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.
Sato dealt with gearbox issues that weren't of his making on Friday, but found the wall once again Saturday morning during practice, damaging the left rear suspension and a bit of bodywork. The track was slick after overnight rain, and Sato wasn't the only driver to make a mistake during the session, but the sight of another damaged No. 14 car left Foyt wondering if his driver received the message that was intended in Friday's wakeup call.
“It's tough, because he's a professional and knows what he has to do. Sure, we all make mistakes, but… We lost a lot of time this morning because of a mistake and that hurt us going into qualifying (Sato starts 16th). We talked about it; we all know what has to be done in the last few races.
“We weren't far from making it through to the next round in qualifying, and, you have to ask whether, if we'd had more track time this morning, we'd have found more speed to advance and give ourselves a better chance tomorrow. It's really just thinking about things like that, and that's where we need to get to.”
Foyt's team-first approach came through during the conversation in many instances where he used the word “we” where using “he” would have been more accurate. Asked if he felt the team could close its season in a similar fashion to how it started, Foyt was optimistic about “we” keeping the car in one piece on a more frequent basis.
“I think we can get back to where we were,” he noted. “You have a few bad results and then you start trying too hard and you make things worse, which is where we're trying to pull ourselves out from. I think we just need to take a breath, relax a bit, and we can tap into how well we were running early in the year. It's definitely possible. We just have to go out and do it.”
Dale Coyne Racing's James Davison will embark on his first IndyCar Series race tomorrow from 17th position, sandwiched between series veterans Takuma Sato and Oriol Servia. He'll also have Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan and promising second-year driver Josef Newgarden starting behind, but the Aussie told RACER he's not satisfied with his performance or where he'll start on Sunday.
“I've gone from such a swing of emotions from being content to finish 19th or 20th in a session yesterday to matching [James] Hinchcliffe and [Helio] Castroneves in qualifying and being so disappointed in myself for making a mistake in Turn 9 that cost me a chance to improve on that position,” he said.
“I think it would have been an amazing statement to have beaten those guys in my first IndyCar qualifying session, so I'm obviously not pleased about missing out on that. But if there's a consolation, it's that I'm starting 17th, which is something we can work with.”
As part of the first group of qualifier on Saturday, Davison had plenty of beasts to deal with. Series champions Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon, his teammate Justin Wilson, along with Hinchcliffe and championship-leader Castroneves were among the obstacles to overcome, making Davison's best lap of 1:06.283 seconds—just 0.0559 shy of HCN and 0.0641 off of Hinch—something he should be proud of.
But producing a few quick laps in qualifying, as Davison shares, is far less of a challenge than maintaining that pace throughout an entire race.
“I've been out of an open-wheel car, at least in a racing environment, for four years, so I'm happy to be pretty close to the fastest drivers in my qualifying group, but I know it will be different tomorrow,” he remarked. “You can train all you want in the gym, but race fitness is really only something you can build up by driving a car on a regular basis. And I've got pit stops to do for the first time. Leaving the pits on cold tires on full fuel… I've got a lot to learn.
“I have to be realistic about tomorrow and know I'm at a disadvantage to a whole series of excellent drivers who are so experienced and ready to operate at the highest levels all day. It's an honor for me to be here, and I think I've shown I belong, that I have the speed. But I also need to become a complete IndyCar driver and that's really what I'm looking to do in the race to help learn the rest of the game.”