Rahal: Firestone work will help make Indy 500 “an exciting show”
Although tire degradation has not been the issue at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that many predicted before practice began, Graham Rahal believes that Firestone tire behavior is consistent enough that there will be opportunities for passing throughout a stint.
Before action got underway at IMS, Simon Pagenaud’s race engineer Ben Bretzman told Motorsport.com: “The drivers are going to have to really manage their tires so they don’t fall off a cliff in the last 10 laps of a stint.
“And then there’s the dirty air issue. In recent years at Indy, we’ve seen drivers happy to run in the wake of another car to save fuel and go a lap longer on a stint, but they may want to rethink that if its causing the car to slide around and accelerating tire deg. Even the leader is going to have to think about it, too: where do you want to position the car in traffic?”
Yet last week Rahal’s teammate at Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda, 2017 Indy winner Takuma Sato, said the track surface treatment carried out at IMS last fall had helped offset the extra demands put on the tires this year by the increased weight and altered weight distribution caused by the aeroscreen. The lack of degradation, said Sato, had made it extremely tough to pass.
Rahal’s opinion falls somewhere between the two, believing Firestone has delivered the right blend of consistency through a stint and still enough
“I don’t know if it’s the pavement treatment, I don’t know if we can identify that as the fix or the improvement,” he said, “but either way, I don’t think [tire deg] has been as bad as anticipated. I think Firestone has produced a pretty competitive tire for us to go race with. They worked pretty hard on getting this car to continue rotating through the corner.
“There is a lot more weight, there is a lot more movement, there is a lot more aero disruption, but I thought last Sunday afternoon when we all turned to race running there was a lot more passing, a lot more activity than I expected.
“So I think they made the right moves and I think it’ll be an exciting show.
2008 Indy winner for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda Scott Dixon stated: “I feel like they've been really consistent. The step that Firestone made last year was pretty significant.
“I think the 2018 tire was pretty tough, especially when you got in traffic. It seemed like you would blow through it pretty quick, especially mid-turn to exit. They definitely [fixed] that in '19. For '20, it's the same tire and it’s been pretty consistent.
“You get a good maybe five, seven or eight laps where there's a little bit of grip, then it kind of falls off a little. For us at least, it's pretty much the same until you run out of fuel. Tires seem pretty good this year.”
Josef Newgarden, highest-placed of Team Penske-Chevrolet’s runners on the grid, observed: “I’d say the tire degradation is slightly worse. I think the tires are just more saturated. It doesn’t matter that the distribution is more forward. Overall the tires are working harder, and that’s some of what you saw in qualifying depending on how trimmed out you were. It was just harder to put four laps together, so we were dropping off more on the third and fourth laps than we would be normally – even people who weren’t that trimmed.
“So I think in race trim on the back end of the stint, you will see a little higher tire deg. But having said that, I don’t think you’re going to see a huge departure from last year’s race. I think the car will race very similar to last year, but just in those last 10 laps of a stint you’re going to notice a bit more degradation.”
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