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"Fast Cars"

PBS Airdate: August 19, 1997

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on NOVA, hurtling around the track at white-hot speed, the Indy racers know that even the tiniest mistake could be fatal.

LYN ST. JAMES: If you drive with courage, you'll drive into the wall.

ANNOUNCER: But can they safely engineer a better, faster car? How fast is fast enough?

WILLY T. RIBBS: At two hundred twenty miles per hour, you're travelling over a football field a second.

ANNOUNCER: The stakes are high for both driver and machine, as racers push the limits of speed in their "Fast Cars."

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CLIFF ROBERTSON: Auto racing is a sport that brings human and machine together at the outermost limits of speed. These are IndyCars, among the most refined racing machines in the world.

AUTO RACE ANNOUNCER: Well, you don't see these guys race any harder than that. They're really—

AUTO RACE ANNOUNCER: This is terrific, look at that, side by side! Whoa! Two world champions battling.

CLIFF ROBERSTON: For the elite few who drive these cars, racing is a voyage into an inner resource of mind and body.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I feel sometimes the car is an extension of my body. That's what I call the perfect combination, when you can feel every bump, everything the car is feeling in your body, and you get that information in your brain, and when that's happening, you are working like with a sixth sense that, even if you are looking ahead, you can feel if someone's coming around you. You know what's happening all around you.

LYN ST. JAMES: To me, it's the ultimate challenge of existence, and it's hard to describe, because when it's right, it's so right, you know, that you are almost in a euphoric state. I mean, it's just you become one with the car, and you just go off in, you know, into never- never land, almost. I mean, you're just flowing.

BOBBY RAHAL: I mean, there's no conscious effort. Everything just seems to happen. Those are fun—it's fun when it's like that.

WILLY T. RIBBS: And you get out of the car, and everybody is the greatest person in the world. You get out, take off your helmet. Everybody you see is just terrific, and you feel great, and the car responding, and I mean, you feel like Godzilla.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: In 1992, driver Bobby Rahal had one of the best seasons of his career. In a sixteen- race series, he placed well, and won four times to become the IndyCar champion. But Rahal wanted more. He wanted to win in a car of his own design. Phoenix International Raceway, November 9th, 1992. Rahal's hopes for defending his championship and winning the 1993 Indy Five hundred rest on this car. Today, it will be tested on a remote racetrack in the Arizona desert. From years of experience, Rahal knows that every other team will challenge him with better, faster cars, and exploit even the smallest advantage. Most IndyCars are designed and built by a single company in England. This car is one of a kind, the creation of a group of young engineers. It's a challenge that few take on. To meet it, Rahal has assembled a talented team which includes computer experts, design engineers, and a race car aerodynamicist. Rahal's partner in this bold experiment is Carl Hogan.

CARL HOGAN: All of racing is trying to get a little something more than someone else has, and it's a challenge that we've accepted, it's a challenge that we hope we will meet head- on, and will conquer, and if we do, it'll be wonderful.

BOBBY RAHAL: And there's an exclusivity it that, from a development standpoint, if nothing else, makes it better, although you live and die by it, too, you know, in the sense that if it's not good, you can't go copy someone else, either.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: The car's test begins with the first joining of Rahal and his machine. The team has already spent three weeks designing a seat that is perfectly contoured to his body.

BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah.

JIM PRESCOTT: We should just—get out and put the other one in, just so you feel the difference right now, but it looks like you're—

BOBBY RAHAL: A seat is very important, because you're flopping around, you can't read what the car is saying. You've got to be in there, and you've got to really feel, and the only way you can do that is by having a very good seat. You don't sit in this car, you wear it.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Over four million dollars has already been invested in Rahal's car. Its chassis is made of space-age carbon fiber, its engine is no larger than our everyday sedan's, yet it produces an astounding eight hundred horsepower. The team uses both radar and computers to help monitor the car's performance, but Rahal's seat- of- the- pants feel for the car will be the first real indication of its potential, and the changes that may improve it.

RAY LETO: We're going to try just some overall down force, or—the delta plates—

BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah. Another thing I would say is that, you know, it may want more rear spring.

RAY LETO: Mm- hmm, to get it to turn.

BOBBY RAHAL: To help it down in there, and I'm thinking this understeering you get right at the end, the thing's just sittin' there, and squattin', you know—

RAY LETO: Falling over on the right rear too hard?

