More than rain can affect race day

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Even people who aren’t motor racing fans know that rain means trouble, but it’s not the only weather that forces racing teams to adapt.


What do you want to know

  • Racing tires cannot grip wet pavement like regular tires can
  • Hot pavement becomes slippery as oil oozes from the asphalt
  • High temperatures put even more strain on car engines
  • Wind affects handling and air resistance

Rain

Racing tires don’t have tread like the tires on our everyday vehicles, which means they can’t shed water when driven on wet pavement. No water shedding means no traction, which means the tires will just slip.

Drying the track is a tough job, and big tracks require big solutions: jet engines. Even with such powerful machines blasting the pavement, drying can take at least a few hours.

Trucks use jet engines to dry the track after a rain Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, before practice for Sunday’s NASCAR Series car race in Long Pond, Pa. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Heat

The problem of high temperatures is twofold. First, hot pavement is slippery pavement. Second, already hot engines get even hotter.

If the track gets too hot, oil oozes out of the asphalt. Brian Neudorffa meteorologist who does racing forecasts says it makes the cars “looser…meaning the back of the car will feel like it’s slipping and sliding down the track”.

While a sunny day isn’t always hot, an overcast sky (with no rain) helps keep track temperatures from getting particularly high.

When it comes to engines, there’s a delicate balance between letting air pass in front of the engine to help cool it, and blocking the grille to improve aerodynamics. Racing teams have come up with some interesting strategies to deal with it.

Indy 500

Crewman Ernie Barrameda for IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello gets some relief from the record breaking heat during the Indianapolis 500 car race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis in 2012. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Wind

Race teams want to reduce air resistance because it will slow the car down. The wind is one thing they can’t stop, however, and that extra moving air hitting the car makes a difference, even when it’s already moving over 200 mph.

With Indy cars, it’s a trickier balance because a headwind pushes down on the rear fender, which helps increase traction.

Winds can vary from turn to turn, and gusty winds are particularly difficult for riders, as they don’t know when a sudden pick-up in the wind will occur. “Strong wind can cause handling problems,” adds Neudorff.

Flags

Fans watch as flags blow in the wind during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Friday, May 20, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The weather when it matters most

Of course, these factors are all important on race day itself. However, they are just as crucial upstream during qualifying. Teams use everything at their disposal to achieve the fastest speeds, and weather conditions can help or hinder those efforts.

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