Aero kits for 2014, what teams do on opening weekend, Ryan Briscoe's crazy travel schedule, and more. (All pics by Marshall Pruett)
MELLOW DAY 1
Opening Day for the 97th Indianapolis 500 got off to a cool and quiet start on Saturday as 48-degree conditions kept most cars turning a limited number of laps or locked away in their garages altogether.
Saturday served as the first chance for the Rookie Orientation Program to take place after it was scrubbed due to bad weather on its original dates, while two drivers – AJ Foyt Racing rookie Conor Daly and Chip Ganassi Racing's Ryan Briscoe – were racing elsewhere (GP3 season opener in Spain for Daly and the ALMS at Monterey for Briscoe), further limiting activity at the Speedway.
MINIMAL RUNNING, BUT LOTS OF WORK
Most teams that ventured out on Saturday used the time to shakedown their cars and perform a few exploratory laps, and such was true for the Chip Ganassi Racing squad, which executed a very specific run plan before pulling drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball off track to let their respective crews to get to work for Sunday's practice session.
“Really, Saturday for the Ganassi team is about shaking down our backup cars, our spare cars, essentially, and then shifting gears for Sunday,” Ganassi Racing team manager Mike Hull told RACER. “The way we do things – and this has been our standard practice for quite some time – is to start the month of May with our backup cars, run them in, check that all the systems are working and then take a look at our numbers.”
Those numbers, as Hull explained, have little to do with outright speed or how fast the Ganassi drivers lap Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Opening Day.
“We don't care about what kind of [speed] number we put up, no; our process is to fit engines into the backup cars and run the chassis to verify,” he said. “To verify the data, the downforce figures, the balance of pressure figures, and to verify our simulations match with real world numbers we see coming off the cars.”
In previous years, teams would fit engines to their spare cars and run them alongside their primary entries, but with a change to the rule book –one that allows teams to possess only a single engine at any given time – a lot of swapping back and forth is required.
“Essentially, we need to know that our spare cars are good to go if we need to use them, and the only way to do that within the current IndyCar rules is to run the backups, confirm everything we need to confirm, and then park them. You don't want to find yourself needing to go to a backup car and have no idea if it has a leak or some other problem keeping it from performing as expected.”
Franchitti, Dixon and Kimball turned laps between 218 and 220 mph within a matter of minutes on Saturday, giving Hull and the team exactly what they were looking for.
“Now we'll go back, pull the engines, put them in the primary cars and get ready to run tomorrow and get down to business,” said Hull.
And with more cool weather expected over the next few days, including decent amounts of wind, there's no telling how busy things will be at the Speedway.
AGREEMENT ON AERO KITS
News from Indianapolis about a final technical meeting held last Thursday regarding aero kits revealed the series has made a decision to introduce the manufacturer-specific bodywork starting at the 2014 Indy 500. The plan calls for the bodywork to be used at Indy, Pocono and Fontana, the IndyCar Triple Crown, and the meeting was meant to serve as the final briefing between the series, Chevy and Honda before announcing the decision. To the surprise and consternation of those who did attend, Chevy, which has voiced its support for aero kits on numerous occasions, skipped the meeting.
I spent Sunday morning seeking a formal explanation from Chevy on their no-show, and after waiting a few hours, was told nothing would be forthcoming. Honda, however, was quick to support IndyCar's plans when I spoke to HPD technical director Roger Griffiths. "Our vision is aligned with that of IndyCar; we believe it's the right step and focuses on the highest-profile races," he said.
I spoke with numerous team owners and managers up and down pit lane on Sunday, many of whom knew about the outcome of Thursday's meeting, and many told me the series sent out a bulletin to its teams and PR reps stating reports that aero kits will be introduced are false…
LONG HAUL FOR BRISCOE
One look through Ryan Briscoe's travel itinerary for Saturday and Sunday would reveal a lot of racing miles and even more air miles for the personable Aussie. Starting with traveling from his home in North Carolina to Monterey for American Le Mans Series practice Thursday night, Briscoe spent Friday and Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca competing in the P2 category with Level 5 Racing, finishing second Saturday night in the four-hour event.
From there, and after missing Opening Day at Indianapolis, Briscoe gave RACER a rundown of how his weekend went thoroughly haywire after the checkered flag waved on the west coast.
“Yeah…I'm feeling a little bit tired right now,” said Briscoe, who turned 21 laps on Sunday. “We had a great race at Laguna Seca; I did the first stint and was lucky to get a ride here in [Level 5 team owner] Scott Tucker's plane. With the three-hour time zone difference, we didn't leave Monterey until 10 p.m., which is 1 a.m. here, and the plane made stops in Kansas and in Madison [Wisconsin] before coming here, so I didn't land until about 6:30 in the morning. I didn't sleep much on the way here, but it was way better than flying commercial. I went from the airport and got a hotel downtown so I was able to get about two hours of sleep.”
Briscoe was out in his spare car soon after practice began on Sunday, and had about four hours of downtime while the team moved its engine over to the primary NTT DATA-sponsored Dallara DW12. By the time he returned to the track, the cross-country travel and minimal sleep was making its presence felt, but Briscoe found a burst of energy to complete the day.
“The adrenaline helped quite a bit; we shook down the spare car, and then I rested a bit, but when I went out first today, I was like ‘MAN, this is fast,' but once I got into the rhythm of things, it all slowed down a bit and felt normal,” he said. “It's awesome to be back in the car, but I'm worn out. It's time for some sleep…”
• New sponsors were unveiled over the weekend as Panther Racing revealed a Superman, Man of Steel motif in honor of a marketing partnership with the movie, and KV Racing announced GEICO has returned to the team as an associate sponsor.
• A few drivers are keeping their lapping to a minimum until qualifying draws closer due to mileage concerns. “We have some miles left to use up on the motors we used coming into Indy from the first four races,” said one driver who asked to remain nameless, “so we can't run a lot on that because we'll mileage-out the thing, and then you don't want to put your qualifying engine in too soon because so far, they seem to make the most power when they're fresh. It's just the way it is.”
• A.J. Allmendinger temporarily joined Sunday afternoon's drafting party at IMS and got a feel for what it's like to run in a tow. After coming to grips with his Team Penske car moving around as clean air was taken away or returned to his front wings, he came in, sat for a few minutes and then headed out for a second stint in the draft. Upon returning to the pits, he was asked if he liked the sensation of being in a pack of cars trading places at 220mph-plus, to which he replied “Oh yeah!”