Video: Slippery Indycar Lap at St. Petersburg!

If one ever had doubts about the difficulty of driving a 700+ horsepower Indycar on a narrow street course, this video should set them straight. For one, the power delivery from the 2.2-liter Honda V6 is brutal and peaky, and putting all those torques to the slippery, dusty pavement is never as easy task.

Nevertheless, Ryan Hunter-Reay proceeds unflinching, flirting with the concrete walls, avoiding odd patches of concrete, and driving within a few millimeters of a serious accident. Street circuits can be terrifying, seeing as they’re crowned, dirty, and not designed for racing on, so Hunter-Reay increases his pace slowly as the tires and wings begin to work for him.

An astute driver will quickly notice the effect of cold tires. The first two corners following the front straightaway require a considerable lift on the first lap, but by lap three, the tires are up to their operating temperature and Hunter-Reay gets on the throttle sooner and carries more entry speed. These medium speed corners are an interesting area to watch closely, because it’s around this speed, roughly, that aero starts to have an effect.

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Turns one and two pose a huge challenge for drivers on cold tires.

Below seventy miles an hour, the wings on the car play a small role in the overall performance and the grip is still predominantly generated by the tires and the suspension, also known as “mechanical” grip. Above that, the wings’ influence sets in and the car can corner faster, brake harder and apply the throttle sooner.

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Red gloves sawing away at the wheel show how hard a driver has to work on cold tires.

This phenomenon is shown in detail in turns 13 and 14. Both relatively slow corners which punctuate two fast sections, they need to be taken with utmost care. The exit from 14 is treacherous, since the slow speeds make it difficult to put that power to the ground efficiently and the wall is very close. On the first few laps, Hunter-Reay struggles with a bit of oversteer entering the start-finish straight, but it doesn’t last long.

Once the tires come in somewhere in the third lap, the grip afforded by the mechanical components increases, but so does the aero grip. This means that because the tires increase the cornering speeds, the wings begin to play a role, and the grip levels rise at an exponential rate. Note how his steering movements becomes smoother, especially in the fastest sections.

No longer does he saw at the wheel; sliding away on the ragged edge. Instead, his inputs are precise and unhurried, and he looks stoic and methodical. The change over a few laps show that it would difficult to characterize the man by his steering inputs; it would be hard to call him a “smooth” or a “ragged” driver. Instead, this transformation in style indicates that the man is on top of his car, and not the other way around.

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It’s tough to believe something so wide could race on a narrow street circuit like St. Petersburg.

About the author

Tommy Parry

Tommy Parry has been racing and writing about racing cars for the past seven years. As an automotive enthusiast from a young age, he worked jobs revolving around cars throughout high school, and tried his hand on the race track on his 20th birthday. After winning his first outdoor kart race, Tommy began working as an apprentice mechanic to amateur racers in the Bay Area to sharpen his mechanical understanding. He has worked as a track day instructor and automotive writer since 2012, and continues to race karts, formula cars, sedans, and rally cars in the San Francisco region.
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