INDYCAR To Stage A Rubber Match At Texas Motor Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2022

The IndyCar Series is at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Included will be a unique half-hour practice on Saturday. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Pole qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway this afternoon for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series XPEL 375 easily could be overshadowed by an intriguing addition to the practice schedule.

In a bid to create a second racing lane around the high-banked/1.5-mile oval, INDYCAR officials have scheduled a half-hour session during which seven series drivers will lap exclusively above the bottom lane. That second lane has proven problematic for the open-wheel series since the application of PJ1 traction compound in the turns by NASCAR for its two annual events at “The Great American Speedway.”

The idea for such a session was first suggested by Will Power of Team Penske last year, before the series ran a doubleheader May 1-2 as a prelude to the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500. The native of Australia offered the idea again during a break in testing with teammates Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin here on March 10.

Power is a two-time winner at TMS, having prevailed in Race 2 of a single-day doubleheader in June 2011 and in 2017. “I mean, I like a night race, to be honest,” said Power, pole-winner here in 2013-14-15. “When we get the formula right around here it’s great racing. The formula _ the tire deg and all that _ we could have a second lane and it’d be so much fun and great for the fans.”

That said, Power will be joined during the session by team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter (TMS winner in 2014); Helio Castroneves (2004 Race 2, 2006, 2009, 2013); Pato O’Ward (2021 Race 2); Graham Rahal (2016); Felix Rosenqvist and Takuma Sato. Combined, they will use a total of 10 sets of Firestone Firehawk tires from last year’s race. Rahal and Power will be issued two sets of tires; the other five will have one set at their disposal.

INDYCAR drivers have been reluctant to race in the second lane with any confidence or consistency since application of the PJ1. Passing also has been at a premium during recent events.

Six-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing led 206 of 212 laps last May 1 enroute to winning Race 1, an event that produced only three lead changes between the native New Zealander and teammate Alex Palou of Spain. Dixon scored his track-leading fifth victory that day to break a tie with former Team Penske ace Castroneves of Brazil.

Race 2 last season saw rising star O’Ward _ a native of Mexico with family ties to San Antonio _ post his first series victory with Arrow McLaren SP after a spirited duel with Newgarden. That 248-lapper produced 12 lead changes among nine drivers.

“The second day the conditions kind of played into our hands _ a little more rubber on the racetrack,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of competition, race engineering. “And the guys, anytime you have a doubleheader I think the first race the drivers will be a bit more cautious because they know they have to race again the next day.

“So if your car is not close enough to challenge that one dominant car they’ll kind of ride along and see what happens and play for tomorrow. That played-out the second day between Pato and Josef; they had a really good race going on.

“But it’s (second lane) slippery. It’d be great if it was sticky. It needs to be sticky. They (NASCAR) put it down to increase the grip of that surface to move up into that second lane. Unfortunately, it’s kind of done the opposite for us, whether because it’s so old or it’s something underneath the surface itself. It seems to hurt that grip for that lane.”

Recall that NASCAR’s three touring series compete on Goodyear Racing’s radial rubber; INDYCAR runs exclusively on Firestone Firehawk radial rubber.

The concern over single-file racing combined with decreasing attendance has emerged as a hot garage area topic for an event that began its existence as “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” on June 7, 1997 during the track’s inaugural season. Moved to May last year for the first time, INDYCAR was bumped-up to March this season by a return of the NASCAR All-Star Race to TMS.

Sunday’s race will mark INDYCAR’s earliest visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth market _ and could be the last. The four-year contract former TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage signed with the series in August 2018 expires with Sunday’s race. Ongoing concerns over the quality of racing and declining attendance have led to speculation the series might decide to exit TMS.

As was the case last year, TMS is playing host to the series’ lone oval-track race before the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. The XPEL 375 also is the first of five oval races on the 17-event 2022 schedule.

First-year TMS General Manager Rob Ramage said he had discussed several options with series officials about improving that second lane. Ramage’s main concern with dragging the PJ1 or power-washing it with a chemical agent was the possibility of damage to the surface. 

Ramage said he is confident the series will remain a fixture in North Texas.

