Start your engines
I had the opportunity to attend the 101st Indy 500 on May 28 this year. Andretti Autosport team member Takuma Sato won the race, pulling ahead of three-time winner Helio Castroneves in the last five laps. A new record for highest number of leaders was set with fifteen different cars leading laps around the track throughout the race.
The Indy 500 consists of 200 laps around a 2.5-mile track. The average speed for this year’s race was approximately 215 mph. Andretti Autosport had other drivers in the race, including Andretti’s son Marco Andretti and 2016’s winner Alexander Rossi, who led for a large portion of the race.
The twin-turbo V6 engines used by all cars in the race were designed and built mainly by either Honda or Chevy. All Andretti team members had Honda engines. A few Honda engines outside of the Andretti team blew before the end of the race, including rookie Fernando Alonso’s.
Indy cars have no muffler, catalytic converter, or accessory drive belt. They are required to weigh at least 1,570 pounds with an engine weight of at least 248, requirements that engineers try not to exceed. In lieu of a gearshift, drivers use paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
Allowing the rpm to drop too low, such as during idle, can cause the engine to stall out. This means that during pit stops the drivers are still revving the engines in order to keep the rpm raised.
The driver’s compartment bolts to the front of the engine and is designed to be basically unbreakable for the safety of the driver. A good example of this was pole driver Scott Dixon’s massive crash: after twisting into the air and smashing into the retainer fence, Dixon came scraping to a stop in nothing but the compartment with one wheel still attached, and walked away.
Drivers are allowed to go through a max of four engines per year and can replace their engines at a minimum 2,500 miles or before a race in which they would exceed 2,850 miles. The engines run on E85, meaning racing fuel with 85% ethanol.
The race is aptly named the greatest spectacle in racing. Seconds after the tail car had disappeared around the first turn, just past pit row, the lead car would come screaming around the fourth turn to complete another 2.5 miles.