Grand Prix of Indy, a Few Local Reactions

Road racing is on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and there were more than a few questions concerning the whole package. As the self-appointed every-mans indianpolis based indycar lifer and racing addict, I think some pedestrian opinion could be just what the doctor ordered.

The first bombshell dropped was an unfathomable statement from Mark Miles that goes something along the lines of: this new race will help expose the Indianapolis area to indycar. WHAT??? How does the city that hosts the only true blue-chip indycar event need even more exposure to indycar? Let me tell you that the days of show cars in liquor store parking lots, checkered flags on front porches anywhere except the city of speedway itself, cardboard cutouts at gas stations and element school indycar drawing contests are a thing of the past and have been since the start of the split. The circle city is not the kool-aid drinking, indycar loving city it once was, if it ever was outside of May.

NASCAR draws about three times the TV audience in Indianapolis on a regular basis. Is more proof needed? Of course, the majority of the super-duper-unquestionably- hardcore fan base reside right here, but what better people to use as unpaid tour guides into the intricacies of road racing than this very group of nuts? I can name countless accounts of amazement from long-time Indy 500 fans upon learning that there is a rest-of-the-schedule attached to this 500 thing. The second largest TV market for indycar is the St. Pete/Tampa/Ft. Meyers area, aka the Indianapolis retirement region. In 2014 they are looking to get a double header event. Sounds more to me like indycar is taking care of the most concentrated fan bases.

That’s all well and good, but won’t you think of the tradition?  Another indycar race at The Speedway, and in May no less? I see the addition of a road race in May as the completion a 100 year old vision: to create a facility where all types of cars could be tested and compete against each other, and to give the residents of Indianapolis three huge race and automobiling weekends a year on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends. That vision was completed in 1910 when each of those holidays were included on the schedule of activities with full programs of racing all three weekends. Carl Fisher’s initial vision also included… road racing at his magnificent facility. Finances, difficulties with the oval, and waning interest most likely doomed this dream to a couple of historic artistic renderings of what could have been.

In 1916, the year of the 300 mile Indy 500 that was scheduled as such, a weekend of racing dubbed the Harvest Auto Racing Classic was included on the championship trail to take place at The Speedway in early September. This was the first year of the new championship and the schedule would need some help getting off the ground, so The 500 was shortened and an additional event was added at the stronghold of racing. Sanctioning body AAA knew the facilities were capable, intrest was high in the surrounding areas, and media would be present to help pump the new series into the news cycle more often than a single weekend a year. If it weren’t for the intervention of WWI and the total shutdown of all national racing in 1917, we would probably still be running the Harvest Auto Racing Classic.

My only real concern about the addition of yet another Midwest race is market oversaturation. Yes, we have good fans to draw from, but those same fans make the trip to many venues on the schedule. My usual race budget comes out to about three races a year, indycar or not. Now IMS and INDYCAR are asking me to choose between the new road race and a trip to Milwaukee and mid-Ohio or even MotoGP and Super Weekend. My entertainment options are far and wide as an Indianapolis based racing fan are nearly limitless, are we just spreading the same butter even thinner?

Regardless, I will be there sitting in the grass with the rest of the loonies. 50 bucks for a four-pack of tickets with general admission coming in at 25 seems plenty reasonable. IMS got the pricing package right the first time out. No one is going to pay for the 75 dollar seats because we all know better, but that makes the event look big from any curious ticket pricers and most importantly, to the still missing in action title sponsor. Throw in the entire Road to Indy and you have one heck of a bang for your buck. With all the races I have been to, I still don’t think I have seen the Pro Mazda guys in the flesh.

NASCAR, F1, MotoGP, Nationwide, IROC, Grand-Am, CTSCC, Indy Lights, Formula BMW, Moto2, Moto3, 250cc Championship, 125CC Championship, Red Bull Riders and Rookies Cup, XR1200 series, eRoadRacing, Ferrari Challenge, Porsche Super Cup.  Although there may be even more series that have raced across the hallowed bricks, the only other facility to even come close to boasting this kind of lineup is the Circuit of the Americas. What sits as 16th and Georgetown Road is a rarity in the racing world. It is a facility that has tried to stay with the times by not pigeonholing itself into a single form of racing, and has catered to its local customers by providing a wide range of racing. This May, will only add to the heritage of the amazing facility. Next on my wishlist of series to see at The Speedway? How about Motocross on the infield during the painfully bleak and boring Saturday before the 500?

