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Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY’S OUTLOOK: Schmidt’s Russia Experiment Over?

Things may be in alteration mode at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports looking towards the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

While the future of the popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe appears set, events last weekend before the Honda Indy Toronto have created question marks about who may drive the second entry next year.

Based on the success enjoyed in the second half of 2016, including a pole position and near victory at the Pocono 500, the future appeared to be a lock regarding the services of third-year Russian pilot Mikhail Aleshin. Things though, look to have changed as the 2017 campaign has rolled on.

After earning four top-six finishes last season, the 30-year old from Moscow has only one this year, coming in the first race at Detroit. Adding to that is concerns regarding sponsorship cropping up this past week. After finishing 21st at Iowa Speedway, Aleshin was replaced in the No. 7 SPM Honda for Toronto by Colombian Sebastian Saavedra.

Funding is believed to be the primary cause for the driver change. For the Russian, this is not the first time money has a red flag concerning main backer SMP. Problems related to the supporter prevented Aleshin from competing in the 2015 season, up until the season finale at Sonoma, California. So the question in this edition of Embury’s Outlook is now where does team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson proceed from here?

Assuming the funding malady can be cured, the team could elect to continue with Aleshin, yet performance numbers indicate an increasingly downward trend since his rookie effort in 2014. In year one, the Moscow-native earned seven top-tens. Following his absence in 2015, that number slipped to only four such placements in 2016, and is down again to only three in 11 appearances this season.

If the down arrow is too much of a deterrent, there are other options such as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires regular Santiago Urrutia. Reportedly, the current Belardi Racing driver was considered by SPM for a possible third entry for 2017; however, the deal never came about. The 20-year old competed for SPM’s former Indy Lights operation in 2016, winning four races and finishing second in the final championship standings. While the Uruguayan has failed to win an event this season, he has earned four runner-up efforts to date. Also in his corner, the ex-GP3 pilot is backed by Arrow Electronics, who sponsor Hinchcliffe in IndyCar.

Another possible is Saavedra, who has bounced around several different teams since making his IndyCar debut in the 2009 Indianapolis 500. While the Colombian came home with an 11th-place effort last Sunday in Toronto, the veteran has only amassed four top-tens in 60 starts, a resume plagued by DNFs.

Several other relatively new prospects in IndyCar mentioned last week in Embury’s Outlook, including Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones, could also be in the mix if indeed Aleshin does not return. No matter the direction SPM goes in, the team needs to change its fortunes. Despite winning earlier this year at Long Beach, Hinchcliffe ranks tenth on the current points table, while Aleshin was in 16th before Toronto.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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IndyCar Open Wheel

Accelerometers Just One Tool IndyCar Uses for Driver Safety

Driver safety has always been a significant issue in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Competing in open cockpits naturally puts the drivers at risk. The Indy cars can be 50 mph faster on the same track as a stock car where drivers are protected with a roof over their heads.

Safety Innovations that have evolved through open wheel racing include the HANS device (Head And Neck Support), and the SAFER Barrier (Steel & Foam Energy Reduction) installed at most oval tracks in the U.S.

IndyCar requires all drivers to wear earpieces fitted with accelerometers to determine if a driver has suffered a concussion in a crash. The earpieces are designed for hearing protection. A tiny speaker inside each earpiece allows the driver to hear team communications through the attached wires that plug into the cockpit radio system. The accelerometers are embedded in the earpiece and are connected to the cockpit crash box.

These specialized earpieces are made in-house by IndyCar. The process is much like making hearing aids or earpieces for musicians. First, a custom impression is made of each ear canal using a two-compound material from a tube known as polyvinylsiloxane. This pink plastic-like material is soft and squishy upon application and hardens in about five minutes.

The unique mold is then trimmed and placed in a dish filled with a gel material to create a negative imprint, which takes overnight. Then clear silicone is used to fill in the impression made by the mold.

“Once the silicone earpieces are made, I refit them to the driver’s ears to make sure they are comfortable,” explained Vikkie Louks, who specializes in making the earpieces for IndyCar. “Next I grind out a place for the speaker and the accelerometers. Using a microscope and a very steady hand, Mark Horton solders the wiring. Drivers usually come to Indianapolis for their annual physical at the beginning of the year, and at that time I make a physical blank, the mold. Drivers receive one set per year. They can save their old set as a backup.”     

These accelerometers are small sensors that measure changes in linear force in three different directions: front to back, side to side, and up and down. The accelerometers put out a measurable voltage, which changes from vibration or movement through the car’s direction and velocity. By using the amplitude of the voltage in the three directions, a formula is used to calculate the total G forces to the head. 

