Tires, not fuel, may decide strategies at Road America

IndyCar drivers are dealing with rapid tire wear around the four-mile road course this weekend, and that is throwing up a lot of unknowns for the race’s potential winners.

Tires, not fuel, may decide strategies at Road America
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Sébastien Bourdais, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Sébastien Bourdais, KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

Graham Rahal, Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais have admitted that they’re uncertain how much extra grip the red (soft] compound tires – and how long they will last around the 4.048-mile course when driven at qualifying pace or at race pace but on a full fuel load.

Said Power: “The tire never feels in the road, never feels like it has a lot of bite in the surface. That makes it interesting – and I mean, it makes it good. You really have to get your balance right and drive it right to get the lap times.

“These cars are crazy fast in the corners now, especially around the Carousel. It almost makes you wonder if you will be flat around there [on reds]. It’s a lot of fun, I enjoy this track a lot."

The Team Penske driver went on: “The compounds are really close – the reds and blacks are only one step away from each other, so I don’t think you’ll see a huge gain on reds. And it will be even more interesting in the race. You’re seeing cords really early, after just nine laps or something. So controlling that, especially on the reds, will be important.”

Rahal concurred, saying: “With the blacks we were showing cords quite soon into the run. They did too during the test, when I was doing a brake test and a lot of long runs – 14 or 15 laps, which around here is more than a fuel stint.

“Tire degradation seems to be pretty high from the first couple of laps to laps five or six. They’re hanging in there but we don’t really know what it’s going to be like.”

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda driver, who was fastest yesterday, explained that car setups are exacerbating the issues downforce levels allow the cars to slide across the track surface in corners.

Rahal said: “Remember, around here you’re not running all the downforce you can because you need to be quick on the long straights, which then works the tire even harder in the turns.”

Power, however, observed that the drivers do still have their destinies somewhat in their hands, especially on race day.

“The tires are really good, but the curbs around here are really abrasive,” said the 2014 champion. “When you start using the curbs, it gains you time but you start tearing up the tires. So [as a driver] you can personally control that.”

KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais commented: “We had a really good test back in October on [what was] basically the Mid-Ohio tire, which we knew and were pretty familiar with. They [Firestone] decided they wanted to go to a thin-gauge tire because of blister issues on these long-duration corners.

“But when you go to a thin-gauge tire, then you don’t have much farther to wear before you get to a bad spot on the tire. It’s always that balancing between too much rubber, not enough rubber.

“Firestone feels it’s a better compromise to maybe finish a bit thinner on the tire than blistering it. It’s definitely tough to get reads. Basically when you start losing enough rubber, then you can’t sustain the heat in the tire and balance becomes very difficult to manage.

“But everybody is going through it and it’s fine.”

 

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