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I think, my opinion, the most important thing for the driver is to describe to the engineer who is working with him at the track what the car is doing on every part of the track.

RAY LETO: A good test driver has the ability to go out and drive consistently every lap, so that he can feel the changes, and that's something that Bob has the ability to do, is go out and run a determined number of laps in the same way, and tell you what's going on. It's so important.

BOBBY RAHAL: I think the steering's so slow that I'm missin' it a little bit. You know, I'm not used to having to turn so much. Remember, at Indy, when we tried that? I could never get it into a corner, 'cause I was always late.

RAY LETO: Is that the right thing? I mean, are we hitting on the right thing?

BOBBY RAHAL: Oh yeah, that'll help.

RAY LETO: OK.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: On this first test day, Rahal reports an uncomfortable feeling in the corners, and this is reflected in his lap times. The new car is four- tenths of a second slower than last year's car. Although it seems a tiny margin, compounded over a five- hundred mile race, the new car would be seven miles behind at the finish. Rahal's problem is traction. The car doesn't provide the grip he needs to push it to the limit in the corners. It's a problem that any professional IndyCar driver understands.

WILLY T. RIBBS: Anybody can drive in a straight line at two hundred miles per hour. You could get in that IndyCar, and somebody could strap you in, and you could drive at two hundred miles per hour in a straight line, just go, shift the gears, get into sixth gear, step on the throttle, and will go two hundred miles per hour very easily. You could do it today. But, the limit in racing is cornering speed, not straightaway speed. It's the corners that make the driver and the car.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: The solution to cornering speed came from an unexpected source. As a teenager, Jim Hall built model airplanes. Later, his experience with these models would stimulate a revolution in race car design.

JIM HALL: I think it's basically total background that allows you to make a decision to go forward with an innovation of any kind. I think I've always been curious about things. I can remember my mom telling me that I took everything apart when I was a small child. She said I'd—she'd come in and find the alarm clock all over the floor, or something else taken apart, and of course, I wasn't capable of putting it back together in those days, but I am now, and I always wondered, "Well, how does this work?" "What makes that happen?" "Why does that do that?"

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Sebring, Florida, 1965. At the age of twenty- nine, Hall's curiosity has impelled him to take on the giants of international sports car racing. In a world dominated by Ferrari, Porsche and Ford, Hall wins this prestigious twelve- hour endurance race in a car that he built himself, in Texas. The car is named after a bird that is native to the American Southwest, the roadrunner, or chaparral.

JIM HALL: When we built the first Chaparral, it had a tremendous amount of life in the front end. In fact, on the straightaway, I could take it down, above a hundred and fifty miles an hour, I could turn the wheel from side to side like that, and it wouldn't even affect the car. The car would just go straight on. So it was almost lifting the front wheels right off the ground.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: In the sixties, race cars approached two hundred miles an hour, the result of more powerful engines and streamlining. But there was a price to pay. In their quest for speed, the designers had shaped their cars like wings, a shape that made them dangerously unstable.

JIM HALL: The cars were built low to the ground and flat on the bottom, and in so doing, the created lift, because when you've got a flat surface on the bottom and a curved surface on the top, the air has to go farther over the top, and therefore lower pressure, and the car lifts, and I guess the engineers of the time basically accepted that that was fact, that was the way life was going to be.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: But not for Jim Hall. In 1966, he introduced a new Chaparral, one with a wing.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Look at Jim Hall. Moving past Bruce McLaren and taking the lead in the race for the first time today.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Boy, he's got in it, for sure.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: The Chaparral's performance was brilliant, especially its ability to corner faster than other cars.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Let's see if Hall can hold it.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Boy, he sure is holding it. He's pulling away from Bruce. Look at that.

JIM HALL: What you're trying to accomplish is to load the car down into the ground so—with the aerodynamic force, so that the adhesion that the tires have is greater than it would have just from the weight of the car, and that allows you to corner and stop more quickly, because you've just got more friction with the ground.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Hall's idea was elegantly simple. The rear wing deflected the force of the wind downward into the tires, increasing friction and stability. Today, this is called aerodynamic downforce. Modern IndyCars have front wings, too, which provide even more downforce. But the most radical advance was the addition of venturi tunnels, a reshaped underbody to speed up the airflow between car and ground. This created an area of low pressure, which literally sucked the car downward toward the pavement. In high- speed corners, a modern IndyCar develops over two tons of downforce, more than enough so that it could stick to the pavement even if the track were turned upside down. Two months after the first test, Rahal is back at Phoenix with a modified version of his car. His lap times have improved significantly; the car is becoming competitive. At the end of the day, Rahal goes out for one last set of laps. Entering turn one at more than a hundred and seventy miles an hour, he suddenly loses control.

