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New Surface Kicking Up Speeds At The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 2 2016
Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was among the very fast in the opening day of practice at Watkins Glen on Friday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing was among the very fast in the opening day of practice at Watkins Glen on Friday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – A complete rewrite of the Verizon IndyCar Series record book looms Saturday afternoon at Watkins Glen International, where a repaving of the historic road-course provided breathtaking speeds during practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.  

bugindynotesThe track’s Indy car qualifying record was set by Ryan Briscoe at 1 minute, 28.1322-seconds and 137.657 mph on July 4, 2009 in a Dallara/Honda V-8. Those numbers figure to become ancient history _ but fast _ during knockout qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award, given that Scott Dixon toured the 3.37-mile/11-turn natural-terrain layout Friday afternoon in 1:22.8740-seconds and 146.391 mph.

Dixon also paced the morning practice in 1:23.8921-seconds and 144.614 mph on a day when all 22 drivers entered, and their twin-turbocharged V-6 engines, blistered Briscoe’s numbers in both the 45-minute morning and two-hour afternoon practices. The series last competed here over the Fourth of July weekend in 2010. More recently, WGI underwent a $12-million repaving during the offseason, eliminating many of the patches that Dixon said gave the track its “character.”

“You know, the times have dropped almost six seconds,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and the four-time/reigning series champion. “I think we’ll see it well over six seconds by the time we get to the red (soft compound Firestone) tires and qualifying. I think weather conditions are playing a big part, too. When we did the tire test here with different compounds and things like that, we were in the fours, but the temperature was a lot warmer.

“So yeah, it’s definitely fast. It’s a lot of hard work. The loading is through the roof. There’s no real time that you get to rest. It’s really hard to talk to the engineers, especially where we’re pitted this weekend, when you get in because the loadings and the timeline is right before pit entry. It’s a lot of fun.”

Dixon, who won the first three races (2005-07) run here under INDYCAR sanction, completed 39 laps in the afternoon _ slightly more than half of the scheduled 60 laps/202.2-miles for Sunday.

“It’s a lot different to when we came here,” said Dixon, referring to an open test in mid-August. “There was a lot more second- and third-gear corners. Now it’s extremely fast, especially through some of those _ (Turn) 10, 11, the Bus Stop, the Carousel, even the approach to the Boot. It’s just really fast.

“Yeah, it’s physical. There’s no doubt about that. But I think it’s typical race time, the loads aren’t as much, and you get into more of a rhythm. You’ve got to try and make the tires last. Maybe there could be a bit of fuel saving going on; we’re going to have to wait and see. But qualifying is going to be extremely tough.”

Helio Castroneves barged from ninth after the first practice into P2 during the second via a time of 1:23.0327-seconds and 146.111 mph. Castroneves, who logged 47 laps in the session, finished just ahead of Team Penske teammate Will Power, whose best lap in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was logged in 1:23.0717-seconds and 146.043 mph. Power qualified on-pole here in 2010 at 1:29.3164-seconds and 135.832 mph. Must have had his foot on the brake.

“I think the bigger difference is timing,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. “Because when you were talking about five seconds, downshift and upshift, becoming in power, acceleration, the time that you had already was a little bit more and now it’s just like off the brake and step on the gas, so it’s absolutely…that was the biggest difference. But in terms of lines and things like that, you’re still doing pretty much the same.”

Castroneves was asked to speculate about the physical toll the track might extract Sunday, when temps are expected to rise into the mid-80s.

“I don’t think the rhythm is going to be quite as hard like we’re doing right now,” said Castroneves, fourth in points but winless heading into Round 15 of the schedule. “Right now we’re pushing the limits to see how fast the car can do it. But when Scott mentioned a little bit before, it might be there was a strategy saving tires and things like that. And the track is going to change, got to make some adjustments on the car.

“Plus you have a heavy fuel (load), which is going to be…I think the biggest factor is going to be like turning. We don’t have power steering, and that’s going to be very difficult. That’s why probably we’re not going to do much faster than that. But it’s going to be a challenge for sure.”

A third practice session is scheduled from 11-11:45 a.m. (EDT) Saturday, ahead of Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. Both sessions will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with NBC Sports Network providing a delayed qualifying telecast at 6 p.m.

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WGI President Michael Printup confirmed the “multi-year agreement” announced last week between the track and INDYCAR is for 2017-18. The only item in question is if the Verizon IndyCar Series races here on Labor Day weekend or moves to another point in the schedule.

Printup was joined last week by a number of state officials led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, in announcing the series’ return to the Finger Lakes Region.

“We committed to stay on the same weekend next year; 2018 we said we’d talk about it but I think we just might be better off staying here,” Printup said in the Media Center Friday afternoon. “Jay and I talked (Thursday) night. In my opinion, this might be the best weekend for us and it might be the best weekend for TV _ college football Saturday, no NFL on Sunday, you got a great TV market although we want TV and we want attendance. You want TV for all your sponsors but you want your at-track attendance. I think if we give people a year to plan this can be their family vacation next year.”

