Power Solves New Downforce Rule; Wins TMS Pole

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 6 2014

Will Power will start Saturday night's IndyCar Series race from P1. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Will Power qualified on-pole for the Firestone 600 Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway and almost immediately began channeling his inner Helio.

That would be Castroneves, Power’s Team Penske teammate and defending event champion of what is billed as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race.”

Power posted a cumulative two-lap time of 48.0935-seconds at 217.826 mph around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval to bag his second Verizon P1 Award of 2014 and second in a row here. The pole was the 34th of Power’s career, allowing him to pass retired/four-time series champion Dario Franchitti for sole possession of sixth on the all-time list.

With track temperatures reading 125 degrees at mid-afternoon, Power managed to work the added 300 pounds of downforce allowed by sanctioning body INDYCAR to his advantage during a run that knocked Josef Newgarden off the provisional pole he had earned 30 minutes earlier.

“I could see people were dropping-off a lot on the second lap,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet and the series point-leader. “I was able to pretty much stay flat (on the throttle) for the two laps. I was actually surprised at the speed of the first lap (219.550 mph) and thought, ‘I have to do it again.’ Great start to the weekend. I’m very focused on the race. Last year Helio was very strong, so I’m trying to get a car that good for the race if I can.”

Castroneves, who trails Power by 19 points (326-307) after six events, dominated last June by leading a race-high 132 of 228 laps – all of it during the second half of the event. Castroneves took the lead from Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport on Lap 97 and checked-out of Cowtown en route to a 4.6919-second margin of victory over Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Despite being pipped for pole, Newgarden posted the best qualifying effort of his three-year IndyCar Series career. Newgarden, of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, previously had qualified fourth on the Streets of Long Beach and at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

“I was happily surprised,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 67 Strike/SFHR Dallara/Honda. “We worked mainly on race stuff this morning (during the lone, 75-minute practice). We literally did not trim (for qualifying) whatsoever. You saw us in full race-trim.

“You don’t really know what you have for qualifying but our theory was we made the race car as good as possible over the lifespan of the Firestone tires. The name of the game is how to reduce tire degradation during the course of a run, so that’s what we focused on. We didn’t go super-conservative for qualifying but we didn’t go to the edge. The car was really fast. It’s almost like at Christmas getting what you want.”

INDYCAR worked out the current aero package with driver input and in collaboration with Firestone Racing during a mid-April test here. The added downforce is an attempt by the sanctioning body to at least close the gap on the single-file racing seen here last June while avoiding “pack racing” and giving the drivers a chance to manage the inevitable degradation of their Firestone tires.

But Power said he doesn’t see the latter as an issue. “They seem to drop and then plateau and you’ll just run a consistent pace,” said Power, who won this event as a Twin 275-miler in 2011. “It seems with extra downforce you can maintain maybe the 205 range, starting your runs at 210s, maybe a 5-miles-an-hour drop-off. I’m not sure that looking after your tires will actually help. It’s hard to say.

“The cooler track temps (Saturday night) should help the car, should give it more grip, should help the tires. As the night goes on in the actual race things will get cooler and there may be a bigger drop.”

While there is mixed opinion if the added downforce will allow for closer racing via a second, higher groove, Power said he is sure of one thing. “It’s absolutely in the driver’s hands now,” Power said. “The races we had here in the past were taken out of the driver’s hands. It was like highway racing, just wide-open. And you just sit for a whole stint side-by-side; you’re kind of totally taking the driver out of the equation. Apart from that it’s bloody dangerous.

“Right now, we’re creeping back to trying to close it up a bit. For the drivers, it’s great because you really have to drive the car. And when you’re driving the car at 210 mph it’s not easy when it’s sliding in an open-wheel car. Not sure if the crowd appreciates that, like how hard we’re working now. It might look easy, but it’s real tough.”

Row 2 in a 22-car field features 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan in the third spot after a cumulative total of 217.826 mph in the No. 10 Suave for Men Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Target Chip Ganassi Racing. He will start the 248-lap/372-mile event alongside Juan Pablo Montoya at 217.724 mph in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet.

Owner/driver Ed Carpenter, Indy 500 pole-sitter the last two years, qualified fifth at 217.677 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/ECR Dallara/Chevrolet and was not pleased. “There was just no grip,” said Carpenter, who fell from 218.326 mph on his first lap to 217.031 mph on his second. “I’m not sure this aero package is right. Texas Motor Speedway is the toughest oval track we run now. (But) I think everyone’s worried about something that’s a non-issue. To me, if you look back historically at this race, even 2006-07, it wasn’t pack racing. Everyone’s worried about pack racing from Vegas in 2011. It’s been single-file (at TMS) since 2007 but everyone still thinks we race in packs here. That’s just not the case.”