JIM PRESCOTT: Bobby's a bit sore in the shins and not very happy, probably, with himself, but you know, I guess just reached the limit of the car and unfortunately, the back end stepped out on it. You know, that stuff does happen, and we'll let him have one now and then. Make sure he's pushing it to the limit.

BOBBY RAHAL: Oh, it just snapped, you know, got away from me. It's happened before, but—although I must say, it didn't give you a lot of warning, you know. It was—one second it was good, and a split second later, it was gone. You know, we attributed that to a change we made, but, same token, you'd like to think that the thing wasn't that—you'd like to build some forgiveness into it, I think, you know.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Rahal's problem is the most dangerous kind of instability that a driver can face: a car that is loose. Without warning, the rear swerves out, and the car spins uncontrollably. This is triggered by a lack of grip in the rear tires. The opposite condition is called push. The front wheels lose grip, and the car pushes into the wall, nose- first.

JIM HALL: What you like in a race car is for it to go through the corner without the tail sliding too much or without the front pushing off too much, so it requires a balance of forces between the front and the rear tires.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: A car can be balanced by adjusting its wings. Tilting the front wing, for example, increases downforce and traction on the front tires. Tilting the rear wing increases the grip of the rear tires. The trick is to fine- tune the wing settings to balance the grip front and rear.

WILLY T. RIBBS: And when the car is doing everything it's supposed to do aerodynamically, and all the works, then you drive through a corner, and it's doing what you want. I mean, it's all yeses—yes, yes, yes. It's doing—it's responding to your will.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: This unique merging of mind and machine occurs only when a driver has total confidence in his car. It is a singular act of faith performed under the constant threat of extreme physical danger. Passing is the most dangerous maneuver on any track. It is also the key to winning. The accepted norm is that an overtaking driver must place his front wheels beside the cockpit of his opponent in order to take the lead, and they must often accomplish this maneuver in a corner, where their car is at its most precarious point of balance, and the driver is under extreme physical stress. On high- speed tracks, once every ten seconds a driver endures cornering loads of almost four Gs, four times the force of gravity.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: Our heart speed goes up to one hundred and eighty beats per minute, when you're driving fast, and to be able to concentrate, to focus when you're physically tired, the last hour of the race, you require like an athlete. People don't realize it, but most of the racing drivers are like a marathon runner.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: At Human Performance International in Daytona, an aspiring IndyCar driver works out to exhaustion in a test of his physical stamina. His heart rate will be brought up to a hundred and ninety beats per minute, just ten beats faster than what an IndyCar driver must endure for hours on end. Sports physiologist Jacques Dallaire studies the physical requirements of driving an IndyCar.

JACQUES DALLAIRE: We see such elevated heart rate responses in drivers during a race because it's a composite of a number of factors. Sure, there is an emotional element to that—a fear element, if you will, an anxiety, an excitement motivation—but that really represents a very low percentage of that maximum hear rate. Blood is a tissue. It has a mass. it's influenced by gravity as well. The G forces cause the driver to exert tremendous isometric contractions. The breath- holding that takes place in bracing, going into a corner under heavy braking, the high heat load under which they must work, drivers can lose as much as one to one and a half liters of fluid per hour in a race car. All of these factors influence, in a negative way, the return of blood to the heart. Because the body has to compensate for that low output by the heart, it spins up the system and says, "Beat faster, we need more," so the heart rate goes up and maintains the blood volume necessary to do all that physical work. It's a lot more physically demanding than most people appreciate.

LYN ST. JAMES: As far as what the experience is like, the physical experience, it's like sitting on an exercise bike wearing some kind of a sweatsuit that, you know, makes you really hold your heat in, and you put about two fifteen- pound weights in your hand, put a helmet on your head, and just sit there for about two hours, three hours, depending on, you know, how long you can tolerate that. And you move those weights, you pedal that bike, get your heart rate up to about eighty- five percent of your max capacity, and then have somebody with a ball- peen hammer beating on your body and your head, because with the vibrations and all the things that go in the car—the G forces and the vibrations—that's the kind of abuse your body's getting.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: The Garden City Boxing Gym, San Jose, California. With the racing season about to begin, Willy T. Ribbs trains for the mental and physical demands of competition.

