R: In the year ahead, although Bryan Herta Autosport is a one-car team, are you expecting to be sharing information with HVM and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing?
AT: Well, that's what we're doing at the moment. I have a very good relationship with Oriol anyway, and when he came to Indianapolis, he stayed at my place. And when I was testing the car, I was working not only with my engineer Todd Malloy but also the engineers from HVM and D&R. The shock guys are working together. But when we debrief, we're all together, and we share all information. I think it's quite nice from that aspect. It seems like something that will definitely help the progress of Lotus-Judd. We're a little bit behind in actually getting the engine on track – Chevy and Honda have been running quite a few weeks longer, so they know their challenges and so the evolution and developments are that much further ahead. I'd say it was crucial that Bryan's team, Dreyer & Reinbold and HVM all work together to catch up, at least until the first race. Certainly Oriol and I are pushing hard to continue to work as one team.
R: Let's talk about the car itself. There have been some mixed messages regarding how it handles. How hard did you feel able to push to the limit at Homestead, or were you just engine-focused?
AT: On a road and street course, I don't think the car is going to be too evil. It's drivable, it has a lot of potential and there's probably 50 percent more performance to get out of it just from understanding what it needs and working around this whole new philosophy of weight distribution. When we have it dialed in and have the engines running to their full potential, and Firestone bring the same tires as last year, I'm sure it will outperform the old car.
On the ovals…it's another situation. The drag factor needs to be resolved and the mechanical stability, too. I was testing on the Homestead road course, but even there, what you notice is how light it seems on the front end, yet the car also has a tendency to rotate mechanically because of the weight distribution. You don't feel the front end too well because it is light, and you think you don't have a lot of front-end grip, but then the car still rotates quite well because of all that weight at the rear.
On an oval, normally you want the car mechanically understeering and then you add aero to turn it and put some feel back into the hands of the driver and so the car is mechanically stuck down. But this new car feels free because it has a lot of weight to the rear. You turn in, the steering is so light that it feels like you've got no front grip and still the car over-rotates! Now imagine that on an oval: going into Turn 1 at Indy, you feel the front end is light, but you don't want extra front wing because you know that on the exit, that will make the rear end over-rotate even more. But you don't want rear downforce because that will make the initial turn-in understeer feel even worse. It's a very weird setup at the moment.
R: On the positive side, does that mean – almost by accident – that the series has eliminated pack racing at high-banked ovals? This strange handling characteristic is going to emphasize who are the properly skilled drivers, surely?
AT: Ha! Yeah, I suppose if the car's difficult to drive on the oval, it will mean the good drivers are separated from the not-so-good and so we won't get those packs of cars. But there's a question about how close we can run at all. Aerodynamically, some of the cars last year were so good that you could run side by side, and not lose much downforce. Maybe now, as soon as you pull alongside another car, you could lose so much aero that you have to drop back. It could be like the Handford device, where you had to stay in line otherwise everyone freight-trains past you. I'm just speculating here, of course, because I haven't yet tried the oval aero package to give a real judgment.
R: Back to the road/street course setup, then. You were saying on Twitter about how impressed you were with the carbon brakes…
AT: Yeah, amazing! Just amazing. That is some freakin' braking power, I'm telling you!
R: But do you think that may hurt the racing, because of how much shorter the braking distance will be?
AT: Hmm, well, that's a point I brought up with the guys. But brakes work in correlation with grip, so if you have a ton of grip and you improve the braking power, then you can use that and brake deeper. If the car doesn't have a great deal of grip, or doesn't react well, then you can brake as deep as you want but the stopping power won't be usable – you'll just lock up and go straight on.
And, obviously, it's not all down to the car: when I say “grip” I don't just mean setup grip in the car. I mean track surface, too. I think at Mid-Ohio, for example, we're going to be braking a lot later than we were – we'll be able to exploit the extra power of the carbon brakes. But at street courses like St. Pete, Long Beach, Toronto and so on, you'll see a lot more lock-ups and mistakes in bumpy braking zones or over concrete patches, especially when drivers are fighting.
So, as well as being a whole new intriguing era of IndyCar from the engineering point of view, I think it could also be a more exciting era of racing for us. I really hope so. And I think Bryan Herta Autosport and Lotus have a strong chance of fighting at the front. For all the teams there are many questions that need answering and there's a lot of work still to come between now and St. Pete. But it's good work. It's work we love. It's what we do this for, you know?