When the Holmatro Safety Team arrives at an incident, they check the cockpit indicator light that flashes red if the driver has suffered an impact of more than 50 G’s, which is considered the threshold for a concussion. The Accident Data Recorder, also known as the black box or crash box, is removed from the race car and brought to Mark Horton at the IndyCar Tech transporter. He downloads the data to a laptop and posts it for the medical staff to review while the driver is at the Medical Center being evaluated.

Scott Dixon suffered a frightening incident at the Indianapolis 500 in May when his car flew more than 50 feet in the air after making contact with Jay Howard’s car and then landed on the inside wall’s SAFER barrier.

“I had three impacts in my crash at Indy,” said Dixon, who escaped without a concussion. “But it was not as bad as Bourdais qualifying crash. My accelerometers measured about 60 – 70 G’s.”

While Dixon’s accident measured over the concussion threshold, Sebastien Bourdais’ crash into the Turn 2 wall SAFER Barrier in Qualifying, resulted in over 100 G’s, twice the concussion threshold. 

“The car did a really good job head-on,” explained Bourdais, who suffered from fractured pelvis, right hip, and ribs, but no concussion reported. “I don’t have any injuries on my feet. I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say they have survived a head-on crash at 227 mph. It’s a pretty good testament (to the safety of the Dallara chassis). When I saw the wall coming, I was like, ‘That’s going to be bad.’ But pretty soon after it was lights out for a couple of seconds. I regained consciousness when the car was on its wheels and coming to rest. When I came out of surgery, and they gave me a rundown of what had been done, I knew there was nothing terrible. It was all going to be fairly easy to recover from.”  

Drivers may tell doctors they are okay when they are not because they don’t want to lose their ride. The earpiece system provides factual data refuting their statements to the physicians.

The earpiece sensor system has been utilized by IndyCar since 2003, with success resulting in inquiries from NASA and the NFL.

While racing is inherently dangerous, data from accelerometers is just one more tool IndyCar uses to continually improve driver safety.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News Open Wheel

Bourdais Hopeful for Return in Season Finale at Sonoma

For the first time since crashing during qualifying, Sebastien Bourdais set foot on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’m doing good enough to be here,” he said. “So that’s great. It’s great to be out of the hospital environment. I’ve never really faced that before. It’s great to feel normal right now and to be able to walk around and see some familiar faces and see a lot of friends.”

During qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, the Frenchman got loose, making significant contact with the outside SAFER barrier.

“When I saw the wall coming, I was like, ‘Oh, boy, that’s going to be bad,’” he said. “But pretty soon after it was lights out for a couple of seconds. I didn’t lift through the tumbling; I regained consciousness when the car was on its wheels and coming to rest.”

The Holmatro Safety team ensured his quick transport to nearby Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, where he underwent successful surgery on Saturday, May 20 after having been diagnosed with multiple fractures to his pelvis and right hip.

Bourdais is expected to be out of the car for awhile, stating it will be a “long progress,” beginning with not being able to put any weight on his right leg for five weeks.

“I’m shooting for the end of the season in Sonoma,” he said. “That’s just a good target for me to have something in the mind.”

The Dale Coyne Racing driver feels it is important to run at least one race before this season ends so he is not facing the off-season with “a lot of questions and uncertainty.”

“We had a really quick car at Sonoma, so I’m keeping the hopes that I will be able to race there and to be competitive,” he said. “It kind of kick-starts 2018 with some good races and get the spirits of the team where they need to be.”

While he spends time out of the car, he plans to assist Dale Coyne however he can, though also take some time to spend with family.

“I’m going to try also to spend as much time as I can with the family,” he said. “We have a trip to the national parks organized already that was organized before this. So my schedule should be much more open, so we will able to get the coach there. We have another family and friends that are going to come with us. We’re going to go from Yellowstone down to Vegas. That’s going to be pretty nice. Just going to try and make the best of the situation.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
IndyCar Open Wheel

FANTASY CHALLENGE BREAKDOWN: Long Beach

With the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach less than a week away, the focus for Firestone Fantasy Challenge players has changed.

In direct variance to St. Petersburg, Florida, a case for having Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato as one of the drivers has improved. Although the jury is out on whether or not the Japanese veteran can manage to keep his nose out of trouble, his fifth-place finish earned him followers for Long Beach. According to IndyCar.com, Sato is currently a member of more fantasy teams than any other driver.

