Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IndyCar Season Opener Should Be Renamed The Carbon Fiber 200 Of St. Pete

The start as viewed from the entrance of Turn 1. Ryan Hunter-Reay at far left, was caught outside and lost P8 starting position all of the way back to P17. And YES!, there was carbon fiber left behind on the front straight near the Start/Finish line. Image Credit: Chris Owens - IMS Photo (2015)

IndyCar Season Opener Should Be Renamed The Carbon Fiber 200 Of St. Pete

Carbon Fiber ruled the attention of the day of a very competitive 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that featured five time-consuming full course YELLOW Flags to sweep up and haul off wing elements of latest aerodynamically modified Dallara cars. 

Brian Herta Autosport's Gabby Chaves dragging a greatly modified right wing element without all of those pesky "Slats" that direct the air. Image Credit: John Cote - Indycar (2015) 

Honda front wings were the most vulnerable with a final wing change tally of seven while Chevy only required one front wing to be changed.

Less parts mean stronger parts (Chevy's apparent philosophy) ... the rule governing aerodynamics is that the new wing can be made in most any way the manufacturers choose ... but that the final wing can weigh NO MORE than the original DW12 Dallara wing - to repeat Honda - 7 / Chevy - 1 ... and as in golf, the low number is the winner here.

Full course YELLOW Flag caution to gather up all of the (mostly Honda) carbon fiber body work that was detached from the nose of cars that were tapped with other cars going for the same space. Image Credit: VICS/ABC (2015)

The other thing that was confirmed with this race was that the turbulence mushroom is NOT being lifted up off of the racing surface as before. Both Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever (color commentators on the ABC broadcast) mentioned that many of the drivers, Tony Kanaan - piloting in his second year for Target Chip Ganassi - being the most vocal, were mentioning that the cars become unstable farther away from the leading car than before.

This is something we mentioned was going to happen just after the aerodynamic body element designs from Chevy and Honda were revealed <<< HERE >>> when our colleagues saw the way these aero parts looked and the way they were designed.

Where this showed itself the most clearly on the track was the front straight away ... at full speed. Very little passing took place at the end of the straight, save for restarts when the cars were at slower speeds.

Frustrated by being passed during the last round of pit stops, Will Power tries to make a diving move on teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in Turn 10. JPM kept his line knowing the the front of Power's car is more fragile than the back end of his own car. Image Credit: John Cote - Indycar (2015)

Toward the end of the race when Will Power was tracking down teammate Juan Pablo Montoya ... if this was a race with the old aerodynamic template of one year ago, Will would have been more patient and would have felt, with the fact that his car was stronger (he made up a 3 second deficit in just a few short laps), he could have more options to pass. Looking at the drive, what he actually felt due to turbulence at high speeds ... that Turn 10 presented the only 'surprise' opportunity.

Granted, he, Will Power, had a few more laps to pounce, but the only opportunities would come at the twisty bits at Turn 4 or Turn 10 against someone with a very, very fat car.

Edging cars out of the way as some have been able to do with a little effectiveness, with a nudge, will not work this year and competition will suffer due to the fragile aero kits. Image Credit: Chris Owens - IMS Photo (2015)

This excerpted and edited from IndyRacePlace.com -

St. Pete weekend

Precarious practice: With the aerokits for Honda (“Slats”) and Chevy (“Extra Bits”) being brand new and spares being scarce, practices were fairly quiet. Quite a few run-offs but contact was avoided at all costs. The one thing that did take a beating was the track record. Loads of downforce with the kits and speeds were climbing quickly.

Penske perfect: The four Penske cars took the top four positions in qualifying after putting in powerful practice sessions. It was Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves and Montoya. Lots of Extra Bits to lead the way at the green.

Papier-mâché parts: As many predicted, debris cautions were the bane of this race. ABC even displayed a wing damage tracker at one point. Slats took the brunt of the damage, spraying bits of cat-mangled Venetian blind parts all over the track. Caution after caution kept the race from developing a real rhythm, which is not uncommon for St. Pete, but the parts sprayed with much lighter contact.

