Monday, October 17, 2011

More Thoughts on Dan Wheldon

I spent most of my day today thinking about the tragedy that befell us yesterday. Try as I might to keep myself busy at work, my mind kept drifting to thoughts about Dan. "Why am I so sad?" I kept asking myself. "He was an athlete, you never knew him. Why is this affecting you so much?" At home tonight, it finally hit me why I felt the way I did, and I started bawling like a baby.

I lost a friend.

Typing those words, I began to lose it again. I never knew Dan personally, but here I am, crying at my computer, thinking about what Dan has meant to me, meant to the sport I love so dearly, and the legacy he leaves behind.

Dan is a driver whose career I watched unfold in front of me. I actually attended his first IndyCar start, at Chicagoland Speedway in 2002. I was in attendance for both his Indianapolis 500 victories in 2005 and this year in 2011. In 2005, I saw this snobby British kid who thought he was God's gift to racing. In 2011, after a few bad years, and when I was ready to write off his IndyCar career, he proved me wrong by showing the rawest emotion I have ever seen in Victory Circle at Indy. He held his son, Sebastian, and made him as much a part of the celebration as the wreath and the jug of milk. He was truly happy and appreciative of what he had just accomplished.

I saw his infectious smile and absolute love for the sport when we worked on the broadcast crew for a few races over the summer. I had fallen in (strictly platonic) love with Dan Wheldon, as did the entire IndyCar community. Everyone was so happy for Dan being the test driver for the new car. There are even rumors that he had already signed the contract to run full-time in next season in the GoDaddy car that Danica is leaving behind for NASCAR.

And I know that I am not the only IndyCar fan that feels this way. I can assure you that almost everyone affiliated with IndyCar, fan or otherwise, has shed tears for Dan Wheldon. Marshall Pruett, IndyCar journalist and former IndyCar mechanic, has had drivers perish in cars that he prepared, had cleaned his driver's blood from the car, but never once cried.

Until yesterday in Las Vegas at McCarran International waiting for his flight to arrive, in front of complete strangers.

The fact that the IndyCar world is so shaken to its core is a true testament to Dan's character. No one is mourning the champion that was lost, but rather, from the outstanding human being that was taken from this Earth far too early.

I will probably miss Dan Wheldon for the rest of my life, so long as I am a racing fan. Though times like these are difficult, it's more important than ever to stick together and continue doing and supporting what we love. Dan would not want the world to stop on his account. And it is for this reason we must continue forward.

I think it would be fantastic if IndyCar instituted a "Dan Wheldon Competitor of the Year" award to the driver exhibiting the humility, friendliness, and selflessness that Dan portrayed. Dan's memory needs to be upheld in as many ways as possible. As James Hinchcliffe suggested on Twitter, every Dallara chassis that Dan worked so hard to develop should all have "DW" as part of its serial number. IndyCar is assembling a trust fund for the wife and two boys that Dan leaves behind. IndyCar drivers are assembling items to auction off and donate all proceeds to the Wheldons.

Despite all the turmoil, I have never been more proud to be an IndyCar fan based on the paddock's actions alone. Dan's memory will live on in everyone.

I can't seem to draw this together to a logical conclusion, so I will leave you with Marty Reid's closing comments as the broadcast came to an end yesterday, words that will stick with me forever.

"Many people ask me why I sign off 'until we meet again.' Because goodbye is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Remembering Dan Wheldon

IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was killed today at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a 15-car pileup on lap 12 of 200. The race was immediately red-flagged to clean up the carnage. The drivers who were not involved in the wreck who came around and saw what was left on the next lap described the scene as "something from a Terminator movie", "something from Hollywood that looks way more over the top than would happen in real life." After two hours, what we had all feared was confirmed, that Dan had been killed from "unsurvivable injuries." I was at my dad's house watching with him, and we both immediately broke into tears. The race was not finished. The remaining 19 cars drove five parade laps in Dan's honor.

First and foremost, this has to be one of the worst fatalities IndyCar has ever suffered. I believe you have to go back to Mark Donahue's death in the 80s to find someone that was both a series and Indianapolis 500 champion. Dan was one of the greatest people in the IndyCar paddock. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone that didn't like Dan.

He started the season without a ride. He decided to make calculated moves to put him in strong cars for a few races rather than a so-so car for the year. He shocked the world at Indy this year when he won on the last lap after rookie JR Hildebrand hit the wall on the last lap coming out of turn four. Saddled without a ride for the rest of the season, he was pegged by IndyCar, Dallara, and Honda to be the test driver for the new car coming next season. It's unfortunate that he won't be able to drive the car he developed at full-song.

IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had put together the IndyCar World Championships as the season finale at Las Vegas. The GoDaddy Challenge was put forth that if an outside driver could come in and win the race, they would take home a $5million paycheck. When no drivers surfaced (Travis Pastrana was interested, then he broke his ankle), a new path was forged. Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon would start from the back of the field (which ended up being 34 cars), and if he could win the race, he'd split the $5million with a lucky fan. By the time the wreck occurred, he had already made up ten spots, and was unfortunately collected.

They say things happen for a reason, and I believe this will end up serving some good to the IndyCar drivers. Drivers seemed to become complacent with the safety of the cars, and had begun to drive each other over-aggressively. The new car coming next season is going to be far superior as far as safety goes. This over-aggressiveness is what spawned this massive pile-up. Two cars were battling too hard (especially for lap 12), the two cars behind them had to slow suddenly, which allowed a car to catch up quickly. There wasn't much space for this car, and he banged wheels with another competitor, and ultimately ended up spinning in front of the back third of the field.

