This year, when Indy 500 teams search for a competitive edge, they're going to have to dig deeper into the mechanical aspects of the car than ever before in the history of the race. "In years past, we had a bit of an open book in terms of the changes we could make, but they've really tightened up the rules in recent years," Mark Johnson, general manager of KV Racing Technology, told Design News. "We're tightly controlled in our friction and drag reduction. We even have 'spec' bearings that we have to run. So these days, it comes down to attention to detail."
Indeed, attention to detail will be the key for most teams when they hit the track on May 27. While there will be little leeway in the terms of engines, chassis, and bearings, race teams will have legal avenues to engineer their vehicles by tweaking the design of dampers (shocks), lubricants, and gearbox coatings.
Indy teams use shaker rigs to simulate the turns, undulations, and G-loads on the cars in the race shop.
Source: KV Racing Technology
Employing simulation techniques, teams are able to customize those parameters. "We spend huge amounts of time on seven-post shaker rigs that allow us to run a replay of any track," Johnson told us. Running data from any race course, the shaker rigs can simulate turns, G-loads, and even little undulations in the track, enabling engineering teams to optimize the settings on the vehicle's dampers and its springs to match the race track.
"If you have one of these machines in-house, you could be at the race track on a Friday afternoon, run a practice session, stream the data back to your race shop, download into it into your computers, and then run that course on the rig," Johnson said. "Then the race shop can email back the results to you at the track." He said that race teams employ the results of their simulations in different ways. Some change the settings on supplier-based dampers, while others build their own custom dampers, based on the simulation results. "The 'internals' of the dampers are one of the biggest tuning tools available to us this year," he said.