Eric Hall

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A Ramble on Tires, Push and the Future

As the season reaches the halfway point the future of indycar is starting to look quite bright. Something as simple as an in-depth look at the odd link between downforce, pushy racecars and tires, a bone of contention in their current iteration, easily leads to package improvements simply by going faster at Indianapolis.

After a 2012 season of having the sticky red and more durable black tire compounds just a bit too close in grip and construction, Firestone made a few changes coming into the 2013 season. The gap was widened and the tires, if managed properly, are able to do their jobs. The reds are noticeably quicker through the first half of a run all while losing grip and normalizing somewhere below the blacks nearer to the end of the run. The black side walls have been more or less bullet proof. You can push and push without too much damage taken by the tires. Although starting slower, the more consistent grip allows faster times to be turned all through a run.

However, the cars look planted. The DW12 is an inherently pushy chassis. It has a hard time establishing front end grip on initial turn in and want to pull out to the wall on corner exit. The teams have had to do rethink their setup sheets to break the rear end loose and free up the chassis. Because of this, drivers have adjusted their driving styles to lay more in line with the natural tendencies of the chassis instead of using a compromised setup to bring the car closer to the driver.

This has led to a full field of “easier” to drive racecars in the name of tire longevity and rethought setup sheets. “Loose is fast” is an often quoted line that holds more truth than could be understood. Loose equals rotation, faster cornering, and machines that must be man handled to extract the most from the equipment. It has been noted that we have had a relatively clean season in terms of crash damage on both the ovals and road and street circuits. I do not feel this is a sign that our drivers are improving, rather it is more indicative that the cars are a bit easier to hold on to this year.

Downforce is known to be high on the twisties, but decreasing wing angles won’t necessarily lead to looser racecars; the chassis will still have its natural push tendencies. With all of that said, the confidence that these cars instill on the drivers is evident by the moves and risks that these guys have been willing to take. The racing has been top level so it is hard to fault anyone on the way these machines handle the roads. Maybe in the future Dallara will be able to work back to a more balanced chassis when, or if, the league and manufacturer decide to revise the basic DW12 once speeds at Indy start ramping up.

On the ovals, the story is totally different. The single tire compound seems to only have a handful of laps in them before grip starts to drastically decrease. At Texas, drivers were unable to drive quickly, let alone push, for an entire fuel run. Tires dictated pit strategy, and the race was an evening of drivers trying to find their way into the wall on corner exit.

Iowa and Milwaukee were better in terms of tire degradation, but this leads me to believe that the increased tire life was due to increased downforce instead of better compounds. The league mandated the use of a modified road and street course kit for these two short ovals. The billboard wings produce more aerogrip, thus reducing sliding and increasing tire life. The cars still wanted to push into the wall, but drivers could still run to the edge of grip for most of the fuel stint and manage that push effectively.

This leads to Indianapolis where the same basic aerokit was used as Texas, but speeds were 10-20 miles an hour faster on average per lap. This defines the concept of an aero lull, a grip valley, or whatever you want to call it. For a winged racecar to work effectively there must be enough air passing over the aerodynamic elements to “turn on” and do their job of pressing the car into the track. At Indy, there was enough speed to produce stability, downforce and grip leading to better use of the tires. At Texas, with the shorter straights, once a driver lifted there was no chance to recover the speed. Grip at the next corner would suffer, as would exit speed and therefore straight line speed. This led to a very quickly, downward spiraling cycle of available aero grip causing sliding and the dreaded cheese grater effect on the tires.

The contrast between how well the package is designed on the twisties, verse ovals is staggering. The Indy, Milwaukee and Iowa tire could display the same characteristics as seen in Texas, but the downforce levels work more harmoniously with the tire.

The long straits of Pocono and the wide, sweeping corners of Fontana should give the chassis just enough speed to stay in that aero sweet spot. But it may be time for Firestone to rethink their oval compounds now that we are in year two of a totally different chassis than the type these tires were designed for.

Personally, I like where downforce levels are at. I like seeing the cars blast down the straights and lift or brake when entering a corner, but the tires need to be more sympathetic for the new style of oval racing we are attempting to create. They “got it” on the twisties and there is no reason to think the same thing won’t happen on the ovals. Again, when speeds ramp up at Indy in the coming years, Firestones hand may be forced anyway.

