The efforts by IndyCar to bolster passing for this weekend’s Phoenix Grand Prix through the use of a Tire Dragon system should work, but it will require commitment from the drivers to give the higher lane a chance, according to Graham Rahal.
“This tire-dragging thing, I think it will work if guys commit to trying it,” said Rahal who with teammate Takuma Sato led pre-season testing at ISM Raceway back in February. “If everybody runs on the bottom and just stays on the bottom, it’s never going to work.
“It’s all a mentality, and the way that we run around here, the mentality has always been you run on the bottom. But if you think about it, when we go to Iowa, immediately you go up top because we’ve all been trained to believe that up top works.”
It might be more entertaining, but building up that higher line requires drivers to run it in, meaning it will have to actually be faster for them. Rahal thinks it could be, with the 2018 aero package.
“If you’re flat for a whole stint, like the Penskes and I think a couple others were last year (pictured below), then you’re going to want to run the bottom lane. It’s going to be quicker. But these cars you are not going to be flat,” he reckoned. “You’re not going to be flat in qualifying. Nobody is going to do either end flat, I’ll bet you.
“So due to that, when you have that significant amount of lifting, if you can go to the high lane and carry a little more throttle, it’s going to be quicker, as we’ve seen in a lot of places. We just have to balance that all out and see if you can make it work.
“First of all, the stint lengths here are considerably longer than last year because the car is so much more efficient – the fuel mileage is so much better that it cuts out a complete pit stop from what we’ve seen so far based on the test. By that, you’re going a long way on tires, and the tires really aren’t any different than last year, not much.
“The last – geez, it might be 20, but it’s probably more like 30, 35 or 40 laps – is going to be a handful, and therefore if we can get that second lane in, it could make it pretty good.”
Rahal said he felt the lessons learned at Phoenix could also be applied at other tracks this season – if enough drivers experiment with the higher lane to make it viable.
“I think there’s probably five, six, seven guys that will at least give it a good, fair, honest shot, and if you get enough guys that just kind of commit themselves to doing that, it will work,” he said. “I mean, I could show you photos of yesterday walking out there… you look at where I was at the test, where the seam is, and now I’ll bet you it’s another at least car width higher than then.
“I asked [Jay] Frye and [ISM Raceway president] Bryan Sperber if that was NASCAR rubber from the race a couple weeks back, and they felt very confidently that no, when they first showed up at the beginning of this week, it didn’t look like that at all. The process could be working, and we just have to commit ourselves to it.
“And perhaps, going forward at more racetracks, Texas and others, they could be doing this process and just immediately get the track to a more friendly position where guys are willing to try it. The biggest thing here before was nobody wants to try it because we’ve all been up in the gray here, and when you get in the gray, the likelihood is you’re going to hit the fence. Now at least it’s pretty enticing.”
And if it does work, Rahal noted there’s another benefit to running a higher line:
“I hate to joke about this stuff, but as I always say, if it goes wrong at the top lane, it’s a lot less distance to travel to hit the wall at the top than it is at the bottom,” he added.