The St.Pete result is not the only reason to like Sato. His lone Verizon IndyCar Series victory came four years ago at Long Beach. He also finished fifth last year in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with a A.J. Foyt Racing team that on paper is lower in potential output than Andretti Autosport can provide. Finally, when you consider his current value of twenty dollars, represents only one-fifth of a maximum team budget, even yours truly has officially joined the bandwagon.

With Sato, my fantasy roster remains largely unchanged since St. Pete. The top spot once again goes to Team Penske’s Will Power, perhaps the best road racer in IndyCar since 2008. The Australian is deserving of a second chance after suffering mechanical issues.

Although teammate Simon Pagenaud seems to be a better fantasy option following his second-place effort at St. Pete and Long Beach win last year, the lower price tag for Power provides me more flexibility. That wiggle room allowed me to call upon St. Pete winner Sebastien Bourdais for the second straight event. While the fantasy price for the Dale Coyne Racing pilot has been upped to $27, he must gain a better place on the starting grid. Although a Firestone Fast Six advancement may not be required, Bourdais cannot solely rely on lucky breaks to secure victories as he did last month.

Rounding out this week is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, who was the most aggressive driver in the opening laps in March. He could have challenged for a top-ten result, if not for a fluke suspension failure suffered during his first pit stop. If Pigot can make the finish in the top half at Long Beach, chances are that his fantasy value will increase from $17. 

Stay tuned every IndyCar race week at PopularSpeed.com for my Firestone Fantasy Challenge picks.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary Open Wheel

EMBURY: When Is Too Fast, Too Fast?

The 2017 “Test in the West” for the Verizon IndyCar Series is now in the books, and after two days of action at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway’s D-shaped oval, a few takes and red flags have surfaced, enough to devote a full edition of Embury’s Outlook to consider the outcomes.

For one thing, it appears less than likely that in regards to qualifying for April’s Desert Diamond West Valley Resort Phoenix Grand Prix, that the Chevrolet-powered half of the field will dominate the proceedings as they did a year ago. In 2016, every Chevrolet entry out qualified the fastest Honda-backed car on the starting grid, and while the Japanese-based manufacturer did make some headway in the 250-lap journey that followed, it was not enough to keep General Motors from sweeping the podium.

Looking ahead to the 2017 edition of the final oval prep race before the 101st Indianapolis 500, Chevrolet will likely place a car on the point, as Ed Carpenter Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand posted the fastest lap during the test on Saturday afternoon. However, the advantage should again swing back in Honda’s direction once the green flag falls.

The interesting thing, however, is who could lead the chase for Honda. Returning clients, Chip Ganassi Racing, were not among the fast timers for much of the weekend, while Andretti Autosport was close yet not the most consistent of the Honda runners. Based on the numbers, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais was the best over the four sessions of action for Honda.

The results show that either Bourdais has figured out how to get the most from the oval setups, a spot where he has been noticeably limited since re-joining the North American open-wheel circus, minus one victory at The Milwaukee Mile in 2015. The outputs also show that Coyne’s commitment to bolstering the behind the scenes half of the squad is also raising the potential that this team may drop upon the opposition in 2017, again something that outside of when the late Justin Wilson was a driver was mostly non-existent concerning what DCR could offer.

The second story from the “Test in the West” however, is not one of excitement, more instead on the concern half of the coin. While J.R. Hildebrand’s fast lap was impressive, his 193 MPH plus output has to be taken with a grain of salt. For a one-mile oval, the timing chart says that fast of a pace per lap is around a 19 seconds flat effort, a speed never seen before in the history of INDYCAR for this type of layout. While breaking track records is always exciting (if matched in qualifying, it would top Helio Castroneves’ pole speed by over a mile per hour), keep in mind the reaction times at a tight track such as PIR are reduced significantly.

Although a 200 MPH front stretch speed was seen here as recently as 1995, a 193 MPH average also likely means a 200 MPH plus trap speed entering turn three, an area of the circuit where absolute perfection regarding the line taken is a must. The quicker speeds also makes mistakes tougher to overcome, as evidenced by the four incidents seen over the two-day test. While all drivers did not suffer injuries, a definite warning shot was dispatched last weekend.

Also at a short oval, speeds in this range also equate to more bad air coming off the car in front as supposed to a Texas Motor Speedway or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the same air is more of a help concerning drafting and passing. In this case, passing with the shorter straightaways increases in difficulty, not necessarily great news as passing was also at a premium at PIR in last year’s race.

While the results of the “Test In The West” may not equate to every short oval on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, it does say that both qualifying well and making good on the pit lane could be the two biggest keys to victory when the 21-car fleet returns to the Arizona desert in April.

Stay tuned for more analysis and driver snapshots on the road to the season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida on the next edition of
Embury’s Outlook.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.