DALLARA CHICANERY – No road or street course corner this season has eaten IndyCars quite like the man-made front straight chicane at Baltimore, or, as some called it over the weekend, “The Dallara Chicane.”
The need for one, for IndyCar, came first when Simon Pagenaud provided some spectacular aerobatics in Friday morning's first practice. But fascinating as it was to watch, it was apparent the weekend couldn't continue without one. The chicane began with two sets of tires on Friday (LEFT), with the tires then removed entirely on Saturday and on Sunday, one set put back in place as a compromise.
After Pagenaud, six other drivers had accidents at the chicane throughout the weekend. JR Hildebrand sat out qualifying after his Saturday morning, while in Round 2 of knockout qualifying, Ed Carpenter narrowly escaped from a higher hit of the curbs and Justin Wilson wasn't so lucky.
“I barely got my hands off the wheels in time,” Wilson noted. Carpenter's driver coach, former Atlantic series champion Lee Bentham, joked, “We used eight of our nine lives on that one!” as Carpenter's nose raised maybe four to five feet off the road before landing and not hitting anything.
Two things strike you as an onlooker at that moment. The first is the incredible ability of the drivers to flick their hands so quickly to have made it through the chicane. Most of the drivers reduced their speed, did the quick left flick before the corner then immediately cut back right as the car was rotating at the first apex.
The second was the different lines. Most drivers tended to hit the curbs flush at apex, while Power, fastest all weekend, reduced speed more then most entering the first apex then accelerated harder out of the second. Pagenaud also stood out, but by doing the opposite – hitting it harder through the first and bounding over the second.
The chicane also claimed Mike Conway, who qualified second but started 12th per an engine penalty, Graham Rahal (also in qualifying), Carpenter again and Simona de Silvestro. Only Carpenter's and de Silvestro's shunts came during the race.
Carbon fiber shards and front wings laying around have been few and far between of late, but the chicane ate its fair share over the weekend.
PAGENAUD'S MOVE OF BRILLIANCE – Pagenaud started the weekend with his “wow” moment on Friday, then topped it on Sunday with a restart that will goes onto the list of amazing restarts dominated by the likes of Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter.
Restarting from sixth on lap 36, Pagenaud used his push-to-pass to rocket on the outside of four cars to second by Turn 1, then shift to the inside of Hunter-Reay to grab the lead on the exit of the left-hand Turn 2 kink. It was, by anyone's account, a candidate if not outright winner for “Move of the Year.”
“I should thank my fellow competitors for letting me by there,” he said. “I think I just timed it perfectly. My car was amazing in braking for Turn 1, so it made things a lot easier for me there and I made quite a few passes.”
THE UNHERALDED GOOD WEEKENDS – Conway, Carpenter and Charlie Kimball won't have gotten much press for their end results Sunday, but were quietly three of the most impressive performers of the weekend.
Carpenter has obviously struggled on the road and street courses compared to the rest of the field. That being said, knowing his status, he's been very adept and smart about banking an early flying lap in his group, with the hope that someday it could strike gold if a situation presented itself as it did Saturday in Baltimore.
Rahal's accident left several big names from advancing out of that group – Hunter-Reay biggest among them – yet Carpenter, Conway, Kimball and Bruno Junqueira all made it through to the next round. Eleventh on the grid for Carpenter became eighth when three grid penalties were assessed in front of him.
That had to have made it all the more frustrating when Carpenter, from a career best road or street course grid spot, then made his race mistake at the chicane. As he said on the radio at the time, he was mad at himself for throwing away a chance at a great result.
“Better to show improvement then run last and finish last,” he added, also failing to finish a race for the first time in the series' 14 races this year.
Conway – who speaks about as frequently as IndyCar had cautions at Edmonton and Mid-Ohio – came out of nowhere to qualify second. But dropping to 12th per his grid penalty, he was stuck in the mid-pack action early and a spin by Helio Castroneves dropped him down the order. He'd recovered nicely before his late-race accident, nudged into the tire barriers and on top of Wilson, at the well-placed Conway Street.
Perhaps Kimball's weekend was the most impressive of his career thus far, even more than Toronto. Although by default, Kimball was on pace to outqualify Rahal for the first time this year, and then nearly squeaked into the Firestone Fast 6, just outside it in seventh.
Like Conway, he started 10 spots worse but as he has done several times this year, steadily moved up the charts and ran as high as second and third. A late-race engine failure took him out of another potential top-10 result. After a fraught return weekend in Sonoma, this was a good bounce back weekend for the Californian.