KISS IT, CLIMB IT OR MOUNT IT?
HINTS FROM THE TRAPS
The myriad of lines taken by drivers across the inside curbs at the Turn 3 left-hander was quite interesting to observe on Saturday.
Some preferred to apex early, bounding over the tall curb to place their left-front tire into valley between the curb and the cement wall; some opted to roll their left front tire over the crest of the curb and others took to lightly kissing the outer incline of the curb.
The first two options involved upsetting the car while the third kept all four tires on the ground. Based on driving styles and attempts to get an early run out of Turn 3 and around Turn 4 onto the long pit straight, it's hard to say if one method was better than the others, but the first two were certainly spectacular to watch.
Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe seemed to have a penchant for catching as much air a possible, yet managed to qualify fifth.
Based on Honda's impressive form at Long Beach – one where the manufacturer put Chevy on the back foot for the first time in 2013, it was expected for the brand's 2.2-liter single-turbo V6 to maintain its edge at Brazil. Although the Hondas were equally matched on top speed with Chevy in the Firestone Fast 6 at Long Beach, it was their launching off the slow corners, and especially the Turn 11 hairpin, that delivered an advantage. Polesitter Dario Franchitti was third fastest at the end of Shoreline Drive, but was on the same 161mph number as Chevys ahead of him. In the twisty bits where stop/start acceleration is key, the Scot was fastest or had fellow Honda users Takuma Sato and Mike Conway topping the sector.
It was all incredibly close, but the Chevys had no answer, and with three significant straights at Sao Paulo – two of which are preceded by slowish turns – I'd figured it would be another Honda party atop the time sheets, but that hasn't happened.
Of the meaningful sectors the series captures speed and time data around the 2.5-mile track, Chevy-powered drivers were fastest in 15 of 17 segments, and also owned the three fastest speeds recorded on the day (fastest of all was E.J. Viso at 187.613mph). And powering off of Sao Paulo's Turn 11 hairpin also went to Chevy, taking the top 4 spots on that sector, leaving the Honda-powered cars of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon fifth and sixth.
I sought an answer as to why Honda went from owning Long Beach to watching Chevy own qualifying, but the manufacturer also seemed to be seeking answers on the topic.
With Josef Newgarden requiring a fresh Honda engine for the race (he did not set a qualifying time) due to concerns by the marque, and James Jakes's car requiring extensive repairs after a collapsed header caused a fire at the back of his Honda-powered car – enough to require a change of chassis, it's unlikely the folks at Honda Performance Development will push their engines and harder during the race to compensate.
SIMONA'S TOP FUEL CHEVY DRAGSTER
Simona De Silvestro was the first to commit to a lower-downforce setup within the KV Racing team prior to opening practice, but she was soon joined by teammate Tony Kanaan.
Sao Paulo's painfully long straights are connected by a few fiddly chicanes and corners – ones where excellent car control can compensate for the lack of downforce – which places a premium on top speed.
KV's experiment worked to some degree in P1, with Kanaan setting the sixth-fastest time. De Silvestro was down in 17th, but the dragster-like speed on the straights was seen with the duo setting the second-and third-fastest speeds exiting Turn 10 onto the 7/8th-mile back straight to its midway point. From the middle of the straight to the braking zone for the Turn 11 hairpin, De Silvestro was in a league of her own, clocking 186.245mph. Kanaan was second, hitting 185.496mph. A distant third went to E.J. Viso at 184.177.
“It isn't quite perfect, but we'll keep working down this path,” said team co-owner Jimmy Vasser.
By the time qualifying got under way, a few other teams had followed the less-rear-wing trend, including the pole-sitting Andretti Autosport team with Ryan Hunter-Reay, which opted for less rear wing, but not quite as aggressive as the KV cars.
De Silvestro would get balked by Viso in the Firestone Fast 12, leaving her eighth on the grid, but Kanaan was able to transfer and took fourth. His best leading into Turn 11 was 183.038mph, .058 shy of Andretti's E.J. Viso who qualified second.
IMPRESSIVE DAY FOR VISO AND CANNON
Now four races into the rekindled relationship between Andretti Autosport driver E.J. Viso and his former HVM Racing engineer Michael Cannon, the Venezuelan/Canadian combo is starting to establish themselves as more than the No. 4 car on the four-car team.
Viso's raw pace, when coupled with Cannon's grounded approach to engineering, has allowed the diminutive driver to show flashes of the promise that was on display during his rookie IndyCar season in 2008.
“We're finding our voice, aren't we?” said Cannon, sporting a smile that could be seen for 100 yards. “We qualified better than we had from St. Pete to Long Beach, and we did so again from Long Beach to Brazil. We took what we had from Long Beach to here, and we're creeping up on it incrementally. He's getting used to the tools he has available in the team, and so am I. It's all good.
Cannon also pointed out how Viso's run to second on the grid came with a different approach to mechanical setup.
“It's shocking how two cars with such disparate setups could run that close together,” he said, nodding towards Ryan Hunter-Reay's car. “What a year, though. Three Andretti cars in the top 6…”
9 FINGERS OF FURY FOR KANAAN
KV Racing's Tony Kanaan might be a pint-sized version of The Hulk, but that won't help the Brazilian to steer his No. 11 Itaipava-liveried Indy car this weekend with the use of only nine fingers. His right thumb, injured in clash with Oriol Servia during the Long Beach race, is all but useless and requires icing when the 2004 IndyCar Series champion climbs from the car.
Despite his limitations grasping the steering wheel, Kanaan was at no loss for speed on Saturday, which his team kept reminding him of throughout the sessions.
“My hand really hurts,” Kanaan said over the radio during first practice, to which his engineer replied, “Good, because you're fast…”
NEW DIGS FOR DIDIER
Dragon Racing's Sebastien Bourdais is working with a new chief mechanic this weekend after the respected veteran Didier Francesia chose to part ways with the Jay Penske-owned team.
“It was just time,” the Frenchman told RACER
. “I'm here helping Justin [Wilson] this weekend and who knows from there.
EXPENSIVE DAYS FOR SCHMIDT
Coming off the Long Beach Grand Prix where Sam Schmidt Firestone Indy Lights driver Jack Hawksworth pummeled two chassis into submission, the last thing the team needed was for more damage at Sao Paulo.
The day started off badly for Simon Pagenaud, who crashed exiting Turn 1 and smashed the left front corner of the car, nose and wings and did damage to the undertray and left sidepod. His teammate, rapid rookie Tristan Vautier, copied Pagenaud's crash in qualifying and did the same exact damage.
“The tough part is we've done two corners, three noses, two floors, sidepods and a bunch of other small damages,” said Schmidt's Jeff Darks, “and we don't get the cars home until Tuesday [from Brazil]. Tristan's doing rookie orientation on Saturday, so it just sucks for our crew guys who'll be doing a lot of repair work to whatever we can and getting ready for Indy.”