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IndyCar drivers puzzled by occasional Firestone “inconsistencies”

Some IndyCar drivers have become vocal about the fact that they’re sometimes left frustrated by inconsistencies between sets of Firestone tires, following qualifying for the Gallagher Grand Prix on the IMS road course.

Firestone tire

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

Conor Daly set fastest time in Q1 Group 1 but was left frustrated when his next set of Firestone’s softer alternate rubber left him 0.2sec slower in Q2 despite there being more rubber on the track.

Alexander Rossi, who qualified second for Andretti Autosport-Honda, agreed, stating: “I think we all unfortunately will get burned by it at one point in the year. I mean, it is a thing, it does exist and it's frustrating for sure when it happens.

“Firestone for the most part does a very good job, but there certainly has been inconsistencies that have popped up, especially on the red tire, I think for the past couple of years.

Rossi’s future Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet teammate Pato O’Ward commented that he had encountered similar issues “this year and last year.” He went on: “You just never know when it's going to happen, and it's just obviously unfortunate.

“When we get it, other guys might not, but then maybe they can get it another time, but you just never really know when it's going to happen to you, so you have to obviously analyze and see if it's not an issue that wasn't that. I think everybody is on the same boat. Everybody has had it at least once some time.”

He later added: “Sometimes it works out that way and sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it feels great in the first run and then you put the other set of tires, and it's like, ‘What the heck happened?’”

Fogging the issue on the 2.439-mile Indy road course is that “this place is so temperature sensitive and sensitive to what day of the week it is apparently!” said Rossi, obliging teams to make substantial setup changes for tiny lap time improvements.

“Because we run here so much, everyone can do a lap around here,” he said, “so that's why you see the differences are hundredths. I mean, in Round 2 [of qualifying] I think four or five cars did a 70.1. It's really fine margins that you're always looking for, and sometimes to gain that tiny little bit, it's actually a pretty substantial change you have to make.”

O’Ward, who thought his car was handling very badly in this morning’s practice and Round 1 of qualifying was surprised to transfer to Q2 and ultimately the Firestone Fast Six. He pointed out that to have a car that handled well on Firestone reds meant it would be poor on Firestone blacks, the harder primary compound tires, and vice-versa.

“The problem for us at least in the past has always been that your balance on blacks has to be pretty tough to drive in order for it to be decent on reds,” he said. “It was extremely difficult to drive, like even worse than FP1 in the morning, so I was like, ‘Oh, we're in trouble.’ But they were like, ‘Man, we can't change anything.’

“I was like, you know what, I'm just going to try and pull something out of my hat to see if we can transfer, and when they told us we transferred, I was like, whew. Then we were able to make a longer change, which then put me in a way happier window for the second shot of qualifying and then that transferred us into the Fast Six.

“It's extremely tough to nail both types of tire compounds in terms of balance. You've got to be a little unhappy with one of them to excel in the other one. You always kind of want to excel on the red one because the black ain't going to transfer you anywhere unless you're a second and a half faster than anybody, which doesn't happen in the series.”

Since IndyCar started running two events on the Indy road course in 2020, it’s not been unusual to see teams excel in the Grand Prix of Indy in May and then struggle for pace at the later race, and the reverse has also been true. It’s a point to which O’Ward alluded.

“What's confusing sometimes is we were here in May, and we had a very solid qualifying,” he said. “We had a very good race until it started raining. Anyway, we had pace. We obviously come here with pretty much the same, and we're six-tenths off. But only one car is six-tenths off and the other one is OK…

“I don't know why it happens. It's very, very sensitive, and it's extremely sensitive in how you, 1), push the tire, and 2), how hard you're attacking the corners, because it's just so flat, so there's no cambers or off-cambers that you can kind of take into your advantage.

“But yeah, it's just every time we come here, it doesn't matter if it's the same track, it's always different, at least that's my experience, and I think a lot of people would agree. Maybe others don't.”

 

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