Three cars went airborne, including Dan's. Once someone spins in front of you, you really just become a passenger. Dan hit someone from behind. The tire-to-tire contact from front to rear launched his car toward the catch fence. In one replay angle (which I won't look up, it makes me sick to watch), you see Dan's car hit the catch fence topside first. As soon as he hit the fence, it's plain to see how quickly his car decelerated. This impact also sheared the rollbar off of Dan's car. It is unknown yet what exactly killed him, but if he landed upside-down without a rollbar, that certainly would have done it. I believe it will take the death of a person like Dan Wheldon to really make the drivers think twice about just how hard they are racing another person.

Unfortunately for Dan, this probably wouldn't have happened in the new car. There is a "bumper" on the rear of the car to prevent tire-to-tire contact in incidents like this. Many IndyCar fans have been maligned to this, as well as how far forward the sidepod comes to the front tire, also in an effort to eradicate tire-to-tire contact. Hopefully this crash proves to them why these safety features are being implemented.

IndyCar helped to develop the SAFER barrier over ten years ago to help reduce impact with the retaining wall. These are the steel walls you see with foam behind them. I think it is time to redevelop the fences. If hockey-style plexiglass walls were implemented, I believe that this, too, could have saved Dan's life.

Ultimately, I think IndyCar needs to abandon these 1.5 mile tri-ovals. The cars stay packed together and wrecks like this will continue to happen. They should be running on ovals one mile in length or shorter (Milwaukee, New Hampshire, Iowa, Richmond) and two miles or longer (Indy, California, Michigan). They can even run the 1.5 milers that aren't of tri-oval configuration, which is where the front straight is curved and the back-straight is actually straight. Non-tri-oval tracks like this include Homestead-Miami (which is the only one I can think of right now).

I still can't believe this has happened. Dan was such a great guy on an upswing of his career. Everything was looking up for him. He and his wife had just had a boy, with another on the way. He was interviewed in his car just ten minutes before he was killed. Likely the last words he ever said. Hopefully the death of a person like Dan puts the other drivers in check and will start to run each other with more respect. It is a testament to IndyCar safety, however, that of the 15 drivers involved, 11 walked away injury-free, and three with minor injuries.

At the very least, Dan died doing what he loved. This is the Dan Wheldon I will always remember:

Rest in Peace Dan Wheldon, 1978-2011.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Science of Racing: Suspension

Yes, yes, I know this is LONG overdue. A month ago I said I would do this in a week. It's been a pretty eventful month, but now I have some downtime to get into this.

The main components of the suspension in a race car aren't all that different than the suspension on your road car. The springs and shock absorbers aren't kept near the wheel. They would generate too much drag. They are instead sheathed inside the bodywork of the car. This makes the arms of the suspension much longer. To compensate for the extra material, the linkage arms are made out carbon fiber, a lightweight high-strength material. The arms are also very streamlined to reduce drag as much as possible. (Unfortunately, in the real world, EVERYTHING generates drag. No matter how streamlined it is.)

There are a few more linkage arms than are needed to keep the car from bouncing around, however. On the photo below, which is the concept of the new oval configuration IndyCar, the pieces that are running diagonally that enter the bodywork at the top of the nose go to the spring and damper located at the top of the nose. The other linkages affect the camber of the wheel, the toe-in and out of the tires, as well as another adjustment called the weight jacker.

First, I will explain camber. As I mentioned the post about the tires, you want the entire surface of the tire to be in contact with the track. The wheels can be adjusted angularly. This would appear as the top of the tire leaning toward the car or away from the car. This adjustment is called camber. Each of the wheels can be individually adjusted so that the angle of the tire with the track ensures an even contact patch.

Another adjustment you can make, usually to the front wheels only, is known as toe, or sometimes tracking. This can be best explained by the following diagram.

Imagine you are looking down on the car from above, and that the car is travelling in the direction of the arrow. If the front of the tire is closer to the middle of the car than the back of the tire, the car is "toed-in," and vice-versa. This is essentially a change in the steering sensitivity. If the car is toed-in, it responds quicker to turning, as no matter which way you turn, one of the tires is already at least partially turned in that direction. The opposite can be said for a car that is toed-out.

As you can imagine, camber and toe affect one another quite a lot. This is one of the primary reasons there is so much practice before races is for the team to get the set up of the car down pat to maximize both speed and tire longevity.

Inside the car, the driver can change the handling of the car with a tool called the weight jacker. This is a hydraulic cylinder which affects the stiffness of the springs to change the effective weight distribution of the car. There are two weight jackers: one that controls the distribution from front to back, and one that controls the distribution from right to left. For instance, if the car is prone to oversteer (also known as "being loose" in NASCAR country), which means the rear of the car wants to snap around, you cam adjust the weight jacker toward the rear of the car, effectively putting more weight in the rear wheels. If the car is understeering (also known as "being tight" or "push" in NASCAR country), which means it isn't fully reacting to steering input as the front tires of the car have less grip than the rear, the weight jacker can be adjusted toward the front of the car to give the front of the car more grip. During qualifying especially when the car is trimmed out and is running as little downforce (and thus, less drag) as possible, you can see the driver adjusting the weight jacker before nearly every corner. If you watch the in car camera during an IndyCar race, and you see the driver put their left hand down below the steering wheel, they are adjusting the weight jacker. That was years past, however, as now, the control may have been put on the steering wheel.

So, that was suspension. I talked a little bit about carbon fiber, so I may get into that the next time I write about the Science of Racing. No promises as to when that will be. I move into my new apartment next week, and then I start my real job!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Still Movin' on Up

I have a job! It's great to finally have the next piece in place. (I know I used pretty much the same title for a blog recently...but I couldn't come up with anything better.)

On June 20, I will finally start my career as an engineer with Butler America in West Lafayette, Indiana. They are an engineering firm, and their primary customer out of this office is Sikorsky Helicopters. They do a lot of work with the Black Hawk!

