IndyCar Drivers Get Taste Of ‘Crazy’ New TMS
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – Fourteen Verizon IndyCar Series drivers experienced their first laps through Texas Motor Speedway’s repaved and re-profiled Turns 1 and 2 with eyes, throttles _ and apparently mouths _ wide-open.
“It’s a big difference going down there into (turns) 1 and 2,” Graham Rahal said at the close of the open portion of the test on Wednesday. “Visually, it’s crazy how different it is. It is very different. It, personally, took me a handful of laps to get used to it.”
In addition to a complete offseason repave of the 1.5-mile oval and pit lane, turns 1 and 2 were re-profiled from 24 degrees of banking to 20 degrees. The sweeping turn also has been expanded from 60-feet wide to 80-feet. Turns 3 and 4, however, remain banked at 24-degrees…all in the name of TMS President Eddie Gossage presenting a new challenge to the NASCAR and INDYCAR teams who annually compete at “The Great American Speedway.”
“Yeah, it was kind of interesting to see turns 1 and 2,” said Helio Castroneves, a four-time winner of the annual June IndyCar Series event. “It’s different but it’s not. When you’re right there in the corner you’re like…you turn in a little bit early…and obviously the asphalt being a little green, it’s so smooth. Right now we’re facing a little bit of a grip level and the way the tires act, and it takes a little time.”
Drivers and teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series competed on the surface for the first time last weekend during the 21st annual O’Reilly Auto Parts program. Seven-time/reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson won Sunday’s race in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS while rising star Erik Jones won Saturday’s Xfinity race in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.
Wednesday’s approximate 5.5-hour session was designed to gather aerodynamic and Firestone Racing tire data for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 night race on Saturday, June 10.
“Right now, I’m very happy that INDYCAR decided to come over here and have this opportunity to try different aerodynamics so that we can simulate some of the races,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske. “And when we go back here for the actual race, we’ll not only have a show for the drivers but especially the fans and everyone else. And I hope we can get more cowboy hats (for a victory). That is correct.”
Four-time series champion Scott Dixon, testing in the No. 83 Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball, recorded the fastest laps in Session 1 and 2. Dixon ran a hot lap of 219.362 mph in the morning session and topped that in the afternoon at 220.432 mph. Both laps also easily surpassed last year’s pole-winning speed of 217.137 miles per hour by Carlos Munoz.
“So far, it’s been decent,” said Dixon, a winner at TMS in 2008 and 2015. “It’s hard coming to a place for the first time (after a repave)…and you kind of look at what happened on the weekend with the Cup side and try to get an idea of what’s going on. It looked like they had a lot more trouble with grip and sliding around the first few days.
“Obviously, turns 1 and 2 have changed a little bit but we’ve got some options to see what package might work well. For us, the ambient conditions affect a winged car quite a bit. It’s probably 20 degrees cooler than what it’s going to be here when we run. So try to take a lot of information in and try to make the best judgments. It always is valuable to get track time as a team.”
Dixon’s morning lap at 219.362 mph was more than three mph faster than the next-closest speed by Will Power of Team Penske at 215.781 mph on a virtually brand-new track. Dixon tested in the No. 83 as his No. 9 entry was one of several Honda-powered cars that arrived in Texas with higher-mileage twin-turbocharged V-6 engines after last weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and opted to not run the test.
Dixon was followed in Session 1 by the Penske/Chevrolet-powered trio of Power (215.781 mph), reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud (213.966 mph) and Castroneves (213.816 mph). Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and the defending event champion, rounded out the top-five with a lap of 213.626 mph in his Honda.
Session 2 was dedicated to running in groups. Dixon was trailed by Rahal (219.172 mph), Pagenaud (219.015 mph), Castroneves (218.683 mph) and Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti (217.741 mph) in another Honda. Group runs were conducted to assist INDYCAR in determining appropriate downforce levels when the series returns for “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race.”
The test was upstaged by Wednesday morning’s sensational announcement that two-time Formula One World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso, of McLaren/Honda, would be competing in the 101st running of the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport on May 28.
The 14 drivers completed an unofficial total of 2,240 laps in the test. Also participating were Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden; Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato; Ed Carpenter Racing owner/driver Ed Carpenter and teammate Spencer Pigot; A.J. Foyt Racing drivers Conor Daly and Munoz; Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver Alexander Rossi, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and Harding Racing driver Gabby Chaves.
“So far, so good,” said Rahal, who won last year’s rain-plagued and postponed event here in August with a late-race pass around James Hinchcliffe. “The bottom lane seems to have a pretty good level of grip. When we get up off the bottom lane, it’s a little slippery right now. With the (NASCAR) Cup rubber and everything else, it’s going to take some time for that to come in. I know we’ll put on a good show when we come back in two months.”
Power said Turn 1 now presents a tighter radius along with the reduced banking. “But once the grip comes and you’re wide-open it’s very similar,” Power said. “There’s no tire degradation so it really looks after the tires a lot.”
Pagenaud noted the exit of Turn 2 is different than last year. “It definitely helps, I believe, side-by-side racing,” Pagenaud said. “It’s just about us understanding how to make the tires work with the racetrack the best way possible. It used to be a tire-chewer here, but that is not the case anymore.”
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick won the NASCAR Cup Series pole for last week’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at 198.405 mph. The 14 INDYCAR drivers turning laps in the second session topped Harvick’s pole-winning speed by at least 10 mph, with Dixon’s hot lap of 220.432 mph more than 22 mph faster.
“The cars are very different than NASCAR,” said Newgarden, who crashed-out of last year’s race in his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet before the event was red-flagged and rescheduled because of rain in June. “They are a lot lighter, tires are different, the way we drive the cars with the downforce is different.
“We’re just trying to figure what’s going to be the best race _ how do we put on a good race but also a safe and proper race that the drivers can drive themselves and they just don’t feel too stuck to the racetrack where they can’t make a difference from a driver standpoint.”
Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, praised the cooperation between the sanctioning body and teams on the premises.
“It’s huge for us as a series to learn and we are working as a group and not as individuals,” Castroneves said, “trying to help everyone that we have not only a competitive race but most important a safe race. A long time ago we used to have a very risky scenario (pack racing) that we don’t want to happen again. I think teams are cooperating at this point. But it’s very valuable every time you come to a place when it’s completely new _ because it is completely new right now _ it’s always good information.”
Several Honda-powered entries did not participate in the open test, as they arrived in Cowtown mounted with higher-mileage engines and INDYCAR officials decided to take a cautious approach. Drivers who did not test were Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan, point-leader Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and rookie Ed Jones. … Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud led all drivers in both sessions for laps run. The Frenchman logged a session-high 87 laps in the first and 127 in the second. The drivers combined to run 1,152 laps in the first test session and 1,088 laps in the second. … Gabby Chaves of Harding Racing did not log any laps in the first session. Chaves was on-track for the second session and logged 49 laps. … Weather for the test was cloudy and 67 degrees at the outset and reached the high 70s by end of the day. The average temperature for the June 10 race date of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 hovers around 90 degrees. … Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing and James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports were scheduled for a private Firestone tire test Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway. … Tickets for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600/ Rattlesnake 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race weekend June 8-10 are available by contacting the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visitingwww.texasmotorspeedway.com.