Crash.Net IndyCar News
Successful Indy test for Kurt Busch
10 May 2013
Former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch was going around in circles even quicker than usual on Thursday, as he traded his normal stock car for an open-wheel IndyCar in a test opportunity with Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Compared with the sub-200mph speeds achieved by NASCAR at its fastest venues, Busch admitted that it had been a revelation when he'd finally coaxed himself into running speeds topping 218mph at the 2.5-mile oval speedway, which meant psychologically coaxing himself into going flat-out through turn 1.
"Today that was the biggest transition," Busch agreed. "When you want to step into the real world, that's to hold it wide open, and when you do that, your brain says, wait a minute, you're not supposed to do that because in the stock car how heavy it is and the lack of downforce.
"When I did hold it wide open I was off on my line, actually apexed too early, had a little extra wheel input on exit, and it changed the game," he said. "But then once I left it on the floor, the car started to come back to me and the pace started to slow down in my mind, even though the pace kept getting quicker with lap time.
"I do notice when I'm in the car that you just have less time to look at things," Busch said. "Halfway through that second session we did, that's when things started to slow down [mentally.] You just have to graduate with the car and with the comfort level. It will help me respect the track more for an IndyCar.
"The biggest thing I see when I watch the Indianapolis 500 is how far ahead you have to anticipate. When you are the only car out there, it's fine. But when you throw other cars out there, there's no way to simulate that.
"That open cockpit is definitely a whole different game when bugs are hitting your visor instead of your windshield, that's just the little small differences," Busch added. "And then you quickly try to ignore those and focus on the racing line, where you need to be on the racetrack to find the comfort."
While it's Busch's first experience of a modern DW12 Dallara-Chevrolet IndyCar at Indianapolis, Busch did get a chance to try out Bobby Rahal's Champ Car in 2003 at Sebring International Raceway. This week Busch was at the wheel of IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay's #1 car under the watchful eye of Andretti Autosports CEO Michael Andretti, who had extended the surprise invitation to Busch to come and play at Indianapolis for the day.
"Just an incredible feeling to be able to drive at Indianapolis in May in and Indy car and have the name Andretti on it," said Busch. "It was a dream come true.
"When I ran at Sebring ten years ago with a Champ Car, it took laps for the tyres to gain temperature and to feel the comfort and the grip level in the car," he recalled. "Here today Michael is telling me, hey, the tyres will have grip right away, go for it, and yet in my mind I'm just still a little bit hesitant because it's an open‑wheel car and I need to ease into gaining the tyre temperature."
"I think it was good for us," said Andretti in terms of what it meant for his team going into this weekend's opening practice sessions for the Indy 500. "We got our first laps in May, so that's always nice.
"We wanted to do it in the proper way, and we wanted to do it in the proper way mostly for Kurt. We wanted him to have a real experience," he explained. "We wanted to make some changes that he could feel and start to understand a little bit more about what to expect with the car in different conditions and different setups. I think we were able to achieve that.
"I would say the day went as good as we could have expected," Andretti said. "Kurt did exactly what I thought he was going to do. He just drove exactly the way we wanted him to do it. He gave great feedback, right on pace, built up to it nice and steady, didn't do anything stupid, which we knew he wouldn't, and it was a really good day."
"The guy's a natural. He jumped in, was comfortable right away, was eager to keep improving," contributed Hinchcliffe. "He came into it with a really open mind and was really receptive to the feedback we were giving him."
Before heading to Indianapolis Busch got advice from fellow NASCAR driver and 2006 Indy 500 champion Sam Hornish Jr. for advice. The most recent IndyCar race winner James Hinchcliffe was on hand at IMS on Thursday to offer advice, and Busch was also joined at Indianapolis by his father and his entire Furniture Row Racing crew who all showed up unexpectedly at Indianapolis in the morning to cheer their man on.
“We left Denver at 5am and instead of flying right to Darlington we wanted to stop and check this deal out," explained Busch's Sprint Cup crew chief Todd Barrier. "Glad we did, this is a cool place and Kurt is going a good job. He's a racer."
