The Repaved Glen Will Test Driver Fitness

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2016
James Hinchcliffe took the the new track surface at Watkins Glen this week and said afterward, drivers had better muscle up for this year's IndyCar Series race there. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

James Hinchcliffe took the new track surface at Watkins Glen this week and said afterward that  drivers had better muscle up for this year’s IndyCar Series race there. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

A day of testing for Firestone Racing at Watkins Glen International left James Hinchcliffe pondering more than tire compounds for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to the historic road-course over Labor Day weekend.

bugindycar“Definitely will be hitting the weight room before we get here,” said Hinchcliffe, who shared tire-testing duties with series point-leader Simon Pagenaud on Monday around The Glen’s repaved 3.37-mile long course. “The track is unbelievably grippy _ unbelievably quick _ so it’s going to be a lot of fun for us when we get here to go race.”

The INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen is scheduled from Sept. 2-4, with the track located in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region replacing an event originally booked for the streets of downtown Boston. Firestone, official tire supplier to the Verizon IndyCar Series, tested compounds and constructions to determine proper specifications for the race weekend.\

Whatever the compound(s), Hinchcliffe said the combination of the repaved surface and the high-downforce dialed into the Honda and Chevrolet aero kits will test the fitness level of every driver.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly physical,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “You do have some long straights to rest, which helps, but you have some incredible high-G corners _ and a lot of them. Turn 1’s really fast, the Esses are really fast,

Drivers Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe talk racing during a break in testing at Watkins Glen.

Drivers Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe talk racing during a break in testing at Watkins Glen.

the Bus Stop (chicane) is fast, Turn 5 is fast, 6 is fast, 7’s pretty quick _ actually other than Turn 9, they’re all fast corners here. It beats you up, man. It’s going to be really physical, especially on reds (Firestone alternate tires). I can only imagine what that’s going to be like.”

While Hinchcliffe and Team Penske’s Pagenaud logged the tire testing laps, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Helio Castroneves of Team Penske and reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi of Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian conducted private team testing.

Beginning at 3 p.m. , (EDT), testing ran uninterrupted for three hours until a short rain shower doused the natural-terrain road-course that hosted Indy car events from 1979-81 and 2005-10. The rain actually provided Firestone with a bonus, allowing the manufacturer to test its wet-condition tires as well as the dry-condition slicks. The track surface dried quickly, allowing the test to be completed in dry conditions.

Watkins Glen International’s INDYCAR track record is 1 minute, 28.1322-seconds (137.657 mph), set by Ryan Briscoe during the second round of qualifying in 2009. Lap times were well under that during the test, although official records may only be set on race weekends in qualifying or the race itself.

“It’s just great to be back here,” said Hinchcliffe, pole-sitter for the last month’s 100th Indy 500. “This was one of my favorite tracks back in the (Indy) Lights days in ’09 and 2010. I always wanted to race in the ‘big car’ so it’s nice to get out here and turn some laps.

“I think we’re honing-in on the compound and construction that we want. You want a good, grippy tire, you want a tire that’s consistent but has some degradation and you want to make sure you stay away from blistering and graining, things like that. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

Hinchcliffe predicted Briscoe’s track record will fall in September. “This car would have done it anyway on the old surface,” the Canadian said. “But with the way it is now, I think we’ll be going pretty quick in qualifying.”

Dixon, meanwhile, returned to his IndyCar Series duties after competing in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans for car-owner Ganassi in one of four Ford GTs. A three-time winner at WGI (2005-06-07), Dixon quickly reacquainted himself with the famed layout.

“Very fond memories for our team and we’ve had some good success here,” said Dixon, the four-time/reigning series champion. “Plus, we don’t get to go back to many of these old-school American tracks, so to have a couple rejoin this year with Road America and Watkins Glen, it definitely makes a lot of the drivers smile and hopefully the fans, too. With the new schedule weekend, it should be great for all the fans coming out and hopefully we can come back with a big bang.”

