Will notorious track seams affect IndyCar season finale?
One driver described them as canyons. Another called them treacherous. Another said they were troublesome, but not any worse than last year.
|AR1.com president Mark Cipolloni drove the Fontana track in 1999 in a CART Driving 101 IndyCar |
Without question, though, Saturday's IndyCar season finale at Auto Club Speedway will be affected by the track's notorious seams.
"I don't think it's gotten any worse over the last 12 months, but certainly it's the biggest challenge of this race track," James Hinchcliffe told USA TODAY Sports after Friday's qualifying session. "It makes these cars very edgy to drive with the downforce levels we're running."
The seams are separations in the asphalt that run parallel to the cars. The feeling of changing lanes across the seams is akin to changing lanes from one surface to another in a road construction zone.
|"I can attest to the seams," said Cipolloni. "They were bad back in 1999 and they remain bad today. No one warned me about them and on my warm-up lap on the backstraight I was adjusting my mirror and a seam shot me to the right. I caught the car just before hitting the wall. After that I was ready for them. Once I was running 100% throttle the downforce made them not as bad, but I did my best to straddle them whenever possible. That's Eugene one of the instructors on the left. He said we would keep going faster as long as I could keep up. And faster we went until the car would not go any faster. I only averaged 180+ mph (car was governed) but it certainly was a blast."|
|AutoRacing1.com archive photos|
"They're terrible, man," said Marco Andretti, who qualified eighth-fastest but had the fastest lap in Friday's late practice session. "That's the character of this place, for sure. It can really catch you out. Cars are all over the place."
Drivers praised track officials for a grinding project that smoothed some harrowing bumps near the entry of Turn 3, but said the seams are still an issue.
"They're not great, but that's how Fontana is," Josef Newgarden said. "The bumps on the backstretch are much better. They did a nice job of grinding that down. It's a little more manageable, but you still have to battle the seams through the corner."
Two crashes during Friday's early practice session — involving Pippa Mann and Takuma Sato — were blamed on the seams. AJ Allmendinger, who encountered the same issue while finishing 16th in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the track in March, said the seams are exaggerated by the speed, downforce and lighter weight of Indy cars.
"It's the same issue," Allmendinger said. "You still try to run in between them and find that lane to run in through the corner and stay in that lane. The car itself moves around a lot more. In a way, there's a lot more room for error with speeds this high."
The two-mile oval hasn't been resurfaced since it opened in 1996. Some drivers are calling for it.
"It's one of two things — it's either resurfacing the track or we switch our downforce rules," Hinchcliffe said. "We're not in any rush to get back to pack racing, so realistically the only fix is resurfacing the track." USA Today