MANAGE THY TIRES
Coming off of last month's IndyCar Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Park where the freshly ground track surface and Firestone's new road course tires produced amazing grip but questionable durability, many teams spent the opening day of practice on a severe tire ration.
Recognizing that keeping as many fresh sets as possible for Sunday's race could be the difference between winning and losing, some of the fastest drivers spent Friday managing tire life across the two practice sessions rather than going for a bogey time to gauge outright speed.
Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (ABOVE LEFT) was 12th fastest Friday afternoon, but wasn't worried about turning up the wick in qualifying.
“We were very disciplined with the tires this afternoon, not taking a second set, which is why we're down in the charts right now – we never took the second set like most of the rest of the field,” he said. “I'm feeling pretty good about tomorrow; we need to make a few changes to stay ahead of the track development but other than that… we'll see in the morning. I think we're a top five car right now so I'm happy about that.”
BOURDAIS 20TH, BUT UNCONCERNED
Dragon Racing had a forgettable season debut at St. Petersburg, and based on Friday's time sheets, it looked like the misery had continued for Sebastien Bourdais, but the four-time Champ Car champion told RACER
there was no cause for concern.
“It's better than it looks,” he said. “We're capable of being in the top 10. Every time there was a delay or a pack of cars, we couldn't get a clear lap. After that we just kept working on it and got ready to do a lap at the end like everybody else on new tires; they should have been worth four-tenths, but then [E.J.] Viso stuck it in the gravel trap and we didn't get to do a run. It's not as bad as it looks, but we still have to go out there tomorrow and do it. It's ‘TBD'…To Be Done..
HAPPY HONDA CAMP
The panicked look that most Honda teams, drivers and personnel wore on Friday two weeks ago at St. Pete was noticeably absent at Barber, thanks to the pace shown by a number of entrants.
With its engines registering a P2-3-4-6-9-10, almost the inverse of St. Pete where Chevy all but locked out the top 10 in practice and qualifying, the Honda Performance Development gang was able to leave Barber at a normal hour thanks to things going according to plan.
“This is only day one of a 3-day weekend, but it's encouraging,” said HPD technical director Roger Griffiths. “We're not patting ourselves on the back. We've still got a lot of work to do, but this is a welcome change from St. Pete.”
Asked if the difference in tracks – a switch from the stop/start St. Pete street course to the rolling Barber road course – played a role in Honda's up-tick in performance, Griffiths believes there are a few factors which played to its favor.
“We seem to do better on these kinds of tracks, as do our teams,” he explained. “For whatever reason it went that way, nobody was satisfied with their performance at St. Pete, least of all us. The flowing nature of the track fits our drivers and the smooth, consistent nature of each lap is also important.”
BLUE WHEEL SPECIAL
All of the cars competing this weekend under the Ganassi stable—IndyCar, Grand-Am and NASCAR—are sporting blue-colored wheels in deference to the "Race With Insulin Unites" campaign created to promote diabetes awareness.
Ganassi IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, who was diagnosed with the disease while competing in Euro F3, is sporting a new promotional slogan this weekend and continues to expand Novo Nordisk's use of motorsports to drive attention to its products.
ALLMENDINGER GETTING THE FEEL
Team Penske's AJ Allmendinger wasn't as fast as expected during pre-season testing, but after ending Friday in eighth, the former Champ Car star admitted his Chevy-powered Dallara DW12 chassis is starting to give the necessary signals to extract more speed.
"I feel like I can now start telling the team what I want from the car," he said. "I'm at least starting to be able to read the car a little bit. At the test at Texas last week, I was able to start adjusting the [anti-roll] bars because I was feeling it, so I'm getting there with the setup and what it wants. It's nice."
He said the next step is to predict what the car will need from session to session.
“We had understeer in the first session and worked on it to fix it, and we did, but we went too far, so then we had to come back in the other direction in the afternoon and chased it a bit. But I'm getting there. I'm beginning to know what direction to go.”