CHAMPCAR/CART: Trap Speeds Do Not Tell the Whole Story

Fastest Isn't Always First - by Marc Sproule, CART.com Editor The information age has made things easier for us nosy reporters who want to know things that race teams don't always want us to know -- things like how fast their cars are in a ...

CHAMPCAR/CART: Trap Speeds Do Not Tell the Whole Story

Fastest Isn't Always First - by Marc Sproule, CART.com Editor

The information age has made things easier for us nosy reporters who want to know things that race teams don't always want us to know -- things like how fast their cars are in a straight line.

It wasn't long ago that we had to rely on the teams to tell us how fast their cars were. Sometimes -- perhaps quite frequently -- we didn't get straight answers. It's not that the teams lied to us; it's just that they were understandably reticent about their numbers.

Now we have people like CART partner Omega to help us out. Not only does Omega provide lap-by-lap information, but it prepares performance data that used to be considerably less public like trap speeds. The trap speed is clocked when a racecar travels past the three fastest points on the track -- not unlike getting caught in a speed trap by the smokies.

At Homestead the fastest cars were the Reynards of Juan Montoya and Adrian Fernandez, Honda and Ford powerplants, respectively. Both of them ran at the same speed, just a tick faster than 220 mph. Cristiano da Matta's Toyota and race winner Greg Moore's Mercedes powered them to the same top speed, just a little over 217. The moral of Homestead? Being the fastest in a straight line isn't always the fastest way to the top of the podium.

The next stop was Motegi. Like Homestead, it's an oval but with considerably faster speeds. Top speed in that event went to Moore's Mercedes Reynard (and, no, it wasn't when he was going down the front straight backward). His speed was nearly 234 mph. Montoya had the fastest Honda speed at just under 232 and a half. Helio Castro-Neves had the fastest Ford speed in his Lola -- 231 and some change. Robby Gordon and Scott Pruett tied for fastest Toyota honors in their Reynards. Their top speed was nearly 230.5 mph. Fernandez won this one -- and he wasn't the fastest in a straight line. We have the same moral, but a different motor taking the winner to victory circle.

Long Beach is basically two drag strips with some twisty bits tying them together. It doesn't necessarily follow, however, that fast in a straight line means fast in the twisty bits too. Nor does it mean that a quick lap time comes from having a fast straight-line speed.

Fastest in the traps was Christian Fittipaldi in his Ford-powered Swift, the first time a Swift was the fastest for one of the engine manufacturers. He topped the charts at nearly 186 mph. Honda honors went to Montoya's teammate Jimmy Vasser, and Moore was once again the fastest Mercedes driver. They were both just under 184. Gordon was once again the Toyota leader at nearly 183. Montoya didn't even get over 180 -- and he won the race.

This is sounding familiar, isn't it? We'll look at these numbers again later in the season to see if anything changes. Don't be surprised it if doesn't.

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