IndyCar Aero Kit Discussion Shifts To Texas
Juan Pablo Montoya and his Indy-winning Team Penske are headed for the super fast Texas track.
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH _ Juan Pablo Montoya is not anticipating any significant change by INDYCAR to the aero kit that helped propel him to his second Indianapolis 500 victory prior to next month’s Firestone 600 night race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The race was great,” said Montoya, referring to his victory by 0.1046-seconds over Will Power in Sunday’s 99th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “People were saying that it’s the best race in years they’ve seen, thanks to that aero kit. You can follow people closer, you can race them harder – I mean I had a blast with it. I think here in Texas we’ll see with the wings (angle) and how it works but I’m excited about coming here.”
That’s fine with TMS President Eddie Gossage, who is expecting the sanctioning body to deliver on a year-old promise to again improve upon the quality of racing on the high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval.
“The bottom line is that race last year, by INDYCAR’s own admission, wasn’t good enough,” said Gossage, referring to owner/driver Ed Carpenter’s dominant second-half drive en route to a close victory over Power. “That has to do with aerodynamics, and that’s not something I can change. I’ll be happy to if they let me. So it’s on them to fix it and I have great faith that they will. Or the fireworks show afterwards will be really fun.”
For the record, Gossage was smiling when he addressed the omnipresent Verizon IndyCar Series aero issue at TMS prior to Montoya’s arrival Wednesday. The Team Penske ace was in Cowtown for a meet-and-greet with nearly 250 TMS season ticketholders, sponsors, Speedway Club members and Dallas/Fort Worth media at Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant in Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards.
“That race Sunday, I thought, start-to-finish was just furious racing. He won an extremely competitive Indy 500,” said Gossage, adding he was awaiting word on the aero package for the June 6 night race. “I sent an email to Derrick Walker (INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations)…and said, ‘Can you share any information on what you’re planning for Texas?’ And I also reminded him that we needed a more competitive race than we had last year. If you remember, Derrick is the one who said it wasn’t the best race we’ve ever seen, and he was honest about that. It wasn’t a very good race last year. And so I haven’t heard back from him.
“I didn’t want to bother him before the Indy 500 because they had plenty on their plate last week. But I’m sure they’re working on it and once they figure out what they’re going to do I’m sure Derrick will shoot me a quick response back.”
Engine suppliers Chevrolet and Honda introduced their superspeedway aero kits at the 2.5-mile IMS oval at the beginning of the Month of May. Three crashes during practice that saw the Chevrolet-powered cars of Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Carpenter get airborne prompted INDYCAR officials to add downforce and reduce horsepower prior to qualifications. A grinding crash involving the Honda-powered car of James Hinchcliffe sent the Canadian to the hospital with life-threatening pelvic and hip injuries that will sideline him for most of the remaining season.
While all four accidents were different, they generated headline news and raised public scrutiny of the new aero kits. Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, said during a group media interview that he was not expecting huge aero tweaks to the Chevy kit. “I don’t know if they’re going to give something to Honda,” said Montoya, who has a 25-point lead over teammate Power in the championship after six races.
When the topic was raised during a Q&A session featuring three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Montoya blamed the ongoing buzz on the media “stabbing it, looking for blood. I think INDYCAR did a real good job with the aero kits. Like Helio said, ‘At least we got some airtime with it.’^”
Gossage’s concern about the quality of racing dates to the 2013 edition of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race,” won by Team Penske’s Castroneves over Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by 4.6919-seconds. Castroneves took the lead on Lap 97 and did not relinquish it, leading the final 132 circuits en route to his fourth career win at TMS. In response to that runaway, INDYCAR allowed the teams to add 300 pounds of downforce last June in an effort to change the single-file racing that unfolded, as well as ease degradation of the Firestone tires and resulting handling issues.
Last June, Carpenter led 66 of the final 67 laps of an event lengthened by 20 laps to 248 and avoided a potential shootout with Team Penske’s Power, who was running second when caught speeding on pit lane during his final green flag stop. With 36 laps to go, Carpenter and Power pitted and exited 1-2, but Power was ticketed for speeding and fell one lap down. Carpenter was coasting with an 18.5-second lead before a final caution flew with seven laps remaining.
The race morphed into a two-lap shootout, with Carpenter holding off Montoya and Power, who moved from sixth into second and finished 0.5247-seconds behind the winner. Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Chevrolet, reiterated the days of driver concerns over “pack racing” at TMS are ancient history.
