Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Robby Gordon v. Danica Patrick

It has come to my attention that Kelley of Suburban Blight has taken issue with Robby Gordon over his comments regarding possible unfair competitive advantages enjoyed by Indy Racing League rookie driver Danica Patrick. Kelley accuses Mr. Gordon of, among other things, being a "loser" and a wimp" because of his remarks. For what it's worth, I'll throw my two cents in on the subject. I agree with Mr. Gordon's comments, and wholly disagree with Kelley's. The issue is whether Mr. Gordon's position, that Ms. Patrick enjoys an unfair competitive advantage, is warranted. The point of having a sanctioning body for a given motorsport is to ensure fair competition, where driver versus driver is the defining competition. The means to acheiving this end usually involve some sort of standardization of the other half of the racing component, the car. The International Race of Champions (popularly known as "IROC") is one example of this. Quoting from their website: Take 12 of the world's top drivers, from different types of racing, put them in identically prepared IROC race cars, give them a set of rules which virtually eliminates the variables usually associated with racing (no pit stops, no qualifying, no driver set-up of the cars, etc.) and wave a green flag at them. In my opinion, the other end is represented by Formula 1, wherein the technological side is equal to, if not superior to, the driver's skills in importance. I would suggest that most other asphalt-based motorsports are somewhere in between. This includes the Indy Racing League and NASCAR, two American-based series. With those preliminaries aside, let us consider the question of whether Ms. Patrick enjoys an unfair competitive advantage. An unfair competitive advantage can be many things, from a fuel cell that holds more fuel than the sanctioning body allows, to a more powerful engine than allowed, or any other thing that goes outside the boundaries of that particular series' rules. I do not, however, suggest that strict adherence to the letter of the law is the sole standard; I would prefer that something above and beyond mere rote compliance be sought. The general rule in motorsport is that a lighter car is usually preferable. A lighter car confers several advantages, some of which are detailed below: 1. Acceleration 2. Fuel economy 3. Braking 4. Handling Any one of these four factors alone can be determinative of success in any given race; in essence, they are the heart of what a car builder strives for. Ms. Patrick enjoys advantages in each of these categories due to her relatively low (100 pounds) weight when compared to the weight of other IRL drivers. In detail: Acceleration - Given roughly equivalent horsepower, gearing, driver reaction times and aerodynamics, a lighter car will always out-accelerate a heavier car. Acceleration is important throughout a race, for the following reasons. First, when a start occurs, the lighter car will be able to close in faster on the cars ahead of it, or more quickly open a gap between it and the cars behind. In a late-race restart, these sort of intervals can be crucial. Secondly, the lighter car will respond better in turns. Normally, drivers brake to some degree when entering a turn, either through active braking or by simply backing off the throttle. The lighter car will be able to regain speed more quickly than a heavier car when coming out of a turn. Inasmuch as most races involve a number of turns (roughly 2,000 800 at the course hosting the Indianpolis 500), quicker acceleration out of the turns can be crucial. Fuel Economy - Fuel economy is usually quantified as the amount of laps that a given car can go on its load of fuel. Here again, Ms. Patrick's weight is valuable to her. The IRL mandates that all cars must weight 1,525 pounds before driver and fuel are added. Given that cars probably have a fixed maximum amount of fuel, driver weight is the only remaining variable. Once again, assume equivalent cars in terms of horsepower, gearing, driver reaction times, and aerodynamics. Also assume that the two cars are driven in the same manner. The lighter car will have better fuel economy than the heavier car, and will probably be able to complete more laps per fueling. To obtain the same speeds as the lighter car, the heavier car will need to be driven with a higher rate of fuel consumption, thus shortening the number of laps available to the latter car. Such an advantage, if used properly, can be devastating. Cars that run out of fuel generally do not win races. Braking - The ability to brake is vital in any race that involves turning. A lighter car will have less inertia entering a turn, thus reducing the amount of braking force required to successfully negotiate a turn. This translates into less wear and tear on the brake system, along with other advantages. Ms. Patrick theoretically will require a shorter braking period and will be able to come off of that shorter braking period taking advantage of her superior acceleration as she exits the turn. Once again, this sort of circumstance can be of tremendous advantage to a driver, as the driver would be able to either gain ground on those ahead or open the gap between the following cars. Handling - Altering a vector (i.e. changing direction) is an action which requires sufficient force to overcome inertia. The greater the inertia of a given object, the greater the force required to alter its vector. A given object's inertia is generally equivalent to its mass. As the Wikipedia puts it, "An object with small inertial mass changes its motion more readily, and an object with large inertial mass does so less readily." Ms. Patrick's car, having less mass than those of her competitors, will change its motion/alter its vector more easily. Her steering burden, if you will, is less than that of her competitors over the course of the race. For the foregoing reasons, I believe that Mr. Gordon's remarks are entirely justified and that Ms. Patrick possesses an unfair competitive advantage. A car driven by Ms. Patrick would perform better than the same car driven by someone else, due to Ms. Patrick's weight disparity. Kelley also makes several assertions in her article that I consider either inaccurate or unwarranted. -Comparison of the Indy Racing League to the circumstance of Annika Sorenstam is unwarranted. To properly establish a comparison between Sorenstam and Patrick, Ms. Sorenstam would somehow be able to hit the ball harder than say Vijay Singh, benefit from using a lighter ball, and perhaps have shorter distances of play. The advantage that Ms. Patrick may enjoy could be of that magnitude. -Mr. Gordon did not participate in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 not because of Ms. Patrick, but because of pre-existing commitments to his NASCAR Nextel Cup team which was racing in Concord, North Carolina. Mr. Gordon has raced in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 for the past four years, and was prevented from doing so this year only because of a change in the Indianapolis 500's starting time. The CNN/SI article is incomplete in this respect. In summary, I believe that Mr. Gordon's opinion was warranted. Yahoo! News has this article dealing with the issue. I would regard calculations coming from the Penske organization as highly reliable, due to their long-standing tradition of technical excellence in motorsports. Examining the starting grid, it appears that 0.8MPH is significant. A difference of 0.8MPH in qualifying speeds is the difference between starting from the pole and starting in eighth place. In motorsports, miniature advantages matter greatly. If the IRL asked me, I would suggest that a rule change would be necessary. Weigh the car (1,525 pounds) with an equal load of fuel for every car and the individual driver in it. Measure that all-inclusive figure against a "Standard Car Weight", and either add or remove ballast as necessary to meet that figure. However, it appears from the Yahoo! article that the IRL is not contemplating a rule change at this point in time. UPDATE: As usual, I'm behind on the news cycle, but I don't care. A lot of bloggers rallied to Ms. Patrick's defense, usually focusing upon ad hominem insults towards Mr. Gordon. Additionally, it seems that many posters and commenters display a considerable level of ignorance when it comes to motorsports, but then that shouldn't be surprising. It is, after all, the blogosphere we're talking about. I'm pleasantly amused by the fact that the oh-so-intelligent blogosphere can't even spell Mr. Gordon's first name right. I do, however, also note that a couple of people took the basic line that I did, pointing out that Mr. Gordon's position was pretty much defensible. They were of course shouted down, but that doesn't change the fact that I think they're right. I'd be interested in knowing the split in opinion between those who are veteran fans of the sport, and those whose knowledge of the sport began with a FHM pictorial for Danica Patrick. Put bluntly, would Ms. Patrick be so aggressively defended if she wasn't considered to be attractive? I think not. Anyways, here's some of the reaction, uniformly negative: Backcountry Conservative Outside the Beltway Wizbang Kevin Drum Full Throttle Doug Petch The Q Speaks Don Singleton I'm still looking for actual posts that defend Mr. Gordon. Click here to see what Technorati has to say about it all. UPDATE II: OK, I found something from The Unofficial Everybody's NASCAR Nextel Cup Blog. This fellow seems to have a solid handle on the situation. There might even be a case of some good old fashioned media bias or ulterior motives. Yee haw. Also, this fellow has some mathematical figuring that supports my findings. So far as I know, it's the only mathematical work that anyone's done, other than "Robbie (sic) needs to lose weight!!!!!" Here is another individual not buying into the hype regarding Ms. Patrick. -The estimated number of turns involved in the Indianapolis 500 has been revised; the track is 2.5 miles long and the race is 500 miles; 200 laps are necessary. 200x4=800. I had previously estimated off the cuff that it was 500 laps in length, which would lead to the earlier 2,000. The error is regretted. UPDATE III: It seems that even the National Review crowd is getting into this. Kathryn Jean Lopez weighs in, favorably quoting the following: This guy sounds right: "I thought race car drivers were real men, not whining children. So, this woman weighs less because she is a woman. The men are probably physically stronger because they are men. Should their steering be adjusted to make it harder for them to turn because they have this strength advantage over a woman driver because they are probably stronger than she is? " Her correspondent is wrong. As I laid out earlier in the Handling section, Ms. Patrick's car would not require as much force to overcome its inertia. Any "strength gap" would probably be nullified. Oh, and by the way: IRL cars probably use power steering, to boot. The small size of the steering wheels and the small driver's cockpit doesn't leave a lot of room to work with in terms of steering motion.


