CHAMPCAR/CART: This Week in Ford Racing 2002-04-02

Included among the many rules changes that CART implemented for the 2002 season was the legalization of traction control for the first time in the series' history. Almost immediately, Bruce Wood, Cosworth Racing's CART Program Director, and his...

Included among the many rules changes that CART implemented for the 2002 season was the legalization of traction control for the first time in the series' history. Almost immediately, Bruce Wood, Cosworth Racing's CART Program Director, and his engineering team worked to develop a system for the XF engine that would power two Ford-Cosworth drivers to top-five finishes in the season-opening race in Monterrey, Mexico. The next challenge? Tweaking and adjusting the system to work on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., where the circuit is tight and twisty and the surface changes several times a lap from asphalt to concrete.

BRUCE WOOD - Cosworth Racing CART Program Director:

WHAT WAS YOUR EVALUATION OF COSWORTH'S TRACTION CONTROL SYSTEM FOLLOWING THE FIRST RACE IN MONTERREY, MEXICO? "I think it worked very well, and I think it demonstrated that it introducing the rule was definitely the right thing to do. There wasn't any drama from anybody, the cars didn't make terrible noises off the corners and all of us engine manufacturers slept soundly at night knowing that somebody else wasn't doing something they shouldn't be, so I think it definitely proved that it was the right decision to make. For our system specifically, I think we were fairly pleased with it. We were able to tune something in for most of the drivers by the end of Friday morning, although Max [Papis] sort of took us until Saturday. He has a slightly different driving style than the others, so it took us a little longer to dial in with him. But other than that, I really think that most of the drivers were fairly comfortable with it for the rest of the weekend. I sat next to Jimmy [Vasser] on the plane after the race, and he made the same comment that a couple of the drivers made. He and some of the others suggested that perhaps we needed an extra parameter so that we modulated traction control with throttle position as well as track speed and lateral G, and that's what we've been working on since then."

WHAT WAS THE FEEDBACK YOU GOT FROM THE DRIVERS AFTER THE RACE ABOUT THE SYSTEM? I KNOW YOU DID SOME TESTING DURING THE OFFSEASON, BUT IT'S DIFFICULT TO SIMULATE ACTUAL RACE CONDITIONS DURING A TEST. "I think they were all pretty happy with it and they all had fairly similar comments about it, with the possible exception of Max, who wasn't very happy until Saturday afternoon. They all felt like sometimes the system controlled the car a bit too much for their liking. The drivers like to feel the car moving beneath them because that way they know where the limit is. In fact, when 'Tag' [Alex Tagliani] drove in the rain on Saturday he said that traction control was in complete control. Despite the fact that he had his foot on the throttle, the system prevented the engine from revving to full power because then the wheels would continue to slip. He also said that the reason he spun was because he just didn't know when to brake because he didn't have that feeling of the car underneath him. He had a sort of 'numb' feeling because although his foot was on the accelerator wasn't actually in control of the engine and he didn't know where to brake. I think all the drivers will have to get used to it, but they all had a similar comment that in some corners they felt like they wanted the traction control to release the car earlier on the exit. From our point of view in looking at engineering data, that wouldn't be the right thing to do, but they would all feel more comfortable if they had the car back in their control earlier out of several corners. So, that's something we're not quite sure whether we need to work with them and educate them about it. According to our scientific data, they're really going to be quicker if they let the ECU [Engine Control Unit] control the engine, but we'll have to see whether their intuitive feeling is right that regardless of what the data says, it's better to release it early. And of course, before the race they were all happy, but after the race when they'd all driven it for two hours they all had some comments as to what we could do better and I guess that's what we were working on during the tests at Sebring."

WHAT FACTOR OR FACTORS COULD INFLUENCE THE OUTCOME OF THE NEXT RACE AT LONG BEACH? "Well, one of the biggest is that in a lot of places the surface changes from asphalt to concrete. That's a situation where as you come off the asphalt and onto the concrete the grip is much lower and traditionally the wheels spin a lot more. Obviously traction control will attempt to reel that in and that's something the drivers might not like the feeling of. So we think that's going to be one of the biggest factors for the race at Long Beach."

WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON OR CHANGED WITH YOUR TRACTION CONTROL SYSTEM FROM MONTERREY TO LONG BEACH? "We've added another degree of freedom to the whole system by adding throttle position as a modulator. Sebring is quite a good place to get 'dialed in' because it has a lot of places where the surface changes from asphalt to concrete. We spent a lot of time working on that during the tests at Sebring and some of the drivers have said to us that they don't like the way the car goes across concrete. They're so used to feeling the car slide a bit across concrete because the wheels spin a bit more and now it feels like the engine is misfiring, which it is, of course, and to them it feels like that's slowing them down. In reality, the data suggests that it isn't slowing them down at all, but I can see why they perceive that it would feel like that. Do we need to convince them that their perception needs to change or is it the case that they do get a better lap when the car is more under their control? I'm not sure, but that's something we can play with a little bit more once we get to Long Beach."

