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INDYCAR Gives Thumbs Down To A Boost For Lotus

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 23 2012

The Lotus-powered cars of Jean Alesi, above, and Simona de Silvestro will take to the track at Indy on Sunday without a hoped-for horsepower boost. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Lotus’ underpowered IZOD IndyCar Series engine program will have to compete “as-is” during Sunday’s 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.

INDYCAR, sanctioning body for the open-wheel series, announced Tuesday that all three engine manufacturers would run the scheduled 200-lapper around Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a boost level of 130 kilopascals (kPa) for their 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 powerplants.

INDYCAR allowed all drivers and teams to compete with a bump in turbocharger boost of 10 kPa (130 to 140 kilopascals) – equal to about 40 horsepower and four-to-five mph per lap – during qualifications last weekend around the 2.5-mile oval. Even with that additional boost, the Lotus-powered Dallara DW12s qualified by Simona de Silvestro and rookie Jean Alesi at the tail end of Row 11 posted speeds alarmingly slow in comparison to pole-winner Ryan Briscoe’s four-lap/10-mile average.

De Silvestro will start 32nd after posting an average of 214.393 mph in the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy entry fielded by Lotus-HVM Racing. The Swiss native’s speed is 12.091 mph slower than Briscoe’s pole average of 226.484 mph in the No. 2 IZOD Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske.

Meanwhile, Alesi’s average of 210.094 mph in the No. 64 Lotus-FP Journe-Fan Force United Lotus is a massive 16.390 mph slower than Briscoe’s tour de Bowtie. The 47-year-old Formula One veteran will start shotgun on the field in what will be the first oval-track race in his career.

Row 11 is led by Indy 500 rookie Bryan Clauson, who crashed during practice Saturday and was forced to sit-out Pole Day. Clauson, the reigning U.S. Auto Club champion, qualified his repaired-with-a-Band-Aid No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman/Curb Agajanian Dallara/Honda 31st at 214.455 mph.

Safety concerns over the speed disparity prompted INDYCAR officials to consider leaving the boost level at 140 kPa for all Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus-powered engines. That option ultimately was rejected.

“After evaluating a variety of options and speaking with all engine manufacturers, we feel it is best from both a competition and safety standpoint to maintain the current superspeedway boost level for our Lotus-powered entrants,” Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice-president of technology, said in a statement.

“At this point, there are too many unknown variables in allowing an engine to run a full-race distance at the increased boost level, so it’s something we are going to need to explore further,” Phillips continued. “At the beginning of the season we mandated there would be no changes to performance regulations prior to June 18, and we plan to maintain that time frame.”

Beaux Barfield, president of competition for INDYCAR, added: “From a safety standpoint, we will be keeping a close eye on speeds as the race progresses to ensure that all cars are within 105 percent of the race leader’s pace. We want to make sure that we are managing the speeds and car placement as the drivers navigate through traffic.”

De Silvestro acknowledged her car is down on horsepower during her post-qualifying interview, but insisted Lotus is making improvements. “We know, even for the race, it’s going to be difficult so we just have to focus on what we have to do and learn as much as we can,” de Silvestro said.

Asked about her Race Day strategy, de Silvestro added: “I’ll try to be as much out of the way as possible because I know when you have a fast car it’s annoying when somebody is that much slower. We all respect each other, and I just have to do my job to be quick and not try to be in the way, too. That’s kind of our goal for the race.”

Lotus’ current IndyCar Series engine program was announced in November 2010. De Silvestro put the Lotus twin-turbo through its initial shakedown run in January. But plagued by a late-start in comparison to General Motors/Ilmor and Honda Performance Development and a lack of parts in its pipeline, Lotus dropped Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Team Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosport and Dragon Racing from its roster leading into the Month of May at IMS.

Top-10 qualifier Josef Newgarden was the center of attention during the 38th annual Fastest Rookie of the Year luncheon Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Newgarden, who recorded a four-lap/10-mile average of 224.677 mph during the first segment of qualifying on Sunday, will start seventh in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Dollar General Dallara/Honda. Newgarden, who paced the opening day of practice on May 12, is the highest-starting rookie since Danica Patrick qualified fourth in 2005 en route to an historic fourth-place finish.

“It all comes down to the team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing,” said Newgarden, a 21-year-old resident of Hendersonville, Tenn., who won the Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race at IMS in May 2011. “I think they did a great job of giving (fellow-rookie) Bryan (Clauson) and me comfortable, quick and reliable race cars, and without that it’s difficult to be quick around this place. We’ve had a strong car all month. Now we just have to finish it off in the race.”

The SFHR teammates are joined by rookies Jean Alesi of Fan Force United, Rubens Barrichello of KV Racing Technology, Wade Cunningham of A.J. Foyt Racing, James Jakes of Dale Coyne Racing, Katherine Legge of Dragon Racing and Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports.

The event was sponsored by the American Dairy Association of Indiana, which supplies the traditional quart of cold milk for the race-winner in Victory Circle.

INDYCAR has fined the No. 5 Dallara/Chevrolet driven by E.J. Viso of KV Racing Technology $25,000 for not complying with Rule 14.12.3. during post-qualifying technical inspection. The rule states that any devices designed to push or pull back caliper pistons or pads is not permitted. On Sunday, officials announced they had fined 11 teams – including Penske Racing’s No. 2 Dallara/Chevrolet of pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe – $15,000 each for failure to comply with three rules during pre-qualifying technical inspection for Indy 500 Time Trials.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 23 2012
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Ed Smith says:

    The Lotus powered cars should withdraw from the race so the Indy 500 runs with a 31 car field. This would show the world how mis-managed the Indy Racing League [still] is under the “leadership” of Randy Barnard, the idiot that gave us the Las Vegas race last year.

  • Phoenix says:

    So, here we go again. The smart people who run Indycar have decided to not let Lotus engines have a boost to run with the field. These are the same people who came up with that great idea for the Las Vegas race.