The evolution of the IndyCar steering wheel

MADISON, Ill. – We are just over five weeks out from the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, the hottest ticket in town.

IndyCar is growing in popularity. One of the reasons is the superior race cars. Described as jets on wheels and traveling at speeds over 200 miles per hour, these high-tech machines are worth $500,000!

But the most vital part of the car is the steering wheel, which costs about $50,000!

“From our seat in the cockpit, that’s the brain of the racecar for us, gives us all sorts of information,” said James Hinchcliffe, the #5 driver for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

“It has all the information from the engineering that gets to the driver,” said Eric Labao, client services manager for Dale Coyne Racing. “So any type of input from the track to the engineering stand, it’s going to directly go through the steering wheel.”

Drivers have to know this carbon fiber wheel packed with state of the art technology as well as they know the backs of their hands. Gone are the days of a circular wheel that just steers the front tires. The wheel is now an integral part of the car.

“It controls adjustments in car that we make from inside the cockpit. To the handling of the car, to the start of the stint to the end of stint, in traffic or running upfront, how you control the clutch and the gears, so many control elements for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s such an information piece for us; without it, (you) couldn’t drive a modern IndyCar.”

The LED screens on the wheel show multiple pages of information. The driver shifts through the pages for what they need at any given moment. This also includes tire pressure and temperature, differences in weight balances the car has for a specific race.

“You want to think of how crazy this is, you are going 200 plus, there’s no power steering in the car and you also have to take in information here and adjust on the fly with your steering wheel,” Labao said.

Each wheel is form-fitted to a driver. The clutch is on the back of the wheel. Drivers use it to shift up and down as they compete on the track. Pushing the correct buttons at the proper time can make the difference between wins and losses.

“You have to think about what’s happening at 220 miles per hour. Your head is shaking, helmet shaking, sun glaring in your eyes, are you pushing the right button and putting the right mapping on that they're asking for?” Labao said.

When the Bommarito 500 takes place at World Wide Technology Raceway, IndyCar teams will be setting up their car and wheel specifically for the oval-shaped track.

“The biggest thing on an oval you'll see in St. Louis, this is these jacker buttons. It allows the car to be as flat as possible and as fast as possible going into those turns,” Labao said. “For you fans out there in St. Louis, I know you're going to see a great race. We just hope you get a chance to come see us up close.”

The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 race weekend is August 23 and August 24.

Get your tickets now and for special offers go to Bommarito.com.

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