WILLY T. RIBBS: To be a great fighter, I think you have to have a controlled aggressiveness, and that's the same with being a racing driver. I think you have to pick your spots in boxing to be able to win, and you have to pick your spots in racing to be able to pass. You have to—at the exact right moment, you've got to go by a guy, before you get to the corner. That's picking your spots. Or if he starts to slip a little bit, you get up underneath him. I mean, it's all split- second movement, and it's the same with boxing.

LYN ST. JAMES: Racing is really this blend, this mix of total aggression, brute force, energy, I mean, everything imaginable in that category, or that side of the scale, mixed with finesse and precision and concentration and a real touch and feel. So at first, you have to fine- tune the ability to be able to coordinate your vision and your physical reaction to things, and do that quickly and smoothly, with split- second timing and precision, and then the ability to react to the unexpected.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: For a race driver, one mental quality is essential above all others, an accuracy of timing that may be unequaled in any other sport. Lyn St. James works with sports psychologist Dan Marisi to improve her timing skills. In this test, Lyn must hit a button at the exact moment when the lights reach the end of the track. The accuracy that is necessary in racing is so refined that it's measured in milliseconds, one one- thousandth of a second.

DAN MARISI: Timing is critical in any activity or sport. Even in the world of business, timing is critical. When you're going at speed, two hundred miles an hour, two hundred and twenty, two hundred and thirty miles an hour, timing becomes even more critical.

WILLY T. RIBBS: At two hundred and twenty miles per hour, you're traveling over a football field a second—over a football field a second—so, in a split second, I mean, by the time you've made a reaction with the steering wheel, you've gone fifty yards or more.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: March 21st, 1993, Surfers Paradise, Australia.

RACE ANNOUNCER: All right, the field comes into alignment now. The first race in the IndyCar season is about to begin. The green flag comes out.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: This is the first of three races that lead to the big test at Indianapolis. Here, Rahal and his new car are joined for the first time in competition. On this course, temporarily laid out over city streets, the car finishes in sixth place, a good result for its first time out.

RACE ANNOUNCER: So now the field comes into full alignment. Scott Goodyear in his first pull brings the field toward the green flag.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: But two weeks later in Phoenix, on the same track Rahal crashed while testing the car, the results are quite different.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Rahal goes a lap down to the leaders very early on in this fight.

RACE ANNOUNCER: A lot of—you remember that Rahal, right there in the center of your screen, we're on board with him now, won this race last year, and his success on the one- mile ovals was the centerpiece of his championship effort. He is not doing well here today, and this is going to imperil his chances for defending his championship.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: After only twenty- nine laps, Rahal's car has become so loose that he is in danger of hitting the wall.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Bobby Rahal comes in as well. Of course, he's been struggling with his car throughout the day.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Rahal is forced to abandon the race, a serious setback for the team. Two weeks later, it's Long Beach, California. On a race course similar to the one in Australia, the car reveals its true potential for the first time.

RACE ANNOUNCER: This is turning into an outstanding performance for Rahal. Suddenly, as you said, he's menacing for third.

CARL HOGAN: We did some good testing after Phoenix, and we started to get some feedback that started to tell us a little bit about the car. And then Long Beach, I think, the whole weekend we—each day, we made progress, and we could see it, and we started to feel good inside that we were starting to do something right. And Bobby drove a beautiful race, and we had good pit stops, we had good strategy.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: During the last laps of the race, Rahal moves into second place. The teams knows that the car has made a big step forward.

