This month's answers come from Alex Tagliani, Rob Edwards – technical director and general manager, Allen McDonald – chief race engineer and Michael McCormack, transport coordinator.
Congratulations on everything you achieved in Brazil! We're so happy for you! I wanted to ask if you worked out why the car was getting loose in the dry before Hunter-Reay got past you and whether it's something you can fix in time for the other street races? Melanie and Tim Reynolds
Allen replies: Thank you Melanie and Tim. The FAZZT team did a great job in Brazil and it says a lot for the huge effort of all the guys here that we were able to put in a competitive showing in our first race (and the talent of Alex!).
Yes, I think we have an understanding of what went wrong in the first stint in Brazil; the rear tire pressures (particularly) came up too high and we lost rear grip. Keeping a good handle on tire pressures is my job, so it was my fault! But it was especially difficult in Brazil with the very compressed Sunday schedule, the possibility of rain, etc. Also we do not run much on “reds” before the race, and they tend to be more sensitive with pressure management over a longer race stint.
My question is very simple: Did you realize you were going to be that good? And is that why you didn't go to the Barber test so that no one would know?! Liam Nash
Rob replies: I wish my crystal ball was that good, Liam! We go into every event knowing that the line between “hero” and “zero” is thin. That keeps us working hard and from hard work, hopefully, comes success. Not going to Barber was a judgment call based on the weather conditions. We'll see when we are there next month if it was a good decision!
Alex, you hadn't raced a car since Edmonton last year. Did you have any fitness problems in Brazil, especially with being beaten up by the bumps? Graham Stinson
Alex replies: No, with the help of our in-house infrared sauna from Sauna Expert and the gym at the shop, I was very well prepared, actually. Sao Paulo is not a physical track as the straight was long to relax and the grip level was low (!), so I was fine.
I guess this is to anyone in the team: are you expecting to be just as quick on the road courses as you are on streets? Your day will come. Hope it's in Toronto! Alan Kerr
Allen replies: Thanks Alan. Alex is a very talented street course and road course driver with great results on both, so we do hope to be competitive on all of those tracks. Even though we did not test at Barber, I believe we have a reasonable starting place for our road course setup when we go there for the race.
But the IZOD IndyCar Series is very competitive, too, and the strength in depth of the driver and team talent is really impressive this year. So, it's down to us; sometimes I think we will get a good start setup and make good changes, other times, unfortunately, we may not. Either way Alex will be driving as hard as he can!
Do you think they were right to stop the Brazil race for the rain? Considering how good you are in the wet, I'd have expected to see you win! Katie Price
Alex replies: Katie, Thank you for your kind comment about my skill in the wet; it is always really cool to run on a wet track, especially when you have a good car! But yes, I think the series made the right decision in Brazil. I think the rain was so big, with heavy drops coming down hard, that they had no choice but to stop. When you have that sort of rain with lightning and thunder, you take those things combined and it makes it unsafe for the cars on track, and when rain comes down that hard it makes puddles and accumulations of water around the track. Because the cars are so low, you can hit a puddle and hydroplane.
So, it's not just that it is slippery, but the other combinations that make the track unsafe. When it stopped raining hard and the thunder and lightning quit, and the IZOD IndyCar Series made sure there were no huge accumulations of water, then we went back to racing. It's good that the IZOD IndyCar Series always puts our safety first and that is what drives their decision whether to race in the wet or not.
I know you've just had a great weekend, but do you think there will be a time later in the year when having only one car might hurt you?
Rob replies: Good question Thierry! For sure, two strong drivers in two strong cars would be of benefit for the amount of information available to us. Two unequal drivers or two equal drivers without equal, adequate, funding would create an imbalance. Better to try and do one thing well than two badly.How different is the St. Petersburg track from Sao Paulo for things like track surface, passing opportunities, and how different is your policy on what tire compounds to use at certain points? Len Olsen
Alex replies: Len, I would say that the big difference between Sao Paulo and St. Pete is that in Brazil, the track surface was more slippery than it will be in St. Pete. At the track in St. Pete, the surface will change dramatically in grip because we are running three days instead of two…and the more tires on the track, the grip level goes up. So, if the temperature stays consistent, the track will get more grippy toward the end of the weekend and will be less bumpy than San Paulo. The other big difference between St. Pete and Brazil is the length of the track, so there is almost a 30-second-per-lap difference – which means your laps are shorter and the difference in lap time can be a much greater factor. The percentage in your lap times is much smaller so the time gap between cars will be much tighter.
As for the tire compound, this is what I've heard: The black tire is going to be a little bit harder than what we had in Brazil, meaning the difference between the black and red is going to be bigger. That is what the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone are trying to do to make a bigger difference in the tires. So the tire choice is going to be huge, especially in qualifying. If your car runs better on one type of tires, you are going to be penalized on the other. So the team has to work to compromise the setup between the two compounds. That difference in the compounds can create really good action on the track for the race.
I know you tested at Homestead already, but I wondered a) how much of what you run at Homestead can be used on other ovals; b) are you going to do another oval test before Kansas or Indy; and c) what do you think is a realistic target qualifying spot for Indy this year? Roger Martin
Rob replies: The test at Homestead helped define our car specification for the ovals, but the setup is always track dependent. We will test at the Kentucky open test before Indy. Our goal for qualifying is to be solidly in the field on the first day. As a new team going against a lot of experienced competition, I hope that is a realistic target!
After Sao Paulo, can we expect lots of similar performances at street races from FAZZT? Congratulations, btw! Sandy Harris
Alex replies: Sandy, that is a tough question because, internally, we feel we have done our homework very well and the group of people we have in place is tremendous, with very high-quality people. The performance in Brazil and our testing over the winter makes us very optimistic for the road and street races, but having said that, the biggest challenge we have is going up against more established teams. They have seasons of information and baseline setups and it will take us some time to gather that same amount of data.
We have the right people and good cars, but we are not always sure, as we are always trying to find what is best, from the minute we unload the car at the track. I think after three or four races we can accumulate a certain level of data on the street courses and road courses and have information to say, "This is what makes us fast and makes us better and that will help us get closer to the other teams that have all the data and baselines on the Dallara." So, while most of their weekend is fine-tuning and ours is still gathering information, I do think we have the right things in place to be competitive.
What's the schedule like for the truck drivers after Barber to try and get to Long Beach? Simon Keith
Michael “Mack” McCormack replies: Thanks for the question, Simon. The team will immediately load the transporter following the Barber race and my co-driver and I will drive non-stop to Long Beach. We operate with two drivers, which allows us to legally drive cross-country and only stop for fuel, food and short breaks. Our plan is to arrive in Long Beach Tuesday at the Queen Mary staging area for loading into the track.
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.