IndyCar goes to space (sort of) with NASA’s Orion capsule

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source: AP
NASA’s Orion capsule – which features design help from IndyCar data – made a splashy return to Earth today. Photo: AP/NASA.

It’s always interesting to see on-track technology utilized in off-track means, but this particular instance is certainly noteworthy.

NASA recently marked a successful test flight of the unmanned Orion capsule, which landed in the Pacific Ocean earlier today after soaring to a height of 3,600 feet and two orbits of Earth. And IndyCar helped play a role in making it happen.

As the series website explains, NASA engineers utilized IndyCar data from blind incidents dating back to the 2003 season to help them design a passenger restraint system for Orion crew members in the event of increased accelerations.

Part of that data includes information from crash data recorders on the cars and ear accelerometers used by drivers.

While the test flight capsule was unmanned, NASA hopes that a manned Orion capsule can one day bring astronauts to places such as an asteroid and eventually, Mars.

IndyCar director of engineering Jeff Horton notes that the seating system in a capsule like Orion has several similarities to those of the 230+ mph open-wheel machines.

“…NASA’s previous space capsules had a reclined seating system, so the G-forces were not unlike a rearward impact for an IndyCar,” he said in the above linked story. “Data from crash box measures how hard the car hits, so it takes into account any systems the car may or may not use – the rear attenuator, the safer wall, the seat.

“Also included in data is the angle of impact because it makes a difference when designing the seating system whether you crash backward or forward. Accelerometer data can be overlaid so we can see how the safety systems, which are the helmet, the headrest the forward head restraint work.”

Other organizations such as the U.S. Air Force also apply IndyCar data toward the creation of helmets, seats, and harnesses.

For more on Orion, head on over to NBC News.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.