Texas IndyCar session not enough for two lanes

FORT WORTH, Texas — Will Power said Sunday’s XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway will no doubt continue the single-track trend of the past two years after an ultimate experience he’s been calling for for years fell short. to create a complete and reliable second. lane on bends.

Power was one of seven cars that completed a total of 294 laps in 30 minutes on 2021 Firestone tires and considerably more than race-legal downforce in the low-grip portion of the corners at TMS in the hopes that laying down Firestone rubber would add grip to the track for Sunday’s race.

Six of the 10 full-time teams agreed to take what many considered a considerable risk, given the multiple crashes the section of the track stained by NASCAR’s application of PJ1 compound in 2019 had been linked to since 2020. poleman, Felix Rosenqvist (Arrow McLaren SP) – volunteered by his team, not himself – finished the session alongside teammate Pato O’Ward, making Arrow McLaren SP the only team willing to field multiple drivers. They were accompanied by Takuma Sato (Dale Coyne Racing), Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing), Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Power (Team Penske).

The four absent teams – particularly the three who operate a total of 11 cars full-time (Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and AJ Foyt Racing) – were a hot and frustrating topic for the participating drivers. According to Alexander Rossi, he and his three teammates were ready to lead the session, but the team management decided against it. Scott Dixon said CGR would have been willing to play ball if it had been a thing for all teams, but they weren’t about to put their equipment at risk if everyone wasn’t forced to participate . JR Hildebrand said Foyt officials felt the risk-reward equation was too heavy to take a chance.

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“I told the team I would if they wanted to, but I guess I think the feeling of it all, going out there and not running full throttle, there’s no a lot of rubber that goes down if you’re not super committed,” Hildebrand said. “And I’m not sure anyone feels terribly confident until you see someone else do it. years, it’s just that you touch things and fall apart.

“It’s not like you can hunt and save and get away with it.”

After Practice 1, a few IndyCar rookies admitted to venturing into the dark sections, either by accident or because they were forced to, and it was clear they had learned their lesson.

“Who is the first to try at full speed? said David Malukas. “I know it won’t be me.”

No. 1 starter and St. Pete season opener Scott McLaughlin could be seen passing a pass to the outside of either Kyle Kirkwood or JR Hildebrand halfway through the Saturday’s final workout, but he was clearly an outlier.

Due to the dark, PJ1-tinted portion of the corners at Texas Motor Speedway, Sunday's XPEL 375 will likely always be a one-lane spectacle.

What PJ1 spots did at IndyCar races in Texas

Of the roughly 20 drivers IndyStar spoke to about the issue on Friday and Saturday, the general feeling almost across the board was that the series needed to try something, but resigned frustration it probably wouldn’t be enough. Some drivers felt that IndyCar might have needed all the drivers to participate, but Firestone would not have been able to supply enough tires on short notice. In the end, he was able to send 10 sets of last year’s compound, meaning Rahal and Power were able to use two sets and go nearly 60 rounds.

Power said even 15 could have had a bigger impact. Ultimately though, no numbers with the current package likely would have made a difference.

TMS officials have made multiple attempts to wash and scrub the stained portions of the track to the point where only very faint remnants of PJ1 exist in deep surface crevices. Still, it’s enough to have an effect. The stuff also caused a deep black stain that absorbs and retains more heat, which means less stickiness. In total, according to Firestone, this portion has about 20% less grip than the bottom solid lane of the track. During Saturday’s coverage of Peacock, James Hinchcliffe said he had learned there was more of a gradual worsening of grip from previous years rather than an all-or-nothing feeling, but it didn’t. ultimately didn’t matter.

Cars with hundreds of pounds more downforce than race-legal trim managed to run consistently between 200 and 210 mph when forced to drive there exclusively. But as soon as the downforce wore off, a general jitters brought the cars back to their usual lines in the hour-long final practice. This then meant that the constantly low race deposited crushed rubber balls high up, leaving conditions unfamiliar to any race weekend. Whether it’s an oval, road or city course, riders can rarely risk racing outside the traditional racing line as rubber balls and dust collect in reserve areas – in this case, the TMS high line. And a dirty track from a lack of cars driving on it has less grip to begin with. On a normal track, this can lead to wobble which drivers can often save, but slows them down.

