Kentucky Speedway was a challenge for crew chiefs and teams, especially Chevrolet with new twists introduced on the aero platform. As the series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the package reverts back to the standard one for 2015. As a result, teams are going to face a different variety of challenges on the flat mile oval that they haven’t dealt with in the past, having to switch gears quickly with the future of the 2015 rules package unknown. Tony Gibson is this week’s guest in Tech Talk and looks at the difficulties that were faced at Kentucky along with the challenges that Loudon will provide.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: Saturday night at Kentucky wasn’t the best night for your team but it was solid. How did you feel about your evening in the Bluegrass State?
Tony Gibson: We had about a fifth to 10th-place car. When we unloaded, that is about what we thought we had after practice. We just kind of maintained, to be honest with you. We were about sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, somewhere in there all night. We spun out the one time, got up into the gray stuff and spun out and had to come back from that. We drove right back up to the top 10 and that is kind of where we hung out. Unless something crazy happened at the end that was where we were going to be, somewhere sixth to 10th. We and the No. 4 car were about that same. We were both just average cars. It seemed like the Chevrolets struggled a little bit more with that package than the Fords and Toyotas. If [NASCAR] decides to stick with that package, we’re going to have to work on our setup stuff a little bit more.
Neff: With the package that you talk about, the bumps at Kentucky have been notorious. Considering the downforce stripped from the car, were they better or worse this year? You weren’t bouncing off of them as hard, I’d imagine since you weren’t pushed down into the track quite as much.
Gibson: They are about the same. What they are is what they are. It doesn’t take much to upset the car. Just because you had less downforce on the car… it just moved the speed around the corner more toward the entry, with slower speeds in the center of the corner. You are still getting into the corner with the same speed. Where those bumps are, like in turn 3 down there, they’re right where you’re driving off into the corner. I don’t think it changed anything.
Neff: Goodyear didn’t get a chance to develop a new tire for this package. They are talking about going to a softer tire. What kind of challenge is it going to present if they go to a softer tire with this less downforce package?
Gibson: The tires are the way to go. You need a softer tire that will wear out quicker. When we tested at Darlington with this same aero package, we had a softer tire and there was no drama. Kentucky, we had the Texas left-side tire which was extremely hard. It was about two steps harder than it needed to be with that package. Goodyear had given us the heads up on that so we kind of expected it when we got there. Once they are able to work on a tire, like Chicagoland with the less downforce package, the tire they brought there was a pretty good match. It wore out pretty well after about 25 laps without the car being out of control. That is going to be a better product for racing if they stick with that low downforce package, for sure.
Neff: Now we are heading off to Loudon, New Hampshire. At that flat, 1-mile track, rolling the center of the corner is the key. With this new package that has less downforce and horsepower, what is the biggest challenge to get through the center of the corners compared to previous years?
Gibson: Obviously, there is a horsepower change and a gear change that go with the low downforce. The gear change will affect how the cars are able to get into the corner. You’re going to be carrying all of the speed into the corner but the gear isn’t going to slow you down like it used to. If you have to use a lot of brake to slow the car down, it is going to kill the center of the corner. It is about managing the deceleration and the engine braking versus how much brake you’re having to apply to keep that rolling speed in the center of the corner. The more brake you have to use getting in to slow the car, the freer it is going to have to be in the center. That’s so when you release the brake, it will help it roll to carry the exit speed to get you down the straightaways. The gear change is going to be the biggest thing that guys struggle with. The braking is going to be greater this time, kind of like what we saw at Kentucky. The brakes are definitely going to come into play and rolling the center is going to be even worse. Both of those things are going to contribute to an interesting race at Loudon.
Neff: It is always a strategy at Martinsville to lift early and get back on the gas earlier in order to get around the track quickly. Will that technique work at Loudon or is the need to get into the corner deeply going to trump the lap speed you have by lifting early?
