Leveling the playing field

May 25, 2006
When the checkered flag comes down this weekend at the 2006 Indianapolis 500 one thing's for sure: the winner will be driving a Honda engine.

Contributing Editor

That's because Honda is the exclusive supplier for the 2006 Indy Racing League (IRL) series. According to Les Mactaggart, senior technical director for the IRL, "Everybody having the same equipment improves the potential competitiveness of all teams. Because they have the same engine no one's at a greater advantage than anyone else. Teams still have to optimize their cars to get the best performance. It's now become a direct engineering challenge between the teams and the drivers to actually make them quicker," Mactaggart adds.

And based on the season's first race, more competitiveness is exactly the result. At the Toyota Indy 300 at the Home-stead-Miami Speed-way in March 2005 Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon edged out Helio Castroneves by just 0.01 sec in the ninth closest finish in league history.

While no IRL rules have changed from last year, new this season is a change in fuel mixture. An ethanol-methanol blend powers the Honda V8s. Methanol had been used since the IRL's inception. In

2007 the league switches to 100% fuel-grade ethanol.


Honda's exclusive arrangement with the IRL this season means driver skills are out on display. It also means Honda engineers are spread thin among teams. "In previous years we've always had one engineer dedicated to one driver for the entire season," says Roger Griffiths, Race Team Technical Leader at Honda Performance Development (HPD), Santa Clarita, Calif. "This year we'll supply one engineer per two cars. Two-car teams will have one engineer assigned to them for the race weekend." Honda engineers will rotate between teams throughout the season.

To keep things equitable, Honda will only give out generic settings. "We don't have spe-

HI6R Series Indy V8 specs Engine type: Normally aspirated, fuel-injected, aluminum-alloy cylinder block V8 Displacement: 3.0 liters

(183.1 in. 3 ) Valve train: Dual-overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder Crankshaft: Alloy steel, five main bearing caps Pistons: Forged aluminum alloy Connecting rods: Machined alloy steel Engine management: Motorola-Honda

Ignition system: CDI Lubrication: Dry sump Cooling: Single water pump

Teams racing in the 2006 Indy 500 are all starting with the same Honda engine. Here's what team engineers get to tinker with in hopes of a competitive edge.

cific engine calibrations for any one team. We do as much as we can to ensure that everybody will see the same information at the same time. We still provide a high level of engineering support, but we try to make sure everybody receives the same level of engineering," Griffiths notes.

Honda's engine for the 2006 series is designated the HI6R Series Indy V8. It was designed in part-nership with Ilmor Engineering and introduced at the 2004 Indianapolis 500, when IRL rules reduced the engine displacement to 3.0 liters. Modifications for 2006 provide a longer service life between rebuilds, reducing the cost of racing for teams. "Typically last

year, an engine would only run a max of one race weekend," says Griffiths. "Now we're extending engine life out to 1,200 miles, and that's equivalent to two race weekends." To do this Honda reduced the performance level. "Now that we're not racing in a competitive series we don't have to extract the last ounce of per-

Andretti Green Racing teammates Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and Dan Wheldon run 1-2-3 during the 89th running of the Indianapolis 500. Photographer Michael Voorhees

Dan Wheldon just edged out Helio Castroneves to win the 2006 Toyota Indy 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. The finish was the ninth closest in league history.

formance out of the engine. So we've been able to back off the power level a bit. But we're not changing the engine speed, it's still the same 10,300-rpm rev limit." The change in the fuel also reduces engine performance and helps extend operating life. "Drivers were expecting a significant power reduction," says Griffiths. "They've been pleasantly surprised by the current performance level."

Honda has restricted the changes team engineers can make to the engine. "The way we've approached it is we can make significant changes at track-side, but only if a problem arises," Griffiths notes. "For example if we had a consistent problem with drivers not being able to shift gears and were able to identify the cause, we have the people and the ability at the track to make the change. But we would

then apply it across the board. Whereas in seasons past we'd tune specifically on gear shifting, traction control, or whatever the team strategy may be for the individual driver and chassis setup. This change has been met with mixed reactions."

There are several tests on the engine. Every one that goes to the track is run across a dyno. The dyno checks that the engine is assembled properly with no oil, water, or fuel leaks and confirms it performs as expected.

They're also tested at the track. "One of the things we had to establish early on was what basic calibrations we'd run at the track across the board," says Griffiths, "such as shift settings and fueling specs. We worked with some of our more experienced drivers to be sure the engine drove as good as it did last year. Particularly with the change of

the fuel, we had to confirm that we didn't have any issues."

