Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Saving Fuel

After watching an exciting and highly competitive Formula 1 race on Saturday, I tuned in on Sunday to watch an utterly delusional exercise in St. Petersburg, Florida which was advertised as an Indycar race. The only suspense was waiting to see if the announcers would have a heart attack over what they seemed to think was all of the excitement they were party to.

The green flag was dropped to start the race, and on the first lap we are told that the drivers are “saving fuel” (driving at less than full speed) so that they can complete the race with only two pit stops. I’m still trying to get my brain wrapped around the concept of racing at less than full speed. Three days later, I still do not grasp the concept.

The race is 100 laps and the cars can go 30 laps on a tank of fuel. By driving more slowly, they can stretch that to 33-34 laps and complete the race with only two pit stops for refueling. Of course, that means not trying to drive faster than any of the other cars, which is called “racing,” but… So it was indeed Indycar, but it was not a race.

That means I am sitting there watching 27 cars saving fuel and listening to the announcers being very excited because their favorite driver is “hitting his fuel numbers.” No one crashed, at least, because no one was going fast enough to lose control of his car. The only danger of a crash would be if a driver fell asleep.

Indycar has two kinds of tire: a “soft” tire which is faster initially but wears out sooner, and a regular tire that is harder and has less grip but lasts a lot longer. In this “race” there was no discernable difference, no matter how much the announcers pretended there was a “crossover point” where the black tire became faster than the green. Even at the end of segments, when cars were pitting for fuel, the soft tires were just as fast as the hard ones, which is what happens when you don’t drive hard enough to wear the tires out.

Finally, Indycar has a “push to pass” button, which the driver can use to gain an extra 50 hp (about 7%) for a brief period. The downside is that it uses more fuel, so in this race they were unable to use it very much. They start with 100 seconds allocated, and at the end of the race no driver had less than 60 seconds remaining. Most drivers had 90 seconds unused. Quite simply: they could not afford to go fast, could not afford to actually race.

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