1 YEAR LATER: THE MELTDOWN
Long Beach 2012 will be remembered as the event that sparked Turbogate – the nasty protest and appeal lodged by Chevy regarding a new turbo inlet cover the series allowed Honda to achieve parity, the revolt among Lotus-powered entrants and, more than anything, the date where the owners met with the series to make a formal presentation on the spiraling spare parts costs which led to months of fighting with then-CEO Randy Bernard.
The race weekend itself was calm, barring Chevy's unexpected call to change all of its engines prior to opening practice, but the last effects – one of manufacturers fighting, teams fighting to break free from woefully underpowered engines and a fracturing between the paddock and IndyCar's boss left a permanent stain on the season.
Although dysfunction and mistrusts ruled the landscape one year ago, Barracuda Racing co-owner Bryan Herta – one of the most sensible team principals in the series – shared his thoughts with RACER on the state of IndyCar today and how much the mood has lightened in 2013.
“I think we are in a better place, I really do,” he said. “I'm excited that IndyCar is openly re-embracing what made it great. And the idea of speed and technology, reintroducing faster cars and more technology back into this sport gradually in the future. I think that's exciting. With [Hulman & Co. CEO] Mark Miles coming on board, I like a lot of what he has to say.
"We still have a very passionate core group of fans despite everything that they've been through with us. I'm encouraged by Mark and [IMS CEO and interim IndyCar CEO] Jeff Belskus and the conversations that we're having there. If the one thing that Randy [Bernard] brought was giving the fans a sense that they were being listened to, I think that's continuing. Jeff and Mark are very in tune with the feedback that the fans are putting out and so they're going to have a voice in where we're heading with the sport. It's all good."
If there's been one major adjustment for IndyCar fans and paddock members so far this year, it's been the relative lack of drama going on behind the scenes. Asked if he and some of the other owners are gun shy – expecting things to revert to the depressing state of 2012, Herta believes IndyCar has turned a positive page.
“I don't think we're going back to that place,” he opined. “We need to get rid of some of the politics and the bulls**t happening in the paddock that was happening. For me, I think it has absolutely improved in a big way. We're focused on going racing. That's what we should be focused on – going racing. And we don't have a lot of distractions and now luckily the biggest benefit is there were so many great stories that weren't getting told last year because of all the noise from the controversy.
“I really felt like we had a great year on track. Really phenomenal year on track, and if there was a frustration it was that a lot of the stories didn't get told because there were all these more sensational things to write about. And hopefully now that this sensationalism right now isn't in the paddock that the real story will be, hey, there's some pretty great racing going on right now.”
DOUBLE DIPPING FOR RAHAL
When Bobby Rahal was at his prime as an Indy car driver in the 1980s and 1990s, the Ohioan sported patches and branding from tobacco brand Marlboro, and was an avid purveyor of their product (before quitting the habit).
Fast forward to 2013 and the 1986 Indy 500 winner is making money from a tobacco alternative, promoting the blu eCigs brand on the No. 17 car driven by the returning Mike Conway.
Having come full circle – finding a way to continue cigarette-like sponsorship in an era where such things are banned in sports, Rahal chuckled at the notion of double dipping.
“Well, I mean I was never really sponsored by any of the tobacco companies other than a small personal Marlboro relationship,” he said. “I think blu is exciting because of the technology and the fact that it's an alternative to smoking. But there are obvious attributes that make it possible to enjoy the product in public that you can't do otherwise. And I think it's a part of that industry where the sky's the limit, frankly. We're just pleased that they chose to come with us and so far I think everybody's pretty happy. When you're running fast, everybody loves that. So hopefully we'll keep it up and see where the relationship goes.”
SO HOW DOES THAT WORK?
Conway came into his one-off for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team this weekend with just one day of testing to draw from during pre-season Spring Training at Barber Motorsports Park.
The former AJ. Foyt Racing driver ended that day in Alabama in the top 5, and was the fastest of the three-car RLL team. He repeated the feat on Friday at long Beach, rocketing to the second-fastest lap in the morning and backed it up by running second again in the afternoon, just .037 seconds behind Ryan Hunter-Reay.
After outpacing teammates Graham Rahal and James Jakes on every occasion he's driven for the team, Conway credited the work done by his crew to expedite his return to the form that helped him win the Long Beach race in 2011.
“Yeah, well I knew obviously it would be tough going into the weekend with my teammates,” said Conway, who also avoided the question raised about showing up RLL's full-time drivers. “These guys have been in two races and done lots of testing before the season. That's why Bobby was really pulling for me as well to get the maximum out that day and learn as much as I could. I knew it would be different coming here, obviously different circuit, different tires than we tested at Barber. I was hoping for a good balance. And out of the bag it was good and it enabled me to push really hard the first few laps and learn as much as I could. It was great that the pace was there.”
Conway has RLL technical director Jay O'Connell engineering his car this weekend, and has already built a strong working relationship despite O'Connell's time being split with the team's IndyCar program and engineering one of its factory BMW ALMS cars.
“He's a good guy; he's got double duty a little bit with the ALMS but we're working as much as we can together. (Team engineers) Eddie Jones and Gerry Hughes have been a big help to me as well, and the same with my teammates. This three-car team is pretty incredible.”
NEW SITE, TECH OFFERING FROM BREMBO
The good folks from Brembo, IndyCar's official brake package supplier for the Dallara DW12 chassis, have mirrored the race-by-race technical information they supply for each Formula 1 round, giving tech savvy readers a chance to digest the major speeds, braking forces and other pertinent data at each IndyCar event.
With a new site dedicated to the series (http://indycar.brembo.com/en/), Brembo has launched the initiative this weekend at Long Beach with some rather savory bits of information (http://indycar.brembo.com/en/circuits-view/03-long-beach-21-apr-2013.html)
Sampling the data from Turn 1, you'll learn that the:
Average initial speed once braking begins is 167mph, the final speed is 76mph, the braking distance 331 feet, the braking time is 2.018 seconds, the maximum deceleration is 3.765 Gs and the maximum pedal pressure is 905 psi.
If you want to learn more, there's an additional 10 corners to sort through.