Twenty-five IZOD IndyCar Series drivers have competed for 160 laps covering 358 miles on challenging road/street circuits the past two races without a single full-course caution for contact, a spin or even debris.
Following the Edmonton Indy on July 22, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 5 was the second consecutive caution-free road race since 1987 (Laguna Seca, won by Robby Rahal; Miami's Tamiami Park, won by Michael Andretti). The last time there were three consecutive caution-free races was 1986 - Portland, Meadowlands and Cleveland.
The GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, which has had 18 total full-course cautions over the seven IZOD IndyCar Series races on the road course, is up next. INDYCAR president of competition and IZOD IndyCar Series Race Director Beaux Barfield said the talent and experience of the field has much to do with the lack of cautions.
"I would attribute the clean driving this year to the quality of the entire field and just the respect I've seen on and off the track," he said. "We've made some rules changes about what we'll tolerate and what we won't and have made a consistent statement about it, but it's mostly on the drivers. They've been very professional."
Team owner/driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka entry Ed Carpenter also credits the new car.
"These cars are more durable and the attrition rate isn't as high now as in previous years," Carpenter said. "I was surprised there was no full-course yellow period, especially in the early laps. But you can bang on each other with these cars and get away with it."
There were 16 full-course cautions total over the six previous IZOD IndyCar Series races on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Many race engineers built at least one caution period into their fuel strategy for the 85-lap race.
"We were banking on there being some yellows in there to make it a two-stopper like the guys up at the front, but we ran too hard in the first stint for that to pan out," said JR Hildebrand, who advanced three positions to finish ninth in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car. "We ended up having to make a splash for fuel that cost us a few spots there at the end of the race."
Six of the cautions at Sonoma have been in Turn 7, which is undergoing a reconfiguration for the Aug. 24-26 event. Instead of the looping right-hander where drivers could maintain speed, they will now encounter a hairpin similar to Turn 11.
Other modifications include:
• The entrance to Turn 11 will be extended 200 feet before drivers encounter the hairpin. This will give drivers more space to out-brake each other and set up a passing opportunity before the right-hand Turn 12. The geometry of the modified Turn 11 will mirror the shorter turn used for the IZOD IndyCar Series in previous years.
• The exit of Turn 9 (aka The Bus Stop) will be widened by 10 feet to 50 feet on drivers' left.
The IZOD IndyCar Series circuit 2.31 miles (it had been 2.303 miles) and 12 turns. The race distance will increase from 75 to 85 laps.
"The track's changing, which I'm looking forward to," said Mid-Ohio winner Scott Dixon, who won at Sonoma in 2007 and has three other top-five finishes. "I think it's going back to a situation where we can do a little bit better with bigger braking zones and things like that. It's one of those races that we need to definitely sharpen up on, yet we're coming with a new car so it could be totally different."
Dixon will join most of the projected field of 27 for testing Aug. 17 on the circuit.