I am not yet precisely sure what I will be doing. During my interview this week, I was told that help was needed pretty much everywhere in every group in the office, but it was not specified which group I would be working in. Once I know, I'll be sure to write about it! (At least, what I'd be able to share.)

It puts a thorn in my dad's side, however, that I will be making just as much money as he does. His quote: "I have been working for thirty years and am just NOW making as much as you will be." A piece of paper written in calligraphy from Purdue University can go a long way.

I am simultaneously excited, nervous, and horrified about entering the real world. Mostly excited about not having homework anymore. One thing is for sure, however; this month is going to be one of the biggest months of my life.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Craziest End to an Indy 500, Let Alone Race, Ever

First, as a disclaimer, I want to apologize if anyone made any bets on the race based on my predictions!

The 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 saw the craziest end to a race I have ever seen. Not just among Indy 500s. Not just among IndyCar races. Nay, this was the craziest end to a race I've seen in the ten years I've been a racing fan.

The end of the race was actually getting rather dull. I was about falling asleep. Then two cautions came in the 160-numbered laps. The way they were placed, it was clear that the winner will have saved a LOT of fuel to make it to Victory Lane. Danica took the lead with about twenty laps to go, but was clearly off the pace in an effort to save fuel. Bertrand Baguette, a Belgian running for Rahal Letterman Lanigan, took the lead with about ten laps to go. I had no idea when the last time he had pitted, and wasn't sure if he needed fuel to make it to the end.

While Baguette was leading, Dario Franchitti started dropping through the field in order to save field, which gave JR Hildebrand the lead, an American rookie running for Panther Racing. All I wanted to see from this race was a car without Target sponsorship or run by Roger Penske to win the race, and it appeared I was about to get my wish.

On the last corner of the last lap, Hildebrand came up on the car of American rookie Charlie Kimball, who was way off the pace. Closing very quickly, he made the split-second decision to pass Kimball on the high side. Unfortunately, he got just a little too high, and caught the marbles above the groove (if you don't know, marbles are little chunks of rubber that come from the tires in the corners, and are in the gray area of the track above where the track is darker). This meant he lost grip, and wound up in the wall.

However, it seemed there was still a chance he could win the race! He hadn't stopped when he hit the wall, and continued skidding along the wall down the front straight. Just as I thought he had done it, I saw two cars passing him just as they got to the start/finish line. I figured they were lapped cars, as there was plenty of lapped traffic near the front since the race had been green for about thirty laps.

When you don't know the results of the race, it seems to take an eternity for the results to come on the scoring pylon. After what felt like a millennium in the stands, the results were on the scoring pylon, and I did not see the #4 of Hildebrand's car in spot one, but rather, the #98. I was very confused. Who was running the 98?

Then the message was on the video board: "Congrats Dan Wheldon!" I was in total shock! My arms were up above my head for the last four laps, and I could not believe that Wheldon had won the race! My brain needed so much extra blood to process this information that by hands became numb. Wheldon was running a one-off for the race for Bryan Herta Autosport. He is a former Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion, but after BHA's struggles last year at the 500, I did not anticipate Wheldon winning the race!

In the end, though, I got my wish. There was only one car (Scott Dixon) in the top ten that was run by Roger Penske or had Target sponsorship. I also walked away much less sunburned than I normally do, another added bonus!

With the disparity in the results this year, I am greatly looking forward to next year, the first 500 with the new IndyCar!

Friday, May 27, 2011

2011 Indianapolis 500 Predictions

Today, the final practice session in preparation for Sunday's Indy 500 was held. This gives the teams and drivers a chance after the media blitz throughout the week to get back into race mode, as well as to work on their race set-ups. It also gives the fans a good look at what cars may be near the front on race day. With these results, along with the practice sessions run in preparation for qualifying, here are my predictions for race winners.

Best Odds: Alex Tagliani
Alex has been very fast all month, and will be starting on pole on Sunday. Typically, the 500 is kind to the polesitter for the race, and they often find themselves winning, especially in recent history. Twenty times, the polesitter has gone on to drink the milk, and 42 times someone from the front row has. Each of the last five winners started on the front row, three of which started on pole. Alex was also very quick in today's practice session, second only to Scott Dixon, only a tenth of a second slower on their respective fastest laps.

Fan Favorite: Tony Kanaan
For some reason, people really like TK. I do not. I think he is fake and phony and always has an ulterior motive for his actions. That being said, TK does deserve a win at Indy. He has had nothing but bad luck in the 500, and as much as I don't like him, he has paid his dues. After a violent breakup with Andretti Autosport after last season, and after having his ride at de Ferran Luczo Dragon Racing taken away just weeks before the season started, and having a ride materialize with KV Racing Technology at last second, he does deserve SOMETHING to go his way. He has been quick in the car, much quicker than his teammates, and is a master of passing cars, so his 22nd starting position doesn't mean much.

Darkhorse: Buddy Rice/Ed Carpenter
There was no way that I could not count both of these guys as darkhorses. Ed Carpenter was fastest on the first day of practice and was continually quick throughout the month. Ed is running the ovals this season for Sarah Fisher racing, and after they struggled last year, I could not foresee the performance they have had this month. Buddy Rice was the winner of the rain-shortened Indy 500 in 2004, but lost his ride a few years later. (I honestly don't remember what happened, but I did not think he deserved to lose his ride). Afterward, he was on the outside looking in, and was never able to procure another full-time ride. Panther Racing wanted to field a second car this year with a veteran driver to help their rookie JR Hildebrand, and who better than a former Indy 500 winner? Buddy has been fast all month and had no rust to shake off. The two will start the race side-by-side on the third row, Buddy in 7th and Ed in 8th.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 Indianapolis 500 Field Set

Today was Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the starting grid for the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 is set. Seven cars did not make the show, namely the cars of Ho-Pin Tung, Scott Speed, Rafa Matos, James Jakes, Mike Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastian Saavedra. Last year, I broke down the stories in terms of the good, bad, and the ugly, and I will continue with that tradition. First, however, I feel I need to explain the qualification procedures for the 500.

