Tagliani, Aero Revisions Are Big Texas Stories

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012

Alex Tagliani won the IndyCar pole at Texas Motor Speedway Friday. Not long afterward, series officials adjusted the rules. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – INDYCAR’s search for the perfect aero sweet spot at Texas Motor Speedway continued after qualifying for the Firestone 550k late Friday afternoon, when the sanctioning body tweaked its aero package for the 1.5-mile quadoval for a third time.

Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, confirmed that Saturday night’s 228-lap/342-mile IZOD IndyCar Series event will be run with 125-pounds of downforce added to the series’ new Dallara DW12 chassis. In addition, one-eighth inch of wicker has been added to the rear wing.

“It’s a good compromise in trying to balance what we think will put on the best show in the safest possible fashion,” Phillips said during an impromptu media briefing in the Samsung mobile Media Center as the final half-hour practice unfolded with the changes.

Earlier in the afternoon, Alex Tagliani, driving the No. 98 Team Barracuda-BHA Dallara/Honda, recorded a two-lap average of 215.691 mph (at 48.5695-seconds) to claim his second consecutive pole at TMS and first for Bryan Herta Autosport.

“We are very happy to start up-front, and I’d like to think we will be a threat in the race,” said Tagliani, who earned the eighth pole of his IndyCar career. “The whole team won this pole.”

Three-time Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Energizer Dallara/Honda for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, was second-fast at 215.646 mph – 0.0102-seconds behind Tag. Graham Rahal posted his highest starting position of the season, third, at 215.544 mph in the No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. He will be joined on Row 2 by Scott Dixon (215.331 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda.

The latest changes followed another downforce reduction agreed upon by drivers and the sanctioning


body during a meeting at last weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. INDYCAR established a baseline package during a test among three drivers at TMS on Feb. 21 and followed with an Open Test on May 7 in which a variety of options to reduce downforce emerged.

Prior to practice Friday, INDYCAR issued a competition bulletin which eliminated the use of wickerbills on the rear wing or beam wickers. But at 6 p.m., INDYCAR issued another bulletin which allows a rear wing wicker up to one-eighth inch in height and full span.

Franchitti topped the speed chart during Friday’s first practice at 24.3941-seconds and 214.724 mph.

“There was some concern that it’s gone a step too far,” Phillips said, echoing Franchitti, “that we’d taken too much (downforce) away. And if conditions stayed hot, trying to balance the temperature of the track and what we’re expecting tomorrow against today, to give them another 125-pounds each of downforce should put them in a really good position.

“It should mean that with new tires they should be flat (on the gas) on their own. In traffic, with a tow, they still might be flat, but only when tires are new. So as the tires go off they’ll get to a point where it’s not going to be so easy and the drivers will make the difference. That’s something they’ve always been clamoring for, ‘Put it back in our hands.’ It’s always been a case coming here that we’ll have to work with temperatures and see what the conditions are like and go from there.

“We’ve been in full dialogue with the drivers before, during and after the sessions, even as the sessions are going on through Race Control. The drivers will be a lot more confident going into the day, and that’s part of making a good show.”

Saturday night’s race is the first of the season on a 1.5-mile, high-banked oval, and first since two-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon was fatally injured in a multiple-car wreck at sister track Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

The series of aero changes were issued against the backdrop of rumors suggesting that Eddie Gossage, TMS president, and INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard will not renew their contract for open-wheel racing in 2013. TMS has played host to 23 IndyCar Series races since its inaugural season under the Indy Racing League banner in 1997.

“Let’s see what the show is. It’s all about putting on a good show,” Phillips said when asked about that thorny issue.

Dixon, winner at TMS in 2008, found the new aero package to his immediate liking by turning a lap in 24.2344-seconds and 216.139 mph to lead the final practice. Mike Conway, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda, was second-quick at 215.349 mph. Pole-sitter Tagliani rounded out the top three at 215.148 mph.

The aero package teams agreed upon after the Open Test was at least temporarily shelved following the meeting at Belle Isle in favor of another downforce reduction.

