INDYCAR: Tire conservation key for Road America

INDYCAR: Tire conservation key for Road America

IndyCar

INDYCAR: Tire conservation key for Road America

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A combination of Road America’s endless run of long and fast corners and a new tire compound from Firestone has presented the field with an interesting Catch-22 for Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix.

IndyCar’s return to the 4.0-mile road course is set for 50 laps, and through two days of practice and qualifying, the biggest topic is tire conservation. Achieving that conservation – with the need to maintain high speeds at almost all of the 15 corners – is a giant challenge that could be all but impossible.

Each team has eight sets of primary and three sets of alternate tires to use for the event, and as many drivers reported on Friday, exceptionally high wear rates were experienced. In some cases, the Firestone primaries wore down to the cord after just a handful of laps, and in the absence of a perfect chassis setup, the only solution to extend tire life for an entire stint would be to go slower.

In a sport where speed separates first to last, some IndyCar drivers might need to fight their nature and nurse tires to last instead of pushing as hard as possible on every lap. At Road America, anything less than 100 percent could be a recipe to plummet down the running order, but the repercussions from pushing tires too hard could have dire consequences.

“They fall off a lot, but everybody’s in the same situation,” Graham Rahal told RACER. “We’ve saved a lot of sets and find a new set last longer, but my car’s been ill-behaving, so who knows how long they’ll last.”

The high consumption rate, along with the location of that elevated usage, has varied from car to car. The bizarre cording problem with right-front tires, on a track with mainly right-hand turns, has a lot of drivers and engineers mystified. If anything, the heavily loaded left-front tires would be expected to wear down faster than the rights.

“We’ve had a hard time getting the rears to last; that’s been our main issue, and the fronts go to cords after six or seven laps,” Rahal continued. “It’s strange. I’ve never seen it before. I’ve heard some guys are only getting four laps [before cording].”

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi shared Rahal’s views, and believes his Formula 1 experience with Pirelli tires that have a quick drop-off rate could become an advantage in the race.

“It’s going to be a struggle,” the Indy 500 winner said. “Whether it’s right-front, left-front, the rears; it’s what we have to deal with. The wear is more than we saw at the test, and I think it might be the higher temperatures we have this weekend. Definitely tire life is going to be a challenge. You’re going to have to have a setup that might not be the ultimate for pace, but takes care of the tires. I think my Pirelli experience could come into play here, so I’m looking forward to it. …”

Rossi’s note about chasing the friendliest chassis setup to preserve tires is going to be key for the field of 22 cars, and some, like Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, appear to have found something that could work on Sunday.

“A stint is only 18 laps; I think my tires are good to last,” he said. “There’s some drop off, but the track is pretty fast so personally, I feel fine; the tires are degrading in a predictable way, but I can’t wait to see what happens to everyone in the race.”

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