Long Beach: Friday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on April 17, 2010 2:02 am
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(Originally posted by Steph to Planet-IRL.com.)

Remember yesterday when I said that I was going to walk between the two furthest points of the track to see how long it takes?  Yeah, that ain’t happening.  I don’t think I really emphasized this enough yesterday because I didn’t yet fully know the scope of the statement:  this place is HUGE. I’m confident it would be possible to fit the St. Pete track into the infield here at least twice comfortably.  I felt like I did nothing but walk all day, and I haven’t even seen half of the circuit!Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  My day didn’t actually start at the circuit at all — I was among the very fortunate group that arrived at Swift Engineering early this morning to take part in their facility visit. What was meant to be a brief hour-long overview turned into an intensive three-hour tour (with none of the stereotypical difficulties implied thereby), and from the moment we walked in the door, they treated us like royalty.  After offering refreshments and free swag, they started out by introducing members of their team, and Casper van der Schoot, Swift’s Motorsports Program Manager, spoke in great detail about their proposed IndyCar concepts and answered every question the group had.

Among the notable things that came up during this opening session was the fact that the 50 and 66 designs that came out some time after the initial group were based on feedback from the League, which requested that Swift produce a design around a sturdier and larger monocoque.  Mr. van der Schoot also let us in on the fact that they’re currently working on a new design that’s based on the 66 but is sleeker and lighter on body work, and they expect to release that concept in about four weeks.  (They gave us a sneak peek into the concept’s early development as well.  Sorry that it’s an awful camera phone pic.)  When asked about the budget requirements, they didn’t discuss hard numbers, but they did say this much:  the League has given them a target, and they can meet it provided that a decision is made quickly.  The price for a full car will be mandated, as will the cost for replacement parts, and these will be locked in for a pre-set period of time.

After the initial Q&A, we were first shown around the offices, where we received that preview of the next concept, followed by a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) demonstration.  They showed us the various stages of building the vector models of the cars, followed by the resulting air flow diagrams.  This also revealed the origin of the term Mushroom Buster, which is the name they’ve coined for the aerodynamic device they’ve created that diverts the dirty air upward and away from the trailing car:  the resulting air plume looks like a mushroom cloud!

From there, we went out to the wind tunnel.  I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, here:  my eyes glazed over a little bit at this point.  Swift’s Chief Aerodynamicist, Dr. John Winkler, is an extremely intelligent and talented man, and I simply don’t share his mathematical acumen, so it’s really for the best that I not attempt to butcher the fantastic knowledge he gave us.  Perhaps there are some engineers who were with today’s group that could leave some information in the comments.

The next highlight, though, is something that I can relate to much more closely:  we got to play with the race simulator!  Our Twitter-resident Swift engineer (and mastermind behind the tour), @pinkgineer, has posted pictures of this many times, but I didn’t fully understand how it worked until I saw it for myself.  The simulator holds one driver’s seat and two passenger seats set slightly further back (excellent, as was pointed out, for giving potential sponsors a demonstration).  Three large widescreen LCD monitors give the driver an almost 180-degree view.  The entire contraption is mounted onto six large hydraulics that then lift the platform into the air once the simulation is started and begin motion response.

And I got to go for a ride.

Wait, it gets better:  not only did I get to go for a ride, but I got to be a passenger in a simulated F1 car taking laps around Road America.

Yeah, I know.  I hate myself, too.

I’m nearly positive that I had a goofy grin off my face the entire time.  The simulator was so responsive — every turn, every brake, every spin-out was meticulous, and even the rumble stripped curbs are programmed in.  The detail went as far as to provide road feel.  And seeing that classic Road America front straight with the pit lane entrance off to the right as we climbed the hill gave me goosebumps.  It was just incredible.

After a few of us got to play in that (and walk away sad to know that we’d never be able to afford one of our own in a thousand lifetimes), we went back to the main building to look around the manufacturing facility.  Although we weren’t permitted to take any photos in this area, the staff were very forthcoming with showing us around and answering our questions.  We got to see how the various chassis parts are assembled and the results of some impact testing, and then we finished the tour with a look at a completed Formula Nippon car and a bit of a walk down memory lane as well.

All told, the entire event far exceeded my wildest expectations, and we all left feeling like we couldn’t possibly thank the staff of Swift enough for so graciously allowing us a glimpse into their daily operations.  Swift is genuinely interested in opinions of IndyCar fans, and this shows through in every detail of the work they’re doing on the 2012 design.  If you’re not already following @Pinkgineer on Twitter or Swift Engineering on Facebook, please do so and share your thoughts with them.  I can say with full confidence that they’d be more than happy to hear from you.

From there, I headed up to the track.  Relative to the tome I’ve provided above, I feel as though I don’t really have much to report on today’s track activity.  Because the tour finished pretty close to lunch time, I got to the track just after the end of the Lights practice, which meant that the second IndyCar practice was the only session I caught today.  The pit lane is much narrower here than what I’m used to, and it makes getting around a little bit slower than usual.  There also aren’t a lot of spots on pit lane where it’s possible to catch a glimpse of a CCTV, and the few places where one could became busy very quickly.  That’s really all I have to report aside from what you would already know.  I’ll investigate further tomorrow.

One thing I did manage to check off my list today was trying out King Taco.  I’ve had it sold to me as the tenderloins of the Beach, so I made a mental note to ensure I got a hold of one as soon as I had the opportunity.  (The fact that I haven’t yet had a tenderloin is neither here nor there.)  I had a beef taco and a shredded pork taco (apologies for not remembering the Spanish terms), and I enjoyed both quite a bit.  I was well-prepared, though — having had a friend who taught English in Mexico for a year, I’d heard before that what we call a taco in the Northeast is more or less a travesty.  These tacos were made up of seasoned meat, onions, cilantro and corn tortillas, as Mexican tacos are meant to be.  (Sauce is optional, but my tolerance for heat is handicapped by my inherited British palate, so I passed.)  They were simple and flavorful — and small, but if you know that going in, you can adjust your order accordingly.  And besides, it’s just a fun experience.  These must-try items are what make legendary race weekends like this so great.  It’s all part of the adventure.

Apart from that, I spent the afternoon catching up with old friends and making new ones.  A quick reiteration of a point that’s been made elsewhere many times:  Twitter has greatly enhanced my race-weekend experience.  It’s so fantastic to constantly meet great people with a like-minded passion for racing.  And as the community continues to expand, it gets even better with each passing event.

I can’t believe I get to do this for another two whole days.  More tomorrow.

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