There were two days of qualifying. The first is known as "Pole Day," as the polesitter of the race is determined. This was yesterday (Saturday). On Pole Day, the first 24 spots were filled. For the last hour, the Fastest Nine cars requalified and were guaranteed a spot no worse than ninth.

Today was the second day of qualifying, known as "Bump Day." Here, the final three rows are filled to position 33. After all spots are filled, the slowest car is "on the bubble." For a car to make the race, it has to post a speed faster than the slowest car. If they accomplish this, the slowest car is bumped from the field, and the new car takes its appropriate place by speed among the Bump Day qualifiers.

There was more drama throughout qualifying than I can recall in my time following IndyCar. Granted, I am only 23, so surely there was more drama in other years, but it was still incredible considering that just a few years ago it was a huge struggle to even get 33 cars entered for the race.

Without further adieu, here are the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout qualifying for the 500.

The Good
There were tons of great stories throughout qualifying. Only three of the five combined Penske and Ganassi cars were in the Fast Nine, and only one of the Penske cars made it.

Alex Tagliani on the pole is amazing. He was surprisingly quick in practice all week, but I knew for sure that Penske and Ganassi were sandbagging and would take the first five spots of the grid. Alex is a great guy and I hope his car continues to be fast as they work on the race set-up on it. The same can be said for Oriol Servia, who will be starting third.

Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon are two former Indy 500 champions, and both are without full-time rides. Buddy hasn't driven in an IndyCar in years, and he showed that he still deserves to drive one. Both came in on short notice and really turned heads, and I hope their performances can turn into more races for them throughout the season.

Ed Carpenter was also impressive in the Dollar General car of Sarah Fisher Racing. They are an oval-only program, and this is the first oval of the year, and they really turned some heads.

Simona also did a good job of getting the car in the field. She crashed her car pretty bad during practice this week and suffered third degree burns on her hands. This was not the first time she has been burned in a crash, and she showed amazing toughness and fortitude to get the car in the field on Pole Day.

The Bad
The Penske cars certainly were not to form during qualifying. Only Will Power made it into the Fast Nine, Helio Castroneves, a three-time 500 winner, only made it to 16th, and Ryan Briscoe came in 27th on Bump Day in his backup after wrecking his primary on Pole Day.

Scott Dixon did well for Ganassi starting second, and Dario Franchitti may very well have been on the first row with his teammate, but he ran out of fuel on the final lap of his requalification during the Fast Nine. A very curious mistake for such an experienced team!

Ganassi's second team didn't do so well either with the cars of Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal. There must not be much information being shared between the flagship and the apprentice teams, as Kimball and Rahal start next to each other on row 10 in 29th and 30th.

Also feel bad for Sebastian Saavedra, as he has not had good luck at Indy. Last year, he crashed his car on Bump Day, and started the race 33rd after being bumped INTO the field when Paul Tracy withdrew his time good enough for 33rd and failed to be quick enough to make it into the race, all while Sebastian was in a hospital bed. He struggled throughout May last year, and continued the struggle this year.

The Ugly
Andretti Autosport really fell from grace. All week during practice, only Danica and John Andretti's cars were consistently quick. Only John Andretti managed to get into the field on Pole Day. Danica made it in pretty solidly on Bump Day, and Marco Andretti bumped his teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay out of the race when he posted a time quick enough to make it in. The disparity between their oval and road course programs are amazing. They have been near the front on the road courses, and have thoroughly struggled all week. The fifth car of Mike Conway also failed to make the race. Conway and Hunter-Reay are the last two winners of the Long Beach Grand Prix, the most prestigious street race in the United States, and both will be watching the race while three of their teammates are in the race.

Dragon Racing did not come to the track prepared. They entered only two cars, and neither had a back-up. They brought Ho-Pin Tung and Scott Speed with them, both rookies to formula oval racing IndyCar. Ho-Pin Tung crashed his car yesterday and suffered a concussion. Scott Speed was formerly an F1 driver, and I expected better of him. He had no idea what was going on all week, and on the morning of Pole Day he left the track because he was so frustrated with the team. Patrick Carpentier stepped into the car Sunday morning and crashed it as well. With no backups, the team had to pack up and leave. They are entered to run the Firestone Twin 275s on June 11 with Paul Tracy, and it will be a miracle if they are able to show up.

It was an interesting week of practice and qualifications. The media storm is this week, as well as a few more practice sessions to hone in on the race set-up. After I see how those practice sessions are going, I'll put up a post entailing my predictions for the race.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

New Trivium!

Today, Trivium released a song titled In Waves from their upcoming album, which is as of yet untitled. Here it is, in all its glory.

It definitely goes back to their roots and sounds much more like the album that put them on the map, Ascendancy. It is certainly one of the catchiest songs they have written. The heavy segments are definitely inspired by Soulfly; in fact, the heavy parts where Matt is screaming "In Waves" sounds like it comes directly from a Soulfly song. 

There are more breakdowns in this song than in albums past, which is surely due to their new drummer, Nick Augusto. This is the second song by Trivium I have heard (the other being Shattering the Skies Above) since their original drummer, Travis Smith, left the band in February 2010. I think that Nick is a much better drummer than Travis and is moving Trivium forward. That's not to say that Travis is a bad drummer, I just think his only forte was with metalcore music, and wasn't a very well-rounded drummer. 

