IndyCar wanted to take downforce away on its ovals to eliminate pack racing and make the cars harder to drive. By all accounts, complete success has been achieved.
But has the big slash in aerodynamic stability been taken one step too far? Or will Saturday night’s 248-lap contest at Texas end up delivering the kind of excitement that made the 1.5-mile oval a popular stop on the IndyCar trail?
In the baking Texas sun, with something near approximately 400 pounds of downforce taken away from last year’s event, a cross section of Verizon IndyCar Series oval aces expressed differing views on the topic.
“We don’t have downforce, so I don’t like it at all,” Tony Kanaan told RACER. “I’m not bashing the decision, but it’s not what I like. You can’t follow; it’s a lot of understeer.”
Living with cars that wiggle and squirm in the corners has been part of the oval job requirement in 2018.
“I don’t know that anyone’s going to be happy,” said Gabby Chaves. “I was struggling just being able to find some comfort when you’re wide open. The most we ran was 30 laps on a set [of tires], and after maybe six or seven laps, it already doesn’t feel great.
“It’s harder to drive, for sure. Harder to follow, but it’s the same for everyone. We just need to be careful we don’t get away from giving fans a good show.”
Once the sun dips behind the grandstands and ambient conditions revert to a less extreme range, Charlie Kimball thinks some of the naysayers will be happier in race conditions.
“It’s definitely low grip, but I think a lot of that’s track temperature,” he said. “Last year, we didn’t think we’d ever run a second groove, but then the sun went down and we were going four-wide through Turn 3 and 4. Tuning wise, there’s still some stuff for us to do. We fixed a little bit of a sensation with the rear on old tires, went faster. Put new tires on and went faster again. So, it’s possible to make progress if your car isn’t behaving the way you want it to.”
Like Kimball, polesitter Josef Newgarden is confident the shift to nighttime racing will have most drivers singing a different tune. Once cooler temperatures allow the car’s floor and wings to generate more downforce, overall instability could be reduced.
“It will change from the early evening to full evening time when the sun goes down and the track cools off,” he said. “Track temperature is really the biggest thing. This car is more sensitive to track temperature because of the predominance of the floor from an aerodynamic standpoint.”
In an unexpected twist, multiple drivers dealt with blistered tires during the final practice session held from 6:15-7:15 p.m.
“It was better than the first session, but there’s still not very much grip,” Sebastien Bourdais said. “If we had more grip, I think you would see more side-by-side passing, but this didn’t happen very often. You could run closer, but going by was not really a factor.
“And we blistered tires after 20 laps. You could go two more laps after that, and then it was big oversteer and then you had to pit. We blistered the right front and right rear. All we can do is hope it’s better in the race.”
With the race set to start around 7:45 p.m., drivers and engineers have yet to experience the cooler temperatures they’ll find in total darkness. It means that yet another oval question mark awaits the IndyCar field, and it’s hard to say how everyone’s setups will fare.