Fans began squirming in their seats. Something was different, but they couldn’t immediately place it. The laps ticked down as they started running through the details one by one.
After the final round of pit stops, Will Power was leading — hardly different nor surprising.
Dario was right on his tail, and increasingly critical points toward the overall championship were on the line. No, that wasn’t it — we expected that going in, too.
But wait — did Dario come out of that last pit stop… on primary tires? And didn’t Will come out on reds? The reds have been a half-second faster per lap than the blacks all weekend, but they’ve been going off quickly — can Will make them last the full stint without Dario taking advantage?
Could tire compound selection actually have an effect on the outcome of this race?
Now we’re talking!
Without having been directly privy to it, the Ganassi strategy looked pretty clear from the outside: put Dario out on blacks and Dixie on reds, send Dixie after Will to slow him down and force him to drive his set of alternates down to the cords, then have Dario pounce on Will when the blacks were better behaved and come away having closed the gap on points.
Unfortunately, a full-course yellow unraveled any chance of things playing out this way, but it could have been riveting.
In this era when a lack of manufacturer competition in all areas has made technical storylines scarce, adding this dimension to the racing satisfies a huge craving for many viewers. On first examination, it may seem contrived in comparison to true competition — but in some ways it’s actually superior. In a multiple-brand system, there are times where one brand is significantly superior to another, sometimes for long periods, and it can get quite predictable. Here, though, Firestone can tweak both compounds to maximize the likelihood of tire strategy playing out into something interesting, and they can adjust it according to the conditions of each race weekend. It’s been a while since they’ve done so to the degree that they did at Infineon, but those viewers who take interest in the technical side of racing were grateful for it.
It would be a marked enhancement of this system to see Firestone consistently bring alternates to the track that are as distinct from the primaries as they were at Sonoma. And, of course, faster lap times should absolutely be at the expense of reliability. It’s hard to imagine anyone seeing that as any sort of reflection on the quality of Firestone’s consumer product, so they should feel free to take this to the very edge of whatever will make the race results as thrilling as possible for the viewer.
Unfortunately, it’s now a long wait until next season to find out if Firestone will see the positive reaction to this and continue the trend. But with 2011 looking poised to play out as more of the same in many arenas, wouldn’t it be great to have tire strategy as a legitimate point of discussion?