Opening weekend and Monday

(The posts will slow down the closer we come to race day. I am at the track everyday and have many things to get in order before our coke lot extravaganza this year. They will pick back up coming into June.)

Saturday saw the official start to practice at the Speedway. We arrived at around three o’clock and found seats just north of the scoring pylon. I enjoy sitting there because you can see everything that it coming and going from gasoline alley. Ed Carpenter surprised everyone by posting the fast lap of the day. Hopefully this translates to good speed and performance through the week leading up to qualifications. It would be nice to see SFR roll out the second car for one of the Lazier boys, putting yet another American into the pool for the coveted 33 starting spots.

There were quite a few teams that did not roll out again after the delay, running only during the first session before the rain. My thinking is they just found a baseline setup for the backup car, and not wanting to risk anything this early in the week, quietly waited for slightly better conditions before attempting to do any serious laps in the primary car. With Sunday being a washout and the weather not looking too good for the rest of the week, this may not have been the best course of action. It is still early days though and with five, hopefully, full days of practice ahead I am sure the power balance will restore itself quite quickly.

Even with so few laps completed, the field is quite close. Less than one second covered the top 30 drivers, with the last two within one and a half seconds of P1. This bodes well for a crazy two days of qualifications. After all these years of running the good ol’ Dallara, teams have a wealth of setup knowledge and notes to draw upon. James Hinchcliffe (43), James Jakes (42), Oriol Seriva (42) and Vitor Meira (39) turned the most laps, almost twice the miles that most of the field completed. Newman/ Hass may have a small advantage over the field; mileage will play a large role in the possible rain soaked week ahead.

Monday was clear almost all day. I saw on timing and scoring there were a few yellow periods, no idea if they were rain related but the track seemed clear for most of the day. I have to say thank you to Jake Query and Panther Racing for hooking me and a few other tweeters up with a really slick panther hat on Monday behind the pagoda. Its things like this that makes the IICS supremely awesome.  Ed Carpenter continued to show strong putting in a lap good enough for P11 and Oriol Servia continues his challenge to the established front.  The death star is making a comeback but with Tags at the top of the sheets at the close of practice, however it still feels more open than in years past. With the wind gusting as it was today I am surprised no one stuck it into the wall. I saw Davey Hamilton driving one of those sweet flatbed-tire-carrier-things just smiling and waving to everyone, even when no one was looking. He is A+ material, some of the younger guys and gals could learn something from Davey. Buddy Rice showed well today too, with a P13 he is really surprising me. The lower end of the 39 cars that turned up for practice holds almost no surprises. Mike Conway is the lone bottom feeder who should be midfield or better. Poor Pippa Mann is going to have a hard rookie year I think.

I did look long and hard at the new 2012 prototype cars. These things are way cool first person. The pictures around the interweb don’t do these guys justice. In picture form I liked the look of the road car over the superspeedway design. I totally reversed my opinion once seeing them for real. The oval car is stout but the lines are very racey. The design looks clean and sleek. I was worried about the bulk in the rear of the car in pictures, but it seems oddly balanced. The bumpers give the car a futuristic look, but do not detract from the “open wheeledness” feel of the machine. The road car seems dainty and agile like a Formula One car. It simultaneous feels super futuristic while old school, not sure how they pulled that one off but it really works for me. There were some aerodynamic flip ups along the engine cover and the rear wing was integrated with the bumper and diffuser. It was all very cool. One odd thing I did notice was that the diffuser and tunneling was different between the two cars. The road car had four tunnels while the oval had two. Is the diffuser area another open area or are the floors different depending on track type? I could do without the shark fins; these are the only things that strike me as truly out of place with these cars. I cannot wait until we get to see some designs that are closer to race ready later this summer.

Eric Hall

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