Typically, I am against the genre-fication of metal, but unfortunately, it is the only way to describe a band's sound. This song is far more metalcore than the previous two records. Basically, this means that there is more of a shift in the song between heavy parts and cleaner parts. There are distinct rifts between extremely heavy parts and more traditional rock parts. The tempo slows, the riff isn't as crunchy, and the vocals go from screaming to clean singing.

I don't want to infer that this is what the album will sound like, however. Too many people hear one song an assume that is how the entire album will sound. For instance, Shattering the Skies Above is a song that was written with the new lineup, and sounds entirely different from this song.

All in all, I think it is an awesome song. It certainly sounds like a Trivium song. It is both a step forward and backward for them, as I feel that Trivium has been a band that has struggled to find a sound that is uniquely theirs. They took a step forward toward creating their sound by taking a step back toward their roots. It remains to be seen (er, heard) what the rest of the album will sound like, but I am very excited for its August release!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The other day, it was announced that HVM Racing would partner with Purdue to help develop the new car that is coming next season. Students will conduct experiments on the aerodynamics of the car and help with the manufacture of new parts, and would then spend the summer interning with the team. I would have loved to have gotten involved with this. It figures, though, that it is announced literally THE DAY AFTER I graduate.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2012 IndyCar "Unveiled"

Yesterday, the 2012 IndyCar was "unveiled" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I say "unveiled" because they are not representative of what Dallara is actually designing for its aero kits. They goal was more to show the fans the direction they were headed in, and show designers the freedom they have in making aero kits, as the road course and oval kits are vastly different, as shown below.

Road course car on left, oval on right 
I think they are a good start, however. On the road course car, there are multiple added pieces on the wings to add more downforce, as on the road courses, you want to produce as much downforce as you can to provide more grip so that you can go through corners quicker.

The oval car has a very sleek profile. One thing people are already complaining about are the totally sheathed rear wheels (well, the top of the wheel is open, but that doesn't really count).

As an aerodynamicist, I love this move. I absolutely love open wheel formula racing, but when I see open wheels, the aerodynamicist side of me shudders. The wheels are a bluff body, which means they produce TONS of drag. An aerodynamic fact that can be proven mathematically (I've been trying to find the proof since I KNOW we did it in my fluids class junior year, but I can't find it) is that a cylinder and an airfoil whose maximum thickness is 27 times the thickness of the cylinder produce the same amount of drag. In essence, they surround the bluff body with a streamlined body to reduce drag. Totally awesome.

 On both cars, the bodywork surrounds the rear wheel. This was already confirmed from the initial conceptual design phase so as to avoid accidents involving interlocking tires. I think they did a good job here of producing a car that looks like an open wheel car, even though it isn't truly an open wheel car.

People are also complaining about the fin that extends from the roll hoop to the rear wing. This is, again, something I love as an aerodynamicist. It prevents vortex shedding and the flows from either side of the engine cowling from mixing into a big turbulent mess before getting to the rear wing, where most of the car's downforce is produced.

Tons of people are getting all riled over the new cars. Dallara came out beforehand and stated that this is in NO WAY representative of the direction they are going with their aero kits, but it was more to show fans that they are making progress, and to show potential aero kit manufacturers that they have plenty of freedom with their designs.

I will refrain from judgment until a test car gets on track this summer.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Science of Racing: Tires

I don't get to talk about racing enough, so I've created a new series where I'll get to do just that. Once a week (if time allows) I would like to talk about something that makes a race car far different from the one you drive all the time. A big one is aerodynamics. That, however, is my bread and butter, so I'll save it for later.

The first component I would like to talk about is inarguably the most important part for any automobile: the tires! Why are they the most important, you ask? It's the only part of the car that actually touches the ground!

At first glance. a race tire looks fairly similar to your ordinary road tire.

They couldn't be any more different, however. The most noticeable difference is the tread pattern. Typically, the tread of a race tire is slick, as shown above. This is to maximize the tire's contact patch with the ground, thereby maximizing grip.  Many formula racing series do have rain tires for when it rains when they are running on road and street courses. This look much like a road tire in that there is a tread pattern rather than being slick. There are two different sets of rain tires, intermediates, and full wets. Intermediates are used when the track is wet, but little or no water is actually falling onto the track, whereas full wets are used when there is steady, consistent rain falling on the track. There are even more tread patterns for dirt tires, ice tires, etc. My specialty is formula racing, where neither of these are used, so I won't talk about them.

Many other differences come about due to the speed difference. Road tires are typically designed to maintain speeds up to 100 mph, where as a race tire has to endure speeds of over 200 mph! This means that the sidewall of the tire (the part where the manufacturer paints their logo) must be very sturdy so that the tire does not flex much. Speeds this high, as I'm sure you can imagine, lead to very high amounts of friction, and the tire starts heating up quite significantly, usually around temperatures where water begins to boil. To maintain the integrity of the tire and to keep it from blistering, the treads are incredibly thin, around the thickness of a credit card for slick tires (!!!). This temperature increase also means that the cold pressure of a racing tire is generally fairly low, around 20 psi where your car's tires have around 35 psi. Rain tires have much thicker treads and carry higher amounts of heat, but are cooled by the water on the track, so it is less of an issue. You typically want the temperature of the tire to be uniform, as this means that the entire surface of the tire was in contact with the road. If the middle of the tire is warmer than the edges, the tire is overinflated (and the other way around). Although for initial tests, it may be beneficial to overinflate the tire to see if the suspension needs tweaking to ensure an even contact patch (more on suspension at another point in time). You may have also noticed that pit crews seem to work effortlessly when changing tires, when you know your tires to be relatively heavy. It is not because the crew has superhuman strength, it is because the tire is so light!

