The normally idyllic Southern California temperatures made for an interesting afternoon practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series on Friday. A mix of IndyCar’s new bodywork and warmer temperatures could have teams guessing again when they transition from a second morning practice on Saturday to qualifying at 3:30 p.m.
“I think in the cooler conditions the car was just ideal,” said Scott Dixon, who won the Long Beach race in 2015 and finished with the fastest time on Friday, a 1m08.411s set in the first session. “It was one of those mornings where we really didn’t have to change too much. This afternoon was definitely a bit of a different story, really struggled with front grip. It seemed like the temperature really affected our car.
“There was a couple others that went quite fast in that session on the red tires, and I actually had to do almost a long run on my reds to get them to work. I think I did my quickest time on lap 7 or 8.
“It was kind of an interesting session for us, but I think the car is kind of there, it’s just going to take a little bit to get it right, and obviously tomorrow come qualifying is going to be tough as always for the Firestone Fast Six.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was just 0.017s slower than Dixon, agreed that drivers have their work cut out for them.
“We’re going to need to find that gap was Scott was referring to between the cooler track temps and when it heated up,” he said. “It became quite a bit more difficult to get the lap time out of the car. Kind of a bit of a challenge there.”
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The reduced downforce from the new-for-2018 universal bodywork means “you’re not able to get away with quite as much,” Hunter-Reay explained.
“The car is more on top of the racetrack, moving around. You’re constantly catching it. You can feel it’s lighter in the brake zones, especially when you’re coming off modulating out of the brake pedal coming into the corner, you can feel you just have a little bit less of an elbow to lean on through the corner. It’s just a bit more lively.
“It’s fun, we love it. It just takes a bit of an offset kind of in your approach, and like Scott mentioned, it’s the same for everybody, so it’s a good thing.”
So where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, showed itself in the second practice when several drivers had trouble in braking zones – with Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon and Zachary Claman De Melo all finding the runoff at various times and Takuma Sato hitting the Turn 1 barrier.
“I didn’t find it much of an issue this morning, but then today and this afternoon with the track temp for us, for some reason, the brake zones were different and a lot trickier,” Dixon noted. “I think I went off in 1 and then also went off in 8. [Turn] 8 was actually on an outlet, I just went a little too deep, and then instead of locking the tire decided to go straight ahead.
“But you are approaching it at a pretty high rate of speed, and I also think the wind direction can mess you up pretty good here, so that turned pretty heavily in another direction during the session today.”
Added Hunter-Reay: “I think St. Pete was a hint at what was coming, but some of the tracks we go to, we’re not braking that much earlier, so it surprises you in some places how deep you can brake despite the higher top speed and less downforce on the braking.”