What a week it’s been! After six days of intense on track action and slowly rising speeds, there is still no true picture on how qualifying will shake out. We always assume that the big dogs will bubble to the top when it matters, but Indy is quite the different beast than your nondescript street course or oval. Experience and engineering matter, and having a driver that possesses the insatiable will to hang it out doesn’t hurt. The talent in the series is as high as we have ever seen and the time sheets throughout the week support that. If you throw Lotus out, the speeds have been close and competitive. All of this bodes extremely well for the upcoming weekend of qualifying. Setting the grid in Indianapolis is always a confusing endeavor, but with all of the unknowns we are entering the weekend basically blind.
Engine Parity – 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. *Update… They haven’t…Shocking* Temperatures were taken from Indianapolis International Airport.
Day 1, 75F – 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, 75F – Top 5: Honda 4/1, Top 10: Honda 6/4, Top 15: Chevy 8/7
-Fastest Chevy: 221.526
-Fastest Honda: 221.173
Day 3, 78F – Top 5: Chevy 3/2, Top 10: Chevy 6/4, Top 15: Chevy 9/6
-Fastest Honda: 222.486
-Fastest Chevy: 221.639
Day 4, 80F – Top 5: Chevy 4/1, Top 10: Push 5/5, Top 15: Chevy 8/7
-Fastest Chevy: 223.676
-Fastest Honda: 221.855
Day 5, 68F – Top 5: Chevy 3/2, Top 10: Honda 6/4, Top 15: Honda 9/6
-Fastest Honda: 222.785
-Fastest Chevy: 222.108
Day 6, 75F – Top 5: Honda 4/1, Top 10: Honda 7/3 , Top 15: Honda 10/5
-Fastest Honda: 223.088
-Fastest Chevy: 221.932
All in all, it looks very even. Both manufacturers are represented at the top of the speed charts and both have run similar speeds in the draft. Honda was exceptionally strong on day 1 and day 6, but Chevy was still not far behind and even stepped to the front in the middle of the week. The middle of the week just happened to be about five degrees warmer. One has to wonder if raceday is 80 degrees or warmer; it most certainly will, could Chevy capitalize on the apparent advantage of warmer temps, even if ever so slight? Then again, this could all be hogwash because this is just practice.
Fan Force United Bandwagon – *climbs to the tallest hill in Indianapolis and yells…* I AM ON THE BANDWAGON! Granted the team is strapped with the painfully slow Lotus lump but they are making the best out of their situation. I have seen more social media activation from the FFU camp in the last week than I have from other teams all season, and that is not an overstatement. Fan Force has been the personification of running Indianapolis; they are a garagista effort for the 21st century. The Indy lights teams willfully signed on for something that more than a few teams wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. Why? To gain experience for a possible future foray into the series and to become a part of something bigger; the Indy 500. Ask Jay Howard what the most important aspect of racing in May is and I bet he will tell you it’s racing at Indy and nothing else matters. In the history of the 500, how many teams and drivers had an honest shot at winning? I don’t know the numbers, but the percentage is probably miniscule. The majority of teams have no realistic shot of kissing the bricks. I hope that the team is able to take the green; if only to be parked five laps in; which I have no issues with whatsoever. I hope the team stays signed with Lotus for Detroit and beyond. The two entities could do amazing things while growing together in a committed partnership. This could be the only way Lotus survives to race another race.
Bumping? – Gushing on and on about Lotus and Fan Force United may be a moot point. Every day that closes with the Lotus duet unable to break into the 210’s, let alone get close to 220, could be one more nail in the coffin for the misguided British manufacturer. And with Alesi saying he feels unsafe, the warm and fuzzies are not circulating in the Lotus camp. We know there is a 34th entry held by Ed Carpenter Racing but it is sitting idle as the team focuses on the primary car. We also know that Roger Penske owns part of the company that builds the engines for the car manufacturer that he convinced to get back into racing. I think RP has enough clout at Chevy to make yet another engine appear and has stated he can indeed do so if there is a need to get to 33 rides. There are also quiet rumblings coming from the Foyt and Coyne garages that second cars at either team could materialize if the main cars make it comfortably in. And Honda steps in to play. All speculation aside, there is a concern that just letting the awful Lotuses in without any competition could be degrading and ultimately harmful to the series and event. This is quite the interesting shift in focus from the “33 is just a number” talk of weeks past. Indianapolis seems to do odd things to its competitors.
It looks Racey – If this week’s happy hours are any indication, we could be in for a barn burner of a race on May 27th. The drivers have been daring and the track and chassis have been handling it quite well. There has been continued talk that the new DW12 drives very similar to the Indy Lights chassis. This could explain the presence of recent ladder graduates at the top of the sheets. Even in practice, the drafting and racing was heated and competitive. Given all of this, if we say an Indy 500 that featured racing reminiscent of the Freedom 100, and I wouldn’t mind if that turned out to be the case. Don’t tell anyone, but the 100 often features better racing than its big brother two days later.
A massive update for an action filled week. I have no idea how qualifying will shake out and that is a wonderful feeling. Dragon Racing finally received their not so secret Chevy engines and look to be well on their way for a mediocre, but acceptable maiden voyage with Chevy. It always amazes me how the garage in Indy is as bad with secrets, conspiracies and rumors as any gossip circle imaginable. It’s just another nuance of Indianapolis that seems to be lacking from the balance of the season. Nevertheless, now it’s time to put my money where my mouth is.
Pole Pick – Helio Castroneves – given a long enough timescale, he could rival Mears in his accomplishments.
Probables – Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti,
Long Shots – Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Tagliani, Will Power
As always, thanks for reading… I’ll see you at the Social Media Garage this weekend!