Indycar 101: A primer for the 2012 series


Changes to engines, design have made for a competitive season


The IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012 consists of 15 races — two in Canada, one in Brazil and 12 in the United States.

Track venues and configurations range from temporary tracks on airports, as in Edmonton, to city streets to road circuits and ovals, including the famous Indianapolis Brickyard.

The variety of configurations makes this one of the most challenging series and contributes to its billing as the fastest, most diversified racing series in the world, with cars reaching speeds of more than 300 km/h on some tracks. The series has gained a large fan base all over the world; its television audience is estimated at more than 100 million, and the races are broadcast in as many as 50 languages.

A new car design and engine for 2012 have made the series even more competitive. All teams use the same basic rolling chassis manufactured by Dallara in Speedway, Ind. The teams purchase the chassis (called the IndyCar Safety Cell) from Dallara for about $349,000, plus an aero kit for $70,000. Then they add engine, transmission, suspension, tires, and of course, the most important variable — driver.

The layout remains an open-wheel, rear-wheel-drive race car with the engine behind the driver. Minimum weight is 710 kg (half the weight of the average sedan) with distribution of approximately 43 per cent to the front and 57 per cent to the rear. This year’s car is also safer.

There are two big changes to the engines for 2012: they are smaller and there are now three manufacturers. The size has been reduced from 3.5L V-8 to 2.2L turbo-charged V-6. Turbocharging (supplied by BorgWarner) replaces normal aspiration and helps keep the horsepower output up between 550 and 700, with rpm limited to 12,000. For the last five road-course races, a push-to-pass feature has been added to give the driver extra horses for a limited number of short bursts.

The engines burn Sunoco E85 ethanol, and teams try to squeeze out 1.275 km/litre (78.4 litres per 100 km) or more — a .2126 km/litre improvement over the V-8.

This year, teams can chose from three engines — Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus. Interestingly, Honda, which had been the sole engine provider for many years, uses a single turbocharger, whereas the other two have opted for twin turbos.

Each driver is allotted five “fresh” engines. It is worth noting that with six races remaining, several of the leading drivers have only one fresh engine left; and the most anyone has is two. Should a sixth engine (or more) be required, drivers will be assessed a starting grid penalty, as is the case if an engine does not achieve a minimum distance.

Everyone has the same six-speed sequential transmission (Xtrac) actuated by steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

A big change for the drivers is that there are only two pedals — gas and brake. The clutch is hand-operated, and is normally used for leaving the pits or recovering from a stall; yes, there is a reverse button.

Aside from a different (mostly louder) engine sound, the most noticeable change to the car is the bodywork that flares out in front of the rear tires. This is intended to reduce drag and enables the car to make a “clean hole” in the air — and therefore go faster.

These and other changes seem to be working, creating some of the closest competition in years. In nine races there have been six different winners, and the top drivers are all within grasp of the championship with just six races left.

As in the past, tire wear and fuel strategy remain the key to success for most teams.

Tires are supplied by Firestone, with a maximum number of sets per race. On a road circuit, for example, three sets of alternate, five sets of primary, and five sets for rain are allowed. The alternates (softer compound with red stripe) provide superior grip but tend to not last as long as the primary set (harder compound, black wall).

Teams are required to complete a minimum of two green-flag laps on each type of tire during a dry race. If you notice a driver struggling with the steering wheel or turning slower laps, it is usually a good bet a tire change is coming soon. Adjustments to the wings and suspension may be made during a pit stop, but that has to be very quick, given that every second in the pits can allow an opponent to travel the length of a football field.

Viewing tips

The action on the track can be exciting to watch; however, it’s often what goes on in the pits that has the most influence on the outcome of the race. It is possible to pass your opponent by taking less time in the pits, or by varying when you stop. Generally, the team that gets the most laps out of a set of tires and a tank of fuel has an advantage. However, if during the race the track “goes yellow” (often because of a crash) and the pace car comes out, then keep your eye on the pits.

Also be ready for restarts with the cars lined up in twos. When the flashing lights on the pace car are turned off, the next time around the pace car will pull over and the drivers will be given a green flag. If you snooze, you lose.

You might want to select one or two drivers to follow during the race — perhaps your favourite and his or her closest rival. Note their car numbers, colours and position, and watch for their respective pit strategies. Jumbo-sized monitors are viewable from most seating areas and make it easy to check what position the drivers are in throughout the race.

By the way, there are two Canadians in the series this year, James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani.

This year’s Edmonton Indy will see some of the most talented drivers in the world competing on what they describe as one of the fastest temporary road circuits available. Fans can see 90-per-cent of the action from most grandstand seats. Corner No. 1 is always a good bet for lots of action, although last year the infield section and final turn produced plenty of close racing.

It’s a three-day affair starting with practice on Friday, and qualifying and support races on Saturday. Sunday is jam-packed with support races, warm-ups and, of course, the main event, slated to start at 12:45 p.m.

The complete schedule can be viewed online at

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