Long Beach: Friday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on April 15, 2011 8:29 pm
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If traffic is any indication, things are going well for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — that meaning car traffic around the course, which caused me to be very late for the first day of practice, and foot traffic, which kept me (with a back injury) from getting anywhere very quickly. I’m just not agile enough to dodge the human obstacle courses. As a result, I stayed in the media center or on pit lane and didn’t see as much as I had hoped to today.

It was gorgeous in the morning, with temperatures in the low 70s and plenty of sun. By later in the day, the sun was hot and track temps had risen to 114 degrees just prior to the afternoon practice.

Two topics were on my mind today: the new qualifying rules and double-file restarts. They were on the minds of others as well — from the media center to pit lane, folks were discussing the narrow course and the potential for much trouble. In her press conference, Danica Patrick was asked what she thought about the restarts at this race and replied, “Exciting for the fans! Perhaps crash damage for the teams.” The comments I heard around me were in line with that. We’ll all be watching closely on Sunday to see how the field handles aligning just out of the hairpin.

The qualifying rule changes came at the request of the drivers, who felt the often-lopsided qualifying groups weren’t fair. For those who aren’t familiar with the old rules, drivers would draw either a blue or red chip from a bag, and that determined their qualifying group. The draw would often be very lopsided with the fastest cars falling into the same group. The new rules will mitigate that and make Friday practice sessions very important. Here’s the explanation from INDYCAR:

“The times from Friday’s practice sessions will be used to determine the qualifying groups with the driver posting the fastest combined lap time having the option to select qualifying group. All odd numbered positions in practice (fastest, third-fastest, fifth-fastest, seventh-fastest, etc.) will be in one group and all even numbered positions in practice will make up the other group.”

While this eliminates the wow factor of a top driver sometimes not getting out of the first round, it does create a more even playing field, and I have a hard time not appreciating that. Today’s fastest practice time was posted by Ryan Briscoe in the afternoon session, and Will Power was fastest in the morning. We’ll just have to see how they all line up when they combine fastest laps over both sessions. I am very happy to leave that math to someone else!

INDYCAR also announced that, due to the space being available on pit road, the field is expanded to include 27 cars for this race. There will be no provisional rules in effect.

After practice finished, Tony Cotman spoke to a few interested parties about the new car and engines. Here are the highlights:

  • All parties involved are on schedule, with the prototype due in mid-July and testing beginning in August.
  • The first order of cars will be delivered to teams in December, with a second round in January and more beyond.
  • Four or five manufacturers are interested in building aero kits, which Cotman said would likely debut in May 2012. (The initial safety tubs will come standard with Dallara aero kits.)
  • The engine manufacturers can run single or double turbos, and the target horsepower is 550 for IMS, 600 for small ovals, and 700 for road and street courses.
  • Engine rules will not be released to the public, although a summary of sorts may appear.
  • Testing restrictions will be lifted early next year for teams to get familiar with the new machines, and testing rules will be evaluated as the season goes on to ensure everyone has been able to work out the kinks before restrictions return.
  • Teams will make their own deals with the engine manufacturers of their choosing, with INDYCAR keeping their hands off of that area for the most part. Of course, the league wants all engines makers to have clients, but it’s not expected that there will be an even number of teams for each manufacturer.

Tomorrow is forecast to be a repeat of today weather-wise, and a full day of practice, qualifying, and racing is on the schedule. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for a recap, and follow me on Twitter at @SpeedFreakBash for tidbits as I find them.

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