IndyCar aces OK with aero tweaks, unsure on engine battle

Four former Indy 500 winners believe IndyCar’s aerodynamic modifications will improve racing at Indy, but as yet are uncertain whether Chevrolet or Honda have the performance edge.

Will Power, who ended the day fastest for Team Penske-Chevrolet, admitted that his P1 speed was the result of a “big tow… trying to catch that train.” But he also said the car felt more settled in traffic through the turns, too.

“As far as traffic I felt pretty good just running with two or three cars in front. Felt more comfortable than I have for a while. That was promising, but I think cooler conditions [ambient max today was 72degF] can make everything feel pretty good. I think when the heat comes it'll certainly change everything and become harder to follow.

Read Also:

“But I think adding that downforce is certainly going to help the racing. I think you're going to have one of the old-style races where the front three are just swapping positions constantly because you can follow so close now.

“I think, it's good for the fans. I think they needed that after last year's race and so that makes it much better in traffic. Yeah, so far it feels really good.”

Former Penske teammate and two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya, now at Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet, hasn’t started Indy since 2017 and sounded less impressed.

“It looks like the forecast is going to get hotter this week and next week,” he said, “so that's going to make it even harder. I don't know, they say that it's better now with the new improved aerokit to follow people, but I still find it pretty difficult to be honest.

“You know when you have one car it's not an issue or two cars you can track and pass, but when you're behind five, six cars, it's like, ‘good luck’.

Power clarified: “I feel the same. Once you get back in that train… it's always been that way. It's just so hard in all that dirty air. That's the game. It's kind of hard in practice to understand, too, because you've got people checking up, you've got guys coming out on different fuel loads and new tires and old tires, so you don't know where people are setup-wise or tire-wise.

“You honestly don't get a very good idea until race day how it will truly race.”

Montoya later added: “I think they improved the car, but if you look at the guys when you run in a pack, the top three guys, as Will said earlier, can pass each other and you look really racy. You drop to sixth or seventh and you're like praying for dear life.”

Andretti Autosport-Honda’s 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was second fastest today, also sounded the note of caution regarding track conditions drastically changing the handling of the cars.

“The car was good today. Just got through a checklist, kind of usual first-day stuff. Got a good lap. Thought it was going to be good enough, but Will had to pip me there. But that was a pretty good practice lap. We usually don't focus on that type of stuff, we just kind of fell into it and rolled with it, but the car seemed good in traffic.

“But these conditions are really nice right now, and the heat is coming later in the week, so it's going to get a lot harder for all of us. Setups are probably going to change, as well…

“I think you have to look at the forecast and kind of keep things in perspective. On a day like this you kind of put that in the notebook as, OK, we can pull this back out if conditions are similar to this when we go racing. But it looks very much like what we did today is going to have nothing to do with qualifying … When the track temp gets up over about 110, 115, things go upside down in a hurry and you've got to start looking for grip that you may not find. Yeah, these conditions are pretty fat today.”

None of these three drivers felt they had gotten a good read on how the fight between Chevrolet and Honda might evolve, with the two Chevrolet drivers suggesting they might be quicker at the end of the straights, but with Honda faster from lower down the rev range.

I think they're pretty even, just based on today,” said Power. “If you're following a Honda, they're a little better if they check up to then get up to speed. But yeah, we won't know until qualifying. Obviously that's a different boost level [1.5-bar instead of 1.3-bar]. I think it's all so close now that it's almost coming down to how you prepare the car.

Hunter-Reay interjected: “We had the same opinion about you guys. We thought the Chevys got up a little bit better.”

Montoya, who drove a normally aspirated 3.5-liter V8 Oldsmobile engine to Indy 500 victory in 2000 with Ganassi, but the current spec Chevrolet 2.2-liter twin turbo V6 for his win in 2015, concurred with Power on the relative engine characteristics, but explained why it was so hard to read.

“I was telling Will that it seems like they [Honda] recover a little better than us off the corners, but I would say probably at the moment what we're showing and what they're showing, we're a little better at the end of the straight.

“But until they put those race engines in and everybody really shows everything it's hard to tell. You might be doing a long run and somebody comes out and looks really good but they've got 10 laps less on their tires. Unless you got on the same lap and you take the reading over whatever laps you want to run – 20, 25 laps – then you really don't know where you stand.”

shares
comments

Related video

Indy 500: Former winners dominate first day of practice

Previous article

Indy 500: Former winners dominate first day of practice

Next article

What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1?

What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1?
Load comments
The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness Prime

The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness

Long-awaited wins for ex-Formula 1 drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen in IndyCar and IMSA last weekend gave F1 a reminder of what it is missing. But with the new rules aimed at levelling the playing field, there’s renewed optimism that more drivers can have a rewarding result when their day of days comes

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history Prime

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history

Helio Castroneves’ overwhelming vivaciousness outside the cockpit belies a hardcore racer who knows how to plot his moves – and then recall it all for us. A day after his fourth Indy 500 win, Helio explained his tactics to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Jun 2, 2021
How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status Prime

How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status

Helio Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with the most Indianapolis 500 wins after sweeping around the outside of Alex Palou on the penultimate lap in a thrilling climax. In one race, he validated Michael Shank's and Jim Meyer's faith in him, and Helio himself discovered there's life after Penske after all.

IndyCar
Jun 1, 2021
Indy 500 preview: Will experience or youth be victorious? Prime

Indy 500 preview: Will experience or youth be victorious?

A quarter of the drivers racing in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500 are former winners - but are they the favourites? The veteran drivers largely impressed in qualifying - but there's also a plethora of young guns looking to secure victory at IndyCar's flagship race...

IndyCar
May 25, 2021
What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1? Prime

What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1?

The FIA says it wants American drivers in Formula 1, but would it take an IndyCar driver to transfer or does an American need to join the European junior ladder system to get there? By David Malsher-Lopez.

Formula 1
May 19, 2021
Why IndyCar is satisfying Grosjean’s appetite for his second life Prime

Why IndyCar is satisfying Grosjean’s appetite for his second life

After spending the majority of his 179-race Formula 1 career in middling to tail-end machinery, Romain Grosjean finds himself once again with an underdog team in IndyCar. While not without its challenges, he's relishing the more level playing field that means his Dale Coyne Racing crew can expect to claim a few scalps...

IndyCar
May 14, 2021
Why IndyCar's new aero parts should improve racing at Indy Prime

Why IndyCar's new aero parts should improve racing at Indy

Tino Belli, IndyCar’s director of aerodynamic development, believes the changes to the underside of the cars will allow them to run closer at Indy and make passes. The moment of truth comes on its biggest stage, writes David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
May 10, 2021
Colton Herta – America's next racing hero Prime

Colton Herta – America's next racing hero

Last Sunday, Colton Herta demolished his IndyCar opposition in the second round of the season. David Malsher-Lopez explains why Andretti Autosport’s youngest ace bears all the hallmarks of becoming the country’s next homegrown motorsport hero.

IndyCar
Apr 29, 2021