Kanaan predicts "boring" Texas race, Dixon plays down worries
Tony Kanaan has predicted a dull race at Texas Motor Speedway this evening, but former teammate Scott Dixon says that IndyCar has put driver skill back in the equation and approves the efforts to avoid a pack race.
Last year’s Texas race saw Will Power and Scott Dixon fight a duel almost to the checkered flag until Takuma Sato made a misjudgment that wiped out Dixon and others. Earlier, Kanaan’s collision with James Hinchcliffe triggered the biggest accident of the night.
This year, with the new superspeedway kit, IndyCar has endeavored to tread the fine line between pack racing and allowing passing. A softer tire compound from Firestone theoretically should force drivers to care for their tires across a stint, with varying degrees of tire degradation helping define pitstop strategy. Meanwhile IndyCar has increased available rear wing angle to compensate for the loss of downforce caused by 95degF heat.
Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda) and Kanaan (AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet) finished 1-2 respectively in last evening’s practice session, positions they reversed on the no-tow speed charts, suggesting they will be strong should they find themselves running at the front.
Kanaan, however, was deeply unhappy about the race prospects.
“We go from a pack race to a no-passing race,” he said. “I think it's going to be boring for the fans. I don't think that's what we want to show people here. Apparently that's just my opinion. People that make the rules understand a lot more than the drivers, I guess.”
Asked by Motorsport.com if he thought increased tire degradation would help promote racing, Kanaan said: “Yeah, I think so. But you guys are going to see us running around at 190mph. I don't think that's what we're here for.
“Yeah, for sure, tire deg. I know a lot of people are debating on this or that. Yeah, it's OK for us to drive the cars because that's what we want. I just think it's too extreme right now.
On the subject of pitstop strategy being governed by tire life rather than the need to refuel, Kanaan commented: “First of all we’re going to have to check if the tires are going to survive what we're putting them through, to be honest. It's not about the wear, it's about blistering. That's become dangerous.
“It's not about who's going to be able to drive. Once it's blistered, it's gone. It's not the tire's fault. It's a product of a combination of a lot of things that they need to happen together to put a tire to that extreme. Yes, tire deg, you always going to see a tire deg. That's the way we did it in Indy. We did such a good job there.
“You know, I can have my own opinions, I can be frustrated about it because I've been around and I think it is what it is. I don't think my opinion matters. They know what they are doing, I guess. They will do whatever they want. I'll just race. Doesn't matter.
“I can complain. We complain all the time anyway.”
Dixon, after saying that his Ganassi-Honda “felt pretty good”, concurred with his former teammate that tire life would be key.
“Just trying to hang onto the tires as long as possible. I think it's going to be the key for tomorrow night. The track grip started to come up significantly from what we had earlier. I imagine halfway through the race there’s going to be a ton of grip.
Dixon played down Kanaan’s no passing message, stating: “I passed a few cars out there. I think he did, too! I think the conditions will get a lot better. The second groove I think in Turns 3 and 4 is going to come in pretty quickly; 1 and 2… we might have to wait a little longer than what we saw in the past.
“It's so tough to predict. You know, there was a bit of a group text going on earlier today between a lot of the drivers. Last year nobody predicted it was going to be a pack race. I was watching the race last night, and by the end of the first stint, it was pretty much a pack race!
“I think it's kind of a similar situation to what we found last year. Yeah, OK, the track has degraded a little bit, probably lost a little bit of grip. But Firestone in turn brought a little softer tire, which I think will help.
“We're down a good amount on downforce. IndyCar has a tough job to try to find the happy medium. Sometimes they might get it. Sometimes they might miss it. But for me personally I'd rather it be on the driver side of it and safety side of it as opposed to having a big pack race and a lot of yahoos that are trying silly things.”
Because there have been complaints from drivers over how gripless the TMS warm-up lane is at pit exit since the removal of 400-600lbs of downforce, IndyCar has decreed that drivers stay at pitlane speedlimit [60mph here] until the back straight, and Dixon observed that would have an influence over whether teams did or didn’t let tire life govern when to stop.
“I think that's kind of been traditional for Texas, said Dixon who has twice won at TMS. “But… with the pit speed being extended now, you definitely don't want to be caught out on that. You could go down definitely two laps, you might go down three. That adds a little bit more of a dynamic to it. Probably a situation that you're going to have to give yourself some room on.
“But, yeah, it's not really been a race for the past few years that you really wanted to save fuel. You run max [rich] fuel the whole time.”
At least one conclusion that united Dixon and Kanaan, who will start seventh and sixth respectively, is that in future IndyCar needs to allow drivers to practice in heat/track conditions more representative of the race itself. Yesterday’s evening practice ended at 7.15pm local time, whereas tonight’s 248-lap race starts at 7.45.
Said Kanaan: “We got put in a position that’s not fair. We haven't practiced in the conditions we’re going to have in the race, and they ask us to predict something. If you’re extremely uncomfortable at 120, 130 degrees track temp, you going to race tomorrow night, it's going to be 40 degrees cooler. It's kind of hard to predict. It's hard to give anybody feedback on what's good or bad.
Dixon, aware that NASCAR Trucks occupies the Friday evening slot at TMS, suggested extending the event to three days.
“The biggest discussion I've had was that we need to try and practice when we race,” he said. “That's the biggest key. Obviously tonight wouldn't work. In the future, we could run Thursday night, take Friday off, whatever we need to do, but run at a time when the car is actually going to be running the race.”
Dixon sympathized with IndyCar trying to keep the drivers and fans happy, but was grateful that the cars will be hard to handle.
“It's still difficult for everybody to hit it right. Some people want it to be a pack race, some don't,” he commented. “But I think the cars need to be difficult to drive. It's not about the chances you're taking, it's about having a good car, working on a good car, making it a little more difficult to drive.
“We'll see. By the last half of the race, it could be very much like last year. I hate to predict how the race is going to be because I've been wrong many times and it can shift that quickly. I talked to T.K. earlier. I said, ‘Last year nobody thought it was going to be a pack race, and lo and behold first stint it was a pack race.
“We'll see. The track temp is just so critical here.”
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