With Boycott Talk Silenced, Gossage Takes Breath

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 10 2012

Tony Kanaan gets ready to head out on to track at Texas. He never used the "B" word. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

FORT WORTH, Texas – INDYCAR’s highly anticipated Open Test at Texas Motor Speedway produced 1,172 incident-free laps around the 1.5-mile quadoval on Monday, and not a single mention of the one word track president Eddie Gossage definitely did not want to hear – boycott.

Rumors of a possible boycott by IZOD IndyCar Series drivers surfaced on several websites after Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe and Alex Tagliani “baseline-tested” the new Dallara DW12 chassis outfitted with 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines from Chevrolet and Lotus on Feb. 21.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar champion, expressed concern then about the inherent dangers of pack racing with the new package. This was barely four months after the death of two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon from head injuries suffered in a 15-car crash at sister 1.5-mile track Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

A revised aerodynamic package with less downforce emerged from “a range of options” available to IndyCar teams hot-lapping over 6.5-hours Monday, momentarily easing concerns over pack racing on INDYCAR’s lone remaining 1.5-mile oval. TMS will play host to the Firestone 550k night race on Saturday, June 9.

Monday’s speed chart for two sessions was topped by two-time series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing at 212.371 mph in his No. 9 Dallara/Honda. Tagliani qualified on-pole for the first

Scott Dixon heads into pits during this week's IndyCar test at Texas Motor Speedway. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

of last June’s Firestone Twin 275k races at 215.186 mph in a Dallara powered by a Honda Indy V-8 engine.

“When you put it in the hands of the driver, you want to see who’s got the intestinal fortitude to stick their foot in it. It’s supposed to be tough,” said Gossage, who chatted with several drivers during the day. “This is really the first time they’ve been back to a high-banked oval (since Vegas) and who could blame them (for being apprehensive?) But I haven’t heard anything negative all day. I think they’re impressed there’s more things they can tune on this car and the progress made since the first time they were in it here. So it gives them comfort.”

Gossage, whose track has played host to open-wheel racing since its inaugural season in 1997, said he thought the cars “looked great,” especially during the final half-hour of practice when a number of drivers simulated drafting and passing through the 24-degree banked turns.

“Looks like an Indy-car, sounds like an Indy-car,” Gossage said. “I like the turbo. The turbo is cool. You look at the speed – 212 vs. 215 on-pole last year – they’re in the right category of speed. I’d like to see ‘em even slower but think they’ve done a good job. Graham Rahal told me that with less downforce, it’s like the track is slippery. That could make for good racing.”

The Rookie Orientation Program for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27 will be condensed into three speed phases from its traditional four, while still maintaining a total of 40 laps. ROP is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. today at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Opening Day of practice for all entrants is Saturday.

Phase I will consist of 10 laps at speeds ranging from 200 to 205 mph. Phase II will consist of 15 laps at speeds ranging from 205 to 210 mph, and Phase III will focus on 15 laps at 210 mph-plus. Data and car settings will be monitored by officials as drivers progress through the phases.

Arie Luyendyk, driver coach and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, will oversee ROP on behalf of

Wade Cunningham of A.J. Foyt Racing is in ROP this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

IZOD IndyCar Series officials along with Beaux Barfield, race director for sanctioning body INDYCAR. Tony Kanaan, the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series champion and driver for KV Racing Technology, will serve as driver advisor.

“As we head into preparations for the Indianapolis 500, we felt it was important to have ROP pace our rookie drivers through more quality laps at relevant speeds,” said Barfield, INDYCAR’s president of competition. “Our emphasis will focus on car-control, car-placement and a consistent driving pattern in addition to the speed benchmarks.

“We have a great wealth of experience in the paddock that we can utilize to prepare these drivers for their first run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Arie will be a great resource – from a general racing line to reading the wind to prepare for entry into Turn 1. Additionally, it is beneficial to have a current driver such as Tony on hand to speak specifically on driving the new car at Indianapolis.”

Luyendyk, who made 17 consecutive starts in the 500 and was the 1985 Rookie of the Year, also holds the track’s four-lap (236.986 mph in 1996) and one-lap (237.498 mph) qualifying records.

“It’s really good for the rookies to have the opportunity to have guys like us to talk to them and give them insight,” Luyendyk said. “I’ll share a lot of my experiences – stuff that catches you and before you know it you’re out. No matter how many times you drive on this racetrack, there’s always something to learn.”

Phases I and II must be completed today, or during other rookie-only sessions to be scheduled by INDYCAR on Saturday and Sunday. Phase III may be completed at any time the track is open to all cars.

Drivers scheduled to participate include former Formula One regular Jean Alesi for Fan Force United; Katherine Legge, No. 6 Dragon Racing; Rubens Barrichello, No. 8 KV Racing Technology; James Jakes, No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing; Bryan Clauson, No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing; Wade Cunningham, No. 41 A.J. Foyt Racing; Josef Newgarden, No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Simon Pagenaud, No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports.

In addition, Indianapolis 500 veteran Sebastien Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car World Series

Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud are under scrutiny this week.

champion and former F1 regular, will participate in a refresher program today.

