Autonomous Cars at IMS: Some F1 Thoughts

Photo: The winning car in the Indy Autonomous Challenge from the Technical University of Munich. IMS photo.

Saturday’s Indy Autonomous Challenge provided an interesting look at the future of cars-driverless, computer controlled machines, best suited for regular driving, but not for racing. I found it unnerving to see a car controlled by a team of people sitting around a computer instead of being driven by someone in the cockpit. I hope racing never comes to this.

For the record, European teams dominated the day, making the final three in a shootout looking for the best two lap average. The fastest lap was by the Europe team at just over 139 mph, but a programming error caused the car to slow to about 90 mph on its second lap. The team programmed one lap too few into the car.

The winning speed achieved by the TUM team, from Munich, Germany was 135.9 mph. Some cars hit 155 mph down the front straight.

I would not be concerned about these cars running in the 500 in our lifetime. They did have engines, and it was nice to hear the sound on the track, but I don’t see the same rooting interest for a machine as there is for a driver.

Andretti and F1-Deal or No Deal?

First reports said the sale was complete. Then another report said that Michael Andretti needed another 250 million Euros to complete the purchase of the Alfa Romeo team.

The anticipated announcement of an American F1 team did not happen in Austin over the weekend. Having a team from the USA announced at the US Grand Prix would have been most appropriate.

We might know something by the time of Grand Prix of Mexico in two weeks, but I’m thinking the deal is off the table. Colton Herta fans can relax for now.

The Crowd

Attendance at the USGP in Austin was mind boggling- 140,000 yesterday for the race and 400,000 for the weekend. The race day crowd exceeds the 135,00 who were allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500 in May. Can the USGP repeat this number next year?I think that is what we need to keep it in perspective.

I’m seeing a lot of hand wringing by some outlets and on social media about how F1 is now more popular in the US than Indycar is. Let’s consider some things, though.

I’m not dismissing the great job the organizers did in getting a crowd of that size, but here are some circumstances that may have led to the huge attendance. First, this was the first US Grand prix since 2019. Many fans are thrilled at the return of racing and don’t want to defer going to a track they have always wanted to visit.

Second, COTA has always had huge draw from Mexico, which also lost its Grand Prix in 2020. There may have been an even larger contingent from south of the border. The crowd in two weeks in Mexico City may be even bigger.

Third, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen have brought legions of fans to every grand prix this season, and those fans at the last five races will continue to grow.

Some people credit the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” with an increase in F1’s popularity here. It may have something to do with it, but to swell the Austin crowd that much? I’m not sure.

My question is, how many fans were from the United States?

The Race

As far as the race goes, it was one of the better USGPs. It was a strategy race, which I enjoy. Max Verstappen’s tire strategy of pitting early gave him an edge over Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen increased his lead in the standings to 12 points over Hamilton with five races left.

Barber Test

Indycar etsting continues at barber today. The weather should be decent- temperatures in the mid 70s with only a 15%chance of rain.

Andretti will eb testing with Devlin DeFrancesco and Kyle Kirkwood. DeFrancesco is rumored to be set in the 29 while Kirkwood’s status for next year is still uncertain.

AMSP will test former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg as the team considers a third car for 2022, perhaps part time before a full time run in 2023.

The A J Foyt Racing test with Logan Sargeant has been cancelled as Sargeant signed late last week with the Williams Driving Academy.

Autonomous Challenge- The Future of Racing?

This Saturday Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the Indy Autonomous Challenge, a competition for autonomous cars. The cars are the products of engineering teams from 21 universities from nine countries. $1 million in prize money is at stake. My understanding is that this is not a race. The event hopes to encourage high school STEM programs as well as develop the driverless car concept.

While autonomous cars seem to be making some inroads on the streets and highways, are there implications for racing? For now, no one thinks so, but perhaps someday in the very distant future? I hope it happens after I am gone. I don’t think there will ever be an Indianapolis Autonomous 500.

I assume the track is open for viewing, but the IMS website doesn’t sya anything about spectators.


