Reflections on Opening Weekend

What more could you want in central Indiana? We have got a week of gorgeous weather ahead of us and by the end of opening weekend we saw every team but the engine-less dragon crew put at least a few hand fulls of shake down laps before testing begins in force on Monday. The world was watching with bated breath as Lotus began their May programs and guesses about final speeds have been freely distributed to anyone willing to listen from everyone with a voice. It was time for teams to put their money where their mouths are and by the time the checkers fell on Sunday afternoon, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing looked to be the top team; placing both drivers in the top three both days. The lower end of the time sheet, however was not as bright.

Fan Force United – The one off Lotus team has had a smooth, albeit slow start to the month. Alesi Started the weekend with a top speed of 209.438 and ran 32 laps on Saturday. Sunday wasn’t much different; again running 32 laps with a best speed of 205.265. One has to wonder if Lotus and FFU are doing ECU work as this is the suspected main thorn in the Lotus engine departments side. There is no hurry to complete rookie orientation and as long as he can knock out 15 laps at 210 or better before qualifying Lotus and FFU seem content to do whatever development may be needed before pushing the engine any harder. As a note, I believe the chassis Fan Force is using for the program is possibly the Lotus preseason test mule, and it may be missing the newest aero bits. The chassis is definitely missing the camera pod on the rear wing as witnessed on track and in Gasoline Alley. I have a hard time believing they could pass tech inspection without this drag inducing piece and could be even further proof that the team had not received the newest iteration of the Indy kit from Dallara.

Lotus – It has been no secret that Lotus has been programing and reprogramming their ECU setting on the fly during live track sessions throughout the season in an attempt to work the bugs out of the engine. Given HVM’s trouble with finding speed; the engine manufacturer may be using these early days as an extended test session. We know that most engineering calulations regarding the engines and aerodynamics at Indy were done with a 200 MPH baseline speed. The tiny ray of hope I see for both Lotus teams is that they are, in fact, developing the ECU programing parameters based on the initial information known from wind tunnel and dyno testing. The engine is painfully slow, that much in incontestable, but I’m not ready to say they have totally missed the boat quite yet.

Engine Tally – In an attempt to quantify engine parity, I have chosen to over simplify an extremely complex process that has baffled regulatory bodies for years; most recently INDYCAR as evident by turbogate, by tracking the ratio of engines present in the top 5, top 10 and top 15 as well as top speed from Honda and Chevy. Lotus will not be counted in this unless they find some speed later in the week. In the coming days I will create a dedicated page to track this information throughout the week.

Day 1 – Top 5: Honda 3/2, Top 10: Honda 7/3, Top 15: Honda 9/6

-Fastest Honda: 220.250

-Fastest Chevy: 219.693

Day 2 – Top 15: Honda 4/1, Top 10: Honda 6/4, Top 15: Chevy 8/7

-Fastest Chevy: 221.526

-Fastest Honda: 221.173

My rudimentary table leads me to believe that Honda may have the slightest of advantages in these early stages of practice. However, we talkin bout practice, so nothing is set in stone yet. In my most amateur approximation, practice hasn’t really started full swing quite yet so the data may be a bit skewed depending on what teams were attempting to accomplish these first two days. It is still very early and it seems that Penske and Ganassi may be really slow playing the week and if anyone can play it close it’s these two guys.

Captain Americas – The top of the time sheets the past two days have had quite a different look to them. We have Josef Newgarden, JR Hildebrand and USAC scholarship winner Bryan Clausen sweeping the day one practice podium with Causen and Newgarden taking P2 and P3 on day two behind Colombian Sebastien Saavedra. We have killed two birds with one stone this weekend. Two supposed contributing factors to the decline of the Indy 500 and the general decay of American open wheel racing has been the lack of Americans and the broken bridge from USAC to Indianapolis. Both of these have been rectified in the early days of the almost-month-of-May and I hope a few of the fans dissolusioned by these two issues take another look in at least the direction of IMS and hopefully the series as a whole. If this keeps up and Hinchliffe, the Canadian-who-is-close-enough-to-an-American-for-me sophomore driver can continue to woo fans, we may soon be saying: Marco and Graham who?

Overall Impressions – This year was the nicest opening day we have had in a few years. The temp was very comfortable and the humidity was unusually low for this time of year, and the crowd was reflective of the unusually nice weather. I arrived at the track at about ten on Saturday and actually had a bit of a line ahead of me waiting to get in. The crowd seemed noticeably larger than opening day last year and excessive alcohol consumption seemed rather low; the large crowd on hand really seemed to be there for the spectacle and not just to drink in a loud place. Cheers were had when we started seeing 220+ laps being turned and there were many swag covered fans spotted. All in all I say it was an extremely successful opening weekend. There was a definite buzz going through the stands; everyone in attendance looked as if they were really enjoying themselves. It was a very good two days to kick off the almost-month-of-May.

Now we head into the meat of May testing and see what the teams and drivers are really made of. They have four more days to play before they get to set their engines to qualifying levels of boost. It will be very interesting to see if the teams focus more on race pace during the week and save the bulk of qualifying work for Friday when they will be running the enhanced boost levels. There won’t be much time on Friday to get a good feel for the gearing needed without a tow and with the added horsepower; how the teams play this aspect of the race this year could have big implications in the final qualifying order. But again, we talkin bout practice so who knows how the week will play out.

Eric Hall

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