Busch went on to diligently complete the Rookie Orientation Program, the four-step process that all Indianapolis rookies must complete before being eligible to participate in qualifying and racing in the Indy 500.
"As we progress through the rookie orientation side of it, you can see why that's developed to help drivers get up to speed with the different phases of the mile an hour," explained Busch of the decision to adhere to ROP.
Due to fly out from Indianapolis to get to Darlington in time for the start of this week's NASCAR events, Busch even extended his time at the track several times in order to completely finish ROP rather than leave it half-done. That set tongues wagging about what Busch and the Andretti team were up to, and whether this was more than merely a fun media opportunity for the cameras.
“It started out as fun and then we decided to get serious and make some changes,” acknowledged Busch. Was he, in fact, about to spring a surprise 2013 entry into 'the greatest spectacle of motorsport'? Busch said absolutely not. Or more accurately: absolutely not yet.
"I'm not talking about this year," he insisted. “It could be a 13-month project ... It's all about business and sponsorships and timing but I definitely want to race in the Indy 500 if we can make it happen."
Michael Andretti was certainly up for it, if the opportunity should ever arise. "It's too early to say anything definite but if we can work things out I'd love to run Kurt here next year,” the team owner said.
"He's a helluva driver and he adapted quickly to this car so I think it would be great for both of us," Andretti added.
"It's one thing to be out there running by yourself but put 30 other cars out there and it's a whole new deal," said Busch. "Today was just baby steps ... I'd be like a dart without feathers in all that traffic so I'd like to get more comfortable and maybe run another race before I came here."
Another race? The media definitely perked up on hearing that. The obvious choice for a Busch maiden outing would be Pocono Raceway, the unique tri-oval track to which the IZOD IndyCar Series is returning at the start of July for the first time in 24 years. It's a track that Busch knows well as it's been on the NASCAR calendar, and so it would give him a head-start in track familiarisation over the rest of the IndyCar drivers for the weekend.
So did Michael Andretti think that a Pocono outing for Kurt Busch might be on the cards? “I don't know, stranger things have happened,” the team owner smiled.
Almost more than merely accruing experience, the biggest problem facing Busch if he did ever decide to do the Indy 500 is how to combine it with the NASCAR event on the same Memorial Day holiday weekend. It would mean Busch finishing the 500-mile race, jumping on a plane and heading to Charlotte Motor Speedway for another 600-mile endurance event right after.
"A driver can race here at Indianapolis, give a full 500 miles - that needs to be the end of his day," he said. "To run 600 miles after that you've got to pace yourself. I honestly think I wouldn't be able to do it this year just with stamina, just with not giving my all for my Furniture Row team in Charlotte."
It is viable, and three men have done it in the recent past since improvements in jet transportation have made it physically possible to be in both places on the same afternoon. John Andretti (Michael's cousin) was the first in 1994, and then Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart have both achieved it as well. There had been speculation that Stewart might have been lured back this year for a third attempt at the 'double' after Roger Penske extended an offer to put together a race seat for him, but Stewart has since declined.
Busch is tempted by the prospect, but not this year. "If my name is mentioned with guys like Tony Stewart and John Andretti and Robby Gordon, it isn't a big feather in the cap but it's something to try to go and achieve. It's something to try to just stretch yourself to the limits in the world of motorsport, and you have to do it with good teams. You just can't expect to go out there and find success right away when your whole life has been spent in a stock car.
"Today was an ideal day," he pointed out. "I couldn't have asked for anything better as a rookie than to come to Indy to have the track prepped the way it was and then to have the perfect weather conditions.
"To crawl, then walk, and then walk and then run, I think the proper thing is to go out and experience this car at another oval track and get into a race and experience what the buffeting is and the movement of the car when all the downforce changes," he summed up.
"I need to get more comfortable in the IndyCar because on a day like today, I'm white knuckle, my hands were tense and firm - and that was only after ten laps!"