DO YOU THINK THE DRIVERS WILL BE A BIT UNCOMFORTABLE USING TRACTION CONTROL UNTIL THEY GET USED TO IT? "I think it's just requiring them to think slightly differently about a lap, and Pat [Carpentier] is probably the one who voiced that most to us in Sebring. The first time we ran it he said, 'To get the most out of this, I need to be 100 percent sure that it's always going to be there.' He also said that he would drive much harder into a corner knowing that traction control would be there for him when he turns in because if it wasn't he would just go straight off the circuit. More than the other drivers, he believes that this system will allow him to go very fast, however he realizes that he's going to have to change his driving style slightly to accommodate it. And I think that's probably a good attitude. To go fast with traction control, the drivers probably do need to slightly change their driving style and that's something they all are getting used to. I don't think it's making them uncomfortable, it's instead a new sensation they're experiencing."

AND LIKE PAT SAID, THEY HAVE TO TRUST THAT IT WILL BE THERE WHEN THEY NEED IT. "And they have to trust it, yeah, which takes some getting used to. For Pat, particularly, he was saying at Sebring that he put in his best lap times driving really hard into the corner and knowing that without traction control he would just go off the track. You first have to be able to really trust it, and of course it takes a little bit of time to develop the confidence that it's always going to be there when they need it."

DO YOU FORSEE THE CONCEPT OF TRACTION CONTROL AS AN ONGOING PHENOMENA FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON? YOU'RE NOT GOING TO "MASTER" IT IN THE FIRST COUPLE OF RACES. "I think that when we get to Laguna Seca it'll be a little different because that's the first permanent road course of the season and it's going to be much, much grippier than Monterrey and Long Beach because they're used just once a year. They're both very slick circuits that pick up grip throughout the weekend as more laps are run on it, so it's always a changing situation as the weekend progresses. At Laguna Seca it's not going to be like that and the track will be fast from the word 'go.' And I suspect that once we have some data from Laguna, that'll probably be reasonable for the other permanent road circuits, while the data we get from Long Beach we can use in places like Toronto and Denver. But it's a constantly moving target and I think we want to have a system that's flexible, but not so flexible that you end up spending the entire session tuning the traction control system and not tuning the car. Keep in mind that traction control will only get you hundredths and the odd-tenth of a second per lap. If you're two seconds off the pace then really you should just ignore traction control and focus on your car setup because you've obviously got bigger problems than your traction control! In Monterrey some of our drivers were really struggling during practice on Friday so we just ignored the traction control and concentrated on getting the car set up correctly. As a matter of fact, I think we even shut it off completely, although I'm not quite sure about that. But it's one of those sciences that's easy for people to get sucked into, and I think it's important for all of us to remember that it's only going to make each of us fractionally better. If you're 'out to lunch,' so to speak, then you need to concentrate on your car setup and not worry about the traction control, and our teams recognize that and have been very responsible with it."

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT TRACTION CONTROL TAKES AWAY FROM THE ABILITY OF THE DRIVERS TO DEMONSTRATE THEIR SKILLS? "I don't think that's true at all. For instance, at Monterrey the 'fast' guys were still fast and the 'slow' guys were still slow. The grid we had at Monterrey this year could've been the grid we had a year ago, roughly, and it didn't transform anything for anybody."

YOU'VE SAID IN THE PAST THAT TRACTION CONTROL DOESN'T NECESSARILY MAKE A DRIVER FASTER, BUT IT DOES MAKE HIM FASTER ON A MORE CONSISTENT BASIS. "And I think that was really apparent in Mexico when Michel [Jourdain, Jr.] and [Cristiano] da Matta were trading pole position on Friday afternoon. Michel would go out and put a fast lap in and then da Matta would be a quarter of a second quicker. After that, you would think that Michel had put in his fast lap, but then he would do one that was a few hundredths faster than da Matta. As a matter of fact, I think there were like five laps where he went faster on each subsequent one. But I don't think that's something we would've seen with the legalization of traction control. Now, instead of drivers putting in just one fast lap out of say, five laps, the advent of traction control allows them to put in five laps with each one faster than the previous one. And I think that certainly added to the 'spectacle' because the fans got to see the pole change hands lap after lap, so if anything the addition of traction control has improved to the 'show' for Friday and Saturday qualifying."

Player's/Indeck drivers, Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani, spent a considerable part of their offseason testing helping the engineers at Ford and Cosworth Racing to develop the traction control system for the XF engine. In the first race of the season in Monterrey, Mexico, their hard work and the work of the team paid off as both Carpentier [7th] and Tagliani [5th] opened the season with a top-10 finish.

PATRICK CARPENTIER - #32 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth:

"I have to admit I was a bit skeptical at first about how effective it was going to be. I thought it might be more of a handicap than a help, but the more I get used to it, the more comfortable I feel. The track in Monterrey was really quite slick and I found that the traction control device worked well in making the car easier to handle in the corners. We've also found that it contributes to less wear on the tires, and that can be a big factor as the race progresses."

ALEX TAGLIANI - #33 Player's/Indeck Ford-Cosworth:

"I've had no problems with the traction control system. Ford had really prepared well for the introduction of traction control this season. So far, we haven't seen how the traction control system works under every possible condition. Before the season, we only tested once on the Homestead road course, and then in Saturday qualifying before the first race in Monterrey, it was raining and we didn't have the chance to run any laps under wet conditions.

"The track at Long Beach poses a different challenge, in that you're constantly changing from an asphalt to a concrete surface, but that's just a matter of making adjustments on the traction control system to find the proper balance. That's something we'll be working on as soon as we get out on the track for race weekend."

-ford-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Patrick Carpentier , Alex Tagliani