Another change eliminates traction control. Honda decided it would be too difficult to support all the teams. "Traction control, to get the most from it, has to be tuned and refined continuously, almost on an outing by outing basis at the racetrack. And that is just not physically possible in a series where you've got an engineer who's floating between two cars," says Griffiths. Drivers have relied heavily on it in the past, so there is a lot of interest in how they now react when things go astray, he adds. "We've had a lot of people ask if we could provide some generic settings but the problem is the settings we come up with would surely be wrong for half the drivers. So we decided early on that traction control was a key feature we didn't want to have in the series. Personally, I

90 Runs at the Brickyard

This weekend's race is the 90th running of the Indy 500. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909 with a 2.5-mile oval circuit and the Indy 500 has taken place annually since 1911, except during world wars in 1917-18 and 1942-45.

A few highlights from past races include: May 30, 1911: The first Indianapolis 500-Mile race was won by Ray Harroun at an average speed of 74.602 mph. 1912: The Indy 500 became the highest-paying sporting event in the world with a first prize of $20,000. 1925: Peter DePaolo won the race and became the first driver to average faster than 100 mph.

1935: Helmets became mandatory at the Indianapolis

Motor Speedway, a first for motor racing worldwide. 1940: Wilbur Shaw became the first driver to win back-to-back Indy 500 races.

1967: For the first time, a turbine-powered car competed in the race.

1977: A.J. Foyt became the first driver to win the 500 four times (1961, 1964, 1967, and 1977). Also, Janet Guthrie

became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500. 1986: Bobby Rahal became the first driver to complete the race in less than 3 hr.

1989: The winner's share of the Indy 500 exceeded

$1 million for the first time. 2003: Gil de Ferran won the 87th Indy 500 by 0.2990 sec, the third-closest finish in the race's history. Third place finished 1.2475 sec behind de Ferran, making it the closest 1-2-3 finish.

Shortly after time trials began Howdy Wilcox became the first to turn a qualifying lap in excess of 100 mph. Wilcox starts second and wins the race, the first to be held after World War I.

think it brings out the skill in the driver. Much more than just relying on the control system to deal with any excess power."


For race-team engineers, pressure is on to refine the car to the individual driver. But with a four-year-old car, how many changes can they really make? "There are few things we can do anymore with the spec motor," says Tim Reiter, technical director, Rahal Letterman Racing, Hilliard, Ohio. "Indirectly we can change the engine by changing the gear ratio on the car, which helps fine-tune the power curve. But everybody can do that."

"As far as major changes go, the rules are much the same as they were last year, so it doesn't afford us to change a lot. The basic package is the same so I'm trying to refine all the things we felt

were beneficial last year," says Reiter. One is the fuel mixture. A knob on the steering wheel lets the driver set the mix from what Reiter terms full rich, 100% power to leaner settings that extend intervals between pit stops. "If we can go further than everyone else then there's big dividends," he adds.

"For the chassis they've given us a lot more flexibility from a rules standpoint to change aerodynamic settings," Reiter continues. "At Indy we can change our rear-wing angle quite a lot. So we'll spend most of the first testing week trying to remove down-force and drag to increase lap speed." That's not as easy as it sounds, he emphasizes. "As you take downforce and drag off the car at the same time, it tends to be more difficult to drive. The mechanical set up of the car, suspension, geometry, springs, spring

rates, damper settings, aerodynamic balance — all those things become much more sensitive and critical. As the first week goes by we continuously try to trim the car, meaning taking off drag." And that presents problems. For instance the car might glide or move too much in the middle of the corner which, to say the least, is disturbing to the driver. If the car has an inherent imbalance possible solutions are an alternate set of dampers that add mechanical grip or a suspension geometry change.

By the time qualifying day rolls around the car is so sensitive, and generates so little downforce, it becomes susceptible to the smallest atmospheric changes. The weather is always a big factor and track temperature plays a major role. The track surface gets hot and creates a temperature boundary layer at the track surface and

Indy goes Hollywood

Anyone who watched last year's Indy 500 probably noticed Danica-mania, a name given to the huge amount of attention rookie Danica Patrick received. Every Indy broadcast, newspaper story, and even the commercials featured Danica and made her the weekend's star. And the IRL couldn't have been happier. They are hoping she does for the IRL what Tiger Woods did for golf.