Penske party plus papa: New papa Tony Kanaan broke up what would have been an otherwise all-Penske podium. Montoya and Power took the top two steps on the podium, with Castroneves and Pagenaud filling out the top five. From the looks of things right now, The Captain has the best boat in the water.
(Reference Here)

Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti has the "Slats" of his Honda areo kit peeled away like an onion during an on-track racing incident. Image Credit: VICS/ABC (2015)

Aero Kit Commentary From The Twittersphere -

Pat Caporali @PCaporali
What kind of sound does #IndyCar aerokit #debris make when it hits the track? Cha-ching Cha-ching Cha-ching? yikes #GPStPete

Bash Beard @SpeedFreakBash
The Honda kit, aka Slats, is taking a beating today. Worse than cat-mangled Venetian blinds. #GPSTPETE #IndyCar

Roberto Martínez @yukiyu99
New #IndyCar aero kit winglets look ridiculous. They cause too many cautions too.

39 year old Juan Pablo Montoya proves that he is happy about coming back to race lighter, faster, and more competitive cars in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Image Credit: Chris Owens - IMS Photo (2015)

More commentary on gamesmanship - this excerpted and edited from IndyCar Minnesota -

Winners and Losers: St. Petersburg
by Matt Hickey

Here are your winners, losers, and Cone of Shame "winner" following the 2015 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg:


Juan Pablo Montoya
Wow, does Juan Pablo Montoya look like his 1999-form one race in to season or what?! JPM continued his success from the second-half of 2014 right away in 2015, nailing his in-and-out laps on his last pit stop to jump ahead of Will Power on pit sequence to capture the win. Not only did he hold off Power, but JPM was also quick all weekend. If JPM continues in this form, the rest of the field may be in trouble.

Team Penske
Along with JPM and Power were the other two Team Penske drivers of Helio Castroneves and newby Simon Pagenaud. Together, the four drivers took the top four spots in qualifying (something I think has never been done in IndyCar) and captured four of the five top spots in the race. Of the four, Pagenaud had to overcome the most adversity, getting put mid-pack several times and damaging his front wing, but he still found a way to finish in fifth. I have a feeling Team Penske will appear in the Winners category of these blogs for a whole lot of races this season.

Tony Kanaan
The man who denied Penske of their 1-2-3-4 finish is Tony Kanaan. Kanaan had a solid weekend, continually showing pace and keeping a very clean nose on his way to a P5 finish. His other teammates Scott Dixon (air-jack issues), Charlie Kimball (multiple incidents), and Sage Karam (not sure what his deal was, maybe just simply put being a rookie?) couldn't hold a candle to  him in the race. During the broadcast, the ABC analysts talked about Kanaan becoming more comfortable within the team. Remember that before yesterday, Kanaan was the last driver to win a race in the series (Fontana '14). Like JPM, if Kanaan can keep up his form from the second half of last season, the other drivers might be in trouble.

IndyCar Fans
Was it the greatest race in IndyCar history? Of course not. There was debris cautions for days (at least there was legitimate debris on the track and not phantom debris cautions or menacing hot dog wrappers like that other series) that took forever to clean up. There were times of stale action where we had to talk about how great Marco Andretti was doing in P13. 

But overall, the race had moments of excitement, including ballsy passing and dramatic, albeit boneheaded moves on the track. I enjoyed the speed, the passes, the aggressiveness, and the slight strategy that took place which didn't involve an entire race of fuel conservation. Overall, I am very pleased with the race that took place!


What's stronger: Tony George's rationale for creating the IRL or a Honda front wing? The Honda wings, which kept getting damaged throughout the race, were so weak that ABC began having a counter of wings broken between Chevy and Honda. At one point, Honda was "leading" 7-1. That's awful. As mentioned during the broadcast, the front wing designs had to meet the same weight that they were in 2014 after the modifications, so obviously Honda did not make a sturdy enough wing. Either that or their drivers are all knuckleheads.

