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TMS IndyCar Will Be A Low Down Race

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 20 2022

Saturday’s attempt to rubber-up a high groove at Texas Motor Speedway for Sunday’s  IndyCar Series race didn’t work.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Seven NTT IndyCar Series drivers racked-up 292 laps/438 miles of trouble-free practice during a special half-hour session Saturday afternoon in an 11th-hour bid to rubber-in the track’s problematic second groove before Sunday’s XPEL 375.

And the overriding conclusion? Nice try, but expect another predominantly single-file parade, albeit at 220-plus mph.

“There’s definitely less grip,” said Will Power, a two-time race-winner on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. INDYCAR teams and officials have been trying to unlock the secret of racing through the track’s corners since PJ1 traction compound was sprayed onto the surface to create passing opportunities for NASCAR’s two annual visits here.

NASCAR’s three national touring series run exclusively on Goodyear Racing radial rubber. Unfortunately, the PJ1 has not had the same “sticky” effect on INDYCAR’s Firestone Firehawk radial compounds.

“It’s definitely going to require a lot more cars (to rubber-in),” Power said. “You were able to get to pretty reasonable speed up there but the bottom is so much quicker and has more grip. Like, you’d have to take that stuff off. You can run up there. I mean, it was a good learning exercise for the track and ourselves, the series, and now the next step would be to take that stuff off up there.

“Good for trying. We want to put on the best show possible. It was worth doing. “

Speeds during that session ranged from four-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves’ hot lap of 216.842 mph in the No. 06 Honda fielded by Meyer Shank Racing to Pato O’Ward’s conservative lap at 203.709 mph in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Felix Rosenqvist, who qualified on-pole earlier in the afternoon, ran 31 laps with a top speed of 208.841 mph in his No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

“What we tried to do out there, I don’t think anyone’s taking big risks,” Rosenqvist said after a stint that took him to the edge. “I had a couple of wiggly moments and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m happy.’ At the moment I don’t see myself spending my race up there but I think it’s good that we did this. I think it surprised everyone how good it actually was. It was an opportunity for us to learn.”

Power ran 44 laps with a top speed of 211.193 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy. “All you need is a half-another lane…it’d be such a different race, much better race,” said Power, a three-time pole-winner here. “I think we can work it out. We’ll see how it races tomorrow. I did see actually a couple passes. So it is possible. We’re working on it. We’ll get it.”

In lieu of attempting to remove the PJ1 with a chemical power-wash, Power noted, “Ultimately you could grind the track. That would change it a lot.”

However, TMS General Manager Rob Ramage said he would not approve any measure that might damage the surface.

Power playfully added he would have liked to have seen more voluntary participation by his series peers in Saturday’s session. “Anybody who complains about there not being two-lane racing should not be saying, ‘I’m not doing the session,’^” Power said. “If you want two lanes, better get out there.”

Power added he would not be attempting any hero-moves in a bid to win Sunday’s race. “No, I’ve had too many incidents where I’ve ended up in the wall from going high,” Power said. “I try not to get in that situation.” 

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Barge boards and trim sidewalls are INDYCAR-approved chassis tweaks at TMS. INDYCAR officials announced use of the optional aerodynamic devices for three of the NTT IndyCar Series oval venues.

“The use of barge boards on the Dallara AK-18 chassis are now optional on all ovals with the introduction of the aerodynamic tool at Texas Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway (in Madison, Ill.) in 2022,” said Tino Belli, INDYCAR director of aerodynamic development. “The curved, plate-shaped piece of carbon fiber, located on the leading edge of the underwing, creates front downforce while reducing the reliance of the front wing.

“In race conditions, it should be a benefit to a trailing car. Using barge boards combined with less front wing angle will allow cars to follow more closely while still avoiding an aero washout affect through the corners. It also follows the philosophy we have always had with the universal AK-18 to create downforce with the underwing rather than being reliant on the front wing. These optional barge boards will become another crucial tool in the teams’ aerodynamic arsenal.”

Barge boards were introduced last year prior to the 105th edition of the Indy 500 in May. “We’ve added the sidewalls this year, which will increase the downforce again,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’S vice president of competition, race engineering. “They’re at the back, part of the underwing, between the wheel and the underwing _ an extension of the underwing.”

