The Firestone 600 Verizon IndyCar Series race set for Saturday, June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway may be 52 days away, but on Wednesday it was the focus of 18 drivers who participated in an open Firestone tire test at the 1.5-mile speedway.
The test offered teams the ability to review their oval aero package and gain data while INDYCAR had two drivers in particular – Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter – helping the sanctioning body find the perfect package to enhance the racing for the Firestone 600. Texas Motor Speedway has become one of the more challenging tracks on the circuit and the additional track time proved to be a huge benefit for those drivers who participated in the all-day session.
“It’s obviously a great race track; it’s just difficult,” Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal said. “It’s difficult, particularly with the aero and tire combination these days; we slide around a lot here. It makes it interesting for the fans and exciting, but I can tell you it feels like I have more arm pump here in 40 laps this morning that I did the entire Long Beach Grand Prix. On a day like today, when you get the wind gusts like this, that makes it 10 times harder. That is a good thing. You don’t necessarily want to go to tracks that are ‘easy.’ This use to be one of those, but nowadays you come here and there is a lot to be learned.”
For INDYCAR, Wednesday’s test session proved to be a learning experience when setting up the aero package for the Firestone 660 and Andretti worked closely with the series to test aero packages that will ultimately enhance the racing. Andretti, who will join Ed Carpenter Racing driver/owner Ed Carpenter for additional an additional day of testing at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday, is optimistic about the series’ efforts to improve its aero package.
“We are driving these cars on the ragged edge at this place in particular,” Andretti said. “The way the tires fall off, it is not Firestone it is the aero grip that we have. The rate of falloff is pretty great here. I was watching my onboard (camera) getting ready for this test, this place we earned our money last year. I had a race-winning car last year and it looked terrible. I was backing into the corners, lifting way early.
“I guess we can leave it up to the fans. I know they might want to see pack racing, I know we don’t want that as drivers. We need that balance to where just before pack racing where we aren’t doing 190s (miles per hour) at the end of a stint. We don’t want that either. Somewhere in-between is a happy medium and that is what we are going for. We are not going for pack racing; we are not going for a drastic change. Just a little change.”
Will Power, the current Verizon IndyCar Series championship points leader and former winner at Texas Motor Speedway, agrees that efforts to move away from pack racing and placing more control in the drivers hands will make for exciting racing.
“As long as it’s not pack racing, it’s fine,” Power said. “As soon as you start pack racing you can have your grandma running on your outside rear, it takes all the talent away and creates this dangerous situation of cars all packed up. If they put it all back in the driver’s hands and the good drivers are at the front where they should be and the wankers are at the back, it is fine.”
For Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya it was a chance to get reacquainted with open-wheel racing on ovals. Montoya, who competed in 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Texas Motor Speedway during his seven-year career with Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, made his first laps around the speedway in an open-wheel car.
With just two races under his belt, Montoya is slowly making the adjustment and the test session at Texas Motor Speedway allowed him to adapt to the faster speeds.
“It was hard at the beginning,” Montoya said of his transition. “It’s still hard. There are weeks, like here for example, places that I have been in the Cup car before makes it harder. Sebring was actually pretty simple because I kind of had the memory of the Indy car and that was a long time ago, but that’s what I’ve done there always. You kind of have a reference. Where like here for example, you are used to lifting and braking and all that stuff and you can run fairly wide open. It’s hard. It makes it fun but it’s so much quicker.”
Wednesday’s weather conditions – temperatures hovering in the mid-60s and winds gusting consistently more than 20 miles per hour – will not likely be duplicated when the series returns in June.
The unseasonable weather in North Texas may have played havoc on preparing notes for June’s Firestone 600, but for drivers like defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon the additional track time allowed his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team to sharpen its skills for not only Texas, but for the five additional ovals the series visits this season.
“With the weather conditions being cool and a lot of wind, it makes things a little more difficult when we come back here,” Dixon said. “You kind of have to go through the big stuff to try and figure out what you may need or tools that you can use when you come back. Typically on a day like this we would be doing big sweeps to try and figure out what we may need or don’t need. It’s definitely made it challenging.
“I think the cool conditions are what really change it. When you come back and it’s 90 degrees the car gets pretty bad. I think the other addition today was we were trying too was some aero testing for the race – trying to get the package a little more like 2012 when we had a great race here. We always have plenty of stuff to do and it’s always a lot of fun to be back at Texas Motor Speedway.”
Tickets for the Firestone 600 Verizon IndyCar Series, as well as the June 6 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 400, are available by contacting the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com. Texas Motor Speedway is offering the “Family 4-Pack” special, four Firestone 600 race tickets, four hot dogs and four Coca-Cola products for $99.