Sebastien Bourdais has signed with Chip Ganassi Racing to drive one of his Cadillac DP1 cars in IMSA fulltime in 2022. He hopes to still race for A J Foyt Racing when his schedule allows. The IMSA schedule has five conflicts with Indycar. Both series share weekends at Detroit and Long Beach.

Bourdais plans to continue helping develop the 14 car. Foyt is still putting together sponsorship for next season and will take a look at other drivers as well.

Monday’s test at Barber may provide more focus for the 2022 grid. Seats are getting filled, and some of the drivers testing may end up on the grid at St. Pete.

Foyt will be testing Logan Sargent, who has been on the F1 ladder the last two years.

David Malukas, 2021 Indy Lights runner-up, will test for dale Coyne Racing.

Ryan Hunter Reay is scheduled to be in the 20 for Ed Carpenter Racing. Hunter-Reay may run the road and street courses for ECR if Conor Daly doesn’t return.

Former F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg will have a test for Arrow McLaren SP. This is an exploratory test. Hulkenberg may run a few road races for AMSP in 2022 in a third car. He may be more interested in a full time ride in 2023.

Indy lights champion Kyle Kirkwood and Devlin DeFrancesco will be in Andretti Autosport cars. DeFrancesco is thought to be locked into the 29, while Kirkwood is still looking for a full time spot. Nothing against DeFrancesco, but this seems backwards.

Indy Autonomous Challenge Begins New Era of Innovation at IMS

Photo from IMS website

The Indy Autonomous Challenge, set for October 23 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ushers i n a the next wave of automotive innovation. IMS used to be a proving ground for safety and other aspects of passenger vehicles. Modern racing has pushed that mostly to the side. This event, featuring autonomous vehicles, seeks to return the Speedway to its role as a developer of advanced automotive progress.

The release from IMS:

January 11, 2021 | By Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Energy Systems Network (ESN) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), organizers of the Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), today unveiled the official race car that will be autonomously driven by scores of university teams in the world’s first high-speed, head-to-head autonomous race at the Racing Capital of the World on Oct. 23, 2021.

The primary goal of the IAC is to advance technologies that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), leading to increased safety and performance. In addition, the IAC is a challenging competition to excite the best and brightest university students from around the world to engage in hands-on engineering firsts.

“The Dallara-built IAC race car is the most advanced, fastest autonomous vehicle ever developed,” stated Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of ESN, and co-organizer of the IAC. “Our IAC sponsors are providing radar, lidar, optical cameras and advanced computers, bringing the value of each vehicle to $1 million.”

The IAC is scheduled for Oct. 23, 2021, at the IMS, with a qualifying simulation race during the Indy 500 week in May. The total IAC prize purse is $1.5 million: $1 million awarded to the winning team of the October IAC race, and an additional $500,000 for winners of the hackathons and simulation races, awarded by IAC sponsor, Ansys.

More than 500 undergraduate and graduate students, PhDs and mentors who excel in artificial intelligence software have responded to the challenge, representing 39 universities in 11 countries on four continents and 14 U.S. states.

Inspiration for the IAC was the DARPA Grand Challenge, as explained by 2005 winner, Sebastian Thrun: “The DARPA Grand Challenge proved that robots can drive themselves in very confined environments, but that they don’t have the agility and skill of a really well-trained human racecar driver to act in extreme situations. IMS is the best place in the world to challenge the robotics community to test self-driving cars. By going into a racing context, we will stretch self-driving cars to the absolute limit.”

The Modified Dallara IL-15 Autonomous Race Car

Since 2002, Dallara has been the sole race car supplier of the Indy Lights series, and now the modified Dallara IL-15 is the official IAC racecar.

“Dallara is the best race car engineering company in the world, yet designing the chassis for autonomous racing was really challenging,” explained Stefano dePonti, CEO and general manager of Dallara USA. “Dallara loves innovation and technological challenges, and we share the IAC’s passion for education and motorsports.”

The modified Dallara is retrofitted with hardware and controls to enable automation to enhance safety, control and performance. Components include rugged-edge on-board computing, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, perception systems, high-end graphics processing units (GPUs), drive-by-wire, and artificial intelligence acceleration and powerful central processing units to run IAC teams’ software and algorithms in the racecar.

