Q: Greetings and great race albeit, a clinic by Rossi. Curious, as I have been amazed that one of the most experienced drivers on the circuit has twice this season basically said he has no idea how to figure the car out. Sebastien was pretty vocal in some of the daily reports you all did with him from Indy about how much trouble be was having “feeling” the car and understanding it. That was on a high-speed oval, but in an interview on Saturday he was basically saying the same thing about it at R.A. Have not heard this level of frustration out of other drivers – not even T.K., whose season is currently a disaster. Amazingly his rookie teammate does not seem to be echoing it, and has shown some real signs of having the car figured out. I have tremendous respect for Bourdais and have been greatly surprised by some of his openness on the subject. Any thoughts on what is going on there? Hope you are staying good and healthy.
Forrester L Morgan
RM: How about an honest and thorough analogy from his engineer Craig Hampson:
“Happy to answer. Maybe some reader has a solution! For sure, we’ve struggled to make the universal aerokit car work to Sebastien’s liking. It seems to be very aero sensitive, in that if we get it to turn well mid-corner, then it is very neutral – tail happy – entering the turn. Or if we get the rear secure going in, then for us it plows off the track when we try to corner. Sebastien wants to the car to do one thing, and he wants it to do that thing predictably and progressively – and I haven’t been able to solve it. It’s frustrating because I’m convinced Sebastien feels pain, like physical and emotional pain – when he knows the car is supposed to behave in a way, but instead it is fighting against him. When the car is right, the guy is untouchable, but I can’t seem to get this car to work right, despite a lot of intensive work from the No.18 Sealmaster DCR-VS crew.
“The other thing to note is that the tires have changed a lot through the years. They are made of environmentally friendlier stuff now, but whereas in the Champ Car days you had good tire longevity and could do multiple fast laps in a qualifying session, pretty much now you can do one hot lap before the edge of the tires is gone. It’s not that they wear out and have no tread, but the grip goes away more quickly. That makes it hard to qualify, and hard to evolve the setup in practice.
“Also, I’d say the tires are less predictable. There is a sharp limit to the grip, and it’s very easy to fall off that edge and lose the front or rear of the car. Ideally, I’d like to be able to set up the car so Sebastien feels that grip progressively – so he knows when the car is approaching that limit. But instead we seem to be struggling with the grip being more digital; either on or off … and often being a surprise to him from corner to corner! One session we will be OK, and in the next the temperature will have changed or the wind shifted – and we lose the balance again. Where we have our current setup is clearly not ideal, and not well suited to Seb’s sensitivity.
“For sure when the grip level from the track and tires is higher, we tend to go better. There has been just one track this year where we were able to bolt on last year’s setup and it worked. Everywhere else we’ve been chasing our tails pretty much all event. And yes, that’s awful frustrating, not to mention hard work. Santino has generally been able to cope because (1) he is willing to drive a far more neutral, tail-happy car, and (2) he’s young and doesn’t know anything different. Thanks for being a fan.”
Q: We know you’re pushing the Rossi to Penske rumor but how secure is your info – or is it just speculation? More importantly, as tough as it is to say “No.” to The Captain, would Rossi really leave Andretti and Honda – is Rossi tied to them the way Sato is? It appears Rossi is the Number 1 at Andretti, so how’s the relationship between him and Hunter-Reay? How much longer can Veach hang onto his ride? Same for Marco? And back to Rossi for a second, is there a sleeper ride in the mix who could woo him to their team? If so, who might that be? Could somebody like Ed Carpenter Racing be in the mix if Rossi leaves Honda for Chevrolet?
Jake, Pasadena, CA
RM: Brother, I said a few weeks ago that Penske would never run four, full-time cars again after Roger told us on NBCSN that only four at Indy, but since then I have very good information that The Captain is making his bid for Rossi’s services. He and RHR get along fine, but if he leaves Honda it won’t be for anybody but Andretti or Penske. Veach has another year on his contract/sponsorship and Marco co-owns the No. 98 car.
Q: With veteran/likable American IndyCar reporters (Katie Hargitt, Rick DeBruhl, Jon Beekhuis) available, why did NBC use a rookie, non-American at Road America?
Mike Kellen, Phoenix
RM: I assume you are referring to Dillon Welch. He was born and raised in Indianapolis and is the son of longtime ESPN/ABC/FOX pit reporter Vince Welch, who also calls the play-by-play for NASCAR trucks. Dillon is a damn good racer in his own right (owns the USAC midget track record at Kokomo and makes the A Main in the Chili Bowl every year) but more importantly he’s a great kid with a bright future in television because he’s knowledgeable and a fast learner. He’s been working on MRN radio for a couple years doing NASCAR races and plied his trade as a USAC announcer before that. He will be with NBC the rest of the season as a pit reporter and Jon returns for the final seven races as Marty Snider and Kelli Stavast have moved over to NBC’s NASCAR coverage. So we’ve got Kevin Lee (Ben Davis H.S.), Jon (Northern California) and Dillon (Noblesville H.S.) to call all the action in the pits.