Luyendyk won Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors after starting 20th and finishing seventh in a class that included Raul Boesel, Jim Crawford, John Paul Jr., Ed Pimm and Rich Vogler. Insight about how to approach the 2.5-mile racetrack and the mental aspects of how to approach Race Day will be prominent in the lead-up to on-track activity.

“I’ll take them around in a pace car and show them the general line,” Luyendyk said. “And I’ll point out things to them like keep your eye on the wind sock on a windy day because you can adjust your position as you turn into Turn 1 or Turn 3. I’ll tell them where all the trucks are stationed so if they have a problem they can try to pull off nearby. When you come out of the pits on the backstraight, don’t think the track’s your own because the guy coming up behind you is a lot quicker.

“As I go around with the pace car I keep remembering things and I’ll share. Some of them are personal preferences like the way I was seated in the car or the way I wanted to have the steering wheel (level).

“Then there’s the mental approach to the race. If you’re on the radio with a guy, you can mentally coach him at certain times through the race. Like if he has a certain set of tires and all of a sudden the car is not handling well and he’s going five mph slower than before, you need to step in and say, ‘OK, this is bad news but you have to hang on. Don’t get frustrated. Other guys will have it happen to them.’ You have to reassure them that it’s going to be OK, even if it’s not. A lot of guys get on a roll, they’re running well and one stint in their mind is destroying their race. You don’t want them to get frustrated and crash.”

One of Jean Alesi’s first stops upon arriving in Indianapolis on Monday was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it wasn’t to tour the museum.

The 47-year-old former Formula One veteran of 13 seasons announced in September he wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time for the “mighty but hugely attractive challenge.” With official paperwork submitted to INDYCAR on Tuesday, the Frenchman took the initial step to making it a reality.

Today, Alesi will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program in a Lotus-powered Dallara entered by Firestone Indy Lights team Fan Force United. Alesi is a Lotus ambassador and his personal sponsor, FP Journe  – a Swiss watch-maker – is the primary sponsor of his Month of May effort.

“I feel ready for the Indy 500, but also I am very happy to be doing the rookie test ahead of real practice,” said Alesi, who last week spent two days at the Dallara Automobili factory in Italy learning about the Speedway and car set-ups on its sophisticated simulator. “This will give me time to gain confidence and the feeling for the car and the track. The race is now just three weeks away, and we’re going to be working flat-out up to that date.

“We’ve been talking about this race for a long time and trying to find the right team to go with. I’m very happy to be joining Fan Force United. Lotus believes it’s the right place for me to be, and I trust the team completely and am sure we will do a super job.”

Former IndyCar driver Tyce Carlson, Jason Peters, Scott Williamson and Chris Williams comprise the

Charlie Kimball tested Texas this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

ownership group of Fan Force United, which also will field entries in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Speedway on May 25 for Emerson Newton-John and Firestone Indy Lights regular Armaan Ebrahim.

“Our goal has always been to win the Indy 500, but first you must qualify and we are working hard to achieve that with Jean and Lotus,” Williams said. “Our team has a huge amount of experience, which will hopefully help Jean to achieve his goals.” Former IndyCar team-owner Greg Beck’s braintrust includes Indy 500-winning engineer Tim Wardrop and team manager Ted Bitting.

Alesi made 201 F1 starts with six teams, the last with Jordan in the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix. In his debut in 1989 – in place of Michele Alboreto at the French Grand Prix for Tyrrell Racing – Alesi finished fourth. He since has competed in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), the Speedcar Series and in the 24 Hours of Le Mans (2010).

In a rather cryptic statement, Lotus said: “It’s going to be very interesting to see how far natural skill can get him.”

A 2013 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 will pace the starting field for the 96th Indianapolis 500. With 638 horsepower, the Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful production car ever to serve as the Official Pace Car. Driver of the car has yet to be announced.

The first Chevrolet selected as the Indianapolis 500 Pace Car was the 1948 Fleetmaster Six. This will be the 23rd time a Chevrolet has paced “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the 11th time a Corvette is serving as Pace Car, both event records. The 2013 model year will be historic for Corvette, marking its 60th Anniversary and the final year of production for the current generation.

“This is a truly momentous year for Chevrolet when it comes to performance, with our continued success on-and-off-track and especially with our return to the IndyCar Series,” said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports.

A supercharged, 6.2-liter LS9 engine generating 638 horsepower helps create the performance base for the ZR1. Of all mass-production companies, Chevrolet is the leader in carbon fiber parts, with the lightweight material used for structural components on the ZR1’s front fenders, hood, roof, front splitter, rocker panels and floor pans.

With a curb weight of 3,353 pounds, the ZR1 features a power-to-weight ratio of just 5.2-pounds-per- horsepower. The ZR1’s advance technology includes Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Launch Control system with Performance Track Management, a four-channel ABS system and Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brake rotors. As a result, the ZR1 is the fastest Chevrolet ever produced, capable of accelerating from 0-to-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, reaching a top speed of 205 mph and lapping the famed Nurburgring Nordschleife (“North Loop”) in 7 minutes, 19.63-seconds.

For 2013, all Corvettes will feature 60th Anniversary badges on the fascias and the “waterfall” panel on convertible models, as well as 60th logos in the instrument panel gauge cluster and on the sill plates.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 10 2012
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