BOBBY RAHAL: It went from the lowest low at Phoenix to a pretty good high at Long Beach, and if nothing else, it just shows the intricacies and the sophistication involved, and how the smallest things can make the biggest differences. And all this has shown this month, I think, in my estimation, is that while there are some very good things about the car, there are some things that aren't very good.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: The car's failure at Phoenix haunts the team., in spite of near- victory at Long Beach. Day and night, during the few weeks that remain before the Indy Five Hundred, they seek an answer. Is the problem mechanical, a defective part, perhaps? Or is it more basic—a flaw in the car's overall design? The fist clues come from computers that have captured the car's performance during each of the three races. By superimposing this record of performance on the layout of the tracks themselves, a pattern begins to emerge. Australia and Long Beach are twisting road courses, with high- speed straits, and tight corners taken at slow speeds. The need for aerodynamic downforce is much diminished. the car's basic suspension becomes critical, and here Rahal's new machine performed brilliantly. But ovals are built for constant high speeds. In the corner, a car must produce enough balanced downforce to maintain its traction and stay on the course, and this is where Rahal's car may be failing.

BOBBY RAHAL: After this month, and after Phoenix, you know, I think you would say I think we've got a pretty good road- racing car, but I don't think we have a very good high- speed car, and we need to address that issue.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: To help solve the problem, aerodynamicist Gary Grossenbacher has designed a rear wing that he hopes will increase downforce at Indy. With little time left before the Indy Five hundred, the wing is tested at Ohio State University's wind tunnel. It's attached to a sensor that will measure both the downforce and drag that the wing generates. Giant fans at one end of the wind tunnel produce an airflow of a hundred and fifty miles an hour, not quite up to the speeds at Indy, but fast enough to evaluate the wing's performance. The team seeks a trade- off between downforce, which is needed in the corners, and drag, which slows the car on the straights. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to increase one without the penalty of an increase in the other. The wing's efficiency is measured by a ratio, which compares downforce, also called negative lift, against drag. For two hundred and twenty- six pounds of negative lift, the wing generates only thirty pounds of drag, a ratio of seven to one. But Grossenbacher knows that a wind tunnel simulates only the most ideal conditions. What will happen when the wing is attached to the car? How will it affect overall balance on the track? Time has run out. The team must answer these questions in the heat of competition. Gasoline Alley at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Working for a month, Rahal's team has practically produced a whole new car, which they hope will solve the problems experienced at Phoenix. Its underbody has been shaped to correct the car's dangerous instability. A new rear wing and a revised front wing complete the aerodynamic package. Grossenbacher is anxious to find out how these changes will perform on the track. Rahal's top speed at the end of a long straight is good, two hundred and thirty- two miles an hour, so aerodynamic drag has been reduced. But from the cockpit, Rahal reports the car is pushing in the corners, as if it might swing wide and hit the wall.

BOBBY RAHAL: Especially, as I started to go quicker, I didn't think that the car was—like I came in there, and I'm going , "Holy shit," you know, I mean, it went through there all right, but it just—everything seemed to be happening real quick. Now, that could be me.

JIM PRESCOTT: Yeah.

BOBBY RAHAL: But even getting into two was better Now. But I still need to tie it, and make it a little more comfortable everywhere.

DESIGN TEAM MEMBER: Those are some pretty big lifts, really. Look at in the three, the wobble.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Rahal's discomfort is reflected in computer data that records his performance all around the track. The computer shows that Rahal is lifting his foot from the throttle in the corners. His speed is almost fifteen miles an hour too slow.

GARY GROSSENBACHER: Your corner speed in turn one and two is really low, and all I'm saying is, you know, I appreciate your saying that when you come out of the corner, it was way down in revs, 'cause obviously the corner speeds are.

BOBBY RAHAL: The car tried to get away from me, and I really had to get out of the throttle. It's been a frustrating experience for us. As you turn into the corner, the car begins to roll and pitch, where it begins to tuck the front end, and as it does, the left rear comes up and gives the car a very unsettled feeling, which is what we have been sort of feeling with this car all along. This is—this could be a chassis imbalance, could be an aero imbalance. You know, one can—they're not separable. You know, one can lead to the other.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Under the terrific forces of cornering, a car pitches and rolls, continuously changing the relationship of the venturi tunnels and wings to the track. This affects the distribution of downforce on each of the car's four tires. To minimize a car's motion, adjustments are made to the suspension, but these adjustments will, in turn, affect the car's aerodynamic balance in ways that are difficult to predict. So many adjustments are possible, and the relationship to aerodynamic balance is so complex, that finding the car's perfect setup is extremely difficult. And at Indy, where the cars enter these corners at more than two hundred and twenty miles an hour, finding it is critical.

LYN ST. JAMES: Well, I've been told that, particularly in driving an IndyCar, that if you drive with courage, you'll drive into the wall. You have to really feel what the car is doing, and you have to really be in tune with the car. When the car's right, the car's easy to drive.

