Main / Anatomy of a car / The track / The drivers / A fan's guide / Parking & area info / Panoramic photos

printer version

Simulations drive some unreal laps

Computers run racing scenarios so actual cars don't always have to.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- The inner sanctum is just beyond a mirrored-glass door inside a modified tractor trailer.

There, in a modestly furnished office bathed in fluorescent light, some of Team Rahal's most closely guarded secrets and strategies are housed on a laptop computer.

Each mouse click by Ray Leto, the team's technical coordinator, summons another multicolored chart, another graphic filled with a dizzying array of numbers used in a program that simulates how Michel Jourdain Jr.'s car will perform under different setups at today's Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

"It's a tool that allows us to spend less time on the racetrack sorting those things out, which is a very expensive proposition in itself," Leto said Saturday, shortly after Jourdain qualified fifth.

"It's a matter of showing up to a race and having some of the big, basic things taken care of. Then you can narrow it down."

Particularly for a new race and track such as this, computer simulators and the databases they house are a valuable and complicated tool.

It can take one employee three workdays to complete simulation work.

The payoff, however, is the time and money saved.

Among the things Team Rahal simulated using more than nine years' worth of information were downforce, drag, gear selection, weight distribution and distribution of aerodynamic forces on the car.

"We showed up, and we didn't change a gear all day Friday," Leto said. "We changed a gear (Saturday) morning before we ran because the wind picked up, and we knew we'd have a big head wind down the front straightaway. That was it.

"It may sound like a trivial thing, but it really allows you to work on other stuff. The driver can just concentrate on the setup or running the track. ... If you're off at all it's usually by one gear here and there based on something you couldn't have simulated like where a curb or a bump is, things like that that you don't know until you actually drive around the place."

But teams aren't the only operations using these types of programs, which can cost $50,000 or more.

Ford supplies its Cosworth engines to all 19 Champ Car entrants. The engines were tested on a dynamometer that simulated settings needed for this track and were distributed in a random order.

"We did about a week's worth of dyno work in Detroit to get the engine right," said Ken Deagle, Ford/Cosworth CART Track Support Manager. "Then we went out and practiced at Sebring two weeks ago.

"That circuit is very similar to a lot of the street circuits. That's what you want to try and duplicate."

The preparations for today's race continued well after Saturday's qualifying. Ultimately it will be the driver's responsibility to race with what he has been given and to offer feedback about what can improve the car's performance.

"You do," driver Adrian Fernandez said when asked if he relies on the simulations. "But at the same time it's a little bit of a guess. You sort of take everything from here and just go back to feeling."

Back to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix home page
Today's lineup
  • Bourdais even better up close
  • After losses, CART counts on its youth
  • Start your engines
  • Grand Prix watchers can hoist a few early
  • Companies sold on network they can build as sponsors
  • Simulations drive some unreal laps
  • Fernandez standing tall after 2002
  • Kids find their zoneaway from the action
  • Changing weather creates mystery on track
  • Running series in another way
  • Said not happy about being sent to the back
  • Late restart doesn't worry Barber Dodge race winner
  • Smooth course makes mechanics' job easier

  • Lightning
  • Lightning defenseman Boyle is in a rhythm

  • Rays
  • Baldelli plays the right game
  • Pay scale isn't sitting well with younger players
  • That extra cash? It's already been spent

  • Bucs
  • McGahee is an intriguing option

  • Other sports
  • Hubert Mizell: It's hard to be Woods' rival, but Big Easy can do it
  • John Romano: Olden Bear wants competition, not adulation
  • Gary Shelton: A Winning Attitude

  • College basketball
  • USF falls in streaky game
  • Eckerd survives Tampa comeback
  • Oklahoma State repels Texas rally
  • UConn beats St. John's in coach's return
  • Stanford nails down Pac-10 title
  • FSU's road ACC losing streak extends to 15
  • Salukis earn big victory with buzzer-beater
  • Florida gets out of Vandy with OT win

  • NFL
  • Grossman won't pass up chance

  • Golf
  • Weather wins Round 2
  • Levi's lead blown away by the winds
  • Nelson out with sore neck
  • Howell leads boyhood idol Price

  • NFL
  • Martz says Warner is still his guy

  • Baseball
  • Torre says Wells must be careful
  • Ankiel making progress for Cardinals

  • NHL
  • Slapshots
  • Red Wings keep Caps in skid

  • Sailing
  • The score doesn't reflect good America's Cup racing

  • Arena
  • Storm trying to avoid digging a deeper hole

  • In brief
  • Holiday surprises few in winning the Donn
  • Rant/Rave

  • Boxing
  • Knockouts for Tyson, Lacy

  • NBA
  • Hornets win at buzzer

  • Motorsports
  • Rain a negative for Rockingham

  • Preps
  • No surprise here: Cougars dominate
  • Patriots fall short of ambitious goals
  • Wharton continues Relays domination
  • Seven Leopards headed to state
  • Bowen takes down another opponent
  • Warriors take fourth; send four on to state
  • Mooney can't match SPC duo
  • Mustangs cool off after a fast start
  • Pirates' pace pays dividends
  • Packers wrap up title with third-quarter run
  • Eagles come alive late
  • Eagles take flight with 9 champions
  • Jesuit holds breath, then gets to celebrate
  • Familiar opponents yield familiar results
  • Sharpshooting Lions prevail
  • Wesley Chapel hangs on to title
  • Galloway ignites Hurricane explosion
  • Reed powers Ridgewood
  • Lakewood eases to title

  • Outdoors
  • Daily fishing report
  • Your turn

  • © Copyright St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.