Pappas said sidewalls are expected to produce 10 percent more downforce. “The idea is to let the drivers carry more throttle, get closer and set the car up in front for a pass,” Pappas said. 

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Like all European road-racers transitioning to American oval-track racing, Felix Rosenqvist admits turning left at 220-plus mph at Texas Motor Speedway can mess with your head.

For sure. I mean, I remember the first time I came here,” said Rosenqvist, who made his TMS debut as an NTT IndyCar Series rookie in 2019. “Then it was definitely not fun. I was really scared the first time I was here, and it was actually the first superspeedway I ever did. But from 2020 onwards it’s been a track where I feel really calm and confident, and I kind of know how to attack the race and how to work with the driving line and how the car needs to be set up. And, yeah, definitely I feel like I have some unfinished business at Texas.”

Rosenqvist placed a disappointing 21st in the standings during an injury-interrupted 2021 season with Arrow McLaren SP.

Indeed, a self-described “recharged” Rosenqvist secured his first oval NTT P1 Award Saturday afternoon during qualifications for Sunday’s XPEL 375. Rosenqvist toured TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval in a cumulative two-lap average of 46.8906-seconds at 221.110 mph before having to sweat-out Scott McLaughlin’s knockout attempt.

The last of 27 drivers to qualify, McLaughlin’s numbers of 46.8936-econds at 221.096 mph fell 0.003-of-a-second short of his second pole in as many 2022 starts.

“It was a bit of a torture to watch that thing unfold, and, yeah, it was two really good laps,” said Rosenqvist, a 29-year-old native of Sweden and driver of the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. “This morning, to be honest, you felt that the car was in the window. It was just kind of like in the zone where you wanted it.”

It was the second series pole for Rosenqvist, whose first P1 was earned as a series rookie with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019 at the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rosenqvist was named NTT IndyCar Series Rooke of the Year in 2019 after finishing sixth in points with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“We have days like this, and it’s fantastic,” Rosenqvist said. “But when you have a rough day on Texas Motor Speedway, it’s not fun. That’s when you really see the true champions, I think, come out.”

McLaughlin posted the best result of his rookie IndyCar season here last May _ second to six-time series champion and fellow-New Zealander Scott Dixon in Race 1 of a doubleheader. McLaughlin won the 2022 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Feb. 27 and wants to build on the momentum of that result.

Recall that McLaughlin joined Team Penske last year as a three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion. There are no ovals in that high-powered sedan series.

“I just enjoy ovals. I enjoy the challenge,” McLaughlin said of his oval approach. “It’s very intricate. You have to think about all parts of the corner. INDYCAR is oval racing. I feel like we have to have ovals. It’s part of our DNA, and that’s why I’ve come to America _ for INDYCAR racing for ovals.”

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Jimmie Johnson’s ballyhooed open-wheel oval-track debut will launch from the 18th grid spot. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion averaged 219.865 mph during his first oval qualifying attempt in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson competed only on the series’ road and street courses as a rookie in 2021.

Johnson will share Row 9 with Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco, the top rookie qualifier in17th at 219.888 mph in the No. 29 PowerTap Honda fielded by Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.

“I think we’re being very measured in how we’re working me into qualifying and working me into a car that’s more trimmed out and a bit more neutral,” Johnson said. “But all is good so far, and it’s certainly been a fun morning and afternoon getting these laps in at Texas Motor Speedway.

“When I rolled off in the Carvana Honda (for qualifying), my heart rate was definitely elevated. I didn’t know what to expect. I kind of went off the confidence level of my teammates. They knew my trim settings, and they said, ‘Yeah, you should be able to go flat,’ so I just took their word and made a promise to myself not to lift my right foot up.”

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Englishman Jack Harvey crashed exiting Turn 2 during Saturday’s final, one-hour open practice, a mishap that will force him into his backup No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda.

The front tires of Harvey’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry ran through a portion of the controversial PJ1 traction compound exiting the Turn and brushed the outside SAFER Barrier with the right side and front before making hard contact with the inside wall on the backstretch.

Harvey was examined at the track’s infield media center, released and cleared to race Sunday.

(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 Sunday, March 20 2022
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