FAST, FRUSTRATED FILIPPI
Watching rookie IndyCar driver Luca Filippi from various trackside vantage points revealed the Italian driver's approach to learning his No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda.
With limited time – a single test day – to get a feel for the Dallara DW12 chassis, the 2011 GP2 runner-up employed a familiar practice during Friday and again today at Mid-Ohio, charging hard into the first phase of the corner to load his Firestone tires and receive instant feedback about how much grip was available through the rest of the corner.
The 27-year-old found out exactly how much grip was (and wasn't) available on his first lap during qualifying as he rocketed into Turn 14 and found he'd over-cooked the entry on cold tires. This writer first heard, then watched from behind as Filippi took a trip across the grass, nudged the tire barrier and brought out a red flag.
IndyCar's qualifying rules, which state that any driver who brings out a red flag will have their two fastest laps struck from the session, left Filippi at an instant deficit. To add another layer of pressure and complexity, he'd have just a few minutes to set a fast time while using Firestone's faster "reds."
The result was arguably the most impressive performance of any driver during time trials on Saturday as Filippi set a 1:05.984-second lap on his second flying tour around the 2.3-mile facility. Eventual Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay led Filippi's group with a 1:05.662-second lap, and had the Barracuda networks-sponsored car had its time allowed, Filippi would have advanced to the Fast 12 session nestled between Team Penske's Will Power and Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's Tristan Vautier.
Minus his two best laps, Filippi was gutted to lose out on a quality result and will start 24th on Sunday, but it doesn't diminish what he achieved under (self-imposed) duress in qualifying.
“I really feel good in the car, but I'm really upset with myself because there was no need for me to make that mistake,” he told RACER. “I was pushing on cold tires and made a mistake; I was over-driving, and that resulted in a penalty which hurt the team.
“I hate this and I'm quite angry that I did it, but I can be happy that the car was very fast in qualifying. It was a pleasure to display how good the car is. Our performance was strong, and we had a good chance to get a good qualifying position.”
Starting on the last row at a track where passing is notoriously hard will surely made Filippi's debut an exciting one, and rather than plan to go for an all-out attack during the 90-lap event, he expects to follow whatever orders happen to come down from the timing stand.
“It's a hard question,” he said. “I will talk with my engineer Todd [Malloy] and Bryan [Herta] and do whatever they say. We might need to consider many strategies. If we can be running without a lot of traffic, that would be good so I can try to improve my position and get a good result for the Herta team.”
Filippi struggled to see the positives or accept praise from his post-red flag performance which, to be honest, is just what you'd hope for from a driver in his position with everything to prove.
“I feel very satisfied because it shows I can go fast with this car and the team is doing a good job, but on the other side, I don't expect to do these kinds of mistakes, so I'm really sad,” he admitted. “I will not be happy with myself for some while.”
TAKU GETS A TALKING TO
It feels like quite some time has passed since the AJ Foyt Racing/Takuma Sato combination was producing the kind of results that made their early season performances so noteworthy.
Three top-10s from the first four rounds gave team director Larry Foyt every reason to believe his new driver would continue to deliver what he needed in the Honda-powered No. 14 entry, but as the former F1 driver has displayed through his career, no season would be complete without some form of downward slide.
The Japanese pilot, a first-time IndyCar Series winner at Long Beach, has failed to finish his four most recent races, and while all of those DNFs haven't been his fault, a lot of equipment has been torn up and an even greater amount of money has been spent to repair the ABC Supply-sponsored car.
If Sato was on thin ice coming into Mid-Ohio, he pushed the team over the edge when he crashed on his own in testing—on the final lap of the day – which destroyed the gearbox, suspension, bodywork, the floor…and also damaged whatever strands of patience were left with Foyt.
“I need to sit down and have a talk with Taku and get his head back in the game,” he told RACER Friday morning.