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Red flags dominate final Long Beach practice

14 April 2012

After such poor weather the previous day, teams and drivers were relieved to see a gorgeous day in Long Beach, California for Saturday's practice and qualifying sessions ahead of Sunday afternoon's race.

Although it was still far cooler than expected, the now-dry track was the important thing as far as the drivers were concerned; but as it turned out, it didn't stop an unusually high number of stoppages in the session due to single car incidents.

Almost as soon as the cars got out on track, there was a red flag for James Hinchcliffe getting into the tyre wall in turn 5, leaving the #27 GoDaddy.com car limping back to the pits with front wing damage. Another red flag followed soon after the session resumed, this time for Simona de Silvestro running off at turn 8, with the #78 having to be towed back to pit lane. All in all, most of the first third of the hour-long session proved to be a frustrating experience for those wanting some decent track time.

Scott Dixon was one of the drivers to get out on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit as soon as the opportunity presented itself, with the Kiwi keen to shakedown his #9 Ganassi car after overnight repairs for suspension damage caused by his aqua-planing into the wall in the water-logged second practice on Friday afternoon.

Turn 5 claimed another victim just before the half hour point when Tony Kanaan briefly lifted off over the rumble strips and ended up deeply embedded in the tyre wall. Moments earlier Hinchliffe had nearly repeated his own earlier faux pas, and Takuma Sato also stopped out on track after his own apparent incident just ahead of Kanaan.

That all resulted a stoppage lasting over ten minutes, and almost as soon as the cars went back out on track once more, James Hinchcliffe ended up taking to the run off at turn 6 and Scott Dixon soon had his own moment at the same spot. But it was actually Helio Castroneves who triggered the next red flag less than five minutes into the resumption with a copy-cat accident at turn 5 burying the front nose of the #3 Penske into the tyre wall.

The track staff were able to get Castroneves extracted from the tyre wall much faster than had been the case with Kanaan and the track back to green, leaving drivers with 14 minutes remaining at the end of the session. A harmless run-off for S├ębastien Bourdais at turn 6 produced another brief red flag four minutes later when he stalled the Lotus engine.

After setting the fastest lap of the session with a time of 1:10.7553s (100.131mph), Will Power picked up some debris in the rear wing assembly in the final minutes of the session. Finally James Jakes found the tyre barrier - albeit in turn 9 this time - bringing out the final red flag of the session that resulted in the session finishing two minutes early, meaning that under half of the hour had been spent under green flag conditions.

After the chequered flags, drivers debated the various causes of the many incidents and specifically the problems they were experiencing in turn 5. Lack of dry track time on Friday was one factor, and the cool weather was also blamed for leaving the tyres well below their optimal performance temperature range. Drivers questioned whether the tyre wall at turn 5 was positioned further out than it had been in previous years, or whether the new DW12 Dallara IndyCar chassis was simply not handling the corner and the rumble strips as tightly and efficiently as the old car had.

With such an interrupted stop-start session there was realistically little for anyone to learn about what it likely to happen in the qualifying session later in the afternoon - although the signs are that it could prove to be an eventful one if anything like the practice sessions seen so far.

See practice 3 times.


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