WILLY T. RIBBS: But when that car is wrong, and I mean, one hundred- thousandth of an inch wrong, I mean, two degrees wrong in the wings, or something—right?—when the car is wrong, then it's going to be very evil.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Thursday, May 13th. After struggling all week, Rahal's team finds the elusive balance he needs to drive fast. In the cool at the end of the day, he turns one golden lap at two hundred and twenty point five miles an hour.

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, we felt we had made progress, and that the car was beginning to respond to things. You know, you do one thing, and you get an effect, and it's a positive effect. We were running competitively with what other people could run, in the main.

RAY LETO: We're into the real fine tuning now. We're in that window that we need to be in, and yesterday to today, we picked up a little over two miles an hour with some very small changes, and so from there, hopefully, the next three or four miles an hour is the same thing, just small changes.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: But the temperature rises on Friday, the day before qualifying. In the heat, the car reveals an evil side of her nature once again. Rahal struggles to achieve two hundred and sixteen miles an hour.

BOBBY RAHAL: Friday, weather changes, what have you, a different story. You know, the car, all of a sudden, doesn't respond to what we did the previous day. it doesn't, you know, do what we think it's going to do.

CARL HOGAN: On a cooler day, we seem to be able to dial the car in pretty good. We get pretty good grip, we get pretty good downforce. It seems when the weather gets warm, it's hot, this car is more sensitive than some of the other cars we've had.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Finding the precise adjustments to balance a car at Indy is like playing a chess game in three dimensions. One dimension is the car's aerodynamics, another its suspension, and the third is the changing environment in which the car must operate. All IndyCars are sensitive to temperature changes. As the temperature increases, air density decreases, so the wings and underbody produce less downforce. In the heat, Rahal feels his car once again pushing outward, toward the wall.

BOBBY RAHAL: And I still need, I think, more overall downforce.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: This is the last day of testing before qualifying. The situation is now critical.

RAY LETO: It's very inconsistent, and he doesn't really have the confidence to just drive it into the corner. He doesn't—he doesn't know where he's going to end up with it.

BOBBY RAHAL: It depends on the day. You know, one day I have confidence in it, and one day I don't, because when the day it doesn't react the way you think it's going to react, then all of a sudden, you're saying, "Now, well what in the hell is it gonna do?"

CLIFF ROBERTSON: May 16th, 1993. With the car's problems still unsettled, Rahal must attempt his first qualifying run. As he takes to the track, his team is concerned, not only for his speed, but for his safety. He qualifies in twenty- fifth place out of thirty- three cars that will be allowed to race. His speed, two hundred and seventeen point two, is disappointingly slow. During the next week of practice, the solution to the car's problems continues to elude the team.

CARL HOGAN: You know, I'm just sort of emotionally wrung out right now.

DESIGN TEAM MEMBER: It's a little frustrating. It's like we're always a day behind. If we can get the push out of it, it means instant lap speed. I mean, there's no doubt about it.

CARL HOGAN: You know, we're used to running up front; we're used to qualifying well, and right now, it's very frustrating, and maybe even somewhat embarrassing, truthfully.

RAY LETO: We're up against the wall, and you know, you don't get the results you're looking for. So, you know, everybody gets a bit disappointed because of that.

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know. I just don't know why it won't do that. It has been a very difficult month. I can't tell you how many nights I've awaked at three in the morning, wondering, thinking what—you know, what is it? What is it looking for?

CLIFF ROBERTSON: In the waning night hours, the car is completely torn down in a futile search for a broken part that might explain its deviant personality. The mechanics name her Sybil, because of her changing temperament, stable and poised for a few laps, only to turn dangerously inconsistent on the next. The last day of qualifying. Thirty- three cars will be allowed to race, and thirty- three cars have now qualified, with several yet to go. Rahal is in last place. If just one car beats his speed, he'll be out of the race. Six cars try, six cars fail in the last hour before the track closes. His slot in the race now seems secure. But now driver Eddie Cheever begins his qualifying run. Cheever is Rahal's most formidable opponent. He is experienced and courageous, and in this last- ditch effort, he is determined to qualify. Cheever presses to the limit.

