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The Race Is On!

Most people know me as the editor of high-tech engineering magazines such as Defense Tech Briefs, Embedded Technology, Photonics Tech Briefs, and Lighting Technology. What they don’t know is that for the past 39 years I’ve maintained an exciting part-time career as an auto racing writer and photographer. In that time I’ve covered every form of the sport from Formula 1 to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, drag racing to monster trucks to the local dirt tracks where Sprint Cars and stock cars called Modifieds do battle every Saturday night. I love them all, but as an engineer, few forms of racing excite me as much as Indy Car racing.

Why? Well for starters, picture an upside-down airplane – because in aerodynamic terms, that’s what an Indy Car really is – that weighs 1565 pounds and is powered by a 700 HP engine. The thing travels well in excess of 200 mph and in the hands of a skilled driver it can corner like it’s on rails. Getting the maximum performance out of a machine like that takes more than a good mechanic with a pocketful of wrenches; it takes a team of engineers and technicians who plug their laptop computers into the car between practice sessions to analyze what the car’s various subsystems – engine, suspension, aerodynamics, even the driver – are doing at various points on the track. They then use that data to fine-tune each element to extract every last ounce of performance from the car. And when you measure performance in thousandths of a second, and millions of dollars could be at stake, there is little or no margin for error.

By its nature, the sport of Indy Car racing attracts some of the most high-tech companies in the world. This year, in conjunction with mega-distributor Mouser Electronics, Littelfuse, Inc. is co-sponsoring the #11 KV Racing Indy Car driven by 2004 IRL champion Tony Kanaan. Littelfuse manufactures some of the best electronic circuit protection devices in the world, and when you consider the amount of sophisticated electronics used in a modern Indy Car, the role played by circuit protection is invaluable. At the speeds an Indy Car travels, failure of any component can not only cost a driver the race, it could cost him or her their life, so reliability is every bit as important as performance.

Littelfuse getting into Indy Car racing came as no surprise, but what really piqued my interest about their involvement is a contest they’re running called the Speed2Design Sweepstakes that is designed to give engineers just like you an insider’s view of what it takes, technologically speaking, to make a modern Indy Car perform at its best.

Here’s how it works. Beginning April 30, engineers can visit the Speed2Design Web site and enter to win a trip to one of four Indy Car races where they will get to go behind the scenes and into the garages and pits so they can watch the driver and crew at work, ask them questions, and learn firsthand what it takes to win at one of the highest pinnacles of modern motor racing. It’s a side of the sport most fans never get to see and you can take it from me, regardless of what you may have seen on TV, nothing compares to actually being there when one of these miracles of modern technology rockets into the pits and a well-orchestrated crew changes four tires and adds a full load of fuel in under 15 seconds. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

The four races involved are the legendary Indy 500 on May 27 in Indianapolis, IN (entry deadline: May 9); the Firestone 550 night race on June 9 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, TX (entry deadline: May 19); the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on August 26 at Infineon Raceway in beautiful Sonoma, CA (entry deadline: August 4); and the Auto Club Speedway event on September 15 in Fontana, CA (entry deadline: August 25).

For each race, Littelfuse will select 5 lucky winners at random who will each receive a pit pass and reserved grandstand seating for the race, attendance at a special Speed2Design TechTalk private event where they can interact one-on-one with the racing team’s engineers, dinner with the group the night before the race, lunch at the track, hotel accommodations, transportation between the hotel and the racetrack, and a $500 AmEx gift card to pay for other travel expenses.

In explaining the concept behind this unique sponsorship promotion, Littelfuse President and CEO, Gordon Hunter, stated, “The demands on a machine traveling 200 MPH, the pressures, and the reliability required of the electronics system – all these factors require very challenging technology that other engineers truly value and understand. Our TechTalks will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for engineers to explore that technology in a very personal, accessible setting.”

The entry deadline for the first race – the Indy 500 – is May 9, so if you’ve ever wanted to be part of the 400,000 people who make it the so-called “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” I’d suggest you act now. Who knows….with a little luck, you could be one of a relatively small group of people who, like me, get to be part of the show instead of just part of the audience.

To enter, go to www.Speed2Design.com