In Texas in its current form, that may mean the point of no return, as Jack Harvey saw Saturday. What started with only parts of his outside tires rolling in the dark halfway through Turns 1 and 2 only got worse until, on the exit, his right-back hit the wall , which sent him heading for the inner SAFER barrier. The damage he sustained will likely require his team to use a back-up car on Sunday.

“Before, I liked coming here. It was hairy and intense at times, but it was a good event and a good race,” said Alexander Rossi. “In 2018 and 2019 there was still some racing capacity. And our cars haven’t been really good the last two years here, but it’s been miserable. You just struggled not to crash.

The teams were unwilling to split the two lanes at the start of the final practice session on Saturday due to concerns that the 294 laps would not be able to close the 20 per cent gap in grip. There’s reason to think the extra session may have driven rubber into the track in the long run, but the riders don’t think it’s enough to make up for the original difference. Without this belief, no one is willing to test it with normal downforce consistent enough to keep it clean of the marbles that make it risky without the PJ1 stain.

Ultimately, this means drivers can keep up with competitors on the straights enough to potentially get enough racing to consider making a pass, but on a 1.5-mile track where laps take less than 25 seconds, there is rarely enough time to get a run and also run it before the danger of entering high corners brings.

“I looked at him (in practice #1) and I almost fell over, and I looked back and I was like, ‘Stay away, (expletive)’,” a laughed Rossi after his qualifying race. “I think having the session is smart, but I don’t think it will be enough. I don’t know anything you can do.

Despite holding a special session with seven cars to try and get the outside lane back up, Will Power says Sunday's XPEL 375 will likely still be a one-lane show.

Power: ‘It’s so risky’

Power suggested grinding the track and joked that he would be willing to ride the grinder under the stars on Saturday night if he had the chance. TMS could also resurface the runway at a cost of millions of dollars, which seems unlikely after spending so much money less than 10 years ago on a substantial reconfiguration.

Of course, if any drivers end up racing in the high groove on Sunday — either by choice or by necessity — and notice a small change, maybe IndyCar could hold a full race session before 2023. In other words, if IndyCar, TMS and Speedway Motorsport Inc. officials reach an agreement that keeps the series’ second continuously active member on the schedule.

Some pilots also blamed the series, which has had this problem for almost two years. TMS attempted to wash and scrub the substance, while performing a “tire dragon” which artificially rotates tires on a surface in an attempt to replicate what the seven cars did on Saturday. Power himself has been very public about this type of potential solution for several years, and yet the official proposal was only given to the teams a few days before the green flag.

He left the field with a track that even Power says he won’t go out of his way to test on Sunday. During a private test last week, Power found himself in the stained area and crashed – giving him very real experience of the dangers. So Sunday, until someone else dares to run high and proves they can pass, they’re not going to take the risk. Even without the compound, the low line of the track is definitely the fastest way to get around the track. With the reconfiguration and different cars from a decade ago, drivers can’t run high to use the bank to throw them around cars that travel a shorter distance but wear their tires more.

Now, running low is both a shorter distance and avoiding a very possible end-of-day crash.

“If somebody’s just come out of the pits and you’ve got a head of speed on them, you want them, but it’s so risky,” Power said. “But I did the session because I wanted a two-lane race. It was my idea, and it would be pretty bad if I didn’t, but in the race I’m going to be a bit shy right now.

“But if we keep complaining about it, we’ll never learn anything. We had to do something, and if it doesn’t work, maybe there’s another step we can try, and if not, maybe something else. But anyone complaining that there’s no two-way racing shouldn’t say, “I’m not doing the session.”

“If you want better races, you better go for it.”

Email IndyStar sportswriter Nathan Brown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.

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