At 1:09 AM, Blogger tmk said...

I haven't seen many posts defending Robby Gordon, but this one is quite well put together. Kudos.

If people could spend their time actually undertanding what the man said rather than bash him because what he said was unpopular (and misinterpreted), we'd all probably be a lot better off.


At 6:19 PM, Blogger Marc said...

I note you linked my site as uniformly negative (Full Throttle), I'll take slight issue with that.

Was I negative in how Gordon stated what he did? Yes, but not just because of this incident. He has a long history of making ill advised comments. So much so his sponsors have required contract language that protects them from Gordons occasional rantings.

I did generaly agree with the substance of what he said. I don't agree the advantage given is much to worry about. Example: You cite a fuel mileage advantage. Well where was it. Patrick ran low on fuel, turned down the boost and it cost her 2 positions in the final standings.

Advantage given by a 0.8 differential in qual speeds? That difference amounts to about 60 feet from the pole position and the outside of the fourth row, hardly significant.

And then there is this little shot given by you: "A lot of bloggers rallied to Ms. Patrick's defense, usually focusing upon ad hominem insults towards Mr. Gordon. Additionally, it seems that many posters and commenters display a considerable level of ignorance when it comes to motorsports"

Followed up by this: "The estimated number of turns involved in the Indianapolis 500 has been revised; the track is 2.5 miles long and the race is 500 miles; 200 laps are necessary. 200x4=800. I had previously estimated off the cuff that it was 500 laps in length, which would lead to the earlier 2,000. The error is regretted."

Regrettable? No it just shows how disengaged you are from Indy and the IRL in general.

That would be called pot-kettle-black.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger The Country Pundit said...

Response posted here. Thank you for stopping by.


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