We are tantalizingly close to a complete season technical package.  Oddly enough, the bits and bobs for the twistie portion of the schedule are pretty well nailed down. Ironically, considering where the current iteration of American open-wheel racing came from, the oval package still needs a bit of work. But as a whole, the series has come a long way in terms of giving the cars back to the drivers, even if they are inherently more stable than we would like.

The entire package is primed for the performance increases laid out for the coming years and it will take the combined effort of Honda, Chevy, Dallara, Firestone and Indycar to make these goals happen. After a few races of having Derrick Walker at the technical helm, I am convinced we are in good hands moving forward. Instead of having a huge problem (breaking up pack racing with the IR07) with little to no solutions, we have a few niggling issues that are already being handled in a professional and sporting way.

The tire, chassis, downforce and even the pining for more power are all being actively evaluated by looking to the future and higher speeds at Indianapolis. The simple act of adding ten miles per hour in qualifying trim at Indy will hone an already stellar all around package. For the first time in a very long time, the future looks bright for indycar racing. It’s been a long time coming, now let’s hope people tune in to see it.

Eric Hall

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Weekend Review… A Texas Ramble Edition

Instead of the usual five point rundown to review the weekend, I want to prose a bit on the current state of indycar at Texas.

On a warm Saturday night last weekend, in front of a sparse looking crowd, indycar took to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway; a facility that is touted year in and out as the second home of indycar racing. For many years that was the honest to goodness truth, but in recent years it sounds more like a PR and ticket selling line than an actual statement of fact.

I think of Barber Motorsports Park, Iowa Speedway and the Streets of Sao Paulo Brazil as the contemporary second home of indycar. Those local fans are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and come out in droves. I know that Tony Kanaan’s presence more than helps out the Brazil event and if you plunked the 30k seating capacity of Iowa into the 191k (!) Texas grandstands, the place would look absolutely deserted. But that is the main issue: attendance concerns at Texas should not be a year in and out talking point.

I love Texas Motor Speedway as much as anyone and I personally have no problems racing on any 1.5 mile oval. In fact, I had always thought they were some of the most exciting stops on the schedule up to and including last year. However during the most recent edition, there was definitely some sparkle lost on the event.

There were points in the race where mid corner speed dropped to below 190 when just two years ago guys were able to keep it above 210. Does that 20 miles an hour make a difference? I think so, however we all are told no one can tell a five mile and hour difference at Indy but we are already well above 220 there so perceptions are quite different at the flat oval. As the wild asphalt circus wore on, I felt like I was in the twilight zone watching a fast NASCAR race. Not that tin top racing is bad, just not my cup of tea and especially not on the 1.5 mile ovals.

It wasn’t as if the drivers weren’t working; everyone but Helio looked to have their hands full all night long. Make no mistake, this was not the wide open, hug the white line racing that we saw with the IR07, it was quite the opposite. There simply was not enough grip for the drivers to have the ability to run balanced and repeatable laps throughout the tire stint. Drivers couldn’t push at any point in the night and side by side racing was nearly nonexistent as drivers lost just too much time fighting opponents for position.

My worries about the longevity of Texas on the schedule began last year when the series had already taken a bit too much downforce away last year. And for this year’s event, the series rolled out the ultra-low drag Indianapolis aero configuration and proceeded to cleave even more downforce from the chassis in a bid to make the drivers work even harder than in 2012. And by doing so, they totally changing the on track product that had local race fans filling the grandstands not more than five years ago.

The pure pack racing seen at similar tracks in years past is not acceptable in this series, but neither is what we saw on Saturday night at the second home of indycar. During the race, I flashed back to Bump Day just a few short weeks ago and the trials and tribulations of Michel Jourdain Jr. The RLLR team was having major issues getting that chassis up to speed. The runs were so slow, that they cars aerodynamics didn’t even have a chance to help the chassis find its way through the corners and only compounding the mechanical problems of the teams.

This low drag package seen at Indianapolis and Texas, and slated for use again at Pocono and Fontana, needs that speed to create the chassis balance and comfort window for drivers to be able to actually race each other and not just hang on for 324 miles.

