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Teams have different strategies for final week of Indy preparations
The final week of on-track preparation for the 92nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 begins May 14. Eleven drivers have locked in starting positions for the event and can focus on preparing their cars for the race. Twenty-five drivers have a balancing act ahead of them – work on qualifying setup to earn one of the final 22 starting positions, and work on race setup to be competitive in the 500-Mile Race on May 25.
“You have 18 hours of practice, plus the practice time that will be available over the weekend, as well,” said Brian Barnhart, president of competition and operations for the Indy Racing League, sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series. “(Teams) will have to manage it wisely. I anticipate that you will see some scenarios, maybe not on Wednesday, but on Thursday, you will have some pretty big groups of cars running, maybe eight or 10 cars running together, which is going to be cooperation between multiple teams going out there.
“If you are a team that is working on your qualifying setup and you see that going, you are not going to go out there and interact with that. You are going to have low downforce, and you are not going to mess with that kind of turbulence. It is just a matter of being smart of when you are doing what you are doing. You are going to work on both. If you want to focus on the full race stuff, you are going to load it up with downforce and have a run with them, but if not you are going to wait and try to find your own space on the 2.5-mile track.”
For rookie Graham Rahal, who found himself on the qualifying “bubble” most of Pole Day May 10, most of the work ahead will be on race setup despite the need to still qualify for the race.
“We're going to focus this week, I would imagine, on race setup,” said Rahal, who became the youngest race winner in IndyCar Series history at St. Petersburg in April. “And come next Saturday, I feel after (Pole Day), we feel pretty comfortable that we can solidly be in the field, so we'll take a little wing out Saturday morning and go for it. I think we really need to focus on having a good race car here. Of course, qualifying is important, but the race is what it really comes down to. I feel pretty comfortable out there. In qualifying especially, the car was really good, and I was really happy with it. Obviously, we need to find a little more speed, but I'm perfectly fine with it. I'm looking forward to the race.”
Other drivers, who didn’t make a qualifying attempt on Pole Day, will concentrate more on qualifying for the race.
“We don’t have a lot of track time left before the race, and we still have to work on qualifying,” said Jaime Camara, driver of the No. 34 Sangari entry. “I think that we will focus on our qualifying all of this week and then focus more on the race during (final practice on) Miller Lite Carb Day. That is the challenge for everybody that is going to qualify the second week, but it is what it is, and we have to do the best with what we have and just try to reach our goals now.”
The rainout on Second Day Qualifying May 11 could benefit the teams that are second-week programs. Drivers such as Buddy Lazier and Jeff Simmons, who didn’t get any track time during the first week, have an opportunity to qualify higher than they may have originally.
The drama will play out May 17-18. Twenty-two drivers will fill the starting grid on the 17th. Those on the outside looking in will have an opportunity to bump their way into the field on the 18th.
“It is going to be the same for everybody, except for the first 11 guys that actually can sleep soundly (this) week,” said Max Papis, driver of the No. 44 Rubicon Race Team/Lifelock entry. “For us and the other 22 guys, we are in the same boat. We will have to dedicate a little time to qualifying setup next week and most of the time to the race setup. This rain delay, definitely, it hurts a smaller team more than anything else, because a smaller team needs more time to work and get the car tuned up. You can't make it up in a short time period without possible disaster.”
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