Three incidents with three different Chevrolet IndyCars forced the series to put a stop to teams removing or swapping aerodynamic pieces to get a good, low-drag package for qualifying. They mandated that teams qualify in full-race trim and lowered the boost cars can run to slow down the cars in qualifying.
While all three cars have been running the Chevrolet aero kits, they’re slowing everyone down in response to the accidents that happened in this week’s practice sessions. With the aero kits being configurable in so many ways, teams have been experimenting with different pieces and running the lowest-drag configurations they can possibly handle.
Because qualifying is based on timed lap times instead of the driver’s ability to battle to the front, speed gets a higher priority than it does in the race. Less downforce keeping a car to the ground often translates into more straight-line speed, which is good for qualifying, but by its very nature means that the car is on the ragged edge of what the driver can control. That’s where the speed is, after all.
But why are they flipping once they spin? Marshall Pruett has a more technical explanation of the car’s aerodynamics here.
Clearly, a few drivers have overstepped that ragged edge this week, resulting in catastrophic flips and spin-outs. After today’s wreck, the series spent some time trying to figure out what to do about the situation, even asking the hoardes of reporters looking for answers to step away from the series’ trailer on site, per Indianapolis Star reporter Curt Cavin.
The series is already on edge from the aero kit related incident where a flying piece of aero kit from a wreck at St. Petersburg struck a spectator over the catch fence, so it’s understandable that they’re reacting conservatively to any new aero kit related problems. The last thing they want is any serious incident from a team trying to find those last tenths of a second for qualifying by removing the wrong piece.
Now IndyCar has come down and said that everyone needs to be slowed down, and as a result, they are mandating that all the cars run in their race trim (not just the Chevrolets) and reduce the levels of boost they’re running down from 140 kPa to 130 kPa. 140 kPa was originally allowed to get faster speeds for qualifying, but in light of the spins and flips, that allowance is no more. Their hope is that slowing down the cars to a higher-downforce, less-boosted trim will result in a safer qualifying session.
The series is unsure that it’s solely a Chevrolet problem, as all the cars want to get the highest speeds in qualifying possible. Honda is unsure that their cars’ aero packages are really subject to the same tendency to lose control, but is subject to the series’ mandate all the same.
“Even though we have every confidence in our design, we support INDYCAR in their efforts to improve safety,” said a statement from Honda, as reported by Curt Cavin.
Hulman & Company (which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar series) CEO Mark Miles had this to say in the series’ statement when announcing the changes to the Indy 500 qualifying procedure:
This morning we saw a third car get into wall, turn backwards and lift into the air. We’ve said all along we want to go faster, but we want to do so safely. As a precautionary measure, INDYCAR will require that the cars qualify today in the same aero set up that they will run in the Indianapolis 500 next weekend. Also, for today, boost levels will return to race conditions. Given these changes, we have elected to not award points for today’s qualifications.
Safety for drivers and fans is the top priority for INDYCAR and we will continue to be proactive in our research and development to improve all safety aspects of our sport.
As Miles mentioned, due to the last minute changes to the qualification regulations, IndyCar will not be awarding championship points for qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.
IndyCar’s full statement on the changes and information on the revised qualifying procedures and schedule can be found here.
Photo credit: AP Images
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