Only adding fuel to the fire, Firestone brought a slightly softer tire to enhance mechanical grip, but the cars didn’t have the aero grip to take full advantage of the stickier compound. Drivers were sliding on new tires, taking away grip and trashing the tires in only a few laps, which would be followed by drivers surviving until the next tire stop. Passes were not made due to a faster trailing car; they were made because the leading car had no tire left.

My armchair quarterback opinion is they oval package simply needs more horsies. More air moving over the wings equals more grip. More grip equals more tire life, and more tire life give the ability back to these racers to actually race. We know an aero limited package only bunches the field together, and the current tire limited formula creates the separation and skills showcase that was sorely missing from indycar racing for so long, but we have clearly gone too far.

The paying customers in Texas spoke, and they were not totally satisfied with the new package the series brought in 2012; so much so that it looked like many of them decided to stay home for the 2013 edition. And if they were watching the race on TV, they most likely will not be won back in the near future. We always came to Texas to watch these daredevils race their rears off in a test of focus and skill. This year was a test of tire conservation and the ability to keep it between the lines; not racing.

Sadly, I cannot say that Texas is my favorite race anymore. It just doesn’t have that Texas zing, but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch. The race is still a high point in the season for me, I just hope that the third time is a charm and the series nails down a better package in 2014. I just hope we get to go back. After the bad mouthing last year, the wholly different type of racing this year, and weak attendance, Gossage cannot be happy. We may yet find out if he is a partner or just a race promoter sooner than later.

Eric Hall

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Weekend Review… Double the Excitement Edition

Welcome Back! Glad you found your way back here after human error delayed and ultimately cancelled the posting of Detroit pre-race article. Nevertheless, the twin billing was a success on most all fronts. A part time driver claimed victory in race one, and a first time winner in race two continued the improbable season of parity and equality rarely seen in top level racing. The double header program seemed to really challenge everyone involved but gave the in-person customers and TV viewers on heck of a full and action packed weekend. Not to mention that I really enjoyed having two, full distance races to watch in one weekend. As the post-race press releases rolled in on Saturday night, you could feel the stress and fatigue on them. A 500 mile oval race is one of the most taxing things a crew and driver could be put through, and yet the Dual in Detroit was a whole different kind of animal.

Reactions

New Detroit – In a word, the track looked amazing. There was no hint of the pot-hole filled bad dream that we experienced last year. The new paving job took away most reminders that we were on city streets and if there was grass to be seen by the overhead cam, it was beautifully manicured along with every other plant on the grounds. The track looked so good that in retrospect, the only surprise is that the Roger Penske led event took two years to get to this stage of grandeur.

Mike Conway – During race one, Mike Conway looked like he was leading a Formula One race. At one point, he had over 15 seconds in hand over P2, something nearly unheard of in indycar street racing. Dale Coyne Racing also played the tire strategy right by ensuring the car had the right rubber on at the right time. Coyne is certainly looking strong in the 2012 campaign. Justin Wilson seems to have as good a handle on the chassis and tires as anyone because Conway was able to step into the Coyne second seat, use the Wilson setups and then proceed to wipe the floor with the entire field.

Simon Pagenaud – Bryan Herta Autosport and Simon Pagenaud finally arrived in indycar with their win in race two on Sunday. We know BHA “ran” Wheldon’s winning entry in the 2011 Indy 500, but that was more of a Sam Schmidt crewed operation than anything else. The Frenchman has been on my radar since he left Champ Car for a sports car career, and it has been wonderful watching him make his open wheel comeback and finally clenching that big time win he has dreamed about since coming to the US in 2006. A win changes everything, and with this one the team and Simon become serious contenders for the rest of the season.

Dale Coyne Racing – Honda number two team? I think it may be a possibility to look at this year. The only other multi-carish teams in the Honda stable are Ganassi, RLLR and SPHM and the remainder of the Honda balance is comprised of single car squads. Coyne easily falls ahead of Rahal at this point in the season however, the win from the Schmidt camp in race two showed the team fighting back at Coyne for the second best honor. Having a rotating driver in the Coyne second seat doesn’t help the fight, but Wilson is doing a fantastic job on his own. Imagine if he had a competent teammate all year long.

Bumpers? – Granted, the bumpers serve an aerodynamic purpose by streamlining the air spilling over the rear tires to decrease drag and increase speed. However, their supposed main purpose and catylist for inclusion on the DW12 package is preventing a trailing car from riding up and over the lead car in wheel to wheel contact. And yet again, the wheel pod bumper things failed job one. Sure, we see fewer cut tires and spins from incidental contact, but this is open wheel racing, the cars might as well have training wheels on them. When, or if, horsepower ramps up in the future, it would be nice to see a rethink on this failing idea.

