While I was at the Indy 500 this past week, I saw all manner of remarkable things: the winning car taking a victory lap on a tow rope, people pretending to find milk refreshing, and acres of vivid sunburned red, sweat-slicked bodies slapping up against one another. But one detail really stuck with me: the push-to-pass button.
IndyCar officially calls this the overtake button, and it’s been part of IndyCar races – just the road courses, not the ovals – since 2012. Since the Indy 500 was, of course, an oval race, it wasn’t used, but the feature was pointed out to me when I was taking a tour of one of the garages.
Here’s a little video from IndyCar explaining it:
As the nice man tells us, the overtake button has some rules and limitations: it provides a 30-40 HP boost, but it can only be used ten times per race, and only for ten seconds at a time.
Now, even though it wasn’t used at all in the 500, I found myself thinking about how completely satisfying it must be to have a button like that. Arguably, I think it’s possible that having a car with a button that gives a little extra boost might even be more fun than driving a car that just has a crapload of power at all times, as nonsensical as that sounds.
Maybe the idea is appealing because I have a mind softened and tenderized from a childhood (shit, well, and adulthood) of playing racing video games, where a ‘turbo boost’ sort of button (or, depending on what you played, a certain kind of mushroom) was common. And, of course, such a button would be entirely for drama’s sake; there’s not really any good reason why an engine wouldn’t just provide the most power it can.
A push-to-pass/turbo boost/overtake button would be pretty artificial, but I’m fine with that, even to the point that I think I’d enjoy a car that was normally detuned except when the button was pressed.
Think about this for a minute: most of my complaints about high-HP cars that I wrote about here have to do with the constant feeling of restraint and holding back that these cars seemed to demand; a boost button of some kind could go a long way to solving these issues.
Take that Lexus GS-F I had a few weeks back; what if instead of always having 467 HP on tap, it normally had 400 HP, but for ten thrilling seconds when you pushed the big, ridiculous-looking BOOST button, you got the full 467 HP. You’d feel it, and you’d get that extra boost when you decided you wanted it.
Again, I realize this whole thing is absurd. But it’s FUN absurd. CVT transmissions that fake gearchanges are absurd too, but they’re never really all that much fun. A big-ass button you could slap that then lets the car slam you back into your seat with G-force is probably how the standards for fun are set at the National Institute of Weights and Measures or wherever they calibrate fun quotients.
For lower-HP cars, sure, there you’d want to actually increase the HP genuinely instead of detuning, like on a car with horses to spare. Imagine an option for a BRZ that had a normally-dormant turbocharger that, at the press of a button, could pump the engine output to 250 HP or so, for some limited period of time. Sure, there’d be people who’d modify things so it was always at that rate, but I genuinely think that would be missing the point.
A push-to-pass button could be a fun, perhaps gimmicky, little addition to sporty cars. It would add just that little extra bit of depth and strategy to driving for fun, where you had to choose when to add that extra bit of oomph, instead of just gorging on free-flowing oomph all day.
The fact that the power there but still somewhat scarce is what makes it valuable and, I think, even more fun. In the end, that’s what really matters anyway, right? All cars that make over 150 HP or so are doing it because it’s just fun, in the end, so why not design things that intensify the fun?
Even those of you shaking your heads as you read this, adding yet another entry onto your mental tally of my idiocy, I’m just about certain that if I put you in a car with a button that would give you an extra 50HP for a short burst, you’d push it.
And then you’d smile.
And then, a little later, you’d push it again.