There are lessons aplenty to be gleaned from the Verizon IndyCar Series’ recent return to Phoenix International Raceway. Most of all the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix stressed the importance of building a quality setup in order to maximize the two things in abundance at ZoomTown, USA: speed and grip. At 1.022 miles in length, a 20 second lap goes by at a blur at nearly 190 miles per hour. Given all these factors, it’s no surprise that building a good car setup at Phoenix is extremely difficult and complex.
One thing that is clear from the return of the Verizon IndyCar Series to Phoenix are the struggles of Honda. Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 RLL Racing Honda, described the setup conditions as being very, er, challenging.
“Turn 1 and Turn 3 here are so different, so far opposite, to mix it makes it really tricky.” – Graham Rahal
“It’s hard, I mean it’s hard everywhere,” he said. “Everywhere’s a little bit different. It seems like today everyone is struggling to get the balance, but Turn 1 and Turn 3 here are so different, so far opposite, to mix it makes it really tricky.”
When asked what the hardest setup aspect to tune is at Phoenix, Rahal responded, “Everything, it’s all a part of it. Probably aerodynamics are gonna be really big, particularly going into the race. Make sure you have the right downforce levels and stuff. But all in all this is gonna be tricky. It’s gonna be a really, really, really hard race. Probably the toughest race of the year from the standpoint of just trying to make no mistakes.”
Fortunately for Rahal, he was able to finish in fifth place after qualifying nineteenth at a track where passing is extremely difficult.
Like Rahal, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud finished well at Phoenix. Unlike Rahal, however, Pagenaud did so with a Bow Tie logo adorning the nosecone of his Dallara . . . and a 2.2 liter, V6 Chevy behind his rollbar. Pagenaud, a fellow iRacer, started tenth and finished second.
In contrast to Rahal, Pagenaud had a more positive run up to the race and shared some comments on building a setup at Phoenix.
“The hardest part of building a setup is getting the mechanical setup right.” he said. “But you know when obviously when the temperature rises, your downforce level changes and the same with the set of [tire] pressure moving forward or rearward. You gotta find the exact fine tuning when you run as little downforce as you can in qualifying, those fine tuning details are so important.”
Perhaps the biggest difference in downforce is during qualifying. Pagenaud described the differences as a “huge difference. The thing is,” he continued, “that we’re able to run so much downforce now in the race, it’s kind of too much downforce to be honest for driving skills in my opinion. But in qualifying you’re really driving the car.”
“The hardest part of building a setup is getting the mechanical setup right . . . You gotta find the exact fine tuning when you run as little downforce as you can in qualifying.” – Simon Pagenaud
In summary, IndyCar racing or sim racing, building a good setup for Phoenix requires a lot of testing and fine tuning. The first step is to get the mechanical setup complete before making changes to aero. The first mechanical aspect to tune will be your cambers. The smallest banking at Phoenix is 3° on the frontstretch, with 10-11° in Turns 1-2 and The Dogleg, 8-9° in Turns 3-4, and 9° of banking on the backstretch.
My starting recommendation is for sim racers to set their cambers in the neighborhood of +3° on the left side, and -3° on the right side. Once you’re done testing the mechanical setup, you can move onto the aero side. Obviously maximizing underside aero is very important, then tuning topside aero to bring balance to the car and be able to manage traffic.
In qualifying, you’ll want to keep the max underside aero but trim out topside aero as much as possible while keeping the balance of the car so that you can drive flat-out during qualifying. Following this simple advice will help keep your car at the front of the pack and not in the wall like some IndyCar drivers.