In addition to winning any race, in this case at Sonoma, CA, the main focus of IndyCar engineers is that of protection: Protect the car and protect the driver. This is because they know that the game of racing itself is about engineering: Electronic, mechanical and aerodynamic engineering. And in order to have a fast car, you need to have the right balance of all three.
This protection is all-encompassing and present throughout every moment of the race, and it happens in a split second. If there’s a failure of any kind, whether it’s a steering problem, engine or gearbox failure, it is seen by the engineers first, and is then communicated instantly to the driver. In the case of the IndyCar KV Racing Team, this communication happens between the KV Racing Team’s engineer stand and driver Tony Kanaan. And before anything ever becomes a “big boy problem”, as termed by Principle of SH Racing James Sullivan, it is handled by his crack team of engineers.
At the engineering stand, more than 200 channels of data are streamed and refreshed 100 times each and every second. Meaning, this team knows instantly, in precise detail, every single thing that is going on in their IndyCar, and they know it in real time. The team sees scores of data being relayed constantly from the car, including information on the accelerator, the clutch, etc.; they then send back signals that in turn, help the driver, Tony, control the actions of car. They also send Tony a steady stream of messages letting him know exactly what is going on within the car at all times.
The crew can gauge when the tires are beginning to degrade and even more importantly, when the fuel levels begin to drop. They can then recommend changes in real time, so that Tony can do things like adjust the weight and balance of the car as he comes down the front stretch.
Keeping out prying ears
Part of protecting the car and driver involves keeping out prying and spying ears. The team’s all-important communication is twofold and complex. Before the race, the engineers hard wire the car straight to the pit stand, which prevents interception of radio communications. In addition to this crucial step, they also employ two antennas, or jammers, that send out false signals. Other teams listening in might hear fake messages sent to Tony and have no idea at all of the team’s strategy.
In the IndyCar series of races, as in any high-speed and high-stakes race, the driver is an integral part of the success of the car. But maybe even more important is that of the engineer. This is because the days of wins by a second or even quarters of a second are gone. Now everything comes down to hundredths of a second. And if you have your car “all buttoned up”, as they say, in 15 or 20 or 100 different spots, where you can gain precious time, then suddenly, and seemingly magically, you’ve won.
Want to experience IndyCar engineering firsthand? Enter the “Speed2Design” IndyCar Weekend Race Experience contest, sponsored by Littelfuse. During this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, VIP guests will spend time with KV Racing team engineers and crew-highlighted with an up-close “TechTalk” in the team garage. Winners also enjoy access to the IndyCar and pit/paddock, grandstand seats and more.