Perhaps the simplest way to explain IndyCar racing and it’s accompanying lingo is to say it is a mash-up of NASCAR and Formula 1. The look of an IndyCar is more closely aligned with Formula 1, so terms such: Open Wheel, Front Wing and Rear Wing are the same because they refer to the style of the vehicle. However, the style of racing is more closely aligned with NASCAR in the sense that races are confined to the United States (with the exception of one race in Canada per season), they share some of the same tracks with a mix of ovals and road courses, and teams require individual crew chiefs and spotters like NASCAR.
So, to help you enjoy and understand IndyCar better, we have assembled many of the terms specific to the sport. However, we highly recommend also reading NASCAR Terminology You Need to Know because a lot of the lingo is a crossover for both racing formats.
ACCELEROMETER: A device placed in the driver’s earpiece that measures the force a driver’s head experiences upon impact.
ADHESION: The ability of the tires to grip the track surface. For example, tires will grip a hot and dry track surface far easier than a cool or wet one. In NASCAR, this is known simply as GRIP.
AERODYNAMICS: The ability for air to flow easily around a car to reduce the resistance (drag) and therefore gain speed.
APEX: The geometric center of a turn. Striving to hit the apex enables the driver to take the turn in the straightest line possible, therefore maintaining the highest speed possible.
APRON: The flat and paved bottom area of a racetrack that separates the racing surface from the infield.
BLISTER: A bubble on the tire produced by excess heat in the tire/tread.
CAMBER: The angle that wheels are tilted inward or outward. A wheel tilted inward toward the top is referred to as negative camber.
CAMSHAFT: A rotating shaft located in the engine that allows a mix of fuel and air into the engine via an intake valve while simultaneously allowing the byproduct (exhaust) to escape through the exhaust value.
CRANKSHAFT: The crankshaft transfers power (torque) to the transmission with a spinning shaft that is turned by the up-and-down movement of the pistons.
DISC: The revolving portion of the brakes (rotor), which absorbs friction and therefore reduces the rotation which reduces the speed.
DOWNFORCE: The downward force created by airflow around the car necessary for high speeds in turns. In IndyCar, the downforce is concentrated on the front and rear wing.
DYNO: A shortened version of “dynamometer” which is used to measure the output of the engine’s horsepower.
ETHANOL: A non-toxic, renewable and clean-burning fuel used by IndyCar, which is 100 percent biodegradable.
EUROPEAN STYLE QUALIFYING: All cars run on the track in a timed session to determine which car posts the fastest lap. Mainly used for road courses and street races. Single car qualifying is mainly used for oval tracks.
GROOVE: The ‘line’ that offers the fastest way around the track. The groove often changes during a race due to temperature or the amount of rubber accumulating on the pavement. Usually, the accepted groove moves up the track as the race progresses. Oftentimes, more than one groove will develop.
LOOSE / TIGHT: Loose refers to the car’s handling and is known as oversteer. It also refers to the rear wheels having difficulty sticking to the track in the turns. Tight is obviously the complete opposite. The car is not turning well and traction in the front is poor.
MARBLES – Small bits of rubber, dirt, and traction compound that form during the race and collect near the outside wall of the track. If a car gets into the marbles, it impedes traction.
PADDLE SHIFT: A clutchless gearshift system located on the steering wheel, with the downshift paddle on the left and the upshift paddle on the right. This system replaces a gear shift, thus allowing the driver to keep both hands on the wheel.
RIDE HEIGHT: The distance measured from the bottom of the car to the ground when the car is running at speed. For Indycar, the rules specify that ride height should be 2 inches off the ground for all tracks.
SLICKS: A tire without treads that produces maximum grip and contact with the track surface because the style eliminates the pockets formed by treads. Slicks can only be used on a dry surface.
TELEMETRY: A radio device that relays information such as engine, tire, steering and throttle performance from the car on the track to the engineers on pit lane. The team can monitor both car and driver activity to ensure the car is performing properly. It helps the team to notice any mechanical issues that may arise with the car during the race.
TIRES (Primary and Alternate): Primary tires are black sidewalls that provide a balance between speed and durability. Alternates are red sidewalls that are made up of a softer compound allowing for faster speed and better cornering. The drawback, however, is that alternates wear quicker.
TOE: To do with the alignment of the front and rear tires, respective to the center of the vehicle. Proper toe settings are crucial for grip. Tires pointing inward is referred to as “toe-in.” Tires pointing outward is referred to as “toe-out.”
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