Texas Two Step: A Double Shot Of IndyCar
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Fort Worth, Texas – Sake flowed freely over the Pacific Ocean on the long flight from Japan back to the United States in celebration of Danica Patrick’s breakthrough IZOD IndyCar Series victory at Twin Ring Motegi in April 2008.
That won’t be the case for whomever wins Race 1 of the inaugural Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
”I was actually thinking if I won the first Twin I can’t have any champagne. Can’t drink and drive –it’s illegal,” Patrick playfully reminded TMS President Eddie Gossage during the track’s annual Media Day on Wednesday. “And I was wondering how there’s going to be an engine change with one hour in between (races). That’s what I was wondering. You (Gossage) better make that halftime show run long.”
Those sobering points were unveiled by series officials at The Speedway Club, setting the stage for what will be the first open-wheel doubleheader in nearly 30 years. The Firestone Twin 275s on June 11 will be identical in almost every way…with a couple of significant exceptions. Both will pay half the points and half the bonus prizes, but the field for the second race will be set by a blind draw.
Patrick, of Andretti Autosport, said she hasn’t participated in a race where the starting field was randomly decided since her go-karting days. “It was always entertaining and I had a lot of fun when I
was a kid in go-karting,” Patrick said, “making my way up through the pack of 20 or 30 go-karts for an eight-lap heat race – and winning ‘em. So I have fond memories of the random draw. We do draw ourselves, and there’s no way to cheat because given the opportunity, you’ve got to do it.”
The Firestone Twin 275s will be the first events after the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, and the traditional first night race of the IndyCar Series season.
Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief executive officer, and Gossage announced in July that TMS would play host to the first open-wheel twinbill since Rick Mears – third four-time winner of the Indy 500 –swept both races at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 28, 1981. Among the competitors that day was three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, who scored a sweep at AMS on April 22, 1979 with a simple game plan.
“Run flat-out,” said Rutherford, now the series’ director of special projects and pace car driver. “It’s an exciting concept and was when I won both at Atlanta. This is going to be exciting for the fans and the competitors, especially with the draw. When we did it, we lined up by finishing position, so I started on pole both times. I liked that, but this is a lot more exciting concept because of the random draw.”
The Firestone Twin 275s – formerly the Firestone 550k – will consist of two full-field races on the 1.5-mile, high-banked quadoval. Traditional oval qualifying will set the grid for the first race, and starting positions for the second race will be determined by that blind draw conducted immediately following the conclusion of Race 1. Teams will have one hour of preparation time between the first and second races.
Each race winner will receive 25 points through 5 points for 25th-place and subsequent finishers (all half points). The driver leading the most laps in each race will earn two bonus points, but the driver starting on pole in Race 2 won’t receive the one point that the first race pole-winner receives through two-lap qualifying. Half bonus money – $17,500 for first place through $5,000 for fifth – also will be allocated.
Additionally, entrants will utilize the same pit locations, based upon qualifications results for the Indy
500, for both races. Because of the brief amount of time between races, each team (distinguished from entry and entrant) will receive one additional engine for use as needed with its entries in Race 2.
“We want to keep the format of this event as exciting as possible for our fans as we revive this open-wheel tradition,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for INDYCAR, the series’ sanctioning body. “With the starting field for the second race set by random draw, you could see the winner from the first race starting from the back of the field, creating quite a bit of drama.
“Also, if a car suffers damage and fails to finish the first race, there will be an opportunity for the driver to rejoin in the second race as we will have extra engines available for use in their back-up chassis. We want to make sure we’re ensuring a strong field for Race 2 to keep the excitement and momentum going throughout the entire event.”
Patrick said she approved of the idea of “doing something different that generates buzz and attention,” but reiterated how a crash in Race 1 carries the potential of ruining a team’s season.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get the car back together if there’s damage,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Dallara/Honda. “I mean, usually it’s not an engine going, so it’s not like it’s just an engine change. Usually you have to change an engine because you’ve gone backwards
and backed into a wall and turned the engine over the wrong way, so there’s going to be damage on the corners for sure and an engine maybe. So I think the engine might be one of the least likely things they’ll have to change.
“But if it’s all of it (the chassis), that’s going to be a pretty overwhelming task. Maybe you’ll end up seeing some people being a little more conservative in that front race, because I’m sure the crews will talk and the engineers and the drivers will talk and they’ll say, ‘Look, we don’t have time to fix four-corner damage.’ So you’re going to have to stay out there because you’re in a position to lose up to 27 points in the second race if you don’t participate. Either way I don’t mind. But that might play into strategy.”
The second race, Patrick said, should be typical of the dogfights synonymous with TMS – albeit with a major caveat.
“I think there’s a definite likelihood for an accident in Turn 1 with the field all scrambled up out there,” said Patrick, who finished second to pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske at TMS last June. “But that’s what’s going to make it exciting. You’re going to find cars that aren’t used to driving next to each other and you’re going to find certain people maybe behind other cars that are slower and think, ‘I got to get by ‘em right away…they’re going to get anxious’…and if you’re a car that knows you’re not as fast as the fastest cars… whether you put up a fight, that’s maybe going to make for trouble. Or a lot of times just being conservative…’I’m trying to get out of your way, I’m trying to be smart out here’…you almost make worse decisions because you’re looking behind you instead of in front of you. So there’s a definite likelihood for some sparks to fly in Turn 1.”
The IndyCar Series has raced at “The Great American Speedway” 21 times, including twice in the same season seven times, since the racetrack opened in 1997.
“You have to love the open-mindedness of the INDYCAR officials for randomly selecting the starting lineup of the second Firestone Twin 275,” Gossage said. “It guarantees a real jumble, an incredible shootout in the second race. Different strategies are going to be employed for each race. What a night of racing this will be.”
There were 17 doubleheaders (nine on ovals) contested under U.S. Auto Club and Championship Auto Racing Teams sanction from 1967-81, with a driver sweeping both races 10 times. But the grid for the second race was determined by finishing order in the first contest in all 17 events.
Indy-car racing doubleheaders with race winners:
U.S. Auto Club sanction
July 1, 1967: Mosport, Canada (road-course; Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)
Aug. 6, 1967: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course; Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)
June 15, 1968: Mosport, Canada (road-course; Dan Gurney and Dan Gurney)
July 21, 1968: Indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course; Al Unser and Al Unser)
July 28, 1968: Langhorne, Pa. (Al Unser and Al Unser)
Aug. 4, 1968: St. Jovite, Canada (road-course; Mario Andretti and Mario Andretti)
July 27, 1969: Indianapolis Raceway Park (road-course; Dan Gurney and Peter Revson)
Sept. 14, 1969: Brainerd, Minn. (road-course; Gordon Johncock and Dan Gurney)
Oct. 19, 1969: Kent, Wash. (road-course; Mario Andretti and Al Unser)
Feb. 28, 1971: Rafaela, Argentina (Al Unser and Al Unser)
April 15, 1973: Trenton, N.J. (A.J. Foyt Jr. and Mario Andretti)
Sept. 16, 1973: Michigan International Speedway (Billy Vukovich and Johnny Rutherford)
Sept. 22, 1974: Trenton, N.J. (A.J. Foyt Jr. and Bobby Unser)
Championship Auto Racing Teams sanction
April 22, 1979: Atlanta Motor Speedway (Johnny Rutherford and Johnny Rutherford)
June 10, 1979: Trenton, N.J. (Bobby Unser and Bobby Unser)
July 15, 1979: Michigan International Speedway (Gordon Johncock and Bobby Unser)
June 28, 1981: Atlanta Motor Speedway (Rick Mears and Rick Mears)
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment