Franchitti's paint scheme de jour shows off Texas aero spec (LAT photo)
INSIDE THE TMS AERO SPEC
Last year's low-downforce specification at Texas delivered some of the most exciting oval racing the IndyCar Series had produced in ages. The call to reduce downforce even more for this weekend's event was met with a bit of concern by the competitors – the 2012 event was a knife-edge affair for a number of drivers – and a regular topic of conversation on Friday.
The better drivers dealt with it while some of the second-tier pilots whined incessantly, but the fact remained that touring the 1.5-mile oval was a challenge even for those who had perfect setups.
“It's a 12 or 13 percent reduction in downforce, so grip goes down,” Dale Coyne Racing engineer Bill Pappas told RACER. “So, OK, you need a good mechanical platform, and then it's just varying how much you have to adjust for track conditions.”
Pappas, who won this race with driver Justin Wilson last year, broke down what he and the other engineers have to work with when the series mandates a maximum level of downforce (which is actually fairly low) that runs through hot, thin air.
“Indianapolis is a great example of how to deal with limitations,” he continued. “We showed up with our car and finished seventh last year and Justin goes out, he does one run, says, ‘I'm sliding more, let's make an adjustment to try to pick up some grip.' Is the balance right? Drop the springs or adjust the springs or adjust the dampers to try to help pick up the grip that you lost to the track at Indianapolis last year.
“But here, it's aerodynamics. I'm hoping that the basic package is still good, we just need to soften it off or do something to tune it a little bit to find that grip. Again, just the general rule of thumb, the heat affects one end of the car versus the other and so you've got to rebalance it for those conditions. Pretty straightforward. As it gets hot, obviously you've got to adjust the front wing and use it to balance it out.”
Firestone has brought a new tire to Texas that is meant to work better with the lighter downforce package.
“It makes it a little bit less edgy this year,” said Wilson. “Last year, we had a tire that was designed for x amount of downforce, so when we took the downforce away the night before the race, that made the tire a little edgy, a bit nervous. I think for this year, Firestone have tried to make it so you could feel it and control it better.
“But also that allows people to go bit faster, so IndyCar then comes back and takes off another 300 pounds of downforce for this event. So…We'll take it as it comes tomorrow night.”
Wilson expects the field to be a bit less wild during the 228-lap race, which should keep the 24-car field running closer lap times from start to end of stints than we saw in 2012, but he still expects to see some teams going forward and backward on the same stint.
“It's going to be tight,” Wilson emphasized. “You always need to be right on the edge of being quick but not over-doing it. This setup is definitely very peaky – it's not a rounded slope – so you've got to take chances and it's going to bite you every now and again. We're just trying to be controlled and be patient as best we can so we hit the right mix of speed and control when it's race time.
“We're good over a stint but we're not the quickest car to begin a stint. So we'll see if we can change that around. I think a lot of people are going to be dealing with a similar thing.”
THE BEST BANNER EVER
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage is, among other things, an excellent promoter. But don't take my word for it. His Firestone 550 promotional banner, placed directly in front of the media center and along the path many drivers, owners and series officials take to pit lane, uses Will Power's infamous double bird from Loudon 2011 and Sebastian Saavedra's copycat image from Detroit last weekend to present the lighter side of the sport.
“IndyCar fans tend to take themselves too seriously, but the only concern I had was what Will and Sebastian would think,” Gossage told RACER. “I hope they take it as a laugh because that was all it was meant to be. And I hope the fans take it that way.
Gossage came up with the “Angry Birds” concept three days before the series announced a $30,000 fine for Saavedra who used his middle fingers to demonstrate his frustration at Marco Andretti – unknowingly, on live TV.
“I didn't know about the fines,” admitted Gossage. “We came up with it on Monday, and then the fines were announced, so some people were going on about it on Twitter, but most people realized this was meant as a joke. One guy said, ‘You understand IndyCar better than IndyCar,' which was nice, but I wouldn't have fined Sebastian. He wasn't aware he was on camera and it wasn't done for anyone but Marco. If you're running a guy off the track to get even or if you're throwing a punch, then that's too far. It was a gesture he made, which didn't hurt anybody.”
The banner has become an instant favorite among the media and, apparently, for at least one driver.
Said Gossage with a big smile: “Will told me he wants it for his garage, so we'll send it to him after the race…and if Sebastian wants one, we'll make one and send it to him, too.”
· After two consecutive events with expensive technical infringements assessed to James Jakes' No. 16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, the team made a change at the chief mechanic position, hiring Derek Davidson, formerly of Panther DRR, to look after the Briton's Dallara DW12-Honda.
· And speaking of RLLR, another miserable qualifying session for Graham Rahal has made me wonder how long he and engineer Gerry Hughes will continue working together in that dynamic. Hughes, who was rather effective last year in his first IndyCar season with then-RLLR driver Takuma Sato, has yet to jell with young Rahal, and it's hard to imagine the team will continue to struggle through the second half of the season while waiting for things to improve.
“The car was slow,” said Rahal after qualifying 19th at 213.8, way off Power's pole speed of 219.1. “I don't know what else to say. I don't know where we find four or five miles an hour.”