Indycar’s first natural-terrain road course of the season is always the most exciting. Indycars fare well on the narrow, bumpy street circuits like Long Beach that start off the year, but because of the confines of the courses, they’re always restricted somewhat. When the track widens and the corners lengthen, the Indycars can really flex their muscle and show why they’re some of the fastest machinery on the planet. Having the most recent winner of the Indy 500 acting as the chauffeur to one of the fastest ride-alongs in existence only makes this clearer.
It might be the camera angle, or just the young man’s exuberant driving that makes it seem terrifyingly fast. Whatever the cause, it gives a wonderful impression of how these machines can corner. It’s not all bit-in-the-teeth and aggression, either. Mastering the changing gradients and variety of corners at this course takes some finesse.
It’s that fluctuation of gradient that makes the driver brake at different rates depending on where they on on the course. If they’re traveling uphill, as in turns 2, 6, and 15, they can brake harder and for a shorter period of time, and open the steering wheel earlier. Since the rear wheels are being pressed into the asphalt sightly, the throttle can be opened somewhat earlier, too. Going downhill requires a softer application of the brakes, and a longer braking zone, since the momentum brought on by the downhill makes brake-lock harder to recover from.
Some corners, like Turn One and the quick Twelve-Thirteen flick require a quick dab of the brakes and a conservative entry speed, since there’s absolutely no room for error or recovery at the apex. Other corners, like the downhill Turn Five and the never-ending Fourteen oblige the driver to push both axles aggressively to find where the grip is and to get a bit of braking rotation to minimize the road covered and get the near 800-horsepower down cleanly. Seeing as how Rossi rides his howling Indycar sideways out of Turn Five at 1:40 is pretty startling indication of how hard that can be!