“I don’t know the exact number, (but) it was significant. Hundreds of pounds, yes,” said Franchitti, who won the first of the Firestone Twin 275 races here last June. “That’s what everybody felt we need but we may have overshot just a little bit. That was the consensus here, the consensus with everybody. The series was great; they said, ‘OK, give us feedback during or after the session and we’ll make a decision from there.’ It’s a moving target with this new car and everybody’s trying to make the best of it.”

Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske first broached the subject of another reduction in downforce Friday morning.

“In Detroit we all sort of put our heads together again,” Briscoe said, “and it was a unanimous decision to reduce the downforce further for this weekend, so that we’re sort of getting out of that mentality of coming to this circuit and just being wide-open. I’ve never been here and thought that I’m going to have to start working on the racing line and breathe it going into the corners, or whatever. When you get the whole field going out and running wide-open for at least 20 laps in a stint…that’s ‘pack racing.’

“We have a bigger mission as drivers to try to improve the safety in the series. And certainly after Vegas this is the next 1.5-mile oval we’re doing and we want to take the right steps toward making it safer and getting cars off of running right on top of each other. We’ll have to see. I expect there to be a little bit of a spread between cars and it’s probably going to change our philosophy of how you’re going to race around this track. It’s going to be kind of a new event for us all, so I’m pretty excited about that. It’s been good to see all the drivers working together to improve the safety.”

Franchitti, who admitted he was “not comfortable” racing at TMS during a promotional tour in downtown Fort Worth on May 29, said teams continue to work here with what essentially is a blank slate. In addition to the new chassis, teams are competing here for the first time with 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines from Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.

“This is a new car, different regulations than we tested here,” said Franchitti, the four-time/reigning series champion. “With this new car, we’re looking for a package that races well and gets rid of the ‘pack thing’ and trying to put the driving back in the driver’s hands. The series is trying to work on that with the drivers and the teams. We’ve all got the same agenda.”

Franchitti said he experienced a particularly scary moment exiting Turn 4 late in the first practice session. “That was 180 degrees of opposite-lock at Texas, that’s not really back-and-forth when you’re doing 215 mph,” Franchitti said. “That’s, how do I put it? We wrecked, we just didn’t know it. That was a massive, massive save and my heart was beating about 100 beats faster. It wasn’t much fun.”

Qualifying results Friday for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550K:

1. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 215.691

2. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara/Honda, 215.646

3. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 215.554

4. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 215.331

5. (12) Will Power, Dallara/Chevy, 215.116

6. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Chevy, 214.920

7. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Chevy, 214.701

8. (14) Mike Conway, Dallara/Honda, 214.458

9. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Chevy, 214.424

10. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 214.196

11. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Honda, 214.082

12. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara/Chevy, 214.060

13. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara/Chevy, 213.957

14. (8) Rubens Barrichello, Dallara/Chevy, 213.949

15. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Chevy, 213.927

16. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara/Chevy, 213.444

17. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevy, 213.402

18. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 212.833

19. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 212.136

20. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara/Chevy, 211.643

21. (19) James Jakes, Dallara/Honda, 211.245

22. (6) Katherine Legge, Dallara/Chevy, 210.543

23. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara/Lotus, 204.066

24. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Chevy, 202.596

25. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Honda, no speed.

Global Rallycross Championship point-leader Marcus Gronholm earned the top seed during qualifying Friday morning for the inaugural Hoon Kaboom Texas. Gronholm, of Finland, ran a fast lap of 26.116-seconds on the man-made layout in his No. 3 Best Buy Mobile/OMSE 2012 Ford Fiesta to earn the top seed among an 18-car field for Saturday’s heats starting at 3:30 p.m. (CDT).

Tanner Foust, Gronholm’s Ford Racing teammate, led an American contingent to four of the top six seeds, as he was second-quickest at 26.125-seconds in the No. 34 Rockstar Energy Etnies Ford/OMSE 2012 Ford Fiesta. Liam Doran, driver of the No. 33 Monster Energy Citroen Racing 2012 Citroen C4, was third at 26.408-seconds followed by Americans Ken Block, Samuel Hubinette and Brian Deegan.

Hoon Kaboom Texas is the opening event of Saturday’s doubleheader, with the GRC drivers competing from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. (CDT). The Firestone 550k IndyCar Series race is set to take the green flag at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for Hoon Kaboom Texas and the Firestone 550 are available by calling the TMS ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 8 2012
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