This month's questions are answered by driver Alex Tagliani, general manager and technical director Rob Edwards, chief race engineer Allen McDonald, assistant engineer Robert Gue, tire specialist Mark Easley and client services manager Megan Lundgreen.
I wanted to ask, if there hadn't been a full-course caution at the end of your first qualifying run at Barber, where you think you might have been on the grid at Barber? Because that low grid position seemed to really ruin your chances.
Good luck for the rest of the year.
Rob replies: Good question Alan. Certainly the caution in qualifying didn't help us but in all honesty, there were a couple of issues with the car that also compromised our speed. I think we would have made the group of twelve but I'm not sure we would have made it to the fast six. As you know, when it came to the race the result was as much about strategy as speed.
Well done for your year so far. I think you have been better than anybody expected. How many sets of tires does a team get at road course races, how many blacks, how many reds and is it different from street courses?
Robert G replies: For both the street and road courses we are given a total of nine sets of tires with six of those sets black tires, and three of those sets red tires. The rules state that a brand-new set of red tires must be used in the race, so one set is saved just for the race. It is up to the teams to decide how to use the tires, but most use blacks in practice and then use two sets of reds in qualifying, depending on which round they make it to.
At Barber, did you learn anything about the car that will help you at other road course circuits? Also, what would you have needed to happen for your pit stop strategy to work? I notice also that Kanaan and Wheldon used the same strategy.
Good luck from a fan in Philly!
Allen replies: Hi Steve. Yes we learned a lot at Barber. With Tag not having been there before, and it being our first road course as a team, there was a lot to take in and really that was what caught us out in qualifying. Barber is a very tricky track both from a set up and driving perspective; starting from a blank sheet of paper made it very tough. Tag knows most of the other road courses, we have more experience of them as a team, and we really learned a lot at Barber, so I'm confident we will be in better shape than we were at Barber. I think the strategy in the race worked out OK for us; we had a confusing meter read after our second stop and had to tell Tag to ease off in his last stint, other than that I think he would have been really fast toward the end of the race.
Alex, I knew you hadn't been to Barber Motorsports Park before, but how many other circuits on the IndyCar schedule have you not been to? And how long does it take you to feel confident that you know everything you need to know about a track? (I know you've been to Mid-Ohio, because I used to be there on the main straight cheering for you and Patrick Carpentier back in your Forsythe days.)
Alex replies: I guess after 10 laps you know the track, but to push the car to the limit and find the right setup to create the perfect combination between the car and track, so you could maximize your car on the, track it might take 2 good practice sessions. I think that is what we had, but then one small thing which we ended up sorting out in qualifying probably cost us a top 10 starting position: that yellow in the first session would have required our setup to be sorted out by then. But things like that could happen anywhere, and that is why our team did great: They called a different strategy and we had the speed to back it up in the race to recover from it.
OMG! How were you were so fast in Kansas?! You outqualified two Penskes! Your decision to keep people working back at the shop on your oval setup has paid off. Was Mr. Timmermans there to see you do so well?
Rob replies: Thank you for the kind comments Cora. It's always fun to be fast and we all enjoyed the weekend at Kansas (in fact, Tag can't wait to go back!). Certainly, being able to have Alex Timmermans back at the shop while we were at the road and street course events was a big part of how well the weekend went but the whole engineering team work together to decide on the package that we take to the track. On the speedway races the build quality of the car is also a big factor and all of the crew should take the credit for that aspect of our performance.
This is not a question, but a thank you to Alex for being so kind and polite and friendly with our son Nathan during the autograph period at Long Beach. You have won over a six-year-old fan who now cheers for you and has named his pet rabbit “Tag”.
Alex replies: It is the least I can do, Jay, and I really appreciate the support. We all deserve it at FAZZT. Thanks for your time and kind words, the boys are really working hard to continuously surprise everybody. Nathan: I hope your rabbit is real FAZZT. If you send a request via the mail to our shop, with a photo of you and your rabbit (the address is on our website) and you register as a member, I will send you my 2010 Long Beach visor signed.
Simple question: what went wrong at Long Beach? I was expecting to see Alex on the podium. Also, perhaps not a simple question, do you think it's time to change the circuit a bit so there are more passing places? I've got to say, even though I was in a T-shirt and shorts, I was actually praying for rain to mix up the field.
Rob replies: We were certainly hoping for a podium, Robert. Unfortunately, on our first pit stop we had a problem and didn't get enough fuel in the car to get to our planned second (and last) stop. We had to pit again on lap 46 and needed help from caution laps to get to the end of the race without stopping again. The average amount of caution laps at Long Beach is 18 percent which would have been 15 laps but luck wasn't with us and there were only five laps of yellow. Only twice in the previous 18 years (2004 and 1994) have there been so few caution periods. Just not our day!
As for the track there are actually two, maybe three passing spots, so as street circuits go the layout is pretty good.
Is Kansas really flat-out all the way round in qualifying? If so, what can a driver do (except not go over the white lines like Marco and Wheldon!)? How different is it once you're in race trim and with a full tank of gas?
Anyway, congratulations on a great result. I think a lot of people thought you would go backwards during the oval part of the season.
Alex replies: Yes it is flat all the way around. First, you need to know that I think it's 90 percent the preparation, the love and passion you put into the details of putting the car together from the demand of the engineers. So I have to take my hat off to the boys at the track and the shop and the engineers of our team. As a driver you have 10 percent left to take care of: have the guts that it is going to stick in qualifying, and make sure that you feel the difference between having grip and being stuck down with aero. That is how you can help your engineers to set the car up for the race. To answer your question about the differences in the race, your car has a lot less of both because of the dirty air. So it's very easy to confuse a good car in qualifying with a good car in the race.
I had a thought the other day: does Firestone let you mix your tires? If you had oversteer, could you put reds on the rear but keep blacks on the front to try to balance it out?
Mark replies: Thank you for the question. IZOD IndyCar Series rules mandate that you are not allowed to mix red sidewall tires with black sidewall tires. At oval races we are allowed to mix within the black sidewall tires to create an optimum stagger set. This can definitely help with understeer and oversteer issues. At road and street course venues, we rely on front wing adjustments and tire pressure adjustments to change the balance of the car.
Would you know if there is any tour operator in Montreal organizing a 2- or 3-day trip to the 500, whether by plane, coach or otherwise?
Thanks a million,
Megan replies: Unfortunately, we don't know of anyone organizing anything at this point. You can always go to www.brickyard.com and see if there are any ticket packages available through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as that is probably the best hope. We can say that if you come to Indianapolis, we are planning on putting on a really good effort and would love to have you there in person cheering on the FAZZT Race Team.
Thank you for your entries, and apologies if yours wasn't one of the ones included. Keep sending your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will publish the best of them next month.