Welcome to indycar – AJ Allmendinger had a tough weekend to say the least. He completed a total of one half of a lap over the course of the two events after taking himself out in both races. AJ doesn’t have any more races scheduled this year, but on the success of his 500 performance, Penske may call him back up again this year. His experience over the past few weeks and the recent Kurt Busch test have really opened the doors to for other stock car types willing to give indycar a shot. Although the results weren’t what they should have been Allmendinger has one heck of a story to bring to the NASCAR paddock and its sponsors. Always a good thing.

No Saving – From my seat, it looked like no one saved a single ounce in race one. The restarts were close and heavily contested and we saw drivers push all day on Saturday. The race looked like a proper race by the end with tired drivers and bent racecar noses. Race two saw slightly more contact that was attributed to the wick being turned up after saving all day Saturday. I saw fatigued drivers barely hanging onto 700 horsepower animals on a thoroughly rubbered in track for the second day in a row. The race two wall contact and even Sebastien Bourdais’ slight nudge on Will Power that started a ten car pile-up looked to be more fatigue related than anything else. I’m betting we see similar patterns in the remaining two double header weekends this year.

A double header success? – The double header looked to be a rousing success from everyone’s stand point, expect the drivers and teams looking at large repair bills and blister filled hands. Our programing run time was doubled on the ABC broadcast, leading to increased exposure on Saturday that we otherwise would have missed out on. By most reports, the grounds were hopping and excitement in the city was pretty high for the event. The organizers thought it was such a success that they have already requested a double header repeat in 2014. I know management was planning on just seeing these Randy Bernard created event out and reverting to a traditional schedule next year, but it sounds like it will be worth a look at repeating at least one double header in 2014.

With those races in the books, indycar moves onto the summer stretch of ovals and continues its grueling back-to-back six week run of insanity. We are seven races in and it looks like Detroit closed out the opening third of the season. Coming up next, we have a four race run of ovals that could not be any different from each other that will start to separate the realistic championship contenders from the yearly hopefuls. Helio Castroneves sits tied for P1 in the standings with Marco Andretti and this could be the Brazilians year to solidify himself in the pantheon of indycar greats by finally clenching that elusive championship. It all starts in less than a week on the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway.

Eric Hall

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Weekend Review… (Still Catching My Breath) Edition

Nearly a week late, but definitely not forgotten! That race was one of the most fun racing events I have ever been to. Never have I been vehemently against leaving the stands for a single lap as I was on Sunday. The incredible post-race buzz was tempered a bit as I watched the ABC coverage and witnessed just  how easy it looked to suck up behind someone and complete a pass way before either T1 or T3. Understand this: what follows are not complaints, the race was incredible, just gut feeling observations that have dawned upon me the more I think about what we all saw on Sunday. However you experienced what happened that day, there is no denying that we witnessed one of the most competitive 500s ever.

Tony Kanaan – For the first time since 1997, my driver won. Indianapolis has a knack of causing all of us to pick a winner from the heart. But it has often been noted that during May, The Speedway chooses who she want to have hang out in victory lane. TK has been a crowd favorite and his eleven years of bad luck finally paid off as he found his way to the checkers first, placing himself next to Dario Franchitti and Dan Wheldon on the Borg Warner Trophy. Rare air for sure, and two of Dan’s best buds immortalized next to him. For how close TK has been so many times, The Brickyard owes him at least one more.

Downforce – Was the race unbelievably awesome? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it was as sporting as it could have been. In 2012, drivers noted that there was simply too much downforce available to the, during qualifying and the race. Given a year of development, the search for more downforce, and a relatively unchanged aero package, I am echoing that sentiment again this year. Save for the few Hondas searching for more speed through less wing, the cars looked planted all day long. I’m not saying that I could have driven them myself, but the drivers looked to have next to no issue taking the DW12 anywhere they wanted to on track all day long. A reduction of available grip would be welcomed next year.

