Water Adds Another Layer Of Intrigue To IndyCar Race In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 11 2016
Word is that IndyCar drivers in Saturday night's race at Texas Motor Speedway will use the whole track. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Word is that IndyCar drivers in Saturday night’s race at Texas Motor Speedway will use the whole track. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas _ Rain in and around Texas Motor Speedway unexpectedly has thrown another element for Verizon IndyCar Series teams to consider heading into Saturday night’s Firestone 600.

After practice and qualifying conducted with ambient temperatures in the mid-90s and track temps at times exceeding 130 degrees, TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval will be “green” as the green flag for the start of the 248-lap/372-miler. NBC Sports Network’s coverage is set for 8 p.m. (EDT), with the start at 8:50 p.m.

The 20th edition of “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Series Race” will be the first contested here with all 22 cars equipped with INDYCAR-mandated domed skid plates and rear wing beam flips. A safety feature running the full underbelly of the Dallara DW12 chassis, domed skids are designed to create additional downforce and reduce the chances of a car becoming airborne in the event of a high-speed slide or spin.

Meanwhile, degradation of Firestone’s latest tire compound also has drawn the attention of a field that will be led by pole-sitter Carlos Munoz of Colombia and Andretti Autosport. “I remember last year, practice was a little bit mess for everyone. I wasn’t happy with my car,” said Munoz, who bagged his first career series pole with a two-lap run Friday of 48.2460-seconds and 217.137 mph in his No. 26 Honda. “Practice seems the same. Anyone is really happy.

I run a little bit in traffic with the race balance, everything. The car feels good. But like I say, practice really different. The night, the temperatures are lower, almost no wind in the night. So that makes easier the life for everyone.

If you have a good car, doesn’t matter if you start last or first, I think you have also to be really competitive from Lap 20 to 50 or 40 _ something that is a stint here. More than be fast is a real consistent car. Here the degradation… especially practice here, when it’s hot, you really feel the degradation.”

James Hinchcliffe, who qualified on-pole for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, posted a solid 10th-place effort here in the No. 5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“I think the race is going to be similar to what we’ve seen here the last couple of years,” said Hinchcliffe, who qualified at 216.262 mph. “Firestone put together a package that falls off to make it a little more challenging for us, make the show a little bit better, stay away from pack racing, keep it safe. The onus is really on us as drivers and teams to make the setup as easy on tires as we can be. We need to be patient and not just go flat-out at the drop of the green or the start of a stint.

“I think it’s going to be a thinking-man’s race. Strategy comes down to playing it as it unfolds. You can make a plan A, B, C, D and they’re all out the window by Lap 1, Turn 1. We just need to focus on taking care of the car and tires. Unfortunately, we never really get to run in the track temperatures that we’re going to be racing at. But it’s the same for everyone so we just have to be smart about it.”

Scott Dixon, the defending event champion, definitely will start up-front as Row 1 sidekick to Munoz. Dixon’s combined lap times of 48.2986-seconds at 216.901 mph will put him squarely into contention for his second oval-track victory of the 2016 season. Dixon posted a dominating performance en route to winning on the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on April 2.

Dixon also was among a large group of drivers who tested the domed skid at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in April and at TMS in May. Dixon cruised to his second career victory at TMS last June in a race that established a record for the fastest Verizon IndyCar Series event in the track’s 19-year history. Dixon posted a 7.8-second margin of victory over runnerup and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan at a blistering average speed of 191.940 mph. That speed obliterated the previous Indy car record of 185.719 mph set by Helio Castroneves of Team Penske in 2006.

I think there’s still going to be a good amount of (tire) degradation. But that’s good for racing,” said Dixon, the four-time/reigning series champion and driver of the No. 9 TCGR Chevrolet. “I think last year had all the components to make it a really close race. It was just kind of shocking that really only three or four cars chose to run the downforce that we did, which made the cars very consistent and good on the long runs, whereas the rest of the field were quite trim and were dropping like flies sort of halfway through a stint.

Had most of the field ran downforce similar to what we did, it would have been a close race. With what happened last year, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams run similar downforce and pile it on.”

The domed skid, Dixon said, remains somewhat a mystery component. “I think you have to give the safety steam and everyone at INDYCAR huge credit,” Dixon said. “At Indianapolis, with crashes, there were no cars coming off the ground with the rear flap and the domed skid. That was huge for everybody involved and great to see. Big credit to them.

It does affect the mechanical balance. You get a little more washout because it seems to float the front a little bit more. They’ve given us the required amounts we’ve asked for, as far as strakes, underwing stuff. We have a wide range of other bits you can put on the car. It’s just at what lack of speed you want to take those things out. If you can be finishing a run at 206 (mph) instead of in the 190s, but only going 210, it’s probably going to be the best bet. In short, the race should be closer. It’s just what the teams choose to run.”

Dixon trails championship leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske by 80 points, with tonight’s race officially kicking off the second half of the schedule.

“Yeah, second in points sounds good, but not when Pagenaud has an 80-point lead,” said Dixon, who is in his 15th season with Ganassi Racing. “With so much of the season to go, that can flip pretty quickly. If he has one bad race, and myself or four or five that are really close around that second place, I can jump up pretty quickly. We’ve all got to keep our heads down and make a race of the championship. It’s halfway, so there’s a lot of points left on the table. Hopefully, we can swing it here quickly.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 11 2016
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