Where Amazing Happens / Alternate Realties

One of the most enjoyable parts of the Indy 500 is not only the amazing and rich history of the event, but knowing that each year is an opportunity to see something amazing. 


Some of the richest lore comes from events that seemed destined for a certain end if not for the intervention of fate’s final twist and newest Indy legend born.

I think of some of those events that nine times out of ten would turn out differently, more predictably, yet didn’t, forever changing the future course of the race itself.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to offer some of the most influential twists of racing fate in Indy 500 history and offer some alternate histories:




1987 – Mario Is Slowing Down:
The 71st Running of the 500 should have been the most uninteresting of modern history. Dominating the entire month’s practice speeds through qualifying and even the Carb Day pit stop competition, Mario Andretti looked poised to finally shed the “Andretti Curse” and win his second Indy 500. Leading from the drop of the green flag, Mario led 170 of the first 177 laps of the race, losing the lead only briefly during pit cycles. On Lap 177, Mario was cruising to a seemingly easy victory when an electronic fueling malfunction occurred forcing Mario to the pits. His car never recovered and from there we know the rest, Roberto Guerrero assumes the lead after being over a full lap down to Mario, only to stall in the pits on the final stop allowing a further lap down Al Unser, Sr., to assume the lead.  ‘Big Al’ hangs on to win his fourth after being rideless just 13 days prior.

Now let’s engage some imaginative thought; just forget the history as it exists and travel down a new path…


Mario wins the 1987 Indy 500 in a runaway victory. He and Michael go on to finish 1st/2nd respectively in the points title for different teams. Newman/Haas, seeing the extreme value in having the two together, expands to include Michael for 1988, driving Lola/Chevrolets for 1988. Struggling initially, they hit their peak at the 1988 Indy 500 with Michael defeating Mario via a late-race restart and becoming the first (and only to date) Father-Son pair to finish 1-2 at Indy.

Kraco Racing (Michael’s previous team), starts the 1988 season with Al Unser behind the wheel and has predictably steady results due to the combination of the March chassis, Cosworth motor, and Big Al’s tempered hand on the wheel. Near the end of the 1988 season, Kraco Racing is absorbed by Rick Galles Racing forming yet another formidable father-son team combination with Al Jr. for 1989.  The Andretti-Unser “family feud” begins and runs through the 1992 season when Mario, Al Sr., AJ Foyt, and Rick Mears all retire.

These ‘Legends of the Brickyard’ leave a massive hole in the sport with their retirements – AJ with 4- 500 wins, Mario and Al Sr. each with 3, and Mears with 2.  Mario comes out of retirement for the 1993 Indy 500 and finishes second to Michael again.

Al Unser, Jr., never makes it to victory lane in 1992 and never utters those famous words, Emerson Fittipaldi never becomes reviled as he was for drinking orange juice in 1993. Andrettis go on to to place three different family faces on the Borg-Warner, totaling 6 wins, Mario 3, Michael 2, Marco 1.  

 


2012 Milwaukee Indyfest and a Joule of an Idea

With the Milwaukee Indycar race being the final leg of our 12-day family summer vacation, you’ll forgive me for not posting since just before the Indy 500 race weekend.So much has already transpired and been written by others since my last post for me to fathom another recap so I’ll simply jump to the here and now.


In short, my first trip to the Milwaukee Mile was great. Not only did it cap a terrific extended family vacation, but I left quite satisfied at the ease we had in doing most everything in and about the track. Luck perhaps, but I feel more than comfortable considering the trip again for 2013. Also, I found the Milwaukee Indyfest plan and execution quite good for the venue and would encourage them to adopt the same ‘event-based’ approach in the future. With kids, we took advantage of the midway and family fun zone which added much value for us in addition to the racing event itself. Full marks for Andretti and his team for producing an enjoyable event around the race.  


I have noted in the past on this blog that outside of the Indy 500, Indycar must create an ‘event’ at each stop to draw more than just adults interested solely in Indycar racing or  relatively uninterested persons there because a corporation doles out the free tickets and swag. Andretti Sports Marketing did a terrific job on an abbreviated timeframe in my opinion.