Like Hinchcliffe, Dixon was impressed and intrigued by the track’s repaved surface. “It’s definitely changed a bit (since 2010), really fast with the track repavement,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 TCGR Chevrolet. “Obviously the layout’s very similar but the carousel is pretty much flat (without braking) now and some of the other corners are close to it.

“Physically it’s much more demanding than what we’ve had in the past, but I think with the repavement it’s going to make the racing pretty good. Even off line it’s still pretty grippy, so it might give you a few different options for passing. And typical Watkins Glen style, I think if you trim out (the car), especially for the back straight, I think you’re going to have some good speed going into the Bus Stop.

“Right now it feels like very high loading everywhere here on the high-speed corners. There’s only a couple second-speed corners, and even those are really high because of the banking and the new track surface. Physically it will be very, very demanding for a 60-lap race here.”

Pagenaud, the point-leader after eight rounds, was excited to turn his first laps at WGI. “It’s a beautiful track and the surroundings are also amazing,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. “This is a classical event for the Verizon IndyCar Series, so very excited to be back on the schedule.

“It takes a lot of commitment here around the racetrack. The Indy cars with the aero kit that we have on the Chevrolet car has a lot of downforce. They’re going through these corners, it’s very, very high speed. It’s a lot of fun. This is a track where you can really explore the Indy cars to their maximum.”

Pagenaud said he understood he was lapping, unofficially, three seconds faster than Briscoe’s track record. “There’s a lot of Gs in the car,” said the Frenchman, a three-time race-winner this season. “The steering wheel is very heavy, we don’t have power steering on these cars, so it’s a fitness in its own when you are out there. I think the fans are going to be very impressed with the speed that we can turn and it’s certainly going to be something else than a stock car around here. It’s great for the fans to see the difference.”

Pagenaud agreed the race will be physically demanding because of the the G-forces and heavy steering. “You’re going to have to be fit to complete the race and it’s going to be a challenge for everybody,” Pagenaud said. “It’s probably going to be one of the most challenging tracks physically we will see.”

As the penultimate round of the 16-race schedule, WGI figures to be pivotal to determining the 2016 driver’s championship. Watkins Glen was added to the schedule in early May after promoters for the inaugural event in downtown Boston pulled the plug after encountering opposition from groups citing noise, traffic and damage to city streets.

The race at WGI will be preceded by the rescheduled Firestone 600 on the high-banked, 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval in Fort Worth. That race was red-flagged to a halt by rain on Sunday June 12, one day after rain also forced postponement of an event originally scheduled for Saturday night, June 11. The race at TMS now is booked as a single-day event on Saturday night, Aug. 27.

The 2016 schedule will conclude on the 2.385-mile Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road-course on Sept. 18. An August staple on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, WGI’s weekend also will include an Indy Lights race.

The Glen joins the 1.022-mile Phoenix International Raceway in Glendale, Ariz., and the 4.048-mile Road America layout in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on a 2016 schedule that returns INDYCAR to fan-favorite venues with deep history in the sport. WGI’s 60-lapper will be broadcast live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, XM 209 and Sirius 212.

The track’s storied open-wheel history, including as host of the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix, gave WGI the nod over a proposed event at the Gateway Motorsports Park oval in Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. According to various reports, both WGI and Gateway are being considered for inclusion on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

The first two INDYCAR events at WGI were run on the 2.4-mile short-course and won by Bobby Unser. The race moved to the traditional 3.37-mile long-course in 1981 when another open-wheel legend, Rick Mears, drove to victory.

The series returned to the circuit in 2005, with Dixon racking up three consecutive victories before Ryan Hunter-Reay prevailed in 2008 for Rahal Letterman Racing. The late Justin Wilson secured the first Indy car win for Dale Coyne Racing at WGI in 2009 and Will Power took the checkered flag for Team Penske in 2010.

Tickets for the WGI event are available for purchase at TheGlen.com and by calling (866) 461-RACE.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2016
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