“I get pretty annoyed when we talk about pack racing, to be honest,” Carpenter said during a pre-Indy 500 interview. “I think it gets overblown a little bit. I started racing at Texas in 2003, and to me the last pack race we had there was probably in 2005, you know, with the old car, so we ran it another six years with what I would consider to be not pack racing. I don’t think so.
“I do hope that it (Chevy’s new kit) tightens things up a little bit. The formula we’ve had there the past couple years has been good for me. I’ve found some success. But I’d like to see a little more downforce come back and get things tightened-up to put on an even more exciting show.”
Teams are in the Motor City this weekend for the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans doubleheader on the 2.35-mile/14-turn Belle Isle street circuit. The season’s first five events were contested with Chevrolet’s and Honda’s new road/street-course and short-oval aero kits attached to the base Dallara chassis.
Gossage also said he did not think any “radical changes” would be introduced to the superspeedway kits prior to TMS, which will be playing host to its 19th annual June night race.
“We had an Indy 500 Sunday that was a typical Indy 500 _ you had a few incidents that were racing but nobody got upside down and the kind of thing we were seeing in practice,” Gossage said. “I think they did the right thing. The first thing you should always do when you run into a problem with a race car is slow down, and they slowed the cars down. It was just a little bit but that was the right thing to do, and I’m sure they’re trying to figure out what the best fix is for us. Speeds are going to be just a little bit slower than Indy, but not much, so I’m sure they’re focusing on us. Derrick’s a good guy, he wants to get it right. I believe it will be right.”
Carpenter and Power tested Chevy’s superspeedway kit at TMS in April, when rain washed-out the first session. While the second day’s testing was closed to the media, Gossage did see some of the cars at-speed. “They had all the squiggly lines on the cars so you couldn’t tell anything from a distance,” Gossage said. “But I think they had run this package on the test. What they learned from that…does that result in some other changes, I don’t know. And nobody got backwards.”
Montoya cautioned that most data from the April test now likely is irrelevant. “The problem is when you test here and it’s cool, you got so much downforce in the car that it’s really easy,” said Montoya, 39, who won his first Indy 500 as a rookie in 2000. “You come back for the race and it’s hot, it’s like, what the hell happened?”
Montoya finished third in his first IndyCar Series race at TMS last June, leading 13 laps en route to scoring his first podium finish of 2014. He placed fourth in the final point standings in his first season with Team Penske following a seven-year stint in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series with team-owner Chip Ganassi.
“Honestly, it’s like this place…I never thought you’d be sideways in an Indy car and keep going,” said Montoya, whose 1999 CART championship launched him into Formula One. “And it was corner after corner after corner after corner. The only way to be good here is, I mean, honestly it wasn’t cool. When the tires wear-out you start sliding when you turn-in and it’s like, ‘Please, don’t crash.’ And if you get around some people and you’re sideways you’re like…’Should I go for it and pass him or am I better backing off, I’m going to crash?’ It’s always like that. I had a blast last year.”
Montoya began his evening in Fort Worth by escorting “Rojo,” a 3,000-pound longhorn steer, and a cowboy drover from the famous Fort Worth Herd down a street in front of Joe T’s. Montoya also was serenaded by the colorful Mariachi Real de Alvarez band.
Gossage gleefully reported that the Firestone 600, originally scheduled for CNBC, now will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m. (CDT). The race had been scheduled on CNBC due to the possibility of a conflict with the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Montoya’s swag haul for winning at IMS included a $2.4-million payday, keys to the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Pace Car and a new Bentley convertible for his wife, Connie, courtesy of team-owner Roger Penske. “The Captain” is celebrating his record 16th Indy 500 win, thanks to Juan Pablo.
Gossage’s contribution was an honorary membership to The Speedway Club, located between Turns 1 and 2.
“Not only do you have your own locker at The Speedway Club, you have a key so you can let yourself in any time day or night,” said Gossage, standing next to the actual metal locker. “You can have lunch five days a week, dinner two nights a week. You can go in and have a man-pedi any time you want, you can go in and have a message, you can work out with the trainers and you have your own robe with your name on it (boxing-style on the back), so we all know it’s the Indy 500 champion.”
JPM thanked Gossage and said, “I’m coming back next week, and I’m using it.”