FORT WORTH, Texas — Amid an air of uncertainty whether the IZOD IndyCar Series will ever compete at Texas Motor Speedway again following Saturday night’s Firestone 500 and a tremendous amount of debate between the drivers about adjustments that need to be made to the Dallara DW12 chassis, credit Alex Tagliani’s pole with putting a positive spin on what has already been a contentious weekend.
At the beginning of the season, Tagliani was struggling with the Lotus engine that made the driver from Quebec a non-factor for Bryan Herta Autosport.
Despite the fact it was the same team that won the 2011 Indianapolis 500 with the late Dan Wheldon as its driver, without a Chevrolet or Honda engine it was uncompetitive as the Lotus engine was far off the pace.
But prior to the IndyCar Series race at Sao Paulo, Brazil at the end of April Herta was able to negotiate a release from his Lotus contract and get on the Honda program.
The new combination was competitive in the 96th Indianapolis 500 with Tagliani qualifying 11th before finishing 12th after leading one time for two laps. Tagliani started third and finished 10th last Sunday at Detroit but on Friday at the 1.5-mile, high-banked Texas Motor Speedway he drove to the car to the forefront by winning the pole.
Tagliani’s two-lap average of 215.691 mph was this second-straight pole at TMS and the eight of his IndyCar career. It was also the first pole for Bryan Herta Autosport in IZOD IndyCar Series competition. It was enough to knock four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti off the top starting position after the three-time Indy 500 winner ran a two-lap average of 215.646 mph in a Dallara Honda. Fellow Chip Ganassi Racing driver Graham Rahal qualified third at 215.554 mph in a Dallara/Honda and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon put a Dallara/Honda fourth at 215.331 mph to give Honda a sweep of the top-four starting positions.
The highest-qualified Chevrolet was Team Penske’s Will Power, who was fifth at 215.116 mph over a two-lap run.
Chevrolet won the first four IZOD IndyCar Series races of the season and powered Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe to the Indy 500 Pole but since then it’s been Honda, Honda, Honda.
“We’re stoked that Honda has accepted us back with them because that makes a big difference,” Tagliani said. “It looks like Honda has an advantage right now. I truly believe from watching the first three races when I was not with Honda that they rolled their sleeves up and have worked hard on the power and the mileage. For us having joined Honda in the last couple of weeks we are in the best position. I think there is a little advantage but in racing it is never enough.
“It felt like we had never left Honda and I know there is more to come there. We are very happy to be with Honda for sure.”
“It’s pretty clear to that since we got back with Honda we are on track every weekend,” Tagliani continued. “We had an amazing weekend at Indy and got caught with a pit penalty but fought all the way back to the leader. We got hosed last week at Detroit when the pits were closed but I feel good now. I said our championship would start at Indy and it has. For us to be on the pole is a great boost for the morale of these guys who have worked so hard. The chemistry has been fantastic.”
After having a “bobble” in practice Tagliani was given a car that had been adjusted with very little downforce.
Rahal was on pace to be on pole but got on the hard rev limiter during his last lap of qualifications.
“I think we were certainly pretty surprised by the pace,” Rahal said. “The first run we did this morning we were not pleased but we kept at it. I feel better about my race car than the qualifying car so that is good for us right now.”
IndyCar Series drivers lobbied for a change to the downforce level on the race cars after changes to break up pack racing may have gone too far making the cars very difficult to pass. A technical adjustment was made before Friday night’s final practice session with a rear wing wicker up to a maximum of 1/8th of an inch in height running the entire span of the wing allowed. That will add 125 pounds more downforce to the cars which may make the racing better.
“Even though the wicker was allowed to be up to 1-inch you would never run that because the drag penalty would be huge,” said Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology. “By giving them another 125 pounds more downforce should put them in really good position and as tires go off the driving won’t be as easy so we are trying to put it back in the driver’s hands. We’ve been in full dialogue with the drivers before, during and after the sessions. The drivers are much more confident now and that should put on a good show.
“Adding 125 pounds won’t make a huge difference but it might create a few more passes rather than the other way.”