The Draft – In stark contrast to how a race possibly should play out, there was no way for anyone to get away from the freight train of cars all running in the lead lap pack. No matter how good your car was, a second or so was all you could hope to pull out before the pack caught back and relegated said lead driver at least a few spots back. If a driver has a totally dominant car, there should be no reason they cannot stay out in front. Not a mile in front mind you, but at least not be the complete sitting duck we saw on Sunday. The racing was epic, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit like I was watching a roulette wheel and whoever may have been out front when the laps stopped counting would be the winner. That kind of stuff is for Daytona and Talladega, not Indianapolis.

Records Fall – Total leader, number of lead changes and the average speed of race record were all broken this weekend. We all have the much maligned Dallara to thank for that. The Italian composites company has designed something akin to perfection, if this style of racing at Indy is what you desire. They have done a tremendous job of providing us with a safe and racy chassis. All the complaints about the race could be remedied with a bit of horsepower jump. Nevertheless, whether it was one of the “greatest races of all time” or just another one for the ages, the competitiveness of the field has been brought to the forefront all year and that very fact was punctuated by the record breaking weekend.

Honda – Common thought dictated that Honda, although slightly sluggish in the week leading to The 500, would be able to turn the wick up and compete with the bowtie brigade once the race was finally under way. What we saw could not be further from the truth and the fuel economy advantage from 2012 looked to be nearly totally negated as neither manufacturer had a discernible edge in economy. With all of the “wait and see” talk in regards to the Hondas performance, they ended up looking quite silly on Sunday. With the new F1 engine coming on line in 2015, one has to think maybe the Japanese manufacturer has moved its resources to another program for the time being… hopefully.

Sadly that does it for the “month of May” for 2013. Calling the month amazing would be an understatement from all respects. The carnage was kept to a minimum, the race was as close as anyone could have imagined, and TK finally stole the wholly deserved win that had eluded him for over a decade. As soon as the checkers fell, teams and drivers started the five week thrash that is ahead. As a matter of fact, teams have not really had time off since the week before Brazil. Thank your local driver and crew for the hard work they have and will put in, they totally deserve it. Next up is the first weekend of double header craziness. It will be totally interesting to see how teams manage the weekend.

A final thanks to everyone who stopped into the Social Media Garage and said hi. That is what it was all about; connecting all of us internet dwellers in real life. The Speedway seems to be latching onto the idea and during opening weekend the place was really hopping. Thank you to everyone who attended the twitteratti tweetup on race morning as well where I met most of you for the first time just a few short hours before the green fell. And a huge and heartfelt thank you to Brian Simpson, Cassie Conklin and The Indianapolis Motor Speedway for giving myself and my other four partners in crime the opportunity to enhance your coverage; even if it was just a tiny amount.

Eric Hall

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Into the Crystal Ball… 500 Miles To Go Edition

crystal ballA 500 mile race in indycar racing, and especially the Indy 500, is an endurance test packaged as a sprint race. There is literally no time to think during this race, only time to allow ones instincts to make the correct decision. Those kinds of expectations make The 500 the most stressful three hours of the season. The grandeur of our series crown jewel only adds to the pressure placed on everyone involved in the event. If there is one thing the paddock can agree on it that the Indy 500 is the must win event of the season. And it’s not for championship reasons; we all know why teams want to taste the milk. A good result could save your team, or set it up for a much more lucrative second half of the season. There is everything to win and even more to lose at The Brickyard.

What to Watch

The Draft – There is no mistake that the DW12 produces some of the best drafting conditions racing has ever seen and if practice was any indication, we could break the pass record yet again. Anecdotally, it has always been said that if you can see another car at the end of a straight, you’re getting some help in the draft. We have seen that “some help” may be the understatement of the year. If a driver is close coming out of T4, the pass can be completed before the bricks. And if you are not close, you can still get the pass done before T1 if you exit T4 well. People talk about Daytona and Talladega as the premier drafting facilities, but the DW12 and Indianapolis create something entirely different: racing, drafting and distance in a perfect mix to cultivate non-stop action all day.

500 miles – Since The 500 has morphed into a long distance sprint event, any mistake on or off track is magnified a 1000 times over. A nearly flawless day is needed to achieve victory over some of the most prepared teams for a specific event in the world. We may not have the huge miles of in-season testing seen in prototype racing or the pure cubic dollars of Formula One, but no single event motivates its participants to execute a flawless afternoon more than the Indianapolis 500. Race strategy has been in the works since the checkers fell last year and drivers have been chomping at the bit for a chance to succeed for even longer. 500 miles are clicked off very fast, but it is still a long race in terms of mileage; the chances of disaster are increased with every yard completed.

