The Indy 500 is one of the most famous events in racing. Held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the 2.5 mile oval track looks deceptively simple. But drivers will take its four left-hand turns at speeds approaching 240 mph, negotiating 200 laps, while racing in a field of 33.
Fernando Alonso wants to win it.
In fact, the two-time Formula 1 world champion wants to complete the Triple Crown — winning the Monaco Grand Prix, the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Indy 500. Nobody has done so since Graham Hill, who won at Monaco five times, Indianapolis in 1966 and Le Mans in 1972.
Alonso is taking time out of the current Formula 1 season to race at Indianapolis with Andretti Autosport. Without any experience of IndyCar competition, he used Honda Racing Development’s simulator to get a feel for the iconic circuit.
Built by Dutch company Cruden, the 6-DOF (degrees of freedom), driver in the loop, open architecture motion-based simulator combines high-end PC hardware running Linux, specialised software, detailed vehicle models, Lidar-scanned tracks and HD projection systems.
The Honda Racing Development simulator is based on Cruden’s M646-N3 model, which features an IndyCar vehicle mockup in front of a wraparound screen. Three Barco F50 projectors provide the visuals, each one with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels.
The car, screen and projectors are mounted onto a hexapod 6-DOF motion base, while the ‘car’ is equipped with a force feedback steering system. It’s as close to the real thing as you can possibly get. According to Cruden, Lidar-scanned track data “provides the most accurate circuit representation, from a reassuring bump in the track to the tree that signals a driver’s braking point.”
While a simulator is ideal for track familiarisation and testing different vehicle setups, it was just the start of Alonso’s IndyCar journey.
“The real car will be very different,” he told Autosport, “because in the simulator it is easy to go 370km/h [230mph] and not lift in the corners because nothing will happen… The real car will be a little bit more difficult, but at least I had the possibility to see the car to see the efforts that you need to do in the corners.”
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (aka the Brickyard) is an unforgiving circuit. There are no run-off areas. Miss a turn at 230 mph and you’ll smack into the outer wall, hard and fast. Better to crash virtually than to make a mistake on the asphalt.
“Probably my chance to win is a little lower than some of my competitors because I am lacking experience,” Alonso told the BBC. “But I have a lot of joy and commitment to learn as much as I can so it will be fun.”
Alonso misses the Monaco Grand Prix to race at the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which is scheduled for Sunday May 28.