RACE ANNOUNCER: And it is fast enough. The defending national champion and former Indy winner, Bobby Rahal—what story the next ten minutes will bring.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Uncertain about his car's performance, Rahal must once again attempt to qualify. The morning has been overcast and cool, but now, as Rahal takes to the track, the clouds thin and the temperature rises. This will be the last qualifying attempt. Rahal will have four timed laps to average better than two hundred and seventeen point two- three miles an hour. Rahal's first lap is two hundred and seventeen point three- six, just fast enough. On the next lap, his car becomes unstable in turn four and swings wide toward the wall. Rahal lifts off the gas. His speed drops to two hundred and sixteen point eight, four- tenths of a mile an hour too slow. On the last two laps, he struggles to make up the difference.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Now for the complete story on Bobby Rahal, fourth lap back up to two hundred and sixteen, but it's too slow. He is not in the—

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Bobby Rahal is out of the race. Neither Rahal nor his team has ever experienced such a defeat. After seven months of unceasing effort, it leaves them stunned. In this moment of humiliation, rival consoles rival. Beneath the veneer of fierce competition, these are comrades on arms. Seconds from the worst defeat in his racing career, Rahal chokes back his emotion to present a trackside interview.

BOBBY RAHAL: It's going to be an odd Memorial Day for me not being in this race, but we'll be back next year, and I just—it's—going around, you know, you saw the people in the stands clapping, and that's what makes this place so special, the fans, so I'd like to thank them for backing us this month, and we'll go get 'em again.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Racing is a cruel sport, Rahal has often said, a sport in which winning is everything. But in this moment of defeat, he shows there is much more to being a true champion. Memorial Day weekend, 1993, the seventy- seventh running of the Indianapolis Five Hundred. More than half a million spectators are gathered here, more than for any other sporting event in the world. In just a few moments, the drivers will be called to their cars.

LYN ST. JAMES: In reality, other than the fact that it's the biggest race in our careers, it's just another race. You do the same thing for this race that you would do for any other race. It's a little harder to execute, because there's more distractions, there's more demands, there's more commotion, there's more of everything. But it—there isn't anything special you have to do. You just have to do what you do better, and just be able to call it up. So, you know, I'm cool.

WILLY T. RIBBS: The one thing about racing that's different from other sports, you cannot—you're in your own world. Once your helmet's on and the engine's fired up, you're tuned into that, whether you want to be tuned into it or not, because you can't see the outside world, and you can't hear it. I mean, it's like going in the twilight zone, because you have locked yourself out of humanity. For two hours, you're in that world, and it's not until the race is over that you come back to earth, and come back to humanity again.

RACE OFFICIAL: Ladies, and gentlemen, start your engines.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I do a mentalization, visualization before the race. That's to clear the mind of everything else that you have before you drive the car. I think you cannot see the photographer, you cannot see the press around you, you have to be blind at that time. I try to visualize things that have to happen, because I think our brains work as a computer. If you project the image before, when things happen, you already know that they are going to happen. You are not behind. You are on top of the situation.

RACE ANNOUNCER: We're just about ready to go. Here they come, through turn four, they're lined up perfectly. The crowd roars, they stand, the engines—

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Emerson Fittipaldi begins the race cautiously. Allowing other drivers to sprint into the lead, he runs in seventh place. He knows this race is a test of endurance that will unfold over the next two and a half hours.

LYN ST. JAMES: Well, in other sports, you always get a chance to have some kind of a time- out or a chance to recover. In racing, there is none of that. There's no chance for recovery, there's no chance to kind of gather your wits about you, so it's incredibly intense.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Lyn St. James stops in the pits for fuel and tires. A little over halfway through the race, she is running in the middle of the pack in a solid seventeenth place.

RACE ANNOUNCER: And Lyn St. James is just ahead of Mansel. Emerson Fittipaldi just passed by Mansel.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: With fifty laps now remaining, Fittipaldi moves forward to duel with the leaders.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Fittipaldi inches up on Scott Brayton.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Bobby, we talked about the engine battle, of course.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Morrison inches up now as Fittipaldi moves inside Brayton and moves around him.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: During the race, your brains have to work in three different channels, what the car is doing at that present moment, what you have to do the next two or three seconds ahead of you. When you are looking at a corner, you have to anticipate two or three seconds. That's the second channel. And the third channel is the strategic for the race, when you're going to come to the pit, who is behind you, who is ahead of you, where you are, how much fuel you have on board. And it's difficult to work these three channels together, but you have to do it.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: In one of the most dangerous moments of his race, Fittipaldi passes Mario Andretti in turn one.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Mario's sitting up high. Fittipaldi comes down to the inside, and they battle side by side, Fittipaldi and Mario. And Fittipaldi surges to the front, Mario back to second.

