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.

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“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.”

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