PRUETT: Texas reflections

Image by Owens/IndyCar

PRUETT: Texas reflections

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Texas reflections

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Where does the Genesys 300 rank among the more (or less) exciting races you’ve watched in recent years? Of the two strongest groups to emerge, there’s the ‘just happy to see IndyCars in action’ side of the argument, and then have the ‘well, that wasn’t what I was hoping for’ contingent.

I have the annoying ability to find something compelling in almost every IndyCar race, so my take on Saturday night’s 200-lapper in Texas is an outlier. It certainly wasn’t a thriller, but I wasn’t overwhelmingly disappointed.

The main takeaway I found involved daredevils and their fast hands, which made for a fascinating sub-plot as the 1.5-mile track proved to be the greatest enemy the 24 drivers faced.

Forced to use a single, low line around the rapid oval, skilled drivers spent much of the race stuck behind slower counterparts in the one and only groove that wouldn’t bite. It was when the braver souls decided to flirt with danger by moving up ever so slightly onto the blackened lanes, or unwinding their hands on the exits of Turns 2 and 4 to run on the dark patches to get a run and attempt a pass, where things got interesting.

The track surface issues dominated the day, led to heavy crashes, and by no coincidence, put the unparalleled car control skills of race winner Scott Dixon on display. The guy who was born to make a hundred micro corrections to the steering wheel per lap toyed with the field, pulling out a four-second margin of victory in a four-lap sprint from yellow to checkered flag. It might not have been a classic Texas IndyCar race, but it was a classic Dixon victory.

Here’s a bunch of random brain dumps from the event:

  • Let’s say a massive thank you to the men and women who turned the Genesys 300 into the Pit Lane Heroes 300. The collision of extreme heat, minimal sleep, and heavy physical exertion made for worrying times. One crew member collapsed on the starting grid, and by the end of the race, where the 35-lap tire limit more than doubled the number of pit stops, mechanics from a number of teams were taken to the infield medical center for fluids and care. The routine for the majority of the paddock involved getting up around 3:30 a.m., catching the chartered flight from Indy to Texas at 6 a.m., working all day under an unforgiving sun, racing into the night with layers of fireproof suits and facemasks and helmets in place, then packing everything away, jetting to the airport, catching the return flight, and climbing in bed somewhere around 3 a.m. It was a punishing 24 hours. If IndyCar plans on holding more one-day events, or rapid-fire doubleheaders as summer temperatures rise, we might need to think first about the hundreds of team members who make the show possible, and factor the physical toll into a more friendly schedule.

With sweltering temperatures and a 24-hour workday, the crews were put through a wringer. Image by Owens/IndyCar

  • The PJ1 traction compound applied to the upper lanes at TMS for the November 2019 NASCAR race was an unexpected contributor to the problems IndyCar encountered on Saturday. Some IndyCar teams also tested at TMS earlier this year, but didn’t report the goo as an issue, which points to pre-race surface preparation. It’s more likely the track’s efforts to eliminate the goo by dragging tires across the darkened lanes had the opposite effect they were seeking. Having heard from some who got up close to the surface, plenty of dead rubber – which offers no adhesion – was found, which explains the different in colors. Dead rubber driven into the upper lanes was like black ice, and even those who tested the available grip with the soles of their shoes said the difference in available traction between the lighter low line and where the dark bands lived was obvious. One driver said venturing up to the dead rubber zone was like experiencing ‘the worst marbles you’ve ever felt.’ Did the attempt to strip the NASCAR goo from the circuit end up backfiring? Whatever the correct answer might be, the series and circuit can’t afford a repeat of the same problem in 12 months’ time.
  • The home state A.J. Foyt Racing team had a statement-making and heartbreaking start to the new season, but I’ll go with the positives as the worthiest notes. Charlie Kimball was a rocket on his debut for the Chevy-powered team. With new race engineer Mike Pawlowski on the timing stand, Kimball’s No. 4 Chevy was on the way to a top-five finish until a fuel calculation error required two pit stops in the final 15 laps. A crash on the last lap was a cruel ending to such a promising debut for all involved. Tony Kanaan’s race was also struck with more drama than anyone expected as an early pit lane speed limiter issue triggered a penalty, and then he spent the rest of the race chasing the handling on the No. 14 Chevy. It wasn’t a glorious close to the event, but the overhauled team looked like it belonged in the thick of the action.
  • That might have been the sneakiest fifth-place finish of Ed Carpenter’s career.
  • An interesting explanation was offered from Honda on the pre-race ECU problems encountered by three of its drivers. With all cars being in a state of impound after qualifying, crews were not allowed to do more than some very basic vehicle preparation heading into the race. And to limit the overall number of personnel on the grid, Chevy and Honda agreed to keep their engine technicians on the cold side of pit lane. Outside of the rare impound/personnel reduction plan, it’s common for those engine techs to be ready and able to plug into their cars with a laptop and address any start-up issues that arise. After all the cars were fired and engines were warmed before rolling to the grid, the techs were removed from the picture, and in the cases of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, and Graham Rahal, their spec McLaren ECUs went into shutdown mode while sitting on pit lane. The shutdowns, I’m told, are a known and random issue. The solution is quick and easy: techs plug into the cars, re-send the calibration file, and cars fire. But with the impound/personnel reduction plan, the quick fixes weren’t possible without penalty. Honda sought permission from IndyCar to plug into the three cars, and received approval, but by plugging in, they were in violation of the impound/personnel rules, and the three paid the price with drive-throughs for RHR and Rossi. Rossi sped during his drive-through, and was ordered to perform a second trip down pit lane for the transgression. Rahal, whose team pulled his car off pre-grid, was given a stop-and-go during his drive-through.

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