Fontana track too bumpy for IndyCars? IndyCar Series drivers Takuma Sato and Josef Newgarden were first-time visitors to Auto Club Speedway on Tuesday for a Honda test session for the upcoming MAVTV 500.
They had similar opinions about the two-mile D-shaped oval that will host the series season finale Sept. 15. They and Simon Pagenaud, a rookie like Newgarden, spent the day turning laps at the Fontana facility.
"The facility is quite impressive," said Sato, who drives for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. "This is a tricky track. I find it to be very bumpy."
It was more of the same from Newgarden, who drives for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
"It's very bumpy out there," Newgarden said, "one of the bumpiest I've ever been to."
Tom Anderson, managing director for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, has an answer as to why the track has developed more bumps since the last time the series competed at Fontana seven years ago. Anderson is no stranger to the track, having guided Adrian Fernandez to a 500-mile victory in 2004 under the CART banner.
"The ground has settled here," he said, referring to the time since the track first hosted an open-wheel race in 1997. "There are new bumps in different places than we're accustomed to.
"There's a massive amount of weight (the track) without support. This track has aged better than most; there is no extreme weather in the winter. It took 20 years at Michigan (to settle); Kentucky is still moving."
In addition to finding the bumps, the three Honda teams also were looking for speed. The practice speeds, which topped out at 210 mph, were slower than the anticipated qualifying speed, which could approach the 227 run for the pole last May at the Indianapolis 500.
"This is a research day," said Anderson, who has worked with such drivers as Bruce McLaren, Johnny Rutherford, Alex Zanardi, Jimmy Vassar and Juan Pablo Montoya during his career. "We're basically looking for a comfort zone, to be comfortable during the race, not so much for qualifying.
"When we say comfort, it's about the car doing the work for the driver. A driver can't hold his breath for 3<MD+,%30,%55,%70>1/<MD-,%0,%55,%70>2 hours."
In addition to getting familiar with the track, anticipated to be the fastest in IndyCar this year, drivers were trying to find the right amount of downforce.
IndyCar sets the downforce limits as well as other rules prior to racing.
"We experienced a difficult morning," said Sato, who challenged for the lead at the Indianapolis 500 until a last-lap crash. "We're trying to collect the right data. This is a very fast track."
Newgarden said the track was challenging, but it's been that kind of season for the rookie, who has experienced all sorts of problems.
"I would say it's been a year of huge potential, but horrendous results," Newgarden said.
"Anytime you say your best race was the first race, that's not good. This has been very frustrating." LA Daily News