Overheard at St. Petersburg – Saturday wrap

It was a picture perfect day Saturday in St. Petersburg and a nice crowd was on hand.

Although the new IndyCar aero kits have a lot of bits and pieces, only a small number of them are adjustable. The remainder are fixed and cannot be tampered with in anyway. The rear wing of the Honda for example, has two movable elements (out of three) and each front wing has one. Rumor has it that the speedway aero kits have less elements and the rear wing is very small.

Speaking of the rear wing, did you know that with the old aero package the rear wing was set at minus 10 degrees in qualifying for the Indy 500? Yes, the rear wing was actually creating lift because the underbody was creating more downforce than was needed. By creating lift on the rear wing to offset some of the excess downforce, you unload the suspension and drivetrain, thereby, freeing the car up to roll off the turn with higher RPM.

We hear that most of the engineers start with a setup that has the center of downward pressure that the car's aerodynamics generate about 2% behind the center of gravity of the car, and then they tweak from there.

With the loss of underbody downforce, and more reliance on the air over the car for downforce, look for the cars to not be able to run as close behind another car through the corners because the turbulence is going to upset the air over the car creating a larger loss in downforce than they had before when the underbody was a bigger factor.

Did you know that with the aero kits, the number of engineers assigned to a car by the manufacturer has doubled? Now they have one engineer for the engine and one for the aero package. While the teams do not share aero data with other teams, the engineers supplied by the manufacturer do trade notes at the end of each day and if you are struggling they might suggest trying something that is working for another team.

We hear that Stefan Wilson has no deal going for a ride this year, and he working as a driver coach in the Road-To-Indy series.

Spotted former IndyCar team owner Eric Bachelart roaming the pit lane. He’s not running a car in any race series right now, but he is keeping tabs on IndyCar in case the opportunity presents itself. He lives in nearby Fort Myers, Florida.

We polled 10 people on pit lane today. The question we asked, as the IndyCars raced by on the pit straight. What do you hear? Car after car would go barreling down the straight and we asked, does that sound have a ‘wow’ factor? Absolutely not came reply after reply. The cars don’t scream like they used to, so quiet you can talk to someone without even raising your voice. We turned and looked up into the grandstands and saw a few fans falling asleep during qualifying. This idea of high-tech engines is the biggest mistake open wheel racing has ever made.

The IndyCars and F1 cars of today have lost that ‘wow’ factor, you know what we mean – when a car makes you step back from the fence as it passes. As 10-year old kid I remember driving up to Watkins Glen to see my first F1 race. We were stuck in traffic miles from the track, but when the cars went out on the track I could hear that 'scream' from that far away as it bounced off the surrounding mountains, and I said to my father, "holy cow dad, what are we going to see."

When we got to the track I was totally blown away.

That is the magic that has been lost and why open wheel racing has an aging 'old man' fan base. The 'wow' factor is gone in F1 too, and the TV ratings are plummeting. Bernie Ecclestone predicted this would happen when F1 switched to the current engine formula that not a single fan wanted.

Racing does not need hybrid engines. In fact it really does not need turbocharged engines either. You do not need a race track to do R&D for passenger cars, there are plenty of test facilities for that. Just pop a screaming 15,000 RPM naturally aspirated engine in the back of the next generation IndyCar (2018) and the sky is the limit for the series. But it won't happen because there is no leadership in IndyCar that really understands the root cause of the problem.

We hear that Conor Daly is trying to put together two deals, one for the Indy 500 and then maybe one for the last 3 or 4 races of the season. We hear he and his manager is working with a sponsor trying to get a deal done for Indy first.

Contrary to other reports, Sage Karam does indeed have a broken hand according to his father Jody, who we bumped into in the paddock Saturday. Dr. Terry Trammel had a carbon fiber brace made for him and shipped to Karam in Florida.

Strategy will play an even bigger role than ever before on race day. "It'll be interesting to see if one kit uses more fuel than another," said owner Michael Andretti, whose Andretti Autosport team uses Hondas. "You're definitely going to be using more fuel because you're going to use more throttle because you're going to be going quicker through the corners. Can you coast more, (is there one car) where maybe you can't because the drag is going to be more?"

Another factor is tire wear; each team gets three sets of black-walled Firestone tires and three sets of red sidewalls.

"It's a lot more difficult at the moment to get a good balance with the car," said Allen McDonald, the engineer at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for 2013 St. Petersburg champion James Hinchcliffe, whose team also runs Hondas. "If you have a big lack of front grip or rear grip, you tend to wear that tire out."

Team Penske president Tim Cindric, also the strategist for defending race and series champion Will Power, said tire wear on black tires on their Chevrolets wasn't as bad as feared in practice. But this year's increased speeds alter strategy, too. "The (pit) windows are going to get narrower than they were before," Cindric said, adding that three stops is still ideal. Mark C. reporting from St. Petersburg

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