Here's more from the streets of Baltimore, where the IZOD IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series headline a doubleheader weekend.
CONCERNS NOT UNFOUNDED – Without proper time to walk the track given a lack of street closures until late Thursday night, there wasn't an ample amount of time to sample what was to come before opening practice Friday morning. Cars bounded and took off over the railroad tracks on the Pratt St. frontstraight, the most notable coming from Simon Pagenaud.
“Honestly, I think the railroad tracks are gonna be a bitch,” JR Hildebrand said prior to first practice, only semi-jokingly. “It's not even the ride height that's a concern. You can go over (the bumps) once, but 80 laps is going to be a challenge.”
“There are tracks that are bumpy – that's not so much the concern,” added Alex Tagliani. “There's a lot to deal with in putting on a street race like this, mostly dealing with the city and that's not a job we need to deal with.
For Justin Wilson, the bumps were particularly bad and brought back bad memories of his accident last year at Mid-Ohio where he injured his back.
“There's going over the train tracks but there's also a big bump into (Turn) 1,” he said. “That last one is where I almost felt a sharp pain in my back – was worried I'd have flashbacks. Honestly I think it's worse than San Jose.”
Wilson and Dario Franchitti were in agreement, noting that drivers were in favor of no chicane in advance of this race to help aid passing and create more excitement for the fans. Of course, later Friday the series and track installed a temporary tire chicane on the front straight to reduce the opportunity of cars launching. Finally, overnight, the chicane went back down to two curbs and the tires were removed.
The change once the chicane was added has affected gear ratios – as Tagliani opined, had the series only gone with grinding along the frontstraight, cars could have ran out of sixth gear if they were only planning to grind and not add the chicane. But now, that concern is alleviated.
DISJOINTED SESSIONS THUS FAR – The first three practice sessions of the weekend were run in completely different conditions, with no chance to establish a rhythm or level of consistency. Friday's morning session was first with no chicane and the aerial acrobatics performed by Simon Pagenaud, with the second session then adding the temporary tire chicane, and this morning's third round run in a mix of wet/dry conditions.
Somewhat jokingly, two “chicane” Twitter accounts popped up after the tire chicane was installed. Both @TireChicane and @TheTireChicane were listed, although whoever was running @TheTireChicane account tweeted, “I am king. All hail king. No one can remove me! No there is but one. And then there is an impostor.”
BUSY BRUNO – Bruno Junqueira's weekend has barely hit 30 laps total yet, but beyond the obvious of running IndyCar and American Le Mans Series both this weekend, has come the additional responsibilities of success and interacting with both squads.
Junqueira only had six laps to begin with after racing in his Jaguar XKR last year, but the car retired early on in the race. So, on top of relearning the track, he also had to jump into an unfamiliar car and bounce back and forth between the two paddocks – which are separated by a fair distance.
“I maybe got two laps in the first IndyCar practice then we had to pull in, then only a few more in the ALMS car,” he said. “The difference of the cars is so big, it's obviously night and day. But I'm loving the thrill of doing both.”
The penalty, though, for winning the PC class pole in ALMS – which he achieved despite contacting the wall exiting the chicane on one of his laps – was then having to wait a full hour after qualifying ceased (roughly 7:15 p.m. Eastern) to complete the post-qualifying press conference, with his SFHR IndyCar engineer awaiting a debrief! Given the schedule, Junqueira had jumped from the IndyCar last practice session Friday immediately into the ALMS PC car for RSR Racing.
INDYCAR/ALMS CROSSOVER – Several drivers with semi-IndyCar connections have been back in action in sports cars this weekend, beyond Junqueira.
Raphael Matos and Rodin Younessi are sharing another PC class for Performance Tech Motorsports, the team returning for the first time since Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca at Monterey in May. Matos, last in an IndyCar at Indianapolis 2011 (failed to qualify for AFS Racing), is making his second start of the year for the team. Younessi, a Harley-Davidson dealer who has ran sporadically in Indy Lights this year in his own car, is making his sports car debut.
The gap between the two is the largest within the pro-am nature of the class, although Matos admitted this is a good opportunity for Younessi to have the chance to race alongside a pro driver and refine his skills.
Additionally, Conquest Endurance's Martin Plowman is back at Baltimore after racing here in IndyCar a year ago, where he finished 11th in an AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports joint entry. Plowman was pipped for the ALMS P2 class pole by Christophe Bouchut at the last lap of qualifying.
ENGINE CHANGE UPDATE – Four drivers will face 10-spot grid penalties this weekend at Baltimore. The A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing teams switch onto their sixth engines for Mike Conway and Josef Newgarden's injury replacement Bruno Junqueira, while the last two starters at Sonoma – Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Takuma Sato and Lotus HVM's Simona de Silvestro – are onto their seventh.
BETTER NEWS FOR RAHAL – Bobby Rahal's latest adventure is getting involved with the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Foundation. Today the RLL team co-owner was named as chairman of the foundation by the U.S. Bobsled & Skeleton Federation. The announcement was made with USBSF CEO Darrin Steele and two-time World Champion and Olympic gold medalist Curt Tomasevicz.
“I've always been a great fan of Olympic sport and have loved watching American athletes compete against the best the world has to offer,” Rahal said. “I am committed to doing everything I can do to ensure that the USA Bobsled and Skeleton team continues their record of success, having won Olympic medals in the last three Winter Olympic Games.”
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES – Mazda Motorsports and drivers from the Mazda Road to Indy have partnered with Project Yellow Light, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Skip Barber Racing School, the Ad Council, the National Organization for Youth Safety to bring a broader awareness to the dangers of texting while driving. Two high-ranking auto safety officials, David Strickland (NHTSA administrator) and Julie Garner (founder, Project Yellow) were on hand along with Star Mazda driver Zach Veach and Mazda North American motorsports operations director John Doonan.
Holmatro Incorporated, the global manufacturer and supplier of high-quality hydraulic products and rescue equipment, announced Friday that it has renewed its partnership with IndyCar as the Official Rescue Tool Supplier for the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights through 2017. Holmatro, which has provided trackside support at every IZOD IndyCar Series race since its January 1996 event at Walt Disney World Speedway, also has extended its entitlement sponsorship of the Holmatro Safety Team through the 2017 season.