Another thing to note is that the compound of the tire changes from track to track. Most tires are made of a synthetic rubber made from various chemicals, and the change in the recipe of the chemicals lead to a different end compound. These compounds change the overall "grippiness" of the tire. A tire with lots of grip is said to be "soft," and a tire with less grip is said to be "hard." There is a trade-off, however. Softer tires tend to degrade much quicker than hard tires, to you may only get a few laps of tire integrity before they start wearing away. (Yes, even race tires wear!)

I'm no expert on tires, and I'm sure there's far more that goes into them than even what I explained! I bet you never realized just how much goes on with something as mundane as tire. Race tire scientists and engineers certainly earn their income! I cannot remember the last time a Firestone failed in an IndyCar race.

Hopefully I'll get to keep doing these about once a week. Since I already alluded to it in this post, I'll probably talk about suspension next. Finals are next week, as well as checking residents out of the hall. It may be more like a week and a half, if not two weeks. If you have any questions, feel free to comment!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Science > Engineering

With my distaste of engineering manifesting itself recently, I thought I would take some time to list the grievances I have with engineering. Here goes.

  • With science, there is only one answer. The world has many problems that need to be solved. If you were to give six groups of scientists the same problem, they would come up with the same answer. If you were to give six groups of engineers the same problem, you would get six completely different answers (as evidenced by my senior design class this semester), and there would be absolutely no rules or standards to determine which was the best solution. There is far too much ambiguity in engineering.
  • Science is forever. If you make a breakthrough in engineering, you change the world for the near future. Somebody will just come along and make something better than your thing in a few years. The cycle never ends. If you make a breakthrough in science, it changes the world FOREVER. Besides, it's the scientists that are defining the work that the engineers are doing.
  • There is too much pressure in engineering. Scientists have been looking for the Higgs boson for what, sixty? Seventy years? If it were an engineering problem, they would have given up after a month. Scientists can devote their lives to figuring out one thing that really drives them. If you can't get a problem figured out quickly as an engineer, the company loses money, and you're out of a job.
  • Science is just plain cooler. I mean, this is probably pretty subjective, but uncovering the secrets of the universe is much more amazing than doing things like designing heat exchangers and high-lift devices with your life.
Another I have isn't so much a grievance as it is an observation. To be successful as an engineer, you MUST be 100% passionate about machines, especially the one you are devoting your life to designing. The only machine I have ever been 100% passionate about is race cars. I studied engineering because I wanted to design formula race cars. As I grow older and wiser (I know, a laughable claim considering that I am only 23), I realize the last thing I want to do is follow that dream. I love auto racing! And I would never be able to enjoy watching a race again if I were to actually work in auto racing someday. 

I'm sure there's more I will think of in time. I've only been pondering this for around a week now, but I feel this is a pretty good list for such a short amount of time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Identity Crisis

Today I had my final presentation for senior design. Our design was getting ripped apart, and I finally had a moment of clarity. I don't want to be an engineer. And it's not because my team's design got ripped apart, either. Engineering is a sciency field, but I don't think it is concrete enough for me.

Our design was getting slammed mostly for inconsistency due to different values researched by each of us individually, but they were not cohesive enough when we tried to bring our results together. I don't want to be using science to create technology, I want to be creating science that in turn spurs technology.

As an engineering student, you don't realize the nitty-gritty stuff until you get pretty deep into your plan of study. At this point, I am only three weeks away from getting my degree. I might as well finish it out.

I'm just not passionate enough about making machines to do this the rest of my life. The shows that captivate me the most on the Discovery and Science channels all talk about the science itself. If there were a show outlining every individual system on an aircraft or spacecraft, I'd switch it off. Engineering is all about the teeny details, and I've always been more of a "big picture" kind of guy.

Somewhere down the line, I believe I'll be going back to school, but this time, to study science. Probably physics. I initially went into engineering because I thought I enjoyed the application of science into technology, but I have found that the science itself captivates me much more. I couldn't care less about the particular high-lift devices employed by an aircraft. The science of why those work interest me much more. I couldn't care less about specific chamber pressures on a rocket engine needed to generate enough thrust to get a spacecraft to a high enough velocity to maintain orbit, but the astrophysics involved in keeping the craft in orbit interest me greatly.

It is true. I am a scientist, not an engineer. I wish I would have realized that a few years ago, though. I have received training in something I am somewhat interested in, so it shouldn't be TOO painful to work for a few years and repay some debt before attempting to go back to school to get a degree in physics. Unfortunately, I believe that my lack of interest in engineering resulted in such a low GPA that I may have to start from the beginning with a bachelor's degree, I probably won't be able to get into a master's program...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Purdue Grand Prix - So Much Fail

Yesterday, I finally attended Purdue Grand Prix. After five years at Purdue and other experiences trying to interact with the Grand Prix Foundation in years past, I must say, it is the most poorly run organization I have ever seen, and it is a miracle the event happens at all each year.

My first three years, I was a member of Purdue Motorsports Association, one of many organizations that merged into MAP (Motorsports at Purdue). Unfortunately, I no longer had the time to participate once I became an RA. Anyway, they always talked about how poorly run Grand Prix was. I always thought it was in jest, but this year taught me first-hand.

As an RA, I was trying to put together an event for the hall to pay for tickets to go to the race. There was no information about ticket sales until a mere TEN DAYS before the race. Keep in mind that track activity had begun a few weeks before that. As soon as tickets went on sale, I emailed the director of sales to see if we could be invoiced for twenty tickets, as we need to transfer money to an account if it's through a Purdue club. I never heard back. Tuesday of last week, I emailed their president, and never heard back. Finally, on my way out of town to go see 30 Seconds, I stopped by their ticket sales booth.

