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.