HELIO'S HIGH LINE
I stood just outside Turns 1 and 2 on Friday night as the IndyCar Series drivers lapped during the 30-minute session that served as both a final practice and noted that just one driver made the effort to run the high line. That driver then went on to dominate Saturday night at Texas, employing the high line to stretch his lead to almost two full corners as most of the field was relegated to run in traffic at the bottom of the track.
The high line was by no means the key to victory for Helio Castroneves, but he made use of it during the 228-lap contest to hold command over the other 23 drivers whenever he needed to maintain his speed as the track became congested.
“It was difficult; people don't understand,” said Castroneves when I asked about running near the cushion. “When you go high, the car changes a little bit of the setup. It changes the feeling, and when you go low, you have another one. And that's where it was very difficult, even for me.
“But we set up the car that when I do some adjustments, I was able to go high, and then I can move back when I have a low line. It was an interesting scenario. But the car was great. When you have a car like that, running high and low, man, it's a dream. So, I love it. I just love it.”
A HEROIC DRIVE TO 21st?
I don't know if Graham Rahal names his cars, but if he does, “Christine” would be fitting for the I-swear-this-thing-is-trying-to-kill-me vehicle he dealt with in Texas.
Rahal climbed from the car looking like he'd gone 228 rounds with Mike Tyson and barely survived. At times, he was running as much as 15mph off the pace of the leaders, making me wonder if he was entertaining the idea of parking the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. It wasn't much of a consolation, but the fact that he chose to press on and managed to keep his car off of the walls was incredibly impressive.
The final record shows he placed 21st, five laps off the lead, and despite finding a better balance late in the race, Rahal came away wondering if the dark clouds that have followed him since May will ever dissipate.
“I never really had a grip on the car,” he said. “I really, really struggled with the rear of the car on entries and exits and couldn't get a handle on the understeer mid-corner. I'm obviously baffled now with the performance. There are a lot of tracks we've gone to that I can compete at and right now I can't, which is frustrating. For the amount of effort that we are putting in, there is no reason this should be the case. We will regroup but the problem is the lack of time between races.”
IndyCar's new president of competition must have felt like the Godfather on Friday as driver after driver pleaded with Derrick “The Don” Walker to allow an increase in downforce for Saturday night's 550km race.
Without sharing too much, the majority of the most skilled drivers were fine with the low-downforce aero package, while others begged for more. Thankfully, Walker held his ground after consulting with a few race engineers in the paddock and sent out a bulletin to the teams late Friday night confirming the race would go on without any changes.
Drivers of every caliber had to exercise great restraint as they managed their tires throughout each stint, and plenty had to reduce their speeds to maintain control, but Walker's choice, as Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti told RACER, did not create the calamitous outcome many feared.
“We were pretty horrible to start with and we kept adjusting until we got it right, or better, at least,” he said. “It's on us to do that, not the tires or whatever. We went from one extreme to the other, so you can do it. And it was challenging out there. It was a technical race. You were driving the car on the limit every lap.
“And if you got slightly greedy with the throttle or slightly greedy on the way in…when I passed [Will] Power on the way into Turn 3, I was like that (crosses both hands)…I was 180 degrees opposite on the steering wheel passing him… Every lap was on the limit and that's what you want. It was a handful all night, but for the results, I'm happy.”