Engineering at speed
Two things struck me in the next minute or so as Andretti
tore through the winding course 2.30-mile course. First off, the
engineering team rides in those cars everytime they hit the track. Engineers and the driver are attached at the hip (figuratively), and their
collaboration has created astonishing achievements.
I first saw this
last summer in Wisconsin when we spent
time with chief engineer Jay O'Connell of the Rahal Letterman
Lanigan racing team
. Yes, the cars feedback a constant
stream of data to engineers during practice and racing, but the
human feedback is key as well. No doubt Andretti felt things I was
clueless about as we twisted, turned, surge forward in deceleration
and were yanked back entering straight-aways. And drivers spend hours feeding that back to engineers to fine-tune
their million-dollar rides.
That a car travelling at such high rates of speed can accelerate and
decelerate instantly and corner like it's just an extension of the pavement
was no surprise in the abstract, but to experience it is to appreciate the math, the
mechanics and the elegance of automotive design. On the
straightaways yowling along with the world blurring by, my helmet would tip back. I'd pull it back down. I immediately
thought of Mike Held, a mechanical engineer I met at the Indy 500
this year. He helped
solve this problem and got himself a spot in the Indy
engineering hall of fame
How can they do it?
The second thing is I discovered is that I don't understand how race
drivers can do it for two or three hours. The pounding and tension
heaped on the body is astonishing. When it was over, I eased out of Andretti's car,
and my legs felt as if I'd just ended a 15-mile uphill bike ride at
altitude. (In fact, before I even got into the car I noticed
Andretti, having just come in from another "hot lap," was a panting
a little in the driver's seat. He's 72).
Race car drivers not athletes? I'll call B.S.
This amazing ride and revelation came as part of the Littelfuse Speed2Design
(we were with them in May at the Indianapolis
500), a promotion that brings contest-winning engineers out to
various Indy Car races to talk tech with the engineers from the team
they, Mouser and other tech companies sponsor: KV Racing Technology
. (Of the three team drivers, Rubens Barichello finished fourth in the race on Sunday, while Tony Kanaan (team co-owner) and E.J. Viso placed 10th and 16th respectively
At Indy we talked a lot about the driver-engineer relationship, and
having the chance to u
nderstand that in a crouch, holding on for dear life behind Mario
Andretti at 150 mph really brought it home. In the next few days,
I'll post a story about the video interview I had with
two-time Indianapolis champ Arie Luyendyk (pictured in the red shirt in the photo to the right
) moments after I took my
I got a chance with Luyendyk to ask him some questions about the engineering-driver relationship, and his answers were intriguing.
consequences of tight engineering rules
500: KV Racing's tech director talks track