A tremendous amount of effort has been made by the series in the wake of Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2011 to prevent “Pack Racing.” IndyCar tested at Texas Motor Speedway on May 7 and drivers found the car to be adjustable to a wide range of settings.
But when the rules were issued prior to Friday afternoon’s practice session about half of the drivers wanted more downforce where the other half were acceptable with the current settings that made the cars harder to drive but placed the emphasis back into the driver’s hands rather than the downforce level of the car.
Rahal continues to believe Saturday night’s race will still be a great show.
“I think the car will be pretty hectic over the last laps because even though we won’t be running in a pack you will have guys fighting really hard for each and every position so you will be fighting it and hanging on at the same time,” Rahal said. “We’ll have to worry about hanging on to the car but as far as a close finish it is always possible here. This place always puts on a great show coming to the last lap.
“You will still see that, no doubt about it.”
And for such drivers as Franchitti, he is satisfied that the new car will create a different style of race at Texas but one that is equally exciting without the fear and danger that came with “Pack Racing.”
“We actually ran quicker than I thought we would,” Franchitti said. “It’s the hardest qualifying run I have run here with the level of downforce and it has put some of the control back in the driver’s hands it felt really good. What we have been trying to do is put the control back in the driver’s hands and we think we have done that. When the car is harder to drive you are in more control of your destiny than when you are sitting five-deep in the pack. We will be running the whole pack to search out grip and will be unlike any race we have seen in a long time.”
The current IndyCar Series has been competing at Texas Motor Speedway since 1997 with 23 races held at the 1.5-mile high-banked oval since that time. But after Wheldon’s death last year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the fact the design of the catchfence at both Vegas and Texas have the steel support posts facing the track rather than behind the fencing on the grandstand side, there has been a war of words between the IndyCar drivers and Texas Motor Speedway president and general manager Eddie Gossage. The drivers believe the fence poles are dangerous and Gossage defends the design.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard admitted last Saturday at Detroit that there are no current plans to race at Texas beyond Saturday night’s race.
“I think Eddie is a good promoter no question about that,” Bernard said. “I’m not sure if we have drifted apart on that. I don’t go on vacations with Eddie. I don’t go on vacation with anybody. I’m going on vacation for the first time with my family in three years after Iowa. I think Eddie is a good promoter. This is the only Texas race for sure. There is no contract beyond this year.
“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think I’m prepared to answer that until after the Texas race. I think there are some other great tracks like Richmond, Pocono and Phoenix that are three really good tracks for us to go to. Do we like Texas? There are elements that we like and elements we would like to see improved. To be fair to Eddie it’s better that we negotiate after next weekend to keep the positive press moving forward. I know how he is and how I am. If I threw a price at him now he would make a big story out of it and that is not good for the sport. We know we will have a great race there so let’s keep the focus on that right now.
“It’s unfair for me to address these issues at this point.”
Should IndyCar return to Texas in the future?
“I think let’s see what the show is,” Phillips said. “It’s all about putting on a good show.”
If Saturday night’s race is the final IndyCar event at TMS the competitors want to make sure the hazards are reduced.
“For everyone’s peace of mind we need to leave here after what happened in Las Vegas with a safe race,” Tagliani said. “That is in the back of everyone’s mind.”
|1. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 215.691|
|2. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 215.646|
|3. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 215.554|
|4. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 215.331|
|5. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 215.116|
|6. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 214.920|
|7. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 214.701|
|8. (14) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 214.458|
|9. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 214.424|
|10. (15) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 214.196|
|11. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 214.082|
|12. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 214.060|
|13. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 213.957|
|14. (8) Rubens Barrichello, Dallara-Chevy, 213.949|
|15. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 213.927|
|16. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 213.444|
|17. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 213.402|
|18. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 212.833|
|19. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 212.136|
|20. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 211.643|
|21. (19) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 211.245|
|22. (6) Katherine Legge, Dallara-Chevy, 210.543|
|23. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Lotus, 204.066|
|24. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 202.596|
|25. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, no speed.|
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