Overheard at Long Beach - Friday
A perfect day for racing in Long Beach Friday and everyone was delighted to be back. Let's start by taking you through a lap around Long Beach.
One of the most historic street circuits in the world. Long Beach is a good test of the driver’s ability to control the Brembo brake pedal application to get maximum speed out of the car. Driving down Shoreline Drive, the main straight, the IndyCars will go over 170 mph. From this point the drivers will slow to 70 mph in less than two seconds for the best passing opportunity on the circuit.
Turns 2 through 5 are really about the driver balancing the car with the brake pedal. Having a brake pedal that can be modulated well is crucial to get the car positioned on the right line. Braking for T9, the second-best place to pass on the track, is tricky because of surface roughness. Man hole covers, bumps, curbs and pavement changes litter this braking zone putting emphasis on drivers getting peak braking ability early in the brake zone then reducing pressure to prevent lock-ups.
The famous T11 hairpin is the last corner on the circuit, where drivers do some prolonged trail braking down to 35 mph. In 2012, IndyCar opened up the entry to the hairpin allowing enough room for cars to drive double file through the hairpin providing a late braking passing zone if drivers are brave enough.
Had a chance to chat with Simon Pagenaud about a few topics. One thing he feels strong about is reducing downforce at Indy. IndyCar has not announced the downforce levels for Indy yet, but with gains in mechanical grip over last year, he feels if they do not decrease downforce the cars will be too easy to drive meaning that the better drivers cannot make a difference in the cockpit. He is also in favor of opening up the rules more to spur competition. "I'm in favor of any competition," said Pagenaud. "I don't like spec racing." None of us do and it is one of the factors holding the series back from growing.
We also talked about the idea of getting a university involved with each IndyCar team (Related article). We discussed AR1.com's idea of IndyCar creating a program whereby each IndyCar team would hook up with an University of their choice and have students get involved with public relations (communications students), Chassis dynamics and setup (Mechanical engineering students) and body kit design (aeronautical engineering students). In fact we did not find anyone in the paddock who did not think it was a great idea. The sport's fan base is aging rapidly and the university hook will raise awareness of IndyCar to college students as well as Alumni, some of which are very wealthy.
Graham Rahal is another one who thinks the University idea would be great for IndyCar. "I'm an Ohio guy," he said, indicating an Ohio State University connection with RLL Racing would be a perfect fit. Graham has shown some signs of real speed this year but the team has had issues meaning the results have not been there.
“I think we’re really excited to be here," said Rahal. "It’s one of the most historic venues that we go to each and every year. When you look at the schedule and circle the races you want to win, of course I want to win them all, but this is one of them. I think it would be great not only to win for myself but for this guy (his father Bobby Rahal). He was close how many times? "It would be to get a win here. We’ve been close before. I remember in 2009 when I was with Newman-Haas, we were running top three and had a little pit stop miscue on our last stop. Same thing in 2008. I was running in the top three and had contact with Franck Montagny. We’ve been quick here before, we just need to get the monkey off our back. In practice 1, we had a great start to be there. Obviously with Mike (Conway) being right up there, and James just behind us. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars are pretty quick.”
Bobby Rahal explained why blu eCigs have come here on the Mike Conway car “As part of our agreement with blu eCigs, they wanted to come here, and we wanted to be here with them. It’s an exciting product to be associated with. This is a much bigger program and we’re proud to accommodate with them. We had the chance to put out a third car. It made sense to start to put together a team for the third car. Pleased with the start, for sure, but we have a long way to go. I was telling Marshall Pruett earlier that we need to come off the trailer better and I think we have. It’s going to be close, but a good start for the day.”
AJ Allmendinger's primary sponsor for this weekend is team owner Roger Penske as the car has 'Penske' on the sidepods and no sponsor.
Jim Michaelian and Kevin Kalkhoven tell us they expect another great weekend of attendance numbers this weekend for the 39th running of the event. Kalkhoven also agrees that a connection with Universities to help the sport grow with younger fans is a good idea. He is not so keen on body kits because he feels they will all copy each other and be the same.
Honda Motorsports boss Art St. Cyr likes the idea of a University connection with teams for IndyCar. The idea is not far off," said St. Cyr.
NTT Data will sponsor Ryan Briscoe at the Indy 500. His car will be prepared out of the same shop as Dixon's and Franchitti's car whereas Charlie Kimball's car is still being prepared out of the satellite shop. Briscoe's car will be prepared by the Grand-Am team members and Andy Brown will be the engineer. He is highly respected.
"It's obviously a very exciting time for me," said Briscoe. "Returning to where it all started for me in INDYCAR. I had a great experience with Ganassi at the Indy 500, we had a great month. I just can't wait to come back. Big thanks to Mike and Chip for giving me this opportunity. We certainly are going to hit this month and try to make the most of it."
(About racing Indy with commitment to ALMS): "I have committed myself to Level 5 racing for this year. We have a great program together with a couple of cars going to Le Mans and doing the American Le Mans Series. So for this year, with Indy with these guys, that's a huge bonus to me to add that."
(On if he is upset with the way his season is going): "No, it's just the way it went. I am definitely a very positive natured person and this gives me the opportunity to do Le Mans this year which is a huge event and otherwise I wouldn't be able to. This deal probably wouldn't have come about if things would have gone differently. So maybe this is meant to be. I'm excited. I'm very happy with the way that things are going. Every time I am in a race car, every time I am with the team, whoever it is, I just want to do my best and make my best impression and move forward."
"What Chip Ganassi racing has always been about, truthfully, is trying to have drivers at the caliber of Ryan [Briscoe] drive our race cars," said Mike Hull Managing Director, Chip Ganassi Racing. "So with that itself it is important to us to have a an accomplished, a very very well represented race car drivers. And now we have a fourth one for Indy 500. And that will help us with the partnerships we have with the drivers and the teams in order to get the most out of the extended practices we have there. Every day is a practice day there until we qualify.”
(About how the team shops work together): "They way we operate our program it's kind of like we have an underground tunnel because the information flows back and forth quite freely. I think Charlie (Kimball's) results this year proves the fact he is coming a long as a race driver and he has the same access. Quite frankly what he did at Barber is what we expect to happen every time we go racing." Mark C. reporting from Long Beach