The girl running the table at Stewart west foyer told me to go down to their office in the basement to get things taken care of. Fair enough. I head downstairs, and there are two officers in there talking to the Jimmy John's guy. One of them noticed me and asked what I needed. I had to wait until they were done with the Jimmy John's guy. They were done talking business after five minutes. I sat there another 15 until they finally filled out a VERY unofficial invoice (not the actual real Purdue one used for transactions, but basically a piece of paper that said "you owe us $140").

Saturday, the original race day finally comes around. It was raining and crappy and there was a very good chance that the race would be postponed. According to the hall's team, that decision came around 1:15-1:30 pm. There was no news posted anywhere on the internet until about 1:40, and we almost had everyone signed up to go out the door until someone from the hall's team came back from the track and said that the race had been postponed until Sunday.

So Sunday rolls around, and only a few people actually came; 18 had signed up, but only 6 showed up, two of which weren't actually signed up. So we walk to Wiley dining court where a shuttle is supposed to pick people up and take them to the race. And we wait. And wait. And wait. About 20 minutes. Finally, about fifteen minutes before the race was supposed to start, we decide to take the half-hour trek to the track. When we got there, the shuttle did as well.

We finally get to the track, and there is no one to collect tickets. This may be because it was a rain date, but still, the fact that the hall spent $140 for tickets was futile at that point. At this point, I was thoroughly convinced that Grand Prix Foundation was the most poorly run organization I had ever seen. As an RA, if I had months to plan an event (quite literally, it's the ONLY thing they do) and it turned out as poorly as Grand Prix, I would not get any credit for it.

Grand Prix has sponsorship from many restaurants in West Lafayette. They even have a corporate sponsor in Lockheed Martin, and this year marked the first in a new partnership with the IZOD IndyCar Series. Ed Carpenter and Sarah Fisher served as Grand Marshals for the race, and I'm truly embarrassed for the farce of a race they witnessed. I'm sure most freshmen don't even realize that there IS a race, and there's probably still some seniors who don't realize there actually is a race. This could be a great event with just a little bit of advertising to actually return the sponsors' investment and get people to the race.

They could probably also boost revenue by lowering prices. $7 advance/$10 at the gate seems a bit steep to me. The only people there seemed to be alumni or frat brothers whose house had a car in the race. Get the broke college student demographic in there!

Anyway, I'm starting to ramble. This university is a great institution, and Grand Prix is one of its biggest events. I know that it could be easily better run with better leadership. Someone needs to step up and get the Grand Prix Foundation pointed back in the right direction, or sponsors may leave and we could lose one of our greatest traditions.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

30 Seconds to Mars Concert Review

So on Thursday I went to a 30 Seconds to Mars concert in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom with my girlfriend. She got me tickets for my birthday!

We stopped at my dad's house in Hobart on the way to pick up a few things before heading to the city. I forgot how busy it was! We were going INTO town during rush hour, and it was still busy. We got to the exit for Lake Shore Drive in about 45 minutes. Not a bad time. However, without massive amounts of traffic, we should have been able to get to the Aragon 15 minutes later. More like 45 with all the traffic.

The doors opened at 6:30, but by the time we got the car parked, we weren't in until close to 7. Apparently a band was on stage right at 6:30, as at the end of the show, Jared Leto gave 'em a shout out. I didn't understand him. I have no idea who they were.

The show was supposed to be a theme night, namely, the Bloodball. People are supposed to come dressed up like they escaped their video for The Kill.  Natalie and I stopped at Walmart on the way to get white shirts and black ties and planned to get bloodied up at the show as they had a blood booth. Apparently, nobody got the message. We immediately felt uncomfortable being the only people in costume. We didn't even bother getting bloodied. Natalie only bought the shirt for the night, so she tossed it at the show. I may have some use for it, so I kept it.

Anyway, while we were getting uncostumed, we missed Anberlin's set. We watched the beginning and end of their set. They played a lot of their new material that I am unfamiliar with, but I did enjoy the few songs that I did recognize. (EDIT: I've seen a lot of searches in my stats for the specific songs that Anberlin played. The two I recognized were Stationary Stationery and Never Take Friendship Personal. They played about seven songs. SS was the second, I believe, and I'm pretty sure they closed with NTFP.)

After Anberlin, the set change for 30 Seconds took nearly an hour! I have no idea what took them so long. Shannon's drumkit was up front, so it probably took awhile to put together, but an hour!? I don't think so. The rest of their stage was already set up. Later in the show Jared said that Shannon was ordered by his doctor to stay under supervision at his home in LA, but that there was no way that Shannon was going to miss Chicago. Maybe he needed more time to ready himself. I'm not sure.

I was rather unimpressed with the show. I still enjoyed myself, however. I just will probably not see 30 Seconds live again. The band was much more focused on trying to put on a show rather than actually playing music. Nothing they played was very true to what is presented on their records. The crowd was also NOT into it at all. Most of them seemed to be the club-going crowd rather than actual music fans. On a few occasions, Jared stopped mid-song to point someone out in the crowd to chastise them for not jumping. Or he'd tell the crowd to take three steps forward since they all had too much space. I have always felt that crowd reaction should be natural, and not forced. If your music doesn't naturally get people in the crowd to crunch together or jump, then maybe you're not a good enough musician or you're not playing the right kind of music.

Jared also played three or four songs acoustically to give his brother a break for awhile. I don't think their music translates very well into acoustic versions. They should have just let it be.

All in all, I was rather unimpressed. Then again, I am a metalhead. Everyone that goes to a metal show is enthusiastic and passionate about the band(s) playing, and metal naturally produces adrenaline in the crowd. For all I know, that was a great rock show. It was the first non-metal/hard rock show I had ever been to.

I also think that any show I ever go to again will be tainted from the Dillinger Escape Plan show I saw last year, complete with Greg Puciato in your face yelling at you, guitarists stagediving and walking atop the crowd, and lead guitarist Ben Weinman climbing into the rafters and falling onto the crowd.

