What makes a good race?
For the IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway, there are as many opinions as there are drivers, teams and pundits.
On one hand of the spectrum, Eddie Gossage, President and promoter of Texas Motor Speedway, wants to see much closer action, even suggesting that the league should entertain the idea of returning to the days of pack racing, when cars were trimmed out to their maximum downforce levels and never lifting in the corners.
As a result, they did not separate.
“Pack racing is good racing,” Gossage said earlier this month in Dallas.
On the other hand, the vast majority of drivers want absolutely nothing to do with it. While the form produced many of the closest finishes in IndyCar Series history, the discipline is also extremely dangerous, with four or five cars nose-to-tail and side-by-side at 220 mph.
Defending Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya never participated in a pack race at Texas Motor Speedway and has no interest in it whatsoever.
“He has no idea what we need to have good racing,” Montoya said on Friday at the speedway. “It’s probably the most insane and unsafe form of racing there is, to be honest with you. Last time we did it, someone got hurt, and it’s just not worth it.”
But even if drivers liked pack racing, IndyCar would likely be unable to reproduce it at Texas right now. For one, the surface has aged and eroded to the point where Firestone tires fall off in two or three laps, giving up over 10 mph in the process.
The track has also developed violent bumps that make it virtually impossible to stay in the throttle through the corners. The end result, despite IndyCar adding downforce this season, will likely be a continuation of the spread out racing that has become the new norm in the Lone Star State since the introduction of the DW12 in 2012.
Further complicating any efforts to group the cars back together is the fact that both Chevrolet and Honda now have distinct body kits, making it unlikely that IndyCar can even mandate a spec downforce for both manufacturers, according to 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“I know what Eddie is saying in that he wants a good race here and we want a good race here,” Hunter-Reay said. “The problem is that we’re all working to find how much downforce to run with the two different manufacturers, aero kits, etc.”
Graham Rahal has a lot of reasons to like the current form of racing at the Fort Worth track. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver finds it to be extremely challenging, which is his opinion of a solid race. He’s also been very competitive in this package, nearly winning the Firestone 600 back in 2012.
With that said, Rahal understands that Gossage wants a good race to help promote his event, and in turn, promote the IndyCar Series. After all, Texas bills itself as The Second Home of IndyCar. Both Gossage and Rahal want the same thing, but seemingly want to approach it two different ways.
“Here’s the thing, I see what he’s saying,” Rahal said. “I understand it. But the truth is, last year was probably the most demanding race as a driver to physically drive, so this just depends on what you consider a good race.
“Is a good race a guy taking the most amount of luck and him winning in pack racing? Or is a good race somebody driving the wheels off the damn thing and winning the race? It depends what you consider good. With that said, I don’t think this thing needs to be that much closer. I think what happened is the teams that get it right deserve to be up front.”
Sebastien Bourdais, the winner of the second race in Detroit last weekend, has been very vocal about the quality of racing throughout the open-wheel community. However, he made it clear on Saturday that pack racing is not his solution for what was a lackluster race in Texas over the past two seasons.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a pack racing scenario,” Bourdais said. “We’re trying to tighten things up from years past with the added downforce, but I don’t think we’ll be in a pack. God, I hope it’s not going to get to that.”
Ultimately, the grandstands at Texas Motor Speedway were packed in the late ’90s and early 2000s and much of that can be attributed to pack racing. While technical achievement and physical marvel have replaced the traditions of the track, safety innovations and technology have changed the game.
The increased downforce and aero kit configurations may help. It’s abundantly clear that pack racing is not the answer – at least in the minds of those who will have to endure it.
“I want us to put on a good show at Texas,” Hunter-Reay said. “We always have. But right now, we’re going to struggle to stay near each other.”