Knob awareness

Posted by Iannucci | 7/01/2009 | 12 comments »
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The last few days have been unkind to the Inbox, what with all the emails from people saying they are thisclose to leaving the series for good. Spitting nails in so many words, outraged at the sheer dullness of the recent racing. Lack of passing will do that.

Fortunately the IRL has decided to do something about this (finally!) by adjusting the racing specs in the hopes that side-by-side racing might return for the upcoming race at Kentucky Speedway. It's gotten so bad even Tony Kanaan said "Richmond was pathetic. If I was a fan, I would have left by lap 30."

Meanwhile gearheads continue to speculate if this sudden parade on every track is caused by the new exhaust configuration or a new tire compound or solar flashes or the death of Paul Newman or EJ Viso's #13. Whatever it is, it's all hypothetical at this point, as drivers can't pass under the green flag and street sweepers spend so much time cleaning marbles during the yellows that you could read a Tolstoy novel. (Seriously, I think I've seen more airtime for Street Sweepers than Lindy Thackston this year, and that ain't right.)

But there is one thing that can be done to improve racing and it has nothing to do with aero or grip or downforce. As pressdog says, "rip the knob off".

Longtime readers of My Name Is IRL know that your humble host has a near jihad-level of animosity for the multiple "fuel mappings" (settings) drivers can use during races. "The knob", as it is referred to, auto-magically allows drivers to conserve fuel by "leaning out" (limiting) amount of ethanol fed to the engine. Less fuel means less power means less speed.

This sounds like a fabulous tool (*drink*) drivers can use to give them an option with their race strategy, one that actually led to Danica Patrick's lone win. Drivers concede to drive a slower car in the hope they can make up the time from not having to make an extra green-flag pit stop. Unfortunately what happens more often than not - and with even greater frequency this year given the single grooviness of the racing - is that when they realize that passing is impossible EVERY driver shifts into fuel conservation mode. Case in point, at Richmond last weekend when our buddy pressdog noted on the Timing & Scoring that the IndyCars were driving 148 mph, despite running practice times in the upper 160s!

Everyone is now going 148 mph. Seriously. It says so on my timing and scoring. I wish I was making it up. That's about 10 mph slower than the best times of the night so far. 148. I think my 2001 Flamin' Ford Focus could go 148. Davey Hamilton eyes the Two Seater and considers getting into this race.
And therein lies the problem with "the knob": fans don't fork over their good money just to see an exhibition of fuel conservation. One of the hallmarks of the IndyCar series is that it features the fastest laps on Earth (say, someone should trademark that), but that goes out the window when all of the cars intentionally slow down. It's time to solve the problem by providing a one setting for green flag racing (90-something percent) and another for yellow flag conditions and that's it. Forget all this push-to-pass nonsense by utilizing the existing "overtake" button to boost it to 100% and make drivers conserve fuel the old-fashioned way - with their right foot on the throttle.


  1. redd // July 02, 2009 4:33 AM  

    Right (foot) on!

  2. Robert // July 02, 2009 5:45 AM  

    Amen! We can only hope that someone at the IRL will read this and say "Hey, that's a great idea -bringing racing back into the race."

    While you are on a roll, can we do something about the start and restarts. They look like kids running out of school on the last day rather than a row by row side by side start/restart.

  3. mmack // July 02, 2009 6:25 AM  

    Here's an idea: How about we get out of 1973 and allocate more fuel to the teams? We've moved past wide lapels, polyester, landau roofs and opera lamps, and cars that look like this, so perhaps we can move past the thinking that says "We MUST limit speed by limiting fuel!"

    If you want to turn it up full rich and build a 15 second lead before you pit, so be it. Granted, you'll be pitting more often, but it's a trade off you and your team will need to weigh. Need to blow past second place? Turn the knob full rich and blow past them. True, second place may turn up the wick, but at least you'll be trying to pass.

    Now I'm not saying everyone gets an allotment of 500 gallons of fuel for every race, but 20 - 40 more gallons of ethanol could add some interesting race strategies. Just a thought, and only a start.

  4. Allen Wedge // July 02, 2009 7:07 AM  

    Jeff, I'm no rocket scientist... though maybe I should ask the reporter who made Tony Stewart mad, but correct me if I'm wrong here, isn't the old fashioned way to save fuel: to take your foot... off... the throttle?

  5. BP in Louisville // July 02, 2009 8:45 AM  

    Just my 2 cents.. Although somewhat lackluster, the current IRL racing is still far more entertaining than when (in 2003) I went to a race (KY) only to see Sam Hornish Jr. LAP THE ENTIRE FIELD! Keep in mind this is when Chevrolet, Toyota & Honda were supplying engines and Dallara & Panoz were supplying Chassis. Everyone griped and complained that it wasn't entertaining (like now).

    Years later (after single engine mfg./tires) the IRL got rid of the fuel knobs (like you guys want) AND THEY CAME BACK! I think what you guys might REALLY want to mix up the competition instead is a new chassis for 2010 given that the teams just have had this one for so long that they found every bit of speed in them. Then every team would have to "figure out" the new formula, although to it's credit it has been a very good chassis for driver safety. I don't know how feasible this is with the current IRL $ issues, but it might give you racing you find more entertaining.

  6. Anonymous // July 02, 2009 9:05 AM  

    not trying to be a smartass, but a serious question--what positives does a fuel knob bring to racing?

  7. BP in Louisville // July 02, 2009 9:39 AM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  8. BP in Louisville // July 02, 2009 10:51 AM  

    By the way, I started my own blog: in case anyone is interested or wants to comment on this or other issues. I often have alot to say and don't wish to hijack this excellent blog which I am a huge fan of.

    "not trying to be a smartass, but a serious question--what positives does a fuel knob bring to racing?"

    I believe it adds a depth to the strategy, and that a skillful driver can run a disciplined race and use it effectively for a strategic edge. Just My opinion, anonymous (if you were talking to me).

  9. Anonymous // July 02, 2009 1:51 PM  

    yep, bp, I meant you. thanks.

  10. Dave Cornutt // July 03, 2009 8:50 AM  

    "not trying to be a smartass, but a serious question--what positives does a fuel knob bring to racing?"

    That's a worthwhile question to ask. It's a bit like having multiple racing gears in the gearbox -- it gives teams more options on pit strategy. One of the things that I've enjoyed about IRL racing is that, more often than not, in any given race you'll find at least a few teams working alternate pit strategies. It helps keep the top teams from dominating every race. Had Ganassi not had the incredible luck at Richmond to get two cautions at the exact moments that most benefitted them, Hidecki Mutoh would have won that race.

    I'm semi- in agreement with the post, though. Semi, because I think part of the problem right now is that the available map settings are actually too close together. What it needs is a normal setting, a conservation setting that slows the car down, and a real hell-bent-for-leather setting that adds 30 HP and goes through fuel like a 747. But Honda won't add that latter one in because it would stress the engines and run the risk of engine failures, which Honda as the sole supplier does not want to see.

    Being that that's the situation we're stuck with, I agree: take the knobs off.

  11. Anonymous // July 03, 2009 11:36 AM  

    Even knob Creek has ripped the knob off. They exhausted the supply and will not bottle any till November when the next batch officially turns nine years old.

  12. Roy Hobbson // July 03, 2009 2:38 PM  

    ^^^you bite your, tongue Anonymous. Quit spreading awful, malicious rumors about Knob Crreek that make me want to flame-thrower the nearest Costco. That's inappropriate, to say the least.

    Jeff -- let's get moving on the Pay Attention thing that is always so insightful & always tickles America's loins. The clock's ticking, my friend.