FORT WORTH, Texas — As if there weren’t already enough controversy and trepidation heading into the IZOD IndyCar Series first race on a 1.5-mile oval since the Dan Wheldon death at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Oct. 16, there was lively debate among the drivers who believe IndyCar officials have taken the racing out of the current car.
In an attempt to break up “Pack Racing” that many believe led to the massive 15-car crash that killed Wheldon at Las Vegas, changes were made to the Dallara DW12 chassis to make the car more difficult to drive but in the process, several drivers contend the current configuration will make Saturday night’s Firestone 550 a single-file, follow-the-leader race.
Some drivers are fearful that the elimination of pack racing may have an impact on the actual racing on the track.
“We still have some work to do,” said James Hinchcliffe, who starts sixth for Andretti Autosport. “But we will get there. What I don’t want to see is the racing negatively affected to where we can’t pass. There is breaking up pack racing and then there is breaking up racing. We have to find the happy medium. I’d rather go too far on the first step and then go back then go out there and have the exact same thing we were trying to get away from.”
Ed Carpenter was the most vocal of the drivers on Friday who believes IndyCar officials went too far in making the car harder to drive.
“Everyone is so freaked out about ‘pack’ racing that we have so little downforce,” said Ed Carpenter, who will started 20th Saturday night. “And it will be extremely hard to get through the field from the back. I have been racing here since 2004 and I don’t feel we’ve had a true ‘pack race’ since 2005. I feel everyone is nervous coming to the first one and a half track of the year. I understand that. I don’t feel I’m reckless but we also have to put on a good race for the fans. This is a challenging track for the drivers. I’m lobbying hard to get downforce back so we can at least have a good race. This is the type of race that has really been good for this sport. We have to have a balance that is safe and can still put on good racing. That is my goal.
“After Vegas there are a lot of people who think we shouldn’t be racing here. I think that is absurd. Personally, I wish we were still racing in Vegas. This race hasn’t been anything like Vegas was so I don’t see why we would stop coming here. Everyone in the series is nervous about coming here for the first 1.5-mile since Vegas. But it’s not Vegas, it’s Texas.”
It’s a raging debate among the drivers but a two-time IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner actually prefers the style that will be seen on Saturday night.
“I think it will be better racing – it won’t be fake racing,” Scott Dixon said. “When you see passes they will be complete passes now and not cars stuck side-by-side.
In many ways it has put the driver in charge of his own destiny so the ones behind the wheel who are able to stay on top of the car and think about how the car will change over the course of a fuel run will be the ones to benefit from that.
“I like it now because you have to drive it,” said Graham Rahal, who starts third. “Finally, you get rewarded for that. I don’t want to race in a pack with 10 cars. Now, you are in control of your own destiny.”
IndyCar officials have made several adjustments to aerodynamic setups on the Dallara DW12 and the latest is the allowance of a 1/8th-inch wicker that runs the span of the rear wing in an attempt to add 125 pounds of additional downforce to the car. It is hoped the change will create a few more passing opportunities while continuing the make the cars difficult to drive.
Will Power is the highest starting Chevrolet driver and will line up fifth for Team Penske. He believes the harder the car is to drive, the better the driver is to figure a way out to get to the front.
“I like it – it’s definitely in the right direction,” Power said. “You are taking the right race line and thinking about driving and being on top of the car the whole time. It’s what we have been looking for around here. It is tougher around here. People are used to being flat and driving around the white line. Now, the car is sliding like it has never slid before. The race is definitely going to be different than normal. The cars have lost a little downforce and are moving around a lot. I think that is kind of what we’re looking for. You can’t hold the while line like you used to be able to. You have to take a full race line. We had good car for qualifying for sure. It definitely will be different for the race. I think things will be spread out and there will be more people with better mechanical setups that will come through the field. I think that is the type of racing will be. It won’t be a pack race, but I think it will be good.
“There is no way with this configuration it will be a pack race. There will be passing as cars go off and people run different lanes. After that, it will be good racing.”
Dixon, who starts fourth for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, likes the fact the cars are harder to drive and predicts a “hell of a race.”
“It’s going to be tough and I think that will definitely make it more exciting,” Dixon said. “It’s a good way for people to sort out their cars and race a lot harder. The race is going to be really, really tough. This year the race is going to be totally different. Just holding on to the car will be difficult. It’s 55 laps for a fuel stint on the car and you will be nowhere near flat in the corners. You will see a lot of cars fall off big time. It should be fun.
“People who are complaining about it want it to be easier but I think it should be difficult. I think some mile-and-a-halves have been way too easy in the past. It’s still hard to race and get to the front but it’s when you get people who shouldn’t be there. I still think it will be exciting and close but all in all it will be exciting to see cars coming and going.”
With changes to the aerodynamics of the cars the drivers are actually having to lift in the corners rather than running flat-out all the way around the track.
“We are trying to make the racing better and I think we came out with a pretty good aero package so we won’t have a pack race but it’s still unknown,” said Tony Kanaan, who will start seventh for KV Racing. “It will be 100 percent different from what we have seen in the past. We are trying to get away from pack racing. We have a good compromise right now so we will still how it works. More has been put in the driver’s hands and that will make a big difference on Saturday night.
“It’s not what we are used to and it will take a little for us to adjust. Before we had a lot of downforce and did a lot of silly things to make the car go quicker. Now, it’s the other way around — we have to find more grip. You won’t see side-by-side racing — you will see guys timing themselves to make a pass.”
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