“We value INDYCAR _ they’ve been here since Day One,” said Ramage, who was promoted in-house by parent company Speedway Motorsports in August. “It’s spectacular racing. I love it. We’re in the fourth-largest market. We’re the only oval in Texas and so it’s important for INDYCAR to be here. We’ve got almost 30-million people who live in our state and for any professional sporting event, Texas is always top-of-mind. I know that it’s extremely important for the series to be in Texas and at Texas Motor Speedway.”

An INDYCAR spokesman said series officials will monitor the racing and attendance this weekend before meeting again with Speedway Motorsports executives at a time to be determined.

The XPEL 375 will be the 35th INDYCAR race contested at “No Limits, Texas” dating to Arie Luyendyk’s controversial victory over Billy Boat in the True Value 500k in June 1997. No driver has competed in every series race here, although Dixon has started 22 events.

The decision to attempt to rubber-in a second lane was announced by INDYCAR via email at approximately 2:30 p.m. (CDT) Friday, or 3:30 p.m. from series headquarters in Indianapolis.

Track action is scheduled to begin Saturday at 9:45 a.m. (CDT) with a 10-minute, two-stage pit speed limiter practice. Teams will practice from 10 to 11 a.m. in preparation for qualifying at 1 p.m. and the NTT P1 Award. The format will be single-car with a cumulative time from two laps.

The series’ one and two-lap qualifying records were set by Charlie Kimball on June 9, 2017. Kimball’s one-lap mark was clocked at 23.2730-seconds/222.747 mph. Kimball’s two-lap mark is 46.5861-seconds/222.556 mph.

The seven drivers chosen to rubber-in the second lane will be on-track from 4 to 4:30 p.m., with a final one-hour practice open to all teams set for 4:45 to 5:45 p.m.

Sunday’s race, scheduled for 248 laps/372 miles, will be televised by NBC beginning at 11:30 a.m. (CDT), with the green flag to fall at 11:45 a.m.


Deep into his first 2022 Race Week as TMS General Manager, Rob Ramage has discovered that a good night’s sleep is overrated.

This weekend’s IndyCar Series race is the kickoff event of TMS’ 26th campaign, and Ramage’s first full season as successor to promoter extraordinaire Eddie Gossage.

So, what keeps waking Ramage during the wee hours?

It always goes back to worry about the things that are the most important, and most importantly what you can control,” the ever-upbeat Ramage said. “I can’t control the weather and I cannot control the racing. What I can control is the guest experience, the fun, the entertainment and does a fan have a good experience?

“What was parking like? Is the property clean? Are the event staff people and the people who I work with every day, are they thankful, helpful and appreciative to every fan that they come in contact with? The food and beverage _ if it’s supposed to be hot or cold, is it? Is it a great value and did the fan leave here and want to come back?

“Those are the key things that I lose sleep over and that I’m focused on. I woke up the other morning at 1:30 and then I rolled back to sleep and I woke up at 3-something in the morning, and those were things I was thinking about that woke me up in my sleep.”

Unseasonably cold weather on March 7 forced postponement of a test booked for Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing. But a weekend forecast for sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s appear to be a win-win for Ramage and dedicated open-wheel fans.


Open-wheel veteran J.R. Hildebrand has been signed to drive the No. 11 Chevrolet on the five oval tracks, beginning this weekend with race at TMS.

A 34-year-old resident of Boulder, Colo., Hildebrand will share the car with series rookie Tatiana Calderón, of Bogota, Colombia. Calderon will drive the No. 11 Chevy on the series’ road and street circuits.

Hildebrand drove Foyt’s fourth entry in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500 last May with backing from longtime sponsor ABC Supply. He qualified 22nd and finished 15th _ highest result on Foyt’s four-car team based in Waller, Texas. 

“Although the results may not have looked special on paper, I was really impressed by what we accomplished last year at the Indy 500,” said Hildebrand, who will be teamed with Foyt full-time drivers Dalton Kellett and rookie Kyle Kirkwood on the ovals.

“We had a great experience working with J.R. last year, and there’s no doubt he’s very competitive at Indianapolis,” Team President Larry Foyt said. “He’s still very motivated to drive Indy cars and is a setup-savvy, technical driver who will be a strong addition at our oval races this year.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2022
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