And now, for what may be the best little gem I found during the Indyfest… The Joule


I am the first to admit that any sort of engineer I am not, but also in previous posts here and here, I contend the series needs to consider developing its platform around propulsion system competition. In light of the recent victory by a ‘hybrid’ engine at the 24 hours of LeMans, efficient propulsion systems will only continue to become a larger factor in passenger car decision-making. If Indycar can become a showcase for a variety of propulsion systems and hybrids of those with an emphasis on efficient power, it can entrench itself in the automotive racing landscape of the future.


With that in mind, I was struck by a non-descript booth in the Fan Village of the Milwaukee Indyfest. Hosted by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, this group displayed an open-wheeled vehicle used in a recent competition utilizing battery electric and internal combustion motors to propel their vehicle on (what I recall in a brief conversation as, but don’t quote me) 20 megajoules of energy equivalent over a 22km street course. First team to cross the finish line with the given amount of energy available, wins. 


Apparently the Joule is the measure for multiple forms of energy (combustibles, electric, etc.) I’ve been longing to discover as a means of having an equivalent measure of energy to apply to multiple forms of racing propulsion. The megajoules used in the above contest was described to me as the equivalent of energy that would be provided (if used entirely as gasoline) by approximately one-eighth gallon of standard 87-octane automobile fuel in an internal combustion system to go 13 miles (roughly 104 mpg) or taken as all-electric power would equate to approximately 5.5 kilowatt hours. The MSOE car utilized both battery electric motors and a small internal combustion motor to propel their vehicle.


I was fascinated by the possibilities this type of racing could present and really believe it is the wave of the future which should be embraced as quickly as possible. Does it need to be the primary racing form for Indycar now? Not initially, but could be addressed as an experimental class that races concurrently at several of Indycar’s variety of venues, with the future possibilities to be explored from there. 


Ultimately, I see the continued challenge to develop the most efficient of multiple forms of propulsion as what will become the prime focus for manufacturers and producers of mobility vehicles. Where brute speed was once king, things eventually changed and the future almost certainly holds the continued refinement of efficient power. The DeltaWing begins to scratch the surface from the physical load side of the equation. The propulsion system is the other.


I would love nothing more than for Indycar to become that major player in developing or becoming the series that allows these companies to showcase the newest in propulsion technology. 


I also hope I (or at least my kids) will be around to see it.

End of Season Thoughts, Part 2


3. Indycar is a niche sport. We fans may not like the sound of that statement but it alas, is true and until the people who run it understand this, it will continue to flail about until exhaustion and ultimately drown. Indycar has always had a small (relative to the stick and ball sports) legion of devotees but the total size of the crowd (literally until TV coverage), was based on this legion plus whatever casual observers would be intrigued. Instead of trying to ‘grow’ the sport through sheer mass exposure and hoping some come along, I contend it needs to grow by providing a means to better experience the racing product and by giving the casual observer something to be interested in. The first must be done through better television production and viewing.  The second comes from thoughts which can be summed up by Peter DeLorenzo (an example of which can be found here) on making Indycar a viable product of interest to casual viewer. By involving them more directly through Indycar returning to represent a true ‘car of tomorrow’ and incubate new technolgies on the racetrack, the general public would be clamoring to see Indycars again and thereby what may lie ahead for their next purchase in the showrooms. 

4. Indycar has one of the best hardcore fan bases of any sport. You all know who you are.  You’d know a ’67 Lotus Turbine from a ’70 Lotus Turbine in with a scant glance at the two.  You know the venerable Offy had only 4 cylinders that produced the power of many contemporary V-8s.  You know the importance of the ’61 Cooper Climax and the ’73 Eagle and the ’79 Chaparral.  You’ve seen Johncock hold off Mears, Helio climb the fence and Sandi Andretti’s hat.  Indycar is about an overwhelming combined experience of sights, sounds, smells, and what’s felt which produces indelible marks on our brains. Dearest Keepers of Indycar, please don’t forego understanding what this sport means to us. We are the few and proud devotees who just wish for a return to a product that actually means something to people. Racing used to = an experience and progress, not the inverse of that formula.

More thoughts to come…