Pit Stops – Teams will be expected to make between eight and twelve pit stops over the course of the race. This means that not only will a driver be expected to make zero mistakes; the pressure is on the teams as well as much as it is on the pilot. Dario Franchitti proved in 2012 that you can have a pit road problem and still come back for the win after EJ Viso spun him out in the pits on the 15th lap. That was early enough for the team to come back from, but a self-inflicted mistake could cause a cascading disaster throughout the team ending all hope of a properly good finish.

Fuel Mileage – 2012 saw the Chevy contingent have the power advantage all month long which parlayed itself into more downforce and more stable cars than the Hondas all around. Chevy decimated the Japanese manufacturer during practice and really caught them by surprise during qualifying. 2013 has been even more pronounced in the imbalance of the Honda and Chevy engines. However, once the race was on and 33 cars were in the draft, all that extra Chevy power did was decrease fuel mileage a noticeable amount. The Hondas may not have been fast, but they sipped on fuel all afternoon long. Given the even larger speed disparity between the manufacturers this year I expect more of the same. But will Chevy have learnt a lesson and Turn that glorious power down in search of more efficiency? It wouldn’t be the worst or most surprising outcome of the weekend.

Momentum – With that said, keeping your line clean and speed high through the corner will be paramount to not losing too much time to the leaders. With only 550 or so horses on tap, the 2.2 liter turbo engines just don’t have the grunt to pull the chassis out of the corner and down the straight if any part of the driver’s line is compromised. This is especially apparent when you consider how sensitive these chassis seem to be in terms of setup, heat and wind direction. Making it through the corners quickly and cleanly will be important to staying near the front. Andretti Autosport practiced more on race setup, drafting and clean position swaps all week long and could have an advantage using all five cars to pull away as a pack.

Andretti Autosport – Speaking of the four car super team, AA may very well play a protect strategy on Sunday afternoon. I cannot shake the feeling that the five car operation will run a bicycle racing tactic: using the pack to insulate themselves from outside attack, gain speed by running as a unit and basically locking out the top of the standings all afternoon. A single car could probably make its way through the pack, but a two car attack may be met with extreme resistance if the teams can keep all five cars within the setup window throughout the entirety of the race. There is not a better prepared team this month and the results of practice and qualifying more than prove this. The Andretti name may yet find its way into victory lane again.

Predictions

Winner – Tony Kanaan – I can’t pick another driver for the Indy win until he get at least one under his belt. I don’t care how slow or how difficult a month he is having, TK will find a way.

Best Rookie Finisher – AJ Allmendinger – I’ve already laid my expectations of AJ out many times before; he has no excuses and it’s time to perform.

Epic Performance – Simona de Silvestro – Simply put, anything will be better than her 2012. She will not get black flagged before the race reaches double digit laps and she will have enough power to race and have some fun. Enjoy it SdS, you’ve earned it.

Biggest Loser – DRR – An IRL and IMS stalwart poised to shutter the doors once the checkers fall. Nothing short of a win will save them and they just don’t have the prowess to best Andretti, Penske, Ganassi or ECR from the initial look of it.

The 2013 field is the most competitive field we have seen in many years. The multiple winners may not stack up to previous years, but there is not really anyone who is just out to lunch. The teams are quick, sharp and prepared and the drivers’ possess quantified skill from P1 to P33. The weather looks like it will be perfect for 500 miles of speed and danger on Sunday and nothing is standing in the way for us to have yet another epic edition of the Memorial Day Classic. Thousands of pages of analysis have been published, every scenario has been dissected and every possibility has been considered; let’s just race this thing already. 500 Miles to go…

Eric Hall

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Bump Day Live Blog!!!

FINAL UPDATE

As The Speedway sits quietly after two days of non-stop running, Michel Jourdain packs up to head home after a heartbreaking afternoon. The #17 crew called off a last minute bonsai run after an entire day of parts changes, driver swaps and nerves of steel. The car simply did not have the speed. The tub is purportedly the same one Takuma Sato wadded up on the final lap of the 2012 500 (it has been discovered that the Sato tub was NOT in use by Jourdain this weekend). Graham Rahal took the wheel for five laps early in the afternoon and confirmed there was something wrong very deep within the machine.

