From Road Course to Oval, Changing Cars to Fit the Tracks Part 1

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The Verizon IndyCar Series is unlike any other, requiring so many skill sets, from the road and street courses, to short ovals and superspeedways. The 2017 IndyCar season hosted three superspeedways, three short ovals, six permanent road courses, and five street courses.

As a result, it makes for a significant challenge for the crews to convert the cars, adapting them to each specific type of track.

Their quest is even made more difficult by the way the schedule is laid out, with back-to-back events on different types of courses at opposite ends of the country. For example, the season begins with two street courses, first at St. Petersburg, FL, on the east coast and then four weeks later it moves to Long Beach on the west coast. Two weeks after that, the teams competed on the permanent road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL, and then immediately moved west to the short 1.0-mile oval at Phoenix.

While there are a few weekends off between these races, that is when the teams schedule their testing. And, it can be very difficult going from a superspeedway, if there is car damage, to a road course test a few days later. Most teams are mid-west based in the Indianapolis area and return to their shops between events.

The schedule isn’t all that team friendly when you consider Watkins Glen on the east coast is followed by Sonoma on the west coast. For these events, cars must be ready and loaded in the transporter no later than Wednesday (sometimes earlier) to arrive at a track early Thursday of race weekend to make their assigned time to go through Technical Inspection (required before running in Friday’s practice sessions).

Most teams handle the conversion from road course to oval and back again by having a designated road course and oval car. The best scneario is to have three cars per driver so the backup car can also be made ready for a specific type of track. It takes about 200-man hours to convert from a road course configuration to the oval. The greatest contrast on the schedule is switching from the longest, 4.0-mile Road America road course to the shortest oval track, Iowa (0.894-mile).

In the second part later this week, we breakdown the process  in which the teams  go through.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Mary Bignotti Mendez, the Technical Editor for PopularOpenWheel.com, has been involved in open wheel racing for thirty years. She is an award winning journalist who started writing technical articles in 1997 for IndyCar Magazine. Entering her twenty-first season writing for Inside Track Motorsport News as their Open Wheel Editor, she continues penning her column, “Get A Grip” as well as providing features covering IndyCar. For many years, she contributed weekly to Motorsports News of Australia and the European newspaper, Motorsport Aktuell. Concurrent with writing, she served a stint as a pit announcer for the CART Radio Network and has supported both radio and TV announcers in the booth or on pit lane for fourteen seasons. At the track, she provides an entertaining and educational guide service for the corporate hospitality programs conducting pit and garage/paddock tours. She started her company, RPM Tours (www.rpmtours.info), in 1992 but never gets tired of sharing her knowledge and passion for racing with the brand new guest or veteran racing fan.

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