Sturbin: IndyCar Drivers To Get Pushy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 30 2009
Scott Dixon was No. 1 at Richmond, but ended up apologizing to fans. (IndyCar Series photo by Shawn Payne)

Scott Dixon was No. 1 at Richmond, but ended up apologizing to fans. (IndyCar Series photo by Shawn Payne)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Indy Racing League Notes and Quotes:

* IndyCar drivers will have a “push-to-pass” option at their fingertips when the series competes at Kentucky Speedway this weekend.

In addition to previously announced aerodynamic performance-related items, Honda Performance Development will introduce brief bursts of additional horsepower and 200 RPMs (to a 10,500 total) via a button on the steering wheel. Officially referred to as an “overtake assist button” by Indy Racing League officials, it is similar to the popular “push-to-pass” option associated with the Champ Car World Series.

The system will be available for the six remaining events on the 2009 IndyCar schedule, which includes races on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Twin Ring Motegi in Japan and Homestead-Miami Speedway. Road-races on the natural-terrain 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway also remain.

Drivers will enjoy a 5-to-20 horsepower gain depending on fuel setting for intervals calibrated on a race-by-race basis, according to Roger Griffiths, HPD race team manager. For Saturday night’s Meijer 300 at Sparta, Ky., drivers will have 20 “presses” for a duration of 12 seconds each available. HPD will update teams before each race weekend regarding parameters.

“It’s to provide the driver, if they’re already making a passing maneuver, an additional tool to complete the pass,” said Les Mactaggart, the IRL’s senior technical director. “It provides the teams options which they have to choose how they’re going to run the race, so it brings more strategy from a team aspect.”

The system requires a simple ECU software alteration. After each “blast,” there is a 10-second recharge period, preventing continuous use at any point. Kentucky Speedway’s single-lap and race-lap records are in the 24-second range.

The “overtake assist button”  is in direct response to driver complaints about an inability to pass, specifically on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway and the 0.75-mile Richmond International Raceway. Race runnerup Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske and third-place Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing decried a “frustrating” lack of passing opportunities during the Bombardier Learjet 550k in Fort Worth, a night event won by Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

Meanwhile, the single-file parade during the SunTrust Indy Challenge at RIR prompted 2007 series champion Dario Franchitti, who finished second to Ganassi Racing teammate Dixon, to apologize to the fans for “an awful, awful race.” Dixon, who led 161 of 300 laps, termed the race “a bit of a procession.”

“We hope that the new Honda button feature will add a little spice to the racing,” Griffiths said. “It gives the driver/team an additional tool to use during the course of the race that we believe will promote some additional overtaking with the added complexity in that the feature won’t be available until the actual race _ so teams will have to experiment on the fly.”

Meanwhile, rear tire ramps, sidepod extensions and wheel backing plates used together, or in any combination, also will be optional enhancements for the run of the 1.5-mile ovals.

“The tire ramps and wheel flips should really help so we’ll have grip when we are in traffic behind people,” said Dixon, the two-time and reigning series champion. “I think those are good options. We are heading in the right direction. One, it gives you more grip and two, it gives you more drag so it’s easier to get a draft on somebody or suck up behind them.”

Teams will be required to remove half-inch rear-wing wickers to provide efficient downforce, remove drag and improve the ability of a trailing car to follow more closely. The optional pieces will give up to an additional 300 pounds of downforce.

“We had numerous conversations with drivers, team engineers and team managers and asked their opinions what needed to be done and these were chosen as the direction based on majority opinion,” said Brian Barnhart, the IRL’s president of competition and operations. “We’ve tried to give teams more options and tools, and they have choices now which downforce level they want to run both in qualifying and in race configuration.

“Some people are going to run more downforce than others, which should make for better overtaking and passing opportunities on the racetrack.”

*Tony Kaanan, recovering from burns suffered in a pit-lane fire last Sunday, has been cleared by Indy Racing League medical officials to compete in Saturday night’s IndyCar Meijer Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

Kanaan sustained superficial first-degree burns to his face when the fueling hose remained open after his Lap 34 pit stop during the Rexall Edmonton Indy on the Edmonton City Centre Airport Circuit.

The mishap splashed 100 percent fuel-grade ethanol onto the side of the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda and onto Kanaan. The fuel ignited as the car left the pit stall and a second later Kanaan scrambled to extricate himself as Team Penske, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Panther Racing crew members rushed to douse car and driver with water to retard the flames.

Kanaan’s hands did not sustain any burns, although they were bandaged as a precaution after the incident. The Brazilian has a small mark on his chin and left nostril.

“I need to thank the crews of Ganassi and Penske and Panther. It was amazing how quickly they responded and I am glad I’m OK,” said Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion. “It looked a lot worse on TV than if you saw me right now. We have great people working for us, the fire suit, helmet and gloves worked fine and I’m glad nobody was hurt. We just have to move on.”

Two of Kanaan’s Andretti Green Racing crew members in the center of the incident also were evaluated by the IRL medical staff and cleared to resume activities.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 30 2009
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