To build on Danica's momentum, the IRL has enlisted the services of rock legend Gene Simmons and entertainment industry veteran Richard Abramson, part of the Hollywood-based Simmons Abramson Marketing company. Their job is to grow the sport, broaden the fan base, and "make more noise than ever before." Their first act was to release the "I Am Indy" campaign anchored by a signature song, coauthored by Simmons. With its growling affirmations and foot-stomping "We Will Rock You" beat, the song claims to be the first official theme song for a modern professional sport. (Listen to the song at indycar.com/multimedia/iamindy.php)

"Indy cars are rockets on the ground. These drivers are modern knights in shining armor, risking their lives at close to 225 mph," Simmons says. "'I Am Indy' speaks to the independent spirit in all of us."

Simmons Abramson Marketing plans to position drivers and teams as celebrities, athletes, and compelling personalities whose stories will be repeatedly told in television, radio, print, and online. Those at the front of the all-star team include Dan Wheldon, who in 2005 became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series titles in the same season in league history, Danica Patrick, who is the first woman to lead a lap in the Indianapolis 500 and finished fourth last year, the highest placing by a female driver, Sam Hornish, a two-time series champion, as well as stalwarts like Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, and Buddy Rice.

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the average Firestone Firehawk front tire will spin 1,940 times over the course of one lap. Indy cars turn a lap in about 41 sec so that front tire will spin 47.3 times each second. The rear tires are slightly larger in diameter, meaning they will spin fewer times (1,868) in a lap and fewer times per second (45.6) to cover the same 2.5 miles.

that greatly affects the aerodynamics of the car. "Depending on the situation, we would probably add more total downforce. And if it gets really hot we may adjust our wing settings to get the down-force we lost due to the increase in temperature," says Reiter.


All IRL teams use Firestone Firehawk tires. Each car gets up to 35 sets of tires for the entire month of May. What distinguishes the Firehawks from street tires is they have no tread, for maximum grip on a dry track. According to Al Speyer, executive director, Firestone Racing, "The racing tire is purely designed to go as fast as it can. Ride comfort and noise are not issues. The race tire has few compromises. It's designed specifically for high-speed max handling."

At the Indy 500 the rear tires

have what is called stagger. This means the right rear tire is a little bigger in diameter than the left rear tire. This helps drive the car through left turns. "We offer two different left rear stagger options: a large and small stagger," says Speyer. The stagger is based on driver preference. "They'll hone in on one or the other, then stay with that."

The tires last no more than 100 miles. "Between 70 and 100 miles is when they are replaced. And basically, one tank of fuel would last right around 65 to 70 miles. That's about as far as they'll run. Unless there's an out-of-sequence pit stop, and then they could stretch it to about 100 miles."


The IRL made almost no changes to the chassis for the 2006 season. "This is the fourth

Danica Patrick and Dan Wheldon battle it out at the 2005 Indianapolis 500.

season with essentially the same monocoque," says Andrea Toso, Indy Racing League project leader, Dallara Automobili, Parma, Italy. The IRL season has many different chassis options for the different races, such as short courses, super speedway, and so on. "There are parts specific to each track. Brakes, wings, springs and dampers can be changed," he adds.

There are several tests the chassis must pass before it is trackworthy. Mandatory ones include a static-deflection test in the fuel-tank area, crash tests for the front and rear impact, and a rollover test. Optional tests check the wings, monocoque stiffness, oil and coolant flow, radiator pressure, seat-belt tension, the anchoring system, and the collapsible steering column, Toso adds.

"You never stop testing, especially in the wind tunnels because you always want to improve downforce or reduce drag, or increase the downforce generated at one end of the car," says Toso. "Or you want a constant down-force when the car changes its front or rear ride height." That is, when the car changes ride height through a corner the balance of the car should not change. Usually teams refer to this as pitch sensitivity, or ride-height sensitivity. Wind tunnel tests check all possible ride-height combinations.

The other chassis manufacturer is Panoz, Braselton, Ga. According to Les Mactaggart from the IRL, "We currently have one driver from the Delphi Fernandez team and the entire Rahal team in Panoz chassis. Everybody else is in Dallara." The main difference between the two chassis setups is the front suspension, notes Toso. "Panoz has a push rod, Dallara

has a pull rod." A pull rod puts the damper underneath the monocoque, a push rod has the spring-damper unit on top. Having the pull rod underneath gives a lower center of gravity but it's more difficult to change it out. "So there are pros and cons on both sides," says Toso. "We went with the pull rod for low center of gravity reasons and to improve aerodynamics." MD

MAKE CONTACT Bridgestone Firestone, bridgestonemotorsport.com Dallara, dallara.it Honda Performance Development, racing.honda.com Indy Racing League, indycar.com Rahal Letterman, rahal.com Panoz, panozmotorsports.com

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