Even though there was no final qualifying attempt, the tension was high all afternoon. The drivers at the tail end of the field sat in qualifying mode once the completed their runs before one PM until the track closed for the day at six. No one on these teams were able to relax or put a race setup on the car and do some worthwhile practicing with the rest of the field. It was qualifying mode, do or die, all afternoon long.

After the field was filled, most locked in teams took to the track for some race simulation work. At one point, it looked like there was an actual race going on as drivers jockeyed for position and generally mixed it up in a way totally opposite to the objective for the day: bring it home in one piece. The only other incident besides Connor Daly’s smash yesterday was a slight brush from Will Power exiting T4 very late in the afternoon. In terms of crash damage, it was a remarkably clean weekend.

I headed home a bit early from The Speedway today and was able to catch the final hour of the practice telecast. The coverage was remarkable, and Will Buxton looked to be having quite the good time during his first trip to Indianapolis. It was truly unfortunate that NBCSN’s time was cut a bit short on coverage because they did a remarkable job. The storylines were well explained, the technical insight was top notch and the camera work was of Formula One world feed quality.

With that, we conclude out coverage of the most stress filled day in motorsports. Enjoy the few days of peace before the weekend kicks off on Friday morning with the final hour of practice on Carb Day. Once again, the field looks incredibly tough. Filled with high quality veterans and skilled rookies, there is really not a single wasted seat.

Of course we didn’t even get to see some of the beloved Indy specialists that have graced the bricks over the years. But that’s how racing evolves and moves forward. Save for Rick Mears, what driver actually retires? They fade from hero, to and Indy specialist to obscurity before finally coming back as a guest and taking in the grandeur of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from an entirely different perspective.

In less than one week the twin checkers will have waved for the 2013 Indianapolis 500. The week before a race fans Christmas is upon us; revel in what was witnessed this weekend and come back with batteries recharged for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Eric Hall

Ed freaking Carpenter! I think that’s all that need to be said regarding the on track activity yesterday. It was a banner day for the USAC contingent as one of their own, and an Indiana boy to boot, put himself on pole at the greatest race in the world. We have to go back 15 years to the early IRL to find the last USAC stalwarts to grab pole. Billy Boat in 1998 and Tony Stewart in 1996, although the link from USAC front engine dirt cars to rear engine formula cars has been lost for a very long time, it was nice to see a grad up top.

The TV coverage has been a huge bone of contention throughout the entire weekend. It started at six PM last night when NBCSN chose to air the Preakness Stakes post-race show in lieu of the fast nine shootout from IMS. In an unfortunate turn of events, when NBCSN rejoined, they did so live causing TV viewers to miss the first five or six cars from the shootout.  I understand the need to preempt certain events, but it would have been very nice if the broadcast could have been shown slightly delayed. Unfortunate.

The troubles continued today when the first 15 or 20 minutes of the TV broadcast were preempted again. This time it was hockey overtime that took precedence over indycar racing. Fortunately, there wasn’t much that was missed by the TV viewers in the 20 minutes of a six hour broadcast. On one hand, it is frustrating to be shown exactly where indycar sits in the sports hierarchy of NBC. Even more unfortunate, I don’t think it’s a shock to anyone that this is the case. But this is Indy that should count for something.

On the other hand, this shows exactly why you need to be here and in person to experience the awesomeness that is qualifying at Indianapolis. If everyone came out who was peeved by missing about an hour of qualys in the 12 hours of running, the place would be packed! We want those big huge bump day and pole day crowds back, time to make plans to meet in Indy in 2014.

As of one PM, the field for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 has been filled with a run from Katherine Legge. Michel Jourdain is on the outside looking in but has a bit under five hours to bump his way into the field. The final 30 minutes of bump day are the most intense and emotional minutes of the entire year. Someone’s hopes and dreams will be crushed today when the gun goes off at six and qualifying for 2013 closes. Tears of joy and heartbreak will be seen shortly thereafter and one driver will pack his stuff up and head home.

It’s another hot day at The Speedway today so the track should be greasy and difficult to keep up with throughout the day. Look for Bump Day to commence in earnest shortly after the top of the five o clock hour. If you’re out at The Speedway, make sure to stop in at the Social Media Garage and say hi; we have a live track feed, shade, sims and timing and scoring in the house.

Check back later in the day for another update! And as always, thank you for reading!

Eric Hall

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