Less downforce, more power please


At long last IndyCar has started listening to its drivers and fans. For some time the drivers have been pleading for less downforce and more power and IndyCar’s technical director Will Phillips began to respond by trimming the downforce for the Texas oval race the weekend before last.

The revised package produced a much better race for both drivers and fans and everyone was equally happy at Milwaukee last weekend where Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the first win of the year for Michael Andretti’s team.

Former driver Scott Goodyear works as a commentator for ABC and he spoke for everyone after Hunter-Reay took the chequered flag in Milwaukee. “I think a solid theme in the garage area right now is to ask for less downforce and more power,” he remarked. “That’s what all the drivers want to see and that’s what I want to see.”

Indeed, when I first bumped into championship leader Will Power at Indianapolis last month he immediately cut to the chase. “Oh mate,” Power shook his head. “We need more power! I’m tired of talking about it. But they’ve got to give us more horsepower.”

After the race on the high-banked Texas oval the Australian enthused about IndyCar’s reduction in downforce and how it made the cars more difficult and exciting to drive. Power was delighted that it was possible for the drivers to use all of the track and be able to attack and pass cleanly rather than droning around in a giant pack. He loved it and so did the fans.

Milwaukee is a very different track to Texas. It has virtually no banking and is often described as a road course that turns only to the left. It’s always been tough to pass there but it was possible last weekend as the drivers were able to use different lines to attack and pass. It meant that guys like Scott Dixon and Justin Wilson worked their way through the field before hitting trouble.

“That was so much work,” winner Hunter-Reay said in victory circle. “That was one of the most physical races I’ve ever driven. I was just hanging onto it all the time. You’re just always on edge. You’re so busy in the car trying to keep on top of it and save the tyres and knowing when to push.”

The next step is to increase power by turning up the boost from 550 to more like the 700bhp used on road and street circuits. That would truly eliminate the dreaded ‘pack racing’ and be a big step forward in producing the spectacular kind of oval racing that was Indycar racing’s trademark for many decades until its dumbing down a decade ago through the opening years of the CART/IRL civil war.

With CART’s failure and the arrival of the IRL’s reduced formula, crowds imploded at many races, but particularly at the oval races. Classic oval venues like Michigan and Phoenix vanished from the calendar and became exclusively NASCAR tracks. Today, every IndyCar oval race, Indy 500 included, struggles to fill the grandstands. There are many reasons why these races struggle to pull much of a crowd but without doubt ‘pack racing’ is one of them. There’s little appeal to traditional race fans and it’s incredibly dangerous as we all know only too well.

Kudos therefore to Will Phillips for beginning to move IndyCar in the right direction. Halfway through the season IndyCar has six winners from four different teams with Will Power leading the championship from James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and defending champion Dario Franchitti. It’s an interesting and potentially exciting championship and to make it better please keep trimming the downforce and increasing the power like Scott Goodyear and darn near everyone else in the garage area want to see.

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