Ingram: Push-Button Racing Comes To Pass

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
The finish in the IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway resulted in a victory for changes to the cars.

The finish in the IndyCar Series race at Kentucky Speedway resulted in a victory for changes to the cars.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

In today’s edition of Monday Morning Crew Chief we find:

My grandmother’s 1957 Plymouth Belvedere had a push-button automatic transmission. Much like the old push-button radio dials or a juke box, to get in gear you selected the correct letter on the dash and punched in the raised button. It had “R” for reverse and “D” for drive, for instance. A half century later, this is how the modern race car driver chooses to overtake the competition – by pushing the “pass button” in the cockpit, which is presumably marked “P.”

As much fun as it would be to make fun of this concept, it may have arrived in the nick of time for the Indy Racing League, where drivers can now gain 200 RPM from their Honda engines at the flick of a finger, 10 times for each 100 race laps. It’s hard to argue with Ryan Briscoe’s ability to move from eighth place back to a victorious side-by-side finish with Ed Carpenter at the Kentucky Motor Speedway on Saturday night, where both drivers used their RPM button to good effect in the closing laps.

More RPM uses more ethanol. So much for the green racing. Racing that brings in greenbacks by selling tickets and air time makes more sense for the IRL.

The aerodynamic changes at the back of the Dallara chassis introduced by the IRL at Kentucky really did more to produce side-by-side action all night, according to the drivers.

NASCAR officials are likely to take note that well chosen aero changes for the COT body and chassis could likewise improve overtaking in the Sprint Cup. Like the IRL’s one-make series, the universally mandated COT should allow for adjustments that work well for all manufacturers no matter which engine is under the hood.

What about “push to pass” for NASCAR? Oh, they’ve got that covered already. It’s called double file re-starts. Just wait until Bristol.

• Can Schumacher Surpass Raikkonen? It may not be equivalent to the second coming of a religious icon, but it’s close. Michael Schumacher is regarded by more than a few as the greatest driver in the entire first century of motor racing. Seven world championships in F1 for two different teams and 91 victories – 40 more than his closest rival Alain Prost – are hard to argue with.

Schumacher was ceremoniously escorted into retirement by Ferrari at the end of the 2006 season, because the Scuderia had one chance to hire Kimi Raikkonen from McLaren as his replacement. Raikkonen continues to be a bit of a bust for Ferrari after squeaking into the championship in 2007. Now in his encore role at Ferrari as the replacement for injured Felipe Massa, Schumacher has a chance to turn the tables by beating teammate Raikkonen in the same equipment after nearly three years out of the sport.

Talk about a long-simmering rivalry. Or Machiavellian maneuvering to improve one’s situation by Ferrari, which is chasing former Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn’s team for the always prestigious prize of the manufacturer’s championship.

Only the 40-year-old Schumacher’s return to Ferrari could top a week of headlines dramatic even by the standards of the F1 circus:

1 – A new Concorde agreement that governs the relationship between the FIA and F1 teams was signed. (The ongoing Concorde discord prior to the signing eventually cost the job of FIA President Max Mosley, one of the architects of the very first agreement hammered out in 1980-82, who will not stand for re-election.)

2 – The aftermath of the serious and mysterious skull fracture suffered by Massa during qualifying in Hungary, which brought Schumacher out of retirement even though Massa is expected to have a full recovery. (The internet coverage of Massa’s injury and subsequently successful surgery was akin to that which followed the death of Michael Jackson, i.e. erratic and often inaccurate as well as voluminous.)

3 – The re-entry of a U.S. team into F1. One of the participants in the Concorde signing was Ken Anderson’s U.S. Grand Prix Engineering, America’s first Formula One team since the days of Dan Gurney in the 1960’s. (Or at least it seems that long. In fact, Carl Haas gave it a desultory fling in the mid-1980’s.)

4 –The withdrawal of BMW from F1 next year. (Give this to NASCAR’s staying power. Teams not getting checks agreed to before bankruptcy is one thing, but so far neither GM nor Dodge has committed to staying home from the races next year.)

• Tell me something I didn’t know. Earlier this summer the rumors were rampant that Grand American series co-founder Jim France was going to purchase the tracks owned by Don Panoz, owner of the rival American Le Mans Series. The circuits in question: Sebring, Road Atlanta and Mosport Park in Ontario. Asked by an insider whether the rumors were true during a private soiree prior to the Lime Rock race weekend, Panoz replied, “No!” He then added, “(Expletive deleted) no!”

I guess “Hell no!” wasn’t good enough.

• Green, Green, Er, Well, OK, Green. Never to be outdone technically, Formula One introduced “push to pass” along with green racing earlier this year. In the season opener at Australia, Kimi Raikkonen’s sudden burst of speed from his hybrid-type auxilliary electric motor each lap on the straightaways in his Ferrari was breathtaking on the in-car cameras.

But now Ferrari and others are using the electric motors in shorter bursts to get off many of the corners quicker – and not saving it for one big, honking blast down the straights.

The KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) will be one of the changes in cars Michael Schumacher must cope with as a substitute for the injured Felipe Massa at Valencia, Spain in two weeks.

Perhaps it was coincidental, but after experimenting with the KERS this year, BMW decided to retire from F1.

• This just in. Ford’s official line as to why Roush Fenway Racing is not winning more Sprint Cup races is quite emphatic. “It’s the chassis,” said a high-ranking PR representative. The unofficial corollary: The Fords often enjoyed a horsepower advantage due to the Robert Yates’ cylinder head first introduced in 1991 and Ford’s official head since 1992. That’s an advantage no longer in place since Chevrolet, Toyota and Dodge all have new generation engines and the FR9 remains to be seen. …Fellow Senior Writer John Sturbin’s excellent piece on former Indy 500 winner Kenny Brack’s arrival at the X-Games in a pole-winning rally car is a reminder that as a youngster Brack used to drive make-believe rallys while behind the wheel of  a beat-up Saab on the frozen roads in his hometown of Karlstad, Sweden late at night. He wasn’t old enough to get a license at the time and had to out-run the police. …We correct ESPN: It’s the size of pit boxes as well as the length of straightaways that determine the length of the pit road. Although it has one of the longest front straights in NASCAR, Pocono’s pit lane is nearly 600 feet shorter than Indianpolis because its pit boxes are just 33 feet in length compared to 43 feet at Indy, scene of Juan Montoya’s costly speeding ticket. …Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team co-owner Felix Sabates was also involved in the most talked about pit road speed limit incident prior to this year’s Brickyard 400. Dale Earnhardt beat Kyle Petty’s SABCO Pontiac in the Coca-Cola 600 by getting on and off the pit road quicker on his final pit stop in 1992. In the second year of pit road speed limits, NASCAR used a stop watch to judge segment speeds and Sabates was livid that Earnhardt was not called for speeding. In a slump due to the introduction of radial tires, it was the only race Earnhardt won that year. …When the NASCAR race at Pocono was postponed until noon on Monday, this writer heard from a colleague who prompted a recollection of Mark Twain’s famous line about San Francisco. To wit: The longest summer ever spent was a Sunday night in Pocono.

See ya! … At the races.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 3 2009
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