IndyCar Moves Test, Angers TMS President

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 2 2012

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage not happy with INDYCAR. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin  | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – IZOD IndyCar Series officials have rescheduled a critical oval Open Test at Texas Motor Speedway from mid-March to May 7.

“With our teams in the midst of preparations for the first four road/street events of the season, it is more beneficial to move the oval Open Test to early May,” Beaux Barfield, president of competition, INDYCAR, said in a news release Friday afternoon. “Teams won’t be forced to switch to an oval setup then back to a road-course setup the week before the season-opener under this new schedule. Additionally, this will open the door for teams to utilize this time for one last road-course test before the season-opener.”

The 16-race 2012 season will open with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 25.

Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology, Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske and Alex Tagliani of Team Barracuda BHA tested on the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval on Feb. 21 to assist series officials in determining the aero package on high-speed ovals for the new Dallara DW12 chassis.

“We were pleased with the outcome of our first test at Texas,” said Will Phillips, vice president of technology, INDYCAR. “We were able to establish a baseline and try a variety of aero packages on the new car. We are now analyzing the data and driver feedback from the test to determine the aero package we will use for our Open Test.”

Despite that positive spin, the test re-ignited long-standing concerns over the inherent dangers of pack racing. And while rumors of a possible boycott by series drivers created buzz on several websites, former series champion Kanaan said he was confident team engineers and sanctioning body officials would figure out an aerodynamic downforce fix before the annual night race in Fort Worth on June 9.

TMS’ 1.5-mile layout – which has played host to INDYCAR since its inaugural 1997 season – is the only track of its size on the 2012 schedule. The track’s 24-degree banked turns have produced some of the series’ most breathtaking side-by-side racing, close finishes _ and spectacular crashes. From a marketing standpoint, TMS president Eddie Gossage’s promotional prowess widely has been recognized as a key component in the series’ growth.

Still, drivers remain skittish in the aftermath of two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash at sister 1.5-mile track Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011. Wheldon, the 2005 series champion, died as the result of head injuries suffered when his car was catapulted into a fence post during a 15-car wreck in the season-ender.

The teams reportedly ran individual programs during the morning at TMS before multiple lapping stints in the afternoon specifically featuring side-by-side and drafting situations.

Kanaan, as driver’s representative, raised the red flag on the aero package run last week. “After Dan ‘s tragedy, INDYCAR told us there would be no more pack racing,” Kanaan, series champion in 2004, told Speed.com. “I can tell you after the test that there’s going to be pack racing with this aero package unless the downforce is reduced. But we’re hoping that INDYCAR can make some changes before we go back as a group and test again at Texas. Having said that, we don’t think boycotting is the right thing to do at this time.”

TMS’ catch-fence posts are of the same design as at LVMS, and that fact prompted a defensive response from Gossage.

“I’m really disappointed and don’t know why IndyCar drivers feel the need to constantly damage the sport,” Gossage said at a NASCAR promotion this week in Dallas. “You know, engineers have told us over and over that the current fence design is the best that technology provides us today. But if you were a sponsor, if you were a fan, if you were a TV network – why would you get involved with IndyCar racing if they can’t tell you today where they’re going to race tomorrow? And the drivers – the spokespersons for the sport – are tearing it down?

“So, it’s absolutely irresponsible of those drivers, and they deserve – because of the way they conduct themselves sometimes – they deserve where they stand now in the food chain of motorsports.”

Gossage, a key ally of INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard, said he will continue to deal with the sanctioning body on a year-by-year basis. “They just keep shooting themselves in the foot and I don’t understand it,” Gossage said.”Great show. Unbelievable skills. But just lacking common sense.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 2 2012
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