Here's How IndyCar's Lap Times at COTA Compare to Formula One's

Illustration for article titled Heres How IndyCars Lap Times at COTA Compare to Formula Ones
Photo: Mark Thompson (Getty)

The results are in. At long last, race fans will finally have a way to directly compare the speeds of Formula One cars against IndyCars. As IndyCar’s first testing sessions come to a close at Circuit of the Americas, it seems like as good a time as any to see how these two open wheel series compare.

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One of the big arguments as to why IndyCar wouldn’t race at COTA was, for a while, that it would show how much slower IndyCars were than F1 cars, thus making IndyCar look like a foolish, small potatoes series next to the grandiose international series that is Formula One.

I, personally, have always found that argument silly—both series are designed for different purposes and race on different tracks. Each series uses its own technology—hell, IndyCar doesn’t even have power steering like F1 does. There’s no reason why they should even need to have comparable speeds, but alas. I cannot speak for the Internet. Instead, I’ll let these numbers speak for themselves.

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Let’s start with F1. Lewis Hamilton is currently the record-holder at COTA. During the 2018 qualifying session for the US Grand Prix, he set a fastest lap of 1:32.237. That’s nothing to shake a stick at.

Now, onto IndyCar. The fastest lap set during their spring training session was clocked by rookie Colton Herta at 1:46.6258, according to Motorsport.com. For those who are not keen on doing math on a Wednesday morning, that’s about a fourteen second difference.

It’ll take some time before we get a really accurate comparison between lap times—this is, after all, just a training session to familiarize IndyCar drivers with the track. We’ll likely see a more accurate representation of exactly how fast those cars can go during IndyCar’s own qualifying session at the race in March.

I’ll go ahead and repeat this one for the people in the back: this comparison isn’t to pit one series against the other. They’re two different categories of racing, and it would be disingenuous to do so. It’s just a way to check out the differences because it’s been such a huge talking point.

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But put Lewis Hamilton in an IndyCar and send him around COTA... then we’ll talk.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Freelancer. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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DISCUSSION

I’ve been to COTA quite a bit for stuff. Big events I’ve been there for have been F1 and WEC when it was still going there and I’ve also seen a ton of smaller events there. I have tickets for T15 for the Indycar race, which I’m super excited about as I’ve not sat in that area before. Have sat in the main straight stands, T1, the esses, literally everywhere except the stadium so I’m stoked.

I watched the entirety of the practice yesterday and something I was immediately seeing is a lot of the drivers still do not have a very good line worked out. I was a little surprised out of Ericsson, since he has the most recent open wheel experience there from F1, but also Rossi and Chilton have raced in F1 at COTA so those three for sure understand the place more than anyone on the grid.

There are a lot of spots where drivers are taking some fairly unorthodox lines or are not using the track as they probably could be doing which is for sure hurting their times. T7 through T10 was the biggest victim. That segment is obsessively technical for any sort of car at COTA, be it a Mercedes F1 car or a Miata Cup car, but near every driver going through that section yesterday was being incredibly conservative. It becomes more of a paramount section as it leads down to the hairpin, so you have to get a REALLY good run built up and out of the slower T10 to head down the hill into the braking zone. If you’re too slow through there you won’t be taking advantage of gravity down the hill and you lose more time than you realize.

I’m certain once the drivers really get a handle of that section they’ll pick up a good half a second - at the least - just there alone.

I can’t remember the fastest lap in WEC but I remember LMP1 back in ‘17 was lapping 1:46s consistently. I honestly didn’t know what to expect out of Indycar going into this but I’d imagine they can get lap times under LMP1 consistently for sure. I won’t be surprised if they get to a point to be able to get under 1:45 consistently.

[If anyone ends up at COTA for Indy, look for the guy in the purple-ish blue Sato Panasonic jersey that wears glasses]