BATTLE ROYALE IN FONTANA
IndyCar qualifying at the MAVTV 500
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Published on Sat, Oct 19, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy
Scenes from the qualifying sessions by Gabriela Moya
Hot tracks are slick. It’s an axiom of racing. So consider the anomaly created when an IndyCar, which goes about 217 miles an hour on a long oval like Auto Club Speedway, is properly set up for an early afternoon qualifying session, and then has to race in the evening.
That’s what many drivers LA Car talked to after Friday quals said, anyway. They were on track early Friday afternoon for their two-lap qualifier. They will race somewhere around 5:45 pm Saturday in the last event of their season, the MAVTV 500 in Fontana. The difference in how the cars perform will be significant.
Practice in the morning on Friday had yielded the top spot to Will Power, with Tony Kanaan in second. Fifth quick was Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon was sixth.
The cars went out for qualifying at 2:15 pm. The goal for some was the pole. For Helio Castroneves, the point that went along with it would have been nice. He had it for a while, but was knocked off by Will Power, his teammate. Fortunately for him, when Power ended up with it, at least it meant that the bonus did not go to Castroneves’ championship rival, whom he trails by 25 points as of the start of the weekend. That, of course, is Scott Dixon. He was not terribly fast in the qualifying session, logging seventh place.
After, he talked about this: “It was OK. The first lap was actually quicker all in all than I thought we were going to have. We picked up quite a bit of understeer on lap two.” He then said that he was surprised that Power had bumped Helio for the pole, but more surprised to learn that the Penske team were worried about him getting it. “I’m surprised that they think we have that kind of speed in us,” he said. “It was good because it obviously helped us, so we thank Will for taking that point. Tomorrow is a different subject.”
His rival for the season’s title, Helio Castroneves, was much all energy as he spoke in a tiny media scrum. As he talked, he constantly looked right and left. To his left was the view down the track to turn four. To his right was the scoring pylon, which he kept checking to see if his time would hold up.
Most revealing in his comments was that his team, which has had mechanical trouble two weekends in a row, had found a problem in the morning session. Apparently the Brazilian had a shock issue, which might have been serious had it turned up in the race. He didn’t mean a shock selection problem, mind you, but a break or mechanical flaw, though he didn’t specify what exactly.
About his qualifying, he said, “In the end you’re saying you could go a little bit more in the setup, but I couldn’t do that. You just have to watch the other guys and see what happened.” He indicated that the wait was difficult.
Turning his attention to the difference between the day conditions and what things would be like in night racing, he said, “Our cars are so sensitive, that when it changes to ten to fifteen degrees less, you’re going to have more downforce, more power, so it will be a better balance for everyone. It’s going to be a very close race. The winners are going to be the fans, and they’re going to love it.”
He said that his crew would do some adjusting on the car ahead of time, of course, and that during the race, they would use patience and make much smaller adjustments. But he also said, “This later session today will be important for us to find out what could be” for the race.
Scott Dixon’s comments about the forthcoming Friday evening practice were similar. “Typically when the track conditions get cooler it gets a little easier, so we might look into how much we should trim out towards the end of the race to make sure we have good speed. We’ll be working hard.” Other qualifiers further down the order had greater complaints, or fears, to voice than these frontrunners. Simona de Silvestro was asked how she ran, and she said, “Not that great. When the track got hot we got a lot of understeer. Maybe that’s a good thing for a night race. It’s hard because we’re practicing [qualifying] during the day. Hopefully the understeer will be appropriate for the night.” Oriol Servia, complained about the seams in the track, though his comment was, “It’s not the seams, it’s the paint they used to cover the seams. That’s the difference from last year.” (On that, by the way, Dixon weighed in with, “I feel them, but they’re not horrific.” But he also said that the sun would be a problem. “We saw that when we practiced here about a month ago,” he recalled, “And it was dangerous.”) Sebastian Bourdais also commented on the seam situation, and on his general discomfort with the big track. Speaking of qualifying, he said that he was thinking, “Do we really have to do this a second lap? Because I could do without it.” He laughed, but then added that when his car shifted on track, he said, “OK, OK, it’s OK, right?” as a summation of his thoughts. About the seams, he indicated, “They are hard to see in this sun, and the car loads up and you don’t really know where you are. Maybe there will be more traction in traffic, but you lose downforce,” which kind of sounds like he’s not sure exactly what’s going to happen in the race. Turning to Saturday, pole sitter Power said, “I think it will be tight racing. When the night falls, it will be mostly pack-type racing. Compared to last year, the grip has improved a lot, a lot.” But he also said that he thought the sun was not going to be as big an issue as some others think. His prediction is that the sun will be down far enough by race start not to be an issue. He said that in mid-afternoon. He might have thought differently toward the end of practice. As Friday evening started to come around, the IndyCars were out on track again. They ran in tight packs of three and four early, then strung out. As they did, they were running right towards a red sunset in turn four, undoubtedly temporarily blind as they approached that part of the track. Saturday night, 6pm will be about fifteen or so minutes into the race, when the cars will not likely have started to string out yet. The IndyCar series and its predecessors have run at this track back to 1998, with a gap from 2005-11. They resumed using the track last year. In that race, Marco Andretti started first and ended eighth. Ed Carpenter won from the fifth starting position. This year, those drivers are eighth and ninth, respectively. The fastest qualifier was in at 220.775. The slowest to post a time (three drivers did not log a lap) was Sebastian Saavedra, at 213.262, a two-second difference. Twenty-five cars are entered in the event. The action could be spectacular. Read Brian Kennedy's BATTLE ROYALE: The MAVTV 500 arrives For more information about Auto Club Speedway events, go to autoclubspeedway.com For more information about the 2013 Izod IndyCar schedule, click here Scenes from the MAVTV 500 qualifying sessions by Gabriela Moya: [nggallery id=mavtvqualifying2013]