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Team Penske’s Texas Advantage?

June 12, 2013

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On Tuesday the IZOD IndyCar Series announced penalties to the winning No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car that prevailed in last Saturday’s Firestone 550K race on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

Sanctioning body INDYCAR said the No. 3 failed post-race technical inspection on June 8 and was fined $35,000 and docked 15 entrant points for failing to comply with Rule 14.6.6.14, which governs aerodynamics, in this area specifically the underwing exit height: “The exit of the underwing height is 7.600 inches with a tolerance of plus 0.050 inches and minus 0.000 inches.”

Once it learnt of the penalties, Team Penske president Tim Cindric responded with this comment: “Obviously we are very disappointed that the No. 3 car did not pass post-race inspection after Saturday’s race at Texas.  

“After the race, ours was 7.575” because we neglected to tighten the braces that position the rear of the diffuser following pre-race inspection. The way Helio’s car raced did not provide any advantage as a lower diffuser height actually adds drag and reduces downforce,” Cindric said.  

“To ensure this is the case, we ran this configuration in the wind tunnel on Monday morning and found that the No. 3 car actually raced with three pounds less downforce and one pound more drag than what it would have had if we tightened the underwing braces properly.”
 
That Team Penske were able to get their car into a wind tunnel local to their workshops in North Carolina on Monday morning to ascertain what happened speaks of their available resources. Although we don’t know that they have their own tunnel on-site, there is a local wind tunnel, Windshear, which is recognized as one of the finest in the world.

All of this made me wonder if there were any aero advantages that helped Helio Castroneves to his dominant victory on Saturday night, one in which the ebullient Brazilian finished 4.6919 seconds ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, with only Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter and Marco Andretti completing the 228-lap distance.

Team Penske has always been a team that prides itself on preparation, which is why I find this failure to tighten underwing braces kind of strange. If it was a simple mistake, that tells me – and a lot of other people – that Team Penske is getting a wee bit soft and sloppy in their work ethics.

I also question why the driver didn’t receive any kind of wrist slap for this inexcusable lapse by his team. Castroneves – who has never won a championship other than the mirror ball for ‘Dancing with the Stars’ – is now 22 points ahead of third generation driver Marco Andretti as the tour heads for The Milwaukee Mile.

So I did the only thing I could do and that was to contact someone who has designed and built race cars for Indy car competition. This gentleman said that if the penalty was for a low underwing and due to failure to tighten brackets, “The result he (Cindric) is quoting would be about right for that type of change in height of the tunnel.

“The aero gets more efficient the more tunnel height the car has,” he said. “That is why CART lowered the tunnels over the years, starting in 1985 when it was dropped from unlimited and the cars were built around 18″ (height). In 1986 it ws made 12″ and then it kept being reduced to increase the drag and reduce downforce to slow the cars,” this gentleman recalled.

“Now the odd thing with all of this is why INDYCAR has a rule like this. There should be more tolerance on the low side. It tells me there isn’t anyone within INDYCAR that understands race car design,” he mused. “That’s a very sad situation.”

Photo and Words By Anne Proffit

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