Rahal and Briscoe positive after Indy road course test
5 September 2013
If the immediate aim of this week's testing of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is to see whether it would be suitable to stage an IZOD IndyCar Series race on, then the answer appears clear: it is, with both Graham Rahal and Ryan Briscoe giving the option a big thumbs-up after spending Wednesday evaluating different configurations.
"It's a little different going the opposite way around, but it's actually not a bad track," said Rahal at the end of his day's work in the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car. "Everybody knocks it, but I've had some fun.
"We're all here for the Month of May anyways, so let's put on another good show and give the fans something else to see," he continued. "It's a totally different form of racing. The only oval race that should be here in my eyes is the Indy 500, but there's no reason not to do a road race. I think it would be awesome."
"It's a pretty good track, actually," agreed Briscoe, who'd been at the wheel of the #4 National Guard Panther Racing car on Wednesday. "It's got a lot of high-speed corners. Turn 13 is really fast," he added, referring to what is turn 1 on the oval superspeedway. "A lot of high load in the steering wheel and very different to what we do here on the 2.5-mile oval.
"I heard rumours of the beginning of May to kick the month off, and that would be fine," Briscoe added when asked about the possibility of racing here as part of the IndyCar season. "Any time we're here at Indy would be great."
Rahal had arrived with his mind made up about using any part of the oval track, but admitted that his feelings on the matter had been quickly changed after he had tried out the configurations that included IMS's famed first turn.
"When I showed up, I thought we shouldn't use turn 1 at Indy, we shouldn't run on the oval at all," he said. "But I think that's what is going to make the racing so good. If you're leading on the last lap, you're bound to get passed by anyone within eight car lengths. The tow someone would get down the front straight would be massive.
"How do you put a quick lap in? Do you set up the car to go for the front straight or the infield?" he explained. "That could be an intriguing mix race day. Having a straightaway this long, with the top speed of about 190, it's quite a mix. I think that would make the racing extremely exciting here."
Rahal and Briscoe tried running running the road course in both clockwise and anticlockwise directions to see which way round best suited the current DW12 Dallara used in the IZOD IndyCar Series."It's a really different feeling going the other way," said Briscoe. "It was definitely strange to be coming off the wrong way on the frontstretch."
"That's the biggest thing: 'Wait a minute, I think we're supposed to be going that way!'" laughed Bobby Rahal, Graham's father and team boss of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and himself a former Indy 500 winner. He too was pleased with the day's testing, and excited about the proposition of building up the Month of May into an even bigger event on the motorsports calendar.
"I feel privileged to be a part of [today] and excited about the idea," he said. "Just as Daytona has a number of events leading up to the 500, why not Indianapolis with a road course race in early May? I was very much a traditionalist until the stock cars came here. They've had Grand Prix races, GRAND-AM races, bike races and even the mini-marathon, and I understand why it's become a multi-event facility. I'm all for it."
While simply seeing whether or not the existing options are feasible to stage an exciting, competitive IndyCar race here - maybe even as soon as 2014 - the longer-term purpose behind Wednesday's test was to gather data to inform any future infrastructure changes to the venue. Speedway officials plan to invest nearly $100 million as part of a long-term masterplan of improvements at IMS that could include modifications to the road course.
"We wanted to evaluate the racetrack as it is," said Derrick Walker, IndyCar's president of competition and operations. "There are a number of ideas to improve overtaking and making the racing more interesting perhaps than it was during the F1 days.
"I'm not sure the Speedway needs to make monster changes," he added after seeing that day's testing and hearing the feedback from the drivers. "There could be some alterations that would improve the racing short term, and then I think if the fans come, you keep doing more and keep doing more. I think you could develop a really unique racetrack out of the infield."
So what changes would Rahal and Briscoe suggest to the road course options at this point after their day of testing?
"You're sliding around; there's not a lot of grip: the track layout as it is, would it be great for passing?" asked Rahal. "There are really only two spots. But that's why we're trying a lot of different configurations to analyse and potentially help."
"As you come down the middle stretch it's a very fast corner, and it would make passing difficult," agreed Briscoe. "If you came down that straight into a tighter corner, it would help the racing a little bit."
Briscoe added that he wasn't so keen running the track in the 'oval' direction: "Right now, as it is, I'd prefer the other directions. But with changes, I think it could be a good course in that direction," he said. "The layout is really nice. It's fast and it's pretty physical as well."
MotoGP and GRAND-AM Road Racing currently use sections of the infield course for their races at IMS, with MotoGP competing at the track since 2008 on a counter-clockwise version of the circuit and GRAND-AM since 2012 on a clockwise layout. F1 raced on the IMS road course from 2000 until 2007, and Rahal himself competed on the Grand Prix course twice, the first time in Formula BMW in 2004 and then subsequently while racing in Firestone Indy Lights in 2006.
The only other time an IndyCar has ever tested on the IMS road course was in the autumn of 2011 when the DW12 was still being developed. Two-time Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon ran the 13-turn layout in clockwise direction only, but that was for car development purposes not for evaluating the track for possible race use by the series.
"It's great to have IndyCars back out here," said J Douglas Boles, president of IMS. "Obviously the first time we had somebody here was with Dan Wheldon in the fall of 2011. Being able to see guys come out here with cars that are ready to run and ready to go is fantastic."
Boles added that ever since the possibility of adding a road course race at IMS had first been raised, there had been considerable support for the idea.
"I think everybody at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the whole organisation is excited about the prospects, otherwise we wouldn't be having this test," he said. "We have a great facility right here in the middle of Indianapolis, and many of the teams are based here.
"We certainly think we have a big fan base here in Indianapolis and people love to see these cars run. Yes, it's a break from tradition, not running in the oval direction, but that's why we're here," he added. "We're excited and we're hearing great things from the drivers, which is even better, and that's the next step in deciding how we use the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course."