» BACK TO CRASH.NET

Crash.Net IndyCar News

Indy 500: Drivers forced to chill out again

17 May 2011

Those teams that decided not to put in any serious laps on Monday because it was a little too windy or too cold might be ruing that decision today, after the teams had to write off the entire Tuesday practice session for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

In fact the track was actually open for a little over four hours, but the conditions were so cold that they were far outside any realistic parameters for qualifying or race day and as such everyone agreed it was pointless even setting foot on track.

Alex Lloyd was among those to take solace online by updating his Twitter feed: "Wish this weather in Indy would bugger off back to wherever it came from," he tweeted mid-afternoon.

Finally the clouds put the drivers out of their misery by delivering drizzle onto the facility at just after 4pm, and the officials brought out the chequered flag to end the practice session almost two hours earlier than scheduled.

"I'm done sitting around a garage. Going home for a cup of tea. Try get some running in tomorrow," tweeted Lloyd. "Frustrated not to get on track today. Oh well... If the world didn't suck, we'd all fall off."

While the teams had felt that Monday's mid-60s Fahrenheit (around 17 Celsius) conditions had only merited a couple of dozen laps, todays' shockingly cold conditions dropped the air temperature in the morning into the mid 40s (5 Celsius), and it barely topped 50F all day.

The big chill left everyone milling around in the garage area huddled in their coats.

"These were certainly not ideal weather conditions and aren't representative of what we're going to see in a few days," said Andretti Autosports' Mike Conway. "It didn't make too much sense to log a lot of laps ... When it's that cold, unless the race is going to be like that, it's not really worth running out there. We won't learn too much in it. Not much to be gained today."

Such cold conditions - more typical of late autumn than late spring in Indianapolis - would have adversely affected the grip of the cars and increased the chances of seeing them fly off into the wall, something that no team wants to see. Even the top outfits would wince at the cost in terms of time or money doing that, especially as the data the teams would get would be effectively worthless once normal temperature service is resumed.

Only Conway and his team mate Marco Andretti actually ventured out onto the track at all, and then only for a combined 13 laps. Conway's time was 40.9259s (219.910mph) and Andretti's was 40.7875s (220.656mph) but the figures were meaningless and were well off the times seen on Monday.

Conway took the #27 out for a quick shakedown after some overnight tweaks as the team try and tackle some glitches that are affecting the car's handling through turn 1 that they noticed in the 51 laps managed on Monday: "We just wanted to feel some of those (changes) and see what we had," said Conway as he shivered in the pits.

Marco then also took the #27 out for five laps, just "to get the feel of a different setup," but confessed that his own car's lack of speed that he had complained of after Monday's practice session was very much on his mind.

"I'm really worried about the speed of our car," he said. "I've driven exactly Danica's setup 3 miles an hour off of her [lap speed]. I can't explain why. I'm worried about qualifying for this race. It is still early days, but I honestly think if you're not going to be qualifying in the top 10 you should be worried."

Teams generally factor in a loss of practice time into their Indy plans, but there has now been only one and a half day's worth of running in the first four days of scheduled practice, after rain curtailed Saturday's session and Sunday was a complete washout. Even Monday, which at least was dry and sunny all day, was deemed to be far from ideal conditions for the teams to work on dialling in their cars for qualifying.

The teams now only have three more days before they hit the crucial Pole Day and Bump Day qualifying sessions over the weekend. Even for the top teams feeling confident in their programs, that's starting to feel worryingly restricted - and for those teams and drivers with issues, like Andretti, it's enough to generate real concern.

"I think guys like me, we could be in trouble if we slip a little bit," Marco admitted. "It's going to be super-competitive out there. We're going to try to get what we can get."

"It's not far away," Mike Conway said of the looming qualifying day. "We always think we have loads of time at the beginning of the week, and then it's always the same thing. You get to the last couple of days, and if you haven't quite got the car right, then you're going to be rushing a bit more.

"It does kind of give us more tyres to use for the rest of the week each day," he said, looking on the bright side. "Hopefully it warms up a bit tomorrow."

Over in the Penske garage, spirits were less troubled as the team's three drivers Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe knew that they - along with Ganassi - would be setting the benchmark everyone else would have to strain to beat. That meant they could be a bit more sanguine about another lost day on the track, and just enjoy the feeling of being around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and mixing with race fans along Gasoline Alley.

"It is always great to be at Indy, just walking through the garage area and seeing the fans that show up braving the elements. It is a shame that the weather hasn't been cooperating with us much this week," said Power, who currently leads the IndyCar championship after four road races. "I have had plenty of time to discuss our strategy moving forward. I am really looking forward to getting back on track."

"This weather has been a factor here at the Speedway, and even though I would rather be out on the track, it is really special just coming to the track every day," said Briscoe. "The fans are amazing. The fact that they show up in this damp, cold weather really shows how dedicated they are."

The most popular driver with fans was Helio Castroneves, one of IndyCar's biggest names thanks to his winning turn on reality show Dancing with the Stars in 2007. "Man, it's tough just sitting and not having a chance to run, especially at this place because it's so awesome."

Among the distractions on offer was the sight of several teams practicing for the final round of qualifying for the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge. Nine teams will be going head-to-head on Wednesday morning to win one of the remaining three slots in the finals, which are held on "Carb Day" - the Friday before the Indy 500. As well as team pride, there's a very nice cash prize for the winning team: last year Team Penske and Helio Castroneves earned $50,000 by winning the Challenge for a second consecutive year, while runners-up Hideki Mutoh and Newman/Haas earned $15,000.

Among the team/driver combinations practicing today were: Penske/Castroneves; Andretti Autosport with Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick; and KV Racing Technology with EJ Viso, Tony Kanaan and Tomas Scheckter - who had time during the stop to take a drivers-eye snap of proceedings for his Twitter followers. Nine other team/driver combinations have already qualified during IndyCar events in the past year.

Over in the Sam Schmidt Motorsports camp, Alex Tagliani could at least take comfort in having the fastest time in the books of anyone so far this week at Indy. "We did two good runs yesterday with a change in between, it was valuable to have some data for today and to look back at last year's data and evaluate it," he said. "It's nice to see that our car is up to pace and we're on top of the chart so far for the week."

Tagliani pointed out that knowing he had a fast car took the pressure off: "If you don't need to run very much, and your car is already right there, it's a relief for everyone on the team.

"The teams that are very concerned are the teams that have a plan to run many, many miles. The weather, obviously, makes them very frustrated and disappointed because it interferes with their plan."

Down in 25th place in the combined timesheets for the sessions so far, his Sam Schmidt stablemate Townsend Bell isn't faring as well as Tagliani but he's still breathing a lot easier now having finally been able to put some times in on Monday.

"It's a lot easier [not getting to run today] than Sunday, since I didn't get to run on Saturday. It's tough when you haven't run yet and it rains," he said. "At least we got some decent laps yesterday, and we know our cars are very strong. I'm quite a bit more at ease than I was on Sunday."

The forecast for tomorrow is warmer - with temperatures looking set to climb into the upper 60s (19C) but unfortunately still with a 40% chance of rain during the day, much as it was on Tuesday, so it may be another frustrating day for drivers, teams and fans alike on Wednesday.

Temperatures are set to pick up markedly on Thursday and Friday and get into the 70s - much more what everyone is expecting from Indianapolis in mid-May, and the reason why pressing the issue of testing in Tuesday's cold conditions is really not justified. There's also more sunshine and a decreasing chance of rain as the week progresses, although the increasingly hot weather might set off scattered thunderstorms in the area over the weekend for Pole Day and Bump Day.

A lot of teams who fear sitting on the bubble come Sunday are fervently hoping that the forecasts are proved right, and that the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing can finally start getting down to some serious practice over the next few days.


» BACK TO CRASH.NET