Gibson: Lifting early is definitely better for rolling through the center. The problem is, with this 2015 package, even if you lift early you lose so much speed through the corner the lap times end up being the same. You’re going to have to charge the corner as hard as you can, get on the brakes and get off of them so you can have a good lap time. There isn’t a good tradeoff for a racetrack like Loudon with this package we have. It is going to be a struggle no matter what you do. If you lift early, guys are going to outbrake you getting in and once they get under you, you’re screwed. It is kind of a bad deal. It is different than Martinsville because, at Loudon, you’re carrying so much more speed down the straight and into the corner it is easier for a guy to outbrake you and get the run underneath you. Once they get under you, you’re done. It is going to be interesting to see how these guys work around this package with the horsepower and gear loss. It is going to be pretty damn interesting to see who can get their car the freest and still deal with it. I think it will favor guys who like a looser setup. I think it will be like we saw at Kentucky. You have to free it up so much for rolling speed….
Neff: Getting down the straightaways in a hurry requires you to get off of the corner in a hurry. Is it better for your drive off the corner to have a soft right rear so the car plants that corner and drives down the straight? Or do you need a stiff right rear so that the left side stays planted as well and gets both rear tires driving forward?
Gibson: The whole deal with the right-rear spring is if you have a stiffer setup to keep the platform of the car stable with the rolling speed through the center. It keeps the right rear propped up and the left front down which is what you are after. It will be all about managing that platform. Some guys will have a really high track bar to keep the car flat through the corner with a softer right-rear spring for the drive off. Other guys will have a lower track bar with a bigger right-rear spring. Driver style will dictate what package you have spring wise. We’ve been there, been on both sides of it and been successful either way. It is more driver preference than it is a pure setup. When we were really good with Ryan Newman there and won we had a different setup than what we had with Danica [Patrick]. Her driving style was different than Ryan’s was so we went a different route. She ran well there also, not as good as Newman did, but we always ran well and qualified well there. I feel like you can achieve the same goal going in two different directions.
Neff: Throwing camber at the front end can usually make a car turn better but too much camber can abuse the shoulders on the tires and result in problems. On a flat track like Loudon, too much camber results in not using the entire tread patch to help you get around the turns. How much can you abuse the shoulder or are you more concerned with getting the whole tire patch on the ground for total grip?
Gibson: I think it is a matter of how much tire you have on the ground at certain points on the racetrack. In the past, we had a lot of power and a lot of gear. We were able to slow the cars down and having too much camber would make you loose into the corner and loose off the corner. With the package we have now, I think you can be more aggressive with the cambers in the front end and still make it last while achieving the rotation that you need. It is a balancing act. Sometimes, you can go there and take camber out of the right front and it will turn better while other times, you have to put more camber into the right front in order to get it to turn better. It boils down to what you have for your setup and how your driver attacks the racetrack. If he’s really aggressive on entry and drives it deep down in there then you’re going to abuse it. If you have a guy who is really finessing and kind of gingers around the corner, then you can be more aggressive. Air pressure has a lot to do with that, too. You’re only talking about 30 pounds of air in a tire. A half of a pound of air is a pretty big change. Sometimes, you can run more static and dynamic camber while dropping the air pressure out of it to make the tire last longer. There are different ways to skin a cat. Some guys you’ll see there will run a lot of air, be real aggressive on camber and will have shoulder trouble. With the brakes that guys are going to be using, this race could very well come down to a tire management one again.
Neff: After Loudon, we head to Indianapolis. The tracks are obviously quite a bit different, but the corners are rather flat at both venues. Is there anything from a geometry perspective that you can learn at New Hampshire and use at Indy?
Gibson: There is a little bit. You aren’t carrying as much speed into the corners at Loudon as you are at Indy. Indianapolis does have a little bit of banking in the corner; not much, but there is a little bit. The corners are also different with the short chutes at both ends of the track. Between Loudon and Pocono, those are the two tracks where you can learn things that will transfer to Indy. We have in the past. There are a few things that we might hit on this weekend that might help us. Indianapolis is going to have a totally different aero package, though so everyone is pretty up in the air over where they need to be.