Owned by the France family’s International Speedway Corp., WGI was added to the IndyCar Series schedule in mid-May when plans for a race through the streets of Boston fell through.

“We’re going to end up about 40,000 to 50,000 (fans) for the weekend, so we’re not disappointed,” Printup said. “We think that’s solid. If we get 15,000 to 18,000 people here a day, that’s a pretty good crowd _ especially on 90-day notice. People had plans already. We’re pretty ecstatic that they’re here.” In comparison, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at The Glen here on Aug. 7 played before sold-out grandstands and a crowd estimated just short of 100,000.

Watkins Glen last played host to the IndyCar Series in July 2010, and drew poorly. “The last economic impact in Indy car (at The Glen) was done in 2007, two years before I got here, and it was about $36-million to $38-million,” Printup said. “That’s 10 years ago. We know it’s more than that now.

“You know I love IndyCar. This is awesome. This is the place for those cars. They belong here, they need to stay here.”

Graham Rahal, the series’ most recent winner at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night, said he was “thrilled” to be back at The Glen.

I love being here. I’m a racer, but I’m a racing fan as well,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “There’s a great amount of history here as well, and who doesn’t want to come visit this part of the country? It’s so beautiful up here. It’s just a great, great venue. Like Road America, so many others, I’m thrilled to be back. I hope this is something we can really build for the future, get a great crowd here. Nice to be back, for sure.”

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Friday’s opening practice was red-flagged to a halt 12 minutes into the session when rookie Conor Daly crashed to officially christen the “promoter test day.” Daly spun exiting Turn 6 and made heavy left-side contact with the barrier between Turns 6 and 7. Daly climbed out of his No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda without assistance from the Holmatro Safety Team, but clearly was puzzled.

“We tested here (in mid-August) and you could use that curb every time, and the test went really well here for us,” said Daly, of Dale Coyne Racing. “As soon as I touched, it was like literally the whole rear just snapped quicker than I’ve felt before in my life. It’s got to be water because you’re so loaded in that corner. If you hit something like that, it’s not good. That just sucks.

“That was the first time we got out there (wheels on the curb). We were just obviously picking up speed and the car was quite good. It was a little loose but, gosh, that’s just a shame. It’s one of those racing situations and sadly we’re the victim of it.”

While the car’s sidepods weren’t damaged, the right front and right rear suspension and gearbox bore the brunt of the impact. “It’s actually not as bad as I thought,” Daly said. “All the corners are on it.”

Daly, who completed only four laps in the morning, returned in his repaired car to turn 30 laps in the afternoon with a top speed of 143.979 mph, good for 17th on the chart.

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Friday’s second practice ended under a rare red and checkered flag scenario when series point-leader Simon Pagenaud slid off-course and made contact in his No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet with the barrier in Turn 7. Pagenaud, who has a 28-point lead over Team Penske teammate Will Power with only two races remaining, climbed from the cockpit without assistance.

“I think we have a good baseline now and to start the day tomorrow,” Pagenaud said. “We’re confident to go qualifying and be up-front. Unfortunately, we had little bit of an off-course ride at the end, but nothing dramatic. The guys _ they’re the best in the business _ will get it fixed up and we’ll be all good for tomorrow.”

Almost simultaneously, Tony Kanaan slid sideways and off-course in Turn 6, but avoided contact with his No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. Kanaan, the 2004 series champion, is the third man in a two-man championship chase involving Pagenaud and Power.

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INDYCAR fined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports $20,000 and penalized the team 25 entrant and driver points after the No. 5 Arrow SPM Honda of James Hinchcliffe was found in violation of Rule 14.6.8.2.2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series rule book (domed skid wear) during post-race inspection at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday night.

Hinchcliffe finished second to Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing by 0.0080-seconds in “The Resumption” of the Firestone 600 that was rained out on June 11-12 in Fort Worth. 

“In our post-race analysis this week it was determined the skid plate on the No. 5 entry was worn and in violation of our rules,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “This was both a performance advantage and a safety concern, as the domed portion of the skid had been ground down to the point it would have been ineffective.”

The infraction dropped Hinchcliffe from eighth to ninth in the standings with 367 points, 15 behind Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport and 162 behind leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske. Members may contest penalties pursuant to procedures and timelines detailed in the review and appeal procedures of the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook. As of Friday afternoon, a series official said SMP had not indicated if it plans to protest.

Hinchcliffe placed 21st during Friday’s second practice with a top lap of 124.863 mph.

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Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing was fastest in two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires practice sessions with a lap of 1:33.4343-seconds and 129.845 mph, a day ahead of the only race this weekend for the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy development stepladder.

Championship leader Santiago Urrutia of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian was second at 1:33.4911/129.766 mph. Ed Jones (Carlin), who trails Urrutia by 16 points with three races remaining, was fourth-fastest on the day. Indy Lights qualifying and the race both take place Saturday.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 2 2016
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