by Chris, the Impaler - 05/23/2005
Before his untimely death at Imola, a Formula One driver, Brazilian Ayrton Senna said [a driver's goal was], "In life unbeatable, in death irreplaceable."
More than 10 years after his death Indy Racing League Brazilian drivers are heeding Senna's motto. The 89th running of the Indianapolis 500 promises a difficult race for all teams and drivers -- Brazilians included -- when you consider the depth of competition, faster speeds (weather permitting) and advanced IndyCar technology this year.
On Sunday, Brazilian Tony Kanaan will start from pole-position (his first pole position here) and will try to continue in his country's recent dominance at "the Race" Memorial Day Weekend against a full compliment of 33 cars on Sunday.
Brazilian Hélio Castroneves (in fifth position this year) won the Indy 500 in 2001 and in 2002. Castroneves came in second to Brazilian Gil de Ferran, who won the race in 2003. Last year, Top Ten late night host David Letterman's racing team Rahal - Lettermen prevented a fourth straight victory by the Brazilians as their Panoz G Force/Honda driven by Buddy Rice won the Indy 500. Rice will not race this year due to a back injury he sustained earlier this month.
In the qualifiers, Kanaan posted a four lap qualifying average time of 2 minutes 38.1961 seconds with an average speed clocked at 227.566 mph. But his hold on pole position was not guaranteed for close to six hours due to Indianapolis Motor Speedway's new qualifying rules that allow drivers as many as three chances to qualify on each day of time trials.
IndyCar Series rookie and sexy FHM cover girl, Danica Patrick almost made history when she narrowly missed winning the pole from Kanaan. A historic, albeit, remarkable feat when you consider that no woman has ever won pole position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Women qualifiers are rare as well (3 others) since Janet Guthrie became the first woman to qualify for the Indy 500 on May 29, 1977.
Patrick, driving the No. 16 Rahal - Letterman Racing Argent Pioneer Panoz/Honda/Firestone upside down land jet, qualified faster than Kanaan on her final three laps, which were 227.638, 227.623 and 227.860. The problem for Patrick was the wiggle in the first turn of her first lap of 224.940 mph. This brought her four-lap average speed down to 227.004 putting her fourth in the starting lineup.
While IRL cars are virtually identical (32-valve engines capable of generating 675 horsepower with a top speed around 240 mph). The difference between faster and fastest at IMS is in the chassis, balance, and guts and determination of the driver.
However, the Indy 500 has emerged as the most technology-driven of the major North American racing series (NASCAR eat your heart out).
Among the amazing array of technology, on-board equipment collects data on everything that is IndyCar. A network of sensors feed information about the car back to the driver's dashboard as well as transmitting the data to teams' data analysis software. Racing teams rely on, now more than ever before in the history of the Indianapolis 500, "black-boxes" to squeeze more speed out of their cars based upon up to the nanosecond variables.
Success at the Brickyard is largely dependent upon how well a driver and their team adjusts to conditions on a second-to-second basis. A combination of data analysis and driver adjustment and guts are constantly being tested during the 200-lap race. One error by the software, sensors, analysis, pit crew or driver can mean death at the most extreme or a loss by 100th of a second at the most heartbreaking.
Factors contributing to a win, like aerodynamics, are measured by aerodynamic sensors. There are rotary potentiometers and strain gauges measuring the stress on all moving parts, such as suspension components. Inertial sensors gauge G-forces while pressure sensors measure fuel, oil and hydraulic pressures, and temperature sensors monitor heat in brakes, exhaust and the finely tuned engines.
Then there are the factors that are out of the racing teams' and drivers' hands. Weather and track surface depend, to a certain extent, upon higher powers. At last year's race we saw 29 laps before it began pouring and fans had to wait three hours before the race restarted.
There have also been physical changes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the past few years. In 2001, the track's surface, which was last redone in late 1995, was shaved. A direct result was that the surface was smooth and clinging, offering much more grip to the molten tires. This also resulted in faster track speeds.
Another important change, and a part of a sweeping philosophical change in racing after the death of the Intimidator, was the installation of "soft wall" barriers in each of the four turns. While the "soft walls" might not help the cars go faster, they might bring out the red-line fever of IndyCar racing's elite.
Indy 500 Analysis -- Why You Should Watch
If IRL's answer to poker's Annie Duke (the best woman never to win the main event at WSOP), 23-year-old female rookie Danica Patrick, could somehow, improbably win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (her fifth start overall in IRL) it would be huge for IRL.
I imagine if she wins; Danica Patrick's success in her first Indy 500 will be bigger than Mark Donohue's win in 1972 when Penske won his first Indy 500 victory as a team owner. It will probably be bigger than Rick Mears winning his fourth Indy 500 in 1991-if only because a woman won. And it will be bigger than Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi's victory in 1993, when he was nearly lapped by Mario Andretti 100 laps into the race.
Despite the fact that Patrick is not the Polesetter, she holds the highest starting position ever for a woman at IMS. The Rahal - Letterman team won "the Race" last year with Buddy Rice. Can lightning strike twice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway? That is just one of the many reasons to watch "The Race." Check back soon for more Indy 500 analysis.
If you enjoyed this Indy 500 analysis, check out Doc's 2005 Indy 500 page.