The first three or four IndyCar races at Richmond Raceway from 2001-2004 featured two grooves and lots of passing but the last trio from 2007-2009 were pretty much parades. So how does IndyCar revert to those early days when it returns to the racy short track next June?
“We need the tires to go off, less downforce and we need the cars to slide and then you’ll see some passing, just like Iowa,” said Tony Kanaan, who along with Scott Dixon represented the NTT IndyCar Series Tuesday at an official press conference about the event. “I think we had too much downforce the last time and everyone was running the same lap times.
“We went around the track today and it’s extremely smooth, so that’s good because that makes it easier to run side-by-side.”
Kanaan captured the 2008 race while Dixon was a two-time winner – including the last one in 2009.
“I just remember Sam Hornish running the high line and crushing everyone and there were definitely two grooves,” said Dixon, the five-time IndyCar champion. “A lot of it is the tires — even at Iowa, because we’re searching a lot of the time to find something that works. Because the tire is highly stressed, it creates opportunities to dive under somebody.
“Tire deg is a big thing for great racing and I think our ultimate goal is to be like Iowa. It could take a little while but that’s the goal.”
Former NASCAR star Rusty Wallace designed Iowa to be like Richmond, the banked, three-quarter of a mile bullring where lap speeds approached 170 mph a decade ago.
“We had something like 800 passes at Iowa, so that’s what we want next year here,” said Kanaan.
Richmond president Dennis Bickmeier has been working for two years to get open-wheel racing back to Virginia and was thrilled with Tuesday’s turnout.
“There’s a lot of energy in this community to welcome IndyCar back and it relieves the pressure from fans who kept asking when Indy cars and NASCAR trucks were coming back, because both are next year,” said Bickmeier, who took over Richmond in 2011 after serving as VP of sales and marketing at Michigan International Speedway.
The track, owned by ISC, has undergone a $30 million renovation in the infield and new seating which now numbers 52,500 after once sporting 130,000. IndyCar drew in the neighborhood of 35,000 in its nine-year run and Bickmeier was asked if bringing IndyCar back was a hard sell to his bosses.
“They were definitely open to it,” he replied. “I appreciate work gone back and forth between Richmond, IndyCar and Daytona to make it work. Jay (Frye) and Stephen (Starks) and Joey Chitwood worked hard. We had a nice turnout of community and business leaders today and a lot has changed in 10 years. There’s been a big transition and the community has changed a lot. We’ve got more jobs, a lot of young people are staying here and downtown has a good vibe.”
IndyCar will tire test with Firestone in October then bring all the teams back in March for an open test. The format for IndyCar’s return will also be different in that there will be a Friday night practice but qualifying will be held (along with more practice) on Saturday and then they’ll go racing under the lights a few hours later.