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Why Einstein Should Have Designed Racetracks (And The Insanity Of The Baltimore GP)

Illustration for article titled Why Einstein Should Have Designed Racetracks (And The Insanity Of The Baltimore GP)

Albert Einstein famously said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Apparently, Einstein was a pretty smart guy, and even the most foolish of individuals would probably agree with his statement.


But just in case you need a visual reference to comprehend what he was talking about, fear not, because this weekend's IndyCar race in Baltimore is a fine example of the repetitious insanity Einstein warned us against.

Last year was the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix. And soon after arriving it was evidently clear to everyone that the railroad tracks the race cars had to cross on the front straight were going to be a major problem. So, to combat this issue, the series adopted a make-up chicane just beforehand to slow the cars down before the massive bump (or jump, as we now call it).


And while that chicane might not have been ideal, it worked and the event was one of the most successful of the year. Drivers and fans loved it.

Fast forward 11-months and the Baltimore Grand Prix was fast approaching. We were all delighted to see changes were being made to the track to fight some of the problems of the previous year. But what was going to be done about that jump on the front straight that was such a menace last time around?

Apparently the chicane would be removed and they were going to "have a bash" as we say back in England. I.E. they were going to try to it again. Just because it doesn't work doesn't meant it doesn't work... or something.

Illustration for article titled Why Einstein Should Have Designed Racetracks (And The Insanity Of The Baltimore GP)

When the track opened for this weekend's race the teams loaded in, drivers took a walk around the track to eye up their surroundings, and figure out the best way to attack each section of the racetrack. I'm here working with an Indy Lights driver and we also took to the track on foot.

We came up to the railroad and rubbed the soles of our feet along to feel out the bumps and raises. We then watched a few golf carts bounce over. It was ridiculous. Here's what I said to my driver: "I guarantee this will not work. I have never seen anything like this."


The next morning we walked from our downtown hotel to the paddock and stopping by the jump to see how the Star Mazda cars were taking to it. "Holy Shit!" we said. We watched as cars launched close to a foot in the air over this Hotwheels-like stunt ramp. We later found out that multiple cars had been destroyed by this — suspension broken, under trays wrecked, and worse. Not good.

As the IndyCar's went out for their first practice it was clear they were having even more trouble. After all, they are going MUCH faster over the jump. You have to remember that these cars are not like road cars with plush, soft suspension. They have rock hard shocks and ride heights just millimeters off the asphalt. Before long the session was red-flagged, as Simon Pagenaud's car rocketed into the atmosphere, with spine-snapping force, leading to some pretty severe damage upon landing.


So no surprise, really. It was decided the only sensible option was to revert back to the chicane of old. But what is staggering to me about all this is how did we not know this was going to happen? IndyCar said that last year a few drivers were told to skip the chicane and drive over the railroad to see how bad it really was.

This would be important information to decide if scrapping the chicane was at all feasible. Apparently, the drivers said it was doable. And drivers did not want to use the temporary chicane next time around. So the plan was to run without.


OK, so something then needs to happen with the railroads to ensure this is indeed possible. And that is not IndyCar's job, but the task of NZR Consulting, the company in charge of the design and safety of the track.

An inspection would have taken place prior to the race weekend to determine if things have changed. Questions like -– "Is the bump better, worse or indifferent" –- would surely have been asked. "What do we need to do to make certain the cars can safely pass without going airborne?" As I said, it was obvious to all who walked the circuit that this would still be an issue before any cars even hit the track.


Let's go through the logic here:

1. This was a big problem in last year's race
2. They didn't change anything in the last 12 months
3. ?????
4. Profit


My advice -– pay a little closer attention to Einstein. He is a genius, after all. Although, it didn't take a genius to know that this complete cock up was inevitable.

Photo Credit: AP/Getty

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Fred Smith

cotman's pretty good, so I'm surprised he didn't catch this. this is the man responsible for bringing us the DP01, after all...

(although he's also responsible for the DW12, so maybe his judgement can't be trusted!)