One of the challenges for autonomous racing is solving edge case scenarios – challenges that occur only at extreme operating parameters, such as avoiding unanticipated obstacles at high speeds.

“We know how the world’s best race car drivers react in the Dallara, in high-speed scenarios, but now we have to anticipate the actions of a robot,” added dePonti.

Innovation at IMS

IMS has been a catalyst and proving ground for motorsport and transportation innovation since its inception in 1909. IMS hosts the crown jewel of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, the Indianapolis 500 — annually the world’s largest single-day sporting event. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is North America’s premier open-wheel racing series.

“The IAC is going to bring the best minds from around the world to solve a very complex problem, right here at the Racing Capital of the World,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “As the birthplace of motorsports’ innovation, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a fitting setting for this event, and we can’t wait to see the winning entry cross the Yard of Bricks into history.”

IAC Sponsors and Contributors

Indiana Economic Development Corporation, ADLINK, Ansys, Aptiv, AutonomouStuff, Bridgestone, Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), Dallara, Microsoft, New Eagle, PWR, RTI, Schaeffler and Valvoline. See for more information about these amazing companies realizing autonomous mobility.

About the Indy Autonomous Challenge

The Indy Autonomous Challenge (IAC), organized by Energy Systems Network and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is a $1.5 million prize competition among universities to program modified Dallara IL-15 race cars and compete in the world’s first autonomous head-to-head race around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 23, 2021. Racing at speeds of up to 200 mph, the primary goal of the IAC is to advance technology that can speed the commercialization of fully autonomous vehicles and deployments of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). These enhancements will lead to increased safety and performance in all modes of racing and commercial transportation. In addition, the competition is a platform for students to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

There Is Some Other News

Good morning on the third consecutive day that Roger Penske hasn’t bought anything.  A few other news items actually happened.

Indy Autonomous Challenge

Universities will compete for a $1 million prize in a race for self-driving vehicles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway October 23, 2021. The contest was announced at the SEMA show in Las Vegas.  Teams will use the Indy Lights chassis and develop an autonomous car.

Read the full story here-

While this may be the future of road cars, i hope we never see the 500 become a race for either  autonomous or electric cars . While the race will be intriguing, I would n’t want to see an entire series with these vehicles.

Aeroscreen Cooling the Last Remaining Issue

The NTT Indycar Series Aeroscreen testing has encountered some fortuitous weather during the test sessions.  Barber provided a test of the new protection device in the rain. Tuesday’s test at Sebring allowed the drivers to see how heat will affect the car.

It appears some helmet modifications will occur to get more air to the drivers.

From indycar. com:

From the photos I saw from  Sebring, the aeroscreen is barely noticeable at speed. It will probably stick out more during the pace laps and caution periods.

Open-Wheels 500

An iracing event, the Open Wheels 500, has begun practice. 104 entries will vie for 33 spots in this weekend’s qualifying for next weekend’s race. The Pit Window sponsors next Saturday’s Pit Stop Competition. I will post reports every other day on activities relating to the event.

From race director and Open-Wheels owner Tanner John Watkins: is hosting a 500-mile race (at Indianapolis) on the popular iRacing Motorsports Simulation. Individuals from around the world (104 in total on this year’s entry list) will attempt to qualify for a spot in the field of 33 this weekend, and those 33 will run a full 500-mile race at iRacing’s scanned Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, November 17.

iRacing has long been considered the most authentic motorsports simulation (not video game) available to the public – primarily due to their laser scanning process that replicates every bump, crack, and characteristic of racing surfaces for our favorite tracks… from Indy, all the way to the Nürburgring.

You can find more information at Click the OpenWheels 500 tab at the top.

There was some confusion about my post yesterday. I hope this clears things up.

Meyer Shank Announcement Tomorrow

Meyer-Shank racing will announce their 2020 plans tomorrow. Jack harvey should be driving for the team again, which is expected to have an alliance with Andretti Autosport. Meyer Shank planned to run the full season. We’ll find out tomorrow.