Wednesday, August 10, 2011

2012 IndyCar to Feature New PART System to Enhance Competition

On Monday and Tuesday of this week the long awaited 2012 IndyCar turned its first laps on the track at Mid Ohio.  Amidst the hubbub over the looks, the sounds and the racing potential of the new vehicle another significant feature was overlooked by many commentators.  The 2012 car will feature the revolutionary Position Adjusted Racing Turbo System.  The PART system is designed to adjust the boost settings for each car based on its relative position on track.  The second place car will run at 5 HP more than the first place car, the third place car 10 HP more than first place and so forth on down the line.  Based on the scoring for each previous lap the PART system will update the boost allowed to each car reflecting the most current position for each car.  Expectations are that the additional HP boost for trailing cars will increase the number of overtaking opportunities at places like Mid Ohio or Sonoma and vastly increase the competitiveness of racing overall.
Asked about how the system was operating during its first test, Technical director for the 2012 car program Tony Cottman was quoted as saying “Yes it seemed to be working very well during our test.  We had some concerns as the electronics involved rely on an electronic stream of data from our timing and scoring system.  Some people have reported having issues with that stream in the past.  We have observed no problems so far, we can’t wait to get two cars on the track to test the system further”
When asked why the PART system was developed, Cottman responded, “We really want to think about the enjoyment of our fans as being vital to improving the sport.  We have repetitively heard that fans find passes made on track to be entertaining.  Our first effort at engineering additional passing into races, the Non Defense rule, has been met with only lukewarm reaction from fans”.
Perceptions of the competitiveness of racing as a sport seem to be a concern in many circles.  It seems that in the age of digitally enhanced car chases in action movies and race based video games, racing fans are no longer content to simply watch the fastest car and driver combination race off to victory. 
The first series to dabble with rule changes to enhance racing competition was nascar.  In the 80's Nascar began a policy of “Competition Yellers” to insure that if the lead car was about to lap a popular and marketable driver with a nice sponsorship package, a yellow was dropped in order to clean hot dog wrappers off the track and allow the other cars to bunch up behind the lead car again.
Champcar and later IndyCar were next to tinker with competition by introducing technology aimed at increasing competition during races.  Multiple compounds of racing tires and a various versions of a “Push to Pass” system that allows drivers to temporarily increase the horsepower of their cars by pushing a button on their steering wheel have been utilized by the league.  Additionally, the non defense rule introduced by the league makes it illegal for car a leading car to defend any racing line other than the preferred racing line.
These changes ultimately did not disturb the balance of power on the track as after the Competition Yeller, the fastest car was still allowed to drive away after the drop of the green flag and the soft compound tires and P2P’s were doled out in equal shares across competitors.  This level handed approach to increasing passing was blown out of the water earlier this year when Formula one introduced it’s new Drag Reduction System.  The DRS shifts the balance of power towards the trailing car by allowing it to reduce the drag created its rear wing down long straightaways, allowing the trailing car to accelerate to much quicker speeds than the leading car. 
The DRS has reintroduced the concept of “Passing” back into F1 after its disappearance following the arrival of Micheal Schumacher during the early 90’s.  Many fans have raved about the effect the DRS has had on the show “Wow! I saw a car go past another car! I’ve never seen such a thing before!” Said an excited Sean Clayton.
But not all fans are impressed.  “It’s horrible!  It’s not racing” said a distraught John Pembrokeshire.  “It’s like the second car was shot out of a bloody cannon and just went buggering on by the poor wanker who was leading”
It remains to see how IndyCar fans will react to the redistribution of horsepower to cars that had previously under performed.  Well known skeptic, curmudgeon and opponent of change, George Phillips was quoted as saying “It sounds like Socialism to me”.
Cottman was more optimistic when asked how he thought fans would react to the 20th place car running at 100 more horsepower than the leader, “I think when our fans see these new cars rolling into turn 1 at Long Beach with the new PART system, they will be really excited at what they see.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure how I feel about this. When I first read this post I was horrified, but as I'm writing this I'm becoming more ambivalent. The whole DRS or PART system seems so phony. But at the same time, if the lead car is allowed to defend maybe it will create more interesting battles. Passing should be hard, that's what makes it exciting. Its always fun to see a good battle on the track. In F1 is seems like cars just wait until they get to the DRS zone so they can easily zoom past the car in front. That's not very exciting because its predictable.

    I think that the real problem with overtaking stems from two things; 1) aero-dependent cars that become unstable in the aerodynamic wake of the car in front which means they can't follow closely, and 2) running on circuits where it is impossible to pass. You have F1 cars running on Tilke parade routes and Indycars running on motorcycle tracks (Barber, Mid-Ohio, and Infineon) which severely inhibits passing.

    It seems to me that solving the overtaking issue doesn't require a convoluted technical solution like DRS or PART. First, make cars less aero-dependent and/or implement design changes to significantly reduce the aerodynamic wake (I think that the new Indycar is supposed to achieve this). Second, race at tracks that have good overtaking opportunities. You don't see parades at tracks like Spa, Monza, or Road America because their characteristics produce good racing. Race at better venues and you'll get better racing.

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