WILLY T. RIBBS: There is a trust factor that you have between each other. There is an unwritten code. I want to beat you, and you want to beat me, but this is where the line is drawn. In that respect you can call it a bond. You definitely do not go to harm each other at all. At all.

RACE ANNOUNCER: It's not going to be a cakewalk for Nigel, though. Right behind him is Fittipaldi.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: With only twenty laps to go, Nigel Mansel leads, but Fittipaldi is second.

RACE ANNOUNCER: We'll stay with you now. There remain twenty laps, and they've just completed the one hundred and eightieth. It's fifty miles to go in the Indy Five Hundred.

LYN ST. JAMES: Racing, it takes a hundred percent of everything that you've got to work with. And then there's the whole mechanical part of it. I mean, that's only you, as the human being, and they' you've got to become one with a mechanical piece of equipment that you basically are in control of but have no control of.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: With the race entering its final laps, a yellow flag signals danger on the track.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Yellow once again. The yellow light has blinked on, apparently for Lyn St. James.

RACE ANNOUNCER: There's Lyn St. James, a great run, very disappointing for her to go—

LYN ST. JAMES: About the time you think you've got your act together something will go wrong, guaranteed, and will throw you a curve. You think you've got in handled, and then the engine quits, or the tire goes.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: Lyn's transmission has failed. Her retirement brings a pause in racing while her car is cleared from the track. The drivers now line up according to their race positions. A green flag will signal the restart, a critical moment which the leaders will seek to exploit.

RACE ANNOUNCER: This restart, it'll be critical. And here they come, the green flag flies.

RACE ANNOUNCER: We are back to racing, and Emerson Fittipaldi makes amove on Nigel Mansel. He's got him going into one, but Luyendyk is also right there.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Oh, they went side by side, and Mansel fell all the way back to third place. Gerry, we've got them coming right—

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: When I took the lead, I knew everything I had to do from the time I would start putting the power down in turn three. To pull away from them has to be perfect. I could not miss a gear. I had to put it at the right time. And I think all my intuition, all my anticipation was focused.

RACE ANNOUNCER: The white flag is out, one more lap to go for Emerson Fittipaldi. Half a lap to go, the fans on their feet, waving to Emerson Fittipaldi. He's traveling down the white line, out to the wall, heading to turn four for the final time.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Emerson Fittipaldi. He's coming through four. He's smooth as glass. He heads for the start/finish line, the checkered flag.

RACE ANNOUNCER: Emerson Fittipaldi takes the checkered flag and wins the seventy- seventh running of the Indianapolis Five Hundred. What a race, won this afternoon by Emerson Fittipaldi.

EMERSON FITTIPALDI: I did the quickest lap two laps before the end. That shows how much I had everything on my surface, on my feeling, and it was great. I think that was the best I had done for many, many years of racing, and I think all my intuition, all my anticipation was focused. With all that pressure I had, I mean, to be leading Indy the last twenty laps is a lot of pressure on anybody. I mean, any human being, it would be a lot of pressure there.

CLIFF ROBERTSON: For Lyn St. James, the race is a victory in spite of her car's failure. By lap one hundred and seventy- six, she had climbed to fifteenth place, a performance that shows she has what it takes to race with the best drivers in the world. Willy T. Ribbs finished twenty- first, but for him, this is just the beginning. He'll be back next year, and with more experience, he looks forward to climbing to the top. For this elite group of drivers, racing is a passion that carries them beyond the boundary of the physical world, into a singular moment of harmony at the very limit of their potential. By the end of the '93 season, Bobby Rahal placed fourth in championship points, a remarkable recovery from his defeat at Indy. For the moment, Rahal has abandoned the dream of building his own car, but his quest continues. Just a month after the series ends, the team secretly tests a new engine. It is an irony that a sport that seems so fierce may demand the most delicate touch, that a contest that seems so individual cannot be won without the enduring effort of so many others, that as our machines evolve, they may push us yet to a new realization of our own human potential.

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