HONDA ISN'T AS FAST AS EXPECTED…BUT ISN'T PANICKING
One of the biggest questions from the IZOD IndyCar Series' off-season was whether Honda had caught and possibly surpassed 2012 IndyCar Manufacturers' champion Chevrolet. Tristan Vautier's testing pace in the Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry gave rise to the belief that something positive was taking place for HPD, but last week's final pre-season test at Barber Motorsports Park, completed with a full field of 2013-spec engines installed, seemed to show that Chevy had an advantage.
Those impressions were confirmed Friday at St. Pete when both sessions featured Chevy-powered cars setting the fastest laps and locking out eight of the top 10 positions.
A quick look at the trap speeds from P2 tell the tale of where Honda is lacking: Chevy owned the 12 highest top speeds between start/finish and Turn 1, the longest straight on the 1.8-mile track, while the entire block of Hondas are 13th through 25th (barring Sebastien Bourdais in 16th). Not only are the Honda's lacking top-end grunt, but their cars failed to lead in any of the other sectors around the 14-turn track.
Honda Performance Development technical director Roger Griffiths (ABOVE, with Dario Franchitti) wasn't exactly pleased when he spoke on the topic to RACER, but said no one involved is overreacting following the first official day of on-track activity in the 2013 season.
“We've all got a bit of work to do,” he confessed. “We also had a few non-engine-related issues which prevented us from getting up to where we needed to be. We also have some things we're planning on trying tomorrow that may or may not make a difference.
“It's Day 1 of the season, so we're not going into a flat panic. We're focused on what happens Sunday. We're mindful of what happened on track, looking at the trap speeds and seeing where else we can find performance.”
Honda's issues with reliability impacted its chances in 2012, and it's possible the proud brand has erred on the side of durability over outright power to start the season.
“One of the challenges we had last year was you can be fast and blow up and that's not helpful for anybody,” Griffiths explained. “We're focused on getting to the end. We have a plan and we're sticking to the plan. If you change plans midstream, or especially after Day 1, it can create even bigger issues.”
SAD FAREWELL TO JOHN CARDINALE of SONOMA RACEWAY
John Cardinale, Sonoma Raceway's longstanding VP of Media, lost his two-year fight with stomach cancer on Thursday. Known for his warm character, the 47-year-old Cardinale inspired the formation of “John's Army” by Sonoma staff members who raised thousands of dollars in stomach cancer research funding on his behalf.
Cardinale's impact also extended into the IndyCar paddock where he and Target Chip Ganassi Racing team manager Barry Wanser built a fast friendship. Wanser, whose young son Michael died of cancer in 2011, was stunned to learn of Cardinale's passing and says the sport lost a lot more than a media VP.
“John was such a moving person, an incredible character,” Wanser said on pit lane at St. Petersburg. “He said how much inspiration he drew from my son's battle, and we felt the same way about him. He meant a lot to our family and I'm thankful we got to become friends and help each other on this journey we've shared. It's just a shame he's gone.”
Cardinale is survived by his wife Andrea and their two daughters. A memorial fund has been established in his honor by the track: Donations may be sent to the John Cardinale Memorial Fund, care of Sonoma Raceway, 29355 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, CA 95476.
COYNE CONFIRMS LINEUP…
Dale Coyne Racing confirmed its driver lineup for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series on Friday…and only two hours after the first practice session of the year had ended. The identity of both drivers – Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz had been known since the St. Pete entry list was published, but the team was apparently unconcerned with the series' timeline for disseminating information.
"In evaluating Dale's commitment to the sport, we have signed a long-term agreement," said Wilson, who continues with his race-winning engineer Bill Pappas on the Honda-powered No. 19. "We had a great season last year highlighted by our first win at an oval track, in Texas. The entire team's back, so I am expecting good things to happen."
Beatriz was also confirmed for an undetermined number of races, but the Brazilian is expected to contest her home race and the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 18, while Stefan Wilson, Justin's younger brother, should pilot the car at Barber and Long Beach. The fate of the No. 18 after Indy is still a mystery.
He has the look of a lot of trouble in a small package, but Ed Harris, who replaces the Belle Isle Grand Prix-bound Charles Burns as IndyCar's head of security, made his presence felt on Friday, his first day on the job. Between ushering drivers in and out of the cramped pit lane to making sure everyone had the proper credentials to be in the pits, Harris seemed to enjoy his new role.
“I come from private security and was introduced to racing and the security industry in NASCAR. Before that I was a Marine and served in Iraq. So far, everything here is going pretty smoothly.”
THE FORCE MIGHT NOT ACTUALLY BE WITH YOU
One of the more popular aerodynamic setup trends this year has been the use of tall wickers that fill the anhedral portions of the front wing main plain. The spike in front downforce the wickers can deliver is notable yet, based on the speeds seen at St. Pete on Friday, the extra downforce isn't an automatic ticket to faster lap times. Team Penske's Will Power and Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay went in opposing directions on anhedral wickers, yet ran within less than two tenths of each other…
• The Captain don't like ugly. Thanks to Brembo's carbon brake discs, teams need to use external cooling when cars come in after a run. The normal practice has been for teams to purchase a compact cooling fan, attach two hoses to the air exhaust port, and plug the hoses into the brake ducts. Team Penske, and a few other image conscious teams have done away with the unsightly hoses and fashioned compact, in-duct cooling solutions. Sometimes, winning the visual war also matters.
• Multi-discipline racing driver John Andretti is helping his cousin's team as a trackside spotter and coach, I bumped into the NASCAR, Indy car, sports car and drag racing ace at Turn 5 where he was videotaping the second practice session for the team, but said, “I'm not sure if you'd call me a driver coach,” with a smile.
• Paul Tracy kicks off a four-race commentary stint with Canada's Sportsnet cable network starting at St. Pete. Beyond spending time in the announcing booth, PT says the only drive he has lined up for the rest of the year is in a Rolex Series car at Indianapolis.