The Frontstretch: IndyCar In-Depth: Firestone 550 by Toni Montgomery -- Friday June 7, 2013

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IndyCar In-Depth: Firestone 550

Toni Montgomery · Friday June 7, 2013


What’s News?

Last week in Detroit, new INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Derrick Walker outlined a timeline for technical innovation and safety enhancements to the cars that runs through 2021. It boils down to this for the immediate: starting now, INDYCAR and Dallara will evaluate and redesign the large, flat bottom surface of the cars in an effort to prevent the tendency to lift. This is being done for safety with an eye on future aero enhancements that will be designed to increase speed. 2014 will bring engine upgrades and in 2015, the first of the aero kits is expected to roll out. 2016 will be the year for any tire development needed as well as another round of engine enhancements. After working with series manufacturing partners to bring about the changes for the first few years, in 2017 INDYCAR will look at opening up areas of the cars for team development.

Of these items, the 2015 planned introduction of aero kits is the most controversial for a number of reasons. The series is pretty much spec right now and has been for a long time, and since the introduction of the DW12 chassis, the competition has been great. The aero kits are part of the initiative to increase speeds in the series, something INDYCAR wants to do in an effort to give the series a unique identity and hopefully rebuild audience. But it’s a big can of worms too. Will team owners be willing and able to absorb the cost of having to buy aero kits? (Walker says so far no one seems violently opposed.) Will the competition remain as close or will the big teams with more money to throw at aero kits and engineers to figure them out once again run all over the little guys? Would fans rather see close competition and parity or faster speeds and perhaps more spread out and uneven fields?

One year ago in Texas, Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne pulled off the upset victory that seems to have been just the first of many surprise wins since.

Track Preview: Texas Motor Speedway

We’re back to all left turns this week, the first in a series of four very different oval tracks over the next five weeks. Texas Motor Speedway is a 1.5 mile high speed, high banked (24 degrees) track that generally produces nail-biting races (you can decide if you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing). Last year with the help of Firestone and tires that actually wore out just enough to make the drivers have to work to handle the cars, we saw an end of the big pack racing and a pretty exciting event where Justin Wilson prevailed to start the series of underdog wins we are still enjoying.

Race distance is 228 laps for a total of 324 miles. Last year’s pole winner was Alex Tagliani with a speed of 215.691 mph. This is a Saturday night under the lights show, with television coverage on ABC starting at 8:30 p.m. ET. Radio coverage is also available on the IMS Radio Network and on Sirius/XM channel 211.

What’s the Points (Driver Standings):
We have not one, but two leaders heading into this weekend as Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti are tied with 206 points each atop the standings. Ryan Hunter-Reay has moved into third, 15 points back, followed by Scott Dixon in fourth and Simon Pagenaud in fifth. The race wins might favor the underdogs and the first-timers, but in the top five of the points standings, things do appear to be a little more status quo.

What’s the Points (Engine Manufacturers):
There’s only two this year but it’s a close battle with Chevrolet leading Honda by 3 points. While it has appeared to be a lot further apart at times, with Honda looking to be quite a bit behind Chevrolet, two wins in Detroit has helped to close the gap considerably.

Featured Driver: Justin Wilson
Wilson won last year’s race at Texas Motor Speedway and it was not a fluke. His Dale Coyne Racing Machine was strong all night and he was ready to pounce when leader Graham Rahal faltered late in the going. Dale Coyne Racing, a long time small budget team in the open-wheel world, had exactly two wins prior to Mike Conway’s upset last week and Wilson scored both of them (the other was at Watkins Glen in 2009). Coyne’s mostly known for giving up and coming drivers a shot but the veteran Wilson seems to be his happy exception. Can Wilson and Coyne come off a great weekend for the team in Detroit (Conway won, but Wilson was right there in third in race 1) and recapture the magic in Texas?

Other News:

  • Panther Racing has apparently decided to use the rest of 2013 as a sort of ongoing audition process to try different drivers in the seat in the search for the best fit according to team owner John Barnes. To that end, Oriol Servia has been given the nod to drive for the team at Texas and again in two weeks in Iowa. Servia is quite familiar with Panther, having driven for technical partner (and shopmates) DRR Panther up until Dreyer and Reinbold parked the car to regroup financially following the Indy 500. Servia will have the advantage of already knowing his teammates from his time at the Panther shops.
  • In other driver news, since Mike Conway does not race ovals, Dale Coyne has put Pippa Mann back in the seat for this weekend at Texas. Mann drove for Coyne at Indianapolis and he says he was pleased with her performance before contact with the wall ended her day.
  • Did anyone see the double bird salute from Sebastian Saavedra after contact from Marco Andretti put him in the wall in Race 1 last weekend? Or maybe the question should more correctly be did anyone not see it? INDYCAR saw it too and as a result Saavedra’s wallet will be $30,000 lighter. He has been given a chance to work off the fine though by making a series of public appearances on INDYCAR’s behalf through the remainder of the season. Anyone want to guess what the topic of those appearances might be?

The Picks:
Toni Montgomery thinks the underdog stories have been great but Texas seems like just the sort of place defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay might flex some muscle. Matt Stallknecht is going with Andretti Autosport too but he’s taking Marco Andretti.

Upcoming: Texas is the first of four ovals in five weeks. Next Saturday, June 15, we go to a completely different animal, the one-mile, flat Milwaukee Mile for Milwaukee IndyFest. This is an afternoon show, with television coverage beginning at 4:00 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.

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06/07/2013 11:15 AM

Great race last year. Looking forward to this one.