Simon Pagenaud, winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the combined road and oval layout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month, will start sixth after posting a speed of 217.222 mph in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Dallara/Honda.

Scott Dixon, the three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion, qualified seventh at 217.128 mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “This morning there seemed like there was two usable lanes,” Dixon said of the practice. “How it plays out for the race, it should get better just because of the sheer fact it will be at night, a little cooler and a little more grip as the track rubbers-in. The second lane for the Indy cars is really quite rough, so it’ll be hard to see until we actually get out there and run it.”

Dixie will start alongside Justin Wilson, winner of the Firestone 550 in 2012, after lapping at 217.007 mph in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

Meanwhile, reigning Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will start 12th after lapping at 216.823 mph in the No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

“We had a bit of an imbalance,” said Hunter-Reay, who posted disappointing finishes of 16th and 19th during last weekend’s double-header at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. “We weren’t really ‘in the racetrack’ as we like to call it. But the car was on top of the racetrack, moving around a lot when you get in the corner and just scrubbing too much speed because of it.

“We need to go back and work on our mechanical grip setup so we can have a bit more grip out there. The DHL crew had a great run here last year (finished second after leading 35 laps), and I think we should have a good night tomorrow. It’s going to be difficult with the downforce and the current (tire) compound we’re running.”

Castroneves wound up a puzzling 14th on the grid after lapping at 216.591 mph in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Dallara/Chevrolet.

“Very weird, because in practice it was so good,” said Castroneves, who was fifth on the practice sheet at 217.529 mph after 55 laps. “Very strange because most of us (at Team Penske) are running a very similar setup. Just not understanding why there was so much understeer than the other guys. We’ll calculate all these little details, but we’re sure going to find out. I couldn’t go flat, that’s why I’m a little bit surprised. So, something to learn.

“That’s my engineer’s job to figure that out what happened. But if you’ve got to have a little hiccup here, this is the place to be because it’s an oval. And the way the car is, we can pass on the oval. We just got to be patient and go to the front.”

Despite the added downforce, Wilson described his two-lap run as “a handful,” an adjective used by many drivers after last year’s event.

Asked to explain how the sanctioning body added that downforce, Wilson said, “We still don’t have the full (sidepod) tunnels back. What they did is they gave us more wing angle. The most downforce you could run was minus-five degrees on the rear main plate. This year we can go all the way to zero. Adding rear downforce five degrees is what they’ve done. Also , you can put a wicker on the rear wing.

“And I’m glad Josef’s car is balanced and he’s having fun, because I’m definitely sliding around. I’ve come to expect that at this place. You get loose in the middle (of the 24-degree banked turns). I think the race is going to be the same. You have to manage the Firestones. We just abuse them around here. We’re sliding the entire time. I’m expecting it to be quite interesting.”

Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan topped the speed chart during the final half-hour IndyCar Series practice late Friday afternoon. With the track temperature holding steady at 125 degrees at 6:45 p.m., Dixon led the way with a lap in 24.5667-seconds at 213.215 mph and Kanaan following at 213.187 mph.

Third-fast was Ryan Briscoe, driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet, at 212.909 mph. Will Power, pole-sitter for Saturday night’s Firestone 600, was fourth at 212.800 mph with owner/driver Ed Carpenter fifth at 212.598 mph.

Saturday’s race will be televised by NBC Sports Network beginning at 7 p.m. (CDT) with the green flag to wave at 7:50 p.m. The race also will be carried via the IMS Radio Network as well as XM Channel 209/Sirius Channel 213.

Single-file restarts will be implemented at all remaining Verizon IndyCar Series events this season, beginning with Saturday night’s Firestone 600 at TMS.

INDYCAR announced the modification its restart procedures late Friday afternoon. The series previously employed double-file restarts on all oval tracks, except the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and single-file restarts on all road and street-course events.

“This year we’ve made improvements in our ability to monitor and police restarts that has resulted in great single-file restarts at all of our events, including the Indianapolis 500,” Derrick Walker, INDYCAR president of competitions and operations, said in a statement. “We also felt it was important to place our competitors in the exact running order as they were prior to the caution and not provide an advantage to some drivers because of the lane they were in during a double-file restart.”

Eleven events remain on the 2014 schedule, including double-headers at Reliant Park in Houston June 28-29 and The Streets of Toronto July 19-20. Five ovals remain to be run, including the season-ender at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Aug. 30.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 6 2014
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