Andretti Autosport's Simona de Silvestro was welcomed back to a seat in IndyCar after spending last year being a test driver for an F1 team. Bent "Slats" of a Honda aero kit had three of the seven Honda nose replacements land on the Andretti Autosport team. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the only Andretti team driver keeping his car intact throughout the race. Image Credit: John Cote - Indycar (2015)

Simona de Silvestro
A driver that really needed to have a great race was Simona de Silvestro. For Simona, the raced served as a tryout for Andretti Autosport for future races or possibly the 2015 season. 

She qualified well, despite being down during some practice sessions. In the race, well, it didn't go too well. She was involved with teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz early on. RHR passed her in turn ten. Seeing his successful pass, Munoz tried to follow. While I would pin most of the fault on Carlos, being in any incident with your teammate, regardless of fault, is not good. In the grand scheme though, this incident wouldn't matter if Simona could rebound. Later on, she missed her braking zone by a lot (my words exactly were "wasn't even close," which were later echoed by Eddie Cheever) and rammed James Jakes. Jakes race was ruined, and Simona suffered damage. Overall, a P18 was not what Michael Andretti had in mind.

Dale Coyne Racing
Francesco Dracone finished P23 and Carlos Huertas P24. Need I say more?

Gabby Chaves
Gabby Chaves was unflattering in his first race of the season. Early on in the race, Chaves was seen slowing down abruptly on the exit of a turn, causing Marco Andretti to run into the back of him (I'm not one to defend Marco often, but he's right in this situation) leaving Marco with a damaged front wing. Accidents happen, that's fine. But later on. Chaves really misjudged a maneuver on James Hinchcliffe, leaving Hinch with a flat tire for one lap and effectively ruining his race. Hopefully Chaves tones down the miscues for the remainder of the season.

Cone of Shame

Graham Rahal
Graham Rahal gained a lot of "fans" following the race.

To recap what set him off, Charlie Kimball got damage from contact (from I believe Simon Pagenaud), leaving his rear guard with a serious rub on his rear tire. Half-a-lap later, Graham, who was following Kimball, decided to try to make a move around the damaged yet still on-pace Kimball. Rahal put Kimball into the tires and received a penalty. People noted that Graham said over the radio, "They'll find any way they can to screw me, it's just the way it goes."

Hold on now Graham. Please tell me how IndyCar screws you? a) the incident was questionable, I could see fault with both drivers. b) you've been irrelevant outside of two or three races since 2013. IndyCar hasn't had a chance to screw you out of a good result. c) maybe, MAYBE I'll take that argument from Will Power, but not you.

After finishing P11, which isn't bad, Graham took to Twitter and was, well, colorful. Now I am not a fan of @TonyJWriter (he blocked me, we just don't like each other), but he and Graham got into after the race. Graham made the argument that anyone who knows anything about racing knows that he shouldn't have gotten that penalty. Well, apparently I know nothing about racing. Tony tweeted, "Gotta have a better argument than "If you don't agree with me, you know nothing about racing."

I agree with Tony (gasp, I know). I can't exactly declare myself innocent of never being stubborn on a subject, but Graham was way out of line here. Denouncing anyone with a differing opinion as yours as a "hater" is obtuse. I am not oblivious to the fact that Graham does have trolls who are pretty ruthless, but those who rationally disagreed with him aren't "haters."

My immediate reaction to the incident was a flashback to Long Beach in 2014. Both Graham and RHR would have been well off by waiting a couple turns to capitalize on a off-the-pace car rather than forcing a pass. But hey, I don't know anything about racing.
(Reference Here)

There was a bunch of frustration to go around for everyone with two new aerodynamics templates to figure out.

For the fan, when we get to the long 185mph straight of Shoreline Drive at Long Beach and short ovals, the frustration will come, in old IRL style nose-to-tail racing we all hated during the era of the original "Crapwagon" Dallara. It is sad to say this early on, but it almost looks as if too much was being done in the off season with Extra Bits and Slats but not enough was being done to protect the competitive Mushroom Busting characteristics of the original DW12!

... notes from The EDJE

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