, and they idle quite smoothly, albeit at about 5000 RPM. There must be negligible flywheel weight; killing the engine produces instant silence, with no spin down time at all.

Rear tires are huge. Indycar tires in the sun smell just like Formula Ford tires in the sun.

The back section at Mid-Ohio, which flows nicely in a Formula Ford, is really a point-and-squirt section in an Indycar. Turn 7 was particularly slow, with a blast of absolutely unbelievable acceleration coming out. The cars looked to be a handful over the bumps, and you could really see how the faster cars were dealing with the bumpiness better and could get back on the gas sooner.

When they crest the hill at 9, the cars get a bunch of wheelspin, and the engine bounces off the rev limiter for about a brief bit. The engines apparently tolerate this abuse well - they did it every lap.

When the cars enter the pits and snap off the accelerator, the wastegate opens and it sounds like a small bomb.

At the end of the back straight, there's this basso profundo rumbling sound underneath the scream of the engine. We finally decided that it's the sound of the air producing nearly 4000 pounds of downforce at 190 mph. TV audio does not pick this up.

They leave the cars sitting on rains until briefly before they go out. This is OK, since they can change them in about 10 seconds, without really hurrying.

There is less of a crowd at the go-kart track than you'd expect. We were in line ahead of Formula Atlantic ace Anthony Lazzaro. He must've had a bad kart; he never got by me... ;) (To be honest, he was mixing it up with his crew the whole time)

On the pit lane, we got within 10 feet of virtually every driver. Some were quite accessible during the weekend, but I was reticent about approaching most of them. When I did meet some, I got all tongue-tied and flustered. Seeing your heroes up close can do that to a person.

Michael Andretti is looking pretty trim; I'd say he's lost 20 or 30 pounds. Mario looks pretty healthy, too.

Mark Blundell had a chiropractor/masseur who manipulated him on the pit wall prior to buckling into the car.

Andrew Craig was at the next chalet/tent (Hogan team) giving a presentation. I pointed this out to some H-P folks, but they didn't follow the series and didn't know who he was. We also saw Penske, Bettenhausen, Haas (easy to spot with his trademark stogie), Ganassi, and a bunch of other owners/managers.

Rick Mears wore black socks and sandals in the pits. I hope it's just because his feet still hurt him.

We saw virtually all of the ABC crew.  Gary Gerould's hair was always
perfect.  Danny Sullivan is nearly unrecognizable in a cap and
sunglasses.  Jon Beekhuis is tall.

Walter Payton draws a bigger crowd in the paddock than Raoul Boesel.

When the time runs long, they will shorten a support race, but the PPG pace car festivities will never be abbreviated. After all, there are important, paying sponsors who need to be thrilled. PPG claimed to have between $200k and $1M invested in _each_ pace car. Unless most of that went into the paint job, I'm skeptical. You can bet that if you gave me a couple hundred thousand to fix up a pace car, it wouldn't generate 5 degrees of positive camber on the outside front tire and shriek like a banshee around every corner.

Hiro Matsushita is really, really slow. You don't see this as dramatically on TV until the leaders lap him, but he dropped way back on every corner. Even the non-racing-fan guests were asking why the let this slow car out on the track.

During qualifying, Mark Blundell talked on the radio the whole way around the track, giving a play-by-play of what the car was doing. To see him scramble around the esses, fighting for control, and still hear this living-room voice on the radio is really impressive.

Scott Pruett waits until he's back in the pits, and gives a dissertation on his last lap. You can hear him pause as he drives the track in his mind, calling out details as he gets to each section.

It's handy knowing some SCCA corner signals. At the start, I was able to read "Number 16 spun and continued" before the announcer got around to it.

It's easy to tell that someone's losing a gearbox when you can hear the car in person.

Herta said some really bad words on the radio when the car broke. I don't blame him.

All of Penske's radio transmissions are scrambled.

Rahal Crew Chief "Ramjet" gave a talk about the cars at the chalet, pointing out features on last year's chassis. He was quite good, and interacted with the crowd very well. He taught us some technical terms, too. When the wastegate opens and all the boost goes away, it's called, "Bad." He referred to the crashworthiness of the current-generation chassis as "The Paul Tracy Effect."

Ramjet on why they limit boost: "If boost is unlimited, we blow up too many engines and people think they're watching IRL or Formula One."

Best radio exchange during the race, at about 3/4 distance: Pits: If we give you more fuel [mixture], can you go faster? Zanardi: [incredulously] YES I can go faster!

Letterman put in an appearance at the motorhome. He is quite tall, and very, um, distinctive-looking. He was able to make it quite clear when he was finished signing autographs, without saying a word. I'd guess he's accustomed to dealing with New York papparazzi.

Rahal was a bit reclusive most of the weekend, but opened up after his great run to third place. He said that he never drove open-wheelers until Formula Atlantic, because his dad forbade it.

Herta was understandably bummed after the race, and felt he could've dealt with Zanardi (though I'm sure that Laguna Seca was weighing heavily on his mind.) He said that the car was perfect until the rear let go; it was a sudden failure.

We expected to watch the start from the grandstands, then repair to the chalet to see the rest on the TV feed. I couldn't drag myself away from the live action, though, and we ended up staying in the stands the whole time. The time just flew by.

There's no instant replay from the stands. If you missed it, it's gone.

The FF2000 race started 49 cars.  As you might expect, there were a
few lengthy full-course yellow periods.  The race finally went green
with one lap to go.  We expected carnage, but they brought it home
clean.  Great racing.

The Winston Cup folks set up merchandise trailers right alongside the IndyCar teams. They were just as busy.

Reynard unveiled next year's new Barber/Dodge chassis, complete with a prototype of the new Hewland sequential gearbox. It's a nice package. Dodge indicates that they will have next-generation engine control software for next year, squeezing another 25-30 HP out of the engines.

After the race, we ate with Les and Chris at a restaurant in town. Les struck up a conversation with Joe Average Fan at the next table. His son saw our shirts and asked if we were with the Rahal team. Fan Dad replied that we were with Hewlett-Packard, and pointed out the logo on Rahal's car on his son's T-shirt. He explained to his son that H-P was doing all of the computers and software stuff for Team Rahal. I was impressed - I guess this marketing stuff works!

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Paul Tracy , Bryan Herta , Scott Pruett , Mark Blundell , Anthony Lazzaro , Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan