31 August 2011
Tyres wear down Conway at Infineon
Tyres proved to be the big issue for Mike Conway and the Andretti Autosport team at the weekend - until Conway's race ended prematurely on the last lap in a clash with Sebastian Saaverda.
In a generally underwhelming Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway in Sears Point, California for Andretti Autosport, Mike Conway's qualifying position of seventh on the grid was perhaps the highlight of the team's weekend.
The British driver narrowly missed out on Firestone Fast Six contention to James Hinchcliffe by just 0.0234s but was still comfortably ahead of his team mates Marco Andretti (14th), Ryan Hunter-Reay (19th) and Danica Patrick (25th) and seemed to be the only one of the group to really be able to get to grips with the 11-turn, 2.303-mile road course on Saturday afternoon qualifying.
Afterwards, Conway revealed that his team mates had even resorted to copying his set-up in order to try and improve their times. "I'm sorry that qualifying didn't work out for the rest of the guys because they took my direction on the setup. They didn't seem to have a good run," he said.
But even at this stage, Conway was struggling with the tyre wear that would prove his Achilles heel all weekend, especially on the soft 'red walled' compounds that drivers estimated were given them up to two seconds a lap over the harder 'black wall' tyres.
"The car is pretty good until the tyres start to fall off," Conway said after qualifying. "You can get about two or three laps with the red tyres in qualifying. If you get a good rhythm, you can improve on your fourth lap. But it is tough."
After pulling off his best qualifying position since starting from fourth place at Toronto, Conway went into race day with every hope of a good result, although dislodging the Penske/Ganassi grip on the top five was always going to be a big ask.
"But we have decent starting spot," he said before the race. "I'd sure like to put the car up on the podium again. The first time I came here in 2009, I was third. I didn't get a chance to race here last year," he added, referring to being sidelined with back injuries for most of 2010 after his horrific airborne accident at the end of the Indianapolis 500.
Unfortunately a podium at Infineon wasn't to be, and once again it would be the tyre wear during the race that proved to be Conway's biggest headache. Initially he was able to retain seventh place for the early part of the race, running right behind James Hinchcliffe through to the first round of pit stops - after which he came back out on track demoted to 11th position.
"We were running P7 for the first part of the race but the tyres really went off quickly," he confirmed afterwards. "I spent most of the race just trying to keep the car on the track and maintaining my position, rather than being able to challenge for the positions ahead."
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