Getting a handle on the new UAK18 aero kit on the IMS road course proved to be a bigger challenge than many drivers expected on Friday. One look at the qualifying results told the tale of teams big and small missing the mark, and at the other end, some familiar names aced their first crack at the Firestone Fast Six with the lower-downforce bodywork on the GP circuit.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal and the Chip Ganassi Racing tandem of Scott Dixon and Ed Jones were among those who struggled to muster the necessary speed in qualifying, and things were necessarily easy for the polesitter.
“It’s moving around a little more, but not bad though,” Team Penske’s Will Power told RACER. “We can still find a good balance with our car. It’s pretty nice in the Turns 7-8-9-10 sequence; the complex is harder without the downforce we had last year, but I like it. Braking zones are a little bit longer, a little bit sketchier, but you just drive to the level of the grip.”
Power’s teammate Simon Pagenaud is still pursuing the same kind of comfort in his Team Penske Chevy.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface now,” he said. “It’s a different car that needs very different things, especially for me, it seems. I’ve been struggling to get the speed from the car.”
A big improvement would come for qualifying when Pagenaud took seventh, and while perfecting the handling remains his major goal, the Frenchman was able to offer one area of performance where the UAK18 has been impressive on the road course.
“One thing I’ve been surprised with is how late we can brake even with going faster on the straights,” he added.
Top speeds into the Turn 1 braking zone during qualifying were up approximately 3mph over 2017 when teams used manufacturer aero kits. And with the higher speeds to reduce into Turn 1, the new-for-2018 PFC brake packages have leapt from a peak of roughly 1300F with last year’s Brembos to 1550F.
Marco Andretti wasn’t overly enthused about qualifying 14th, but counted himself among the drivers who aren’t fazed by the constant moving going on beneath them around the 2.3-mile circuit.
“Even though it’s sliding more, you have a better feel for what it’s doing,” he said. “It’s ‘happy sliding.’”