I need to get to a metal show...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The New Purdue Pete

The new Purdue Pete was not meant to be unveiled until the spring game on Saturday, but it was accidentally leaked today. Before giving my comments about it, here he is, in all his glory.

Boiler up? (Courtesy Journal & Courier online)
Now, focusing on the face alone, I think they did a pretty decent job. The goal was to make him look like less of a pedophile, which I believe they succeeded in. He isn't horrendously pale, and he doesn't appear to be wearing lipstick. Both huge bonuses.

Also, a quick remedy would be to make the helmet black. The silver is just weird.

With the rest of his outfit, however, I believe they tried to make him look more like the Boilermaker statue. In this, they failed. They would need a collared shirt, not a T-shirt. Also, I think that if they are going with the felt suit most mascots are, it needs to be a full-body suit. You can clearly see below the slant P where Pete ends and the person in the suit begins. This then leads to an awkwardly narrow waist for someone that is supposed to be a big and strong man. Also, the picture here doesn't show it, but he has weird shoes on. If they're going to keep those, it definitely needs to be a full body suit.

Overall, I think it is a good start. I think they need to make it a full body suit. I think the shirt needs to be black, as well, as the shirt shown is practically the same color as the rest of Pete. I think with a little more work, this could work out to be a great-looking mascot.

IndyCar Double File Restarts

Now on to stuff I usually write about and much more light hearted!

This season, IndyCar is employing double file restarts. The first race was two weekends ago, on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. In addition to the double file restarts, the acceleration zone was moved much closer to the start/finish line. The initial start, which has always been double file, was the most hideous start to a race I had ever seen. The crash going eliminated two cars in the Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Mike Conway, and damaged many others. This, of course, started a caution period. When the race went green, there was another incident in turn one. Then on the third restart. Finally, they got the hang of it on the fourth.

At first I was outraged because I thought it had ruined the racing, but then I realized the biggest hiccup was on the initial start, which was always double file to begin with. Granted, the movement of the acceleration zone kept the field much more bunched together than in the past, but these are professional drivers we are talking about. They just need to show each other a little respect in the first few turns, and everything will settle out.

The double file restarts even allowed some ambitious drivers to move up the field. At the end of the race, Simona de Silvestro was challenging Tony Kanaan for third place because she had picked up so many spots in the restarts.

It will take some time, but I think the double file restarts and the closer acceleration zone will greatly improve the racing, especially on the ovals.

First corner pileup, claiming Andretti (Venom car) and Conway (GoDaddy car).

Of, For, By the People?

First off, I know it's been forever since I posted. I have been so busy with school (designing an entire aircraft in about 13 school weeks) and my job (well, let's not get into that...) that blogging just hasn't been very high up on the list lately.

Also, I try to stay out of politics, usually because I don't have all the facts, and it will start some kind of debate I just don't feel like participating in. However, I felt this was something that needed to be said, and is something that many people, maybe even most people, could agree with, no matter their political views.

Anyway, I've been really dissatisfied with "my" government lately. When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they intended to have a small government of the people, for the people, and by the people. I feel that the current institution anything but this.

These feelings of animosity started a few weeks ago when the House voted to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. Outraged, my girlfriend signed an online petition to our House representative. He sent back a letter that said that he will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and that he wanted to protect the employees who were being forced into performing abortions. First off, Planned Parenthood does much more than perform abortions. Second off, no one is holding a gun to these employees' heads forcing them to perform abortions. If they are unhappy with their job, this is supposedly a free country, and they can leave and seek other employment. Finally, what happened to our "representatives" actually REPRESENTING us? As far as I'm aware, a sizable sum of Indiana residents signed this online petition, but our "representative" is so steadfast in his ways that he will vote for what HE thinks is right, NOT what his people want? Isn't that his job? What happened to a government FOR the people?

There is so much unrest leading into the 2012 Presidential election. Donald Trump is thinking about running, which is fine to me, he has a pretty solid platform and celebrities have run for office and won before (Ronald Reagan, anyone?). However, he is making priority number one uncovering Barack Obama's birth certificate. The government is on the verge of shutting down (more on that later), there are revolutions in the Middle East killing millions fighting for what they believe in, Japan is trying to put itself back together, and his number one priority is finding out whether or not Barack Obama was born in the United States? That is just absurd.

Now the government is just going to shut down because they can't do their jobs and come to a compromise. Again, I'm not really sure with what is going on to cause this, but isn't their job to work out compromises? If I were to just walk out of the building one night on duty because I was frustrated and not come back for a week, there DEFINITELY would not be a job waiting for me when I got back, and the same could be said for almost every employee in this once great nation; what puts the politicians above us? What happened to a government BY the people and OF the people?

We are all brought up to be open to diversity, but there is so much hate in the government. It is unbelievable. Again, I am not fully aware of everything that goes on, but it seems from what I do catch that, in general, the Democrats seem to run a ship that is what the founding fathers would want, but the Republicans make all their decisions with their nose in the Bible. This was a book that was written 2000 years ago. It was great for the simple people that lived 2000 years ago, but it should not be the deciding factor in the modern age. Many Republicans are on record as being uncomfortable with anyone that is NOT a Christian, and would never work with anyone that was a Muslim, Jew, and/or member of the gay community. But in the same breath, they tell us to be open to all cultures. I just don't get it. There are people dying in the Middle East for freedom, and all the American government wants to do is restrict everyone's freedom. I'm tired of all the hypocrisy. I'm tired of all the hate. All the Republicans and Tea Partiers claim they are doing what the founding fathers would want, but I believe that if they were to show up to Washington today, they would be very displeased and ashamed with what they found.

I want my government of the people, for the people, and by the people back.