INDIANAPOLIS — Preparations for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge will accelerate during an NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval test on Wednesday, Oct. 28 and Thursday, Oct. 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Drivers testing include six-time and 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, two-time and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, two-time series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske, one-time series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, three-time Indianapolis 500 polesitter Ed Carpenter of Ed Carpenter Racing and 2020 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP.
Wednesday’s test will run from 11 a.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET. Testing on Wednesday will be Newgarden (Chevrolet) and Sato (Honda). Also, Scott McLaughlin will get track time to complete his Rookie Orientation Program in advance of next year’s race.
Thursday’s session will start an hour early (10 a.m. ET) and last until 6 p.m ET. This session will feature Newgarden and Sato as well as Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Carpenter and O’Ward.
Fans are welcome to watch testing for free both days from the Turn 2 viewing mounds. Face coverings must be worn at all times and proper social distancing must be adhered to. No food or drinks will be allowed on the mounds. The Turn 2 viewing mounds will be the only part of the facility open to spectators.
All visitors to IMS must enter via Gate 2 off 16th Street and will be subject to temperature screening. Fans are encouraged to follow the IMS social media accounts for weather updates on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wednesday will be the better day of the test with highs in the upper 50’s but cloudy and cool conditions too. Temps won’t make it into the 50’s until afternoon lunch.
Thursday, currently shows a 100-percent chance of rain and in the high 40’s. Friday on loks great though will temps in the low to mid 50’s until next Tuesdsay before we get into the low to mid 60’s from Wednesday on. All those days have sun filled skies forecasted.
Where this is crucial is, INDYCAR, the manufacturers, Dallara and Firestone are trying to accumulate data to help tighten the field up a bit for next year’s race. This past August, didn’t feature a lot of passing due to how difficult the cars were to handle with the addition of the Aeroscreen.
After record breaking years in terms of lead changes from 2012-2017, when the new car came out in 2018, it made passing more difficult. You didn’t get that slingshot action up front with the prime position on track not being in the lead.
But, with the UAK, track position became more prevalent again.
Between 2012 and 2017, the six year span saw at the very minimum 34 lead changes each race. It’s gone downhill after with 30 in 2018, 29 in 2019 and 22 this past year.
Also, in that same five year span, just once did the race winner come from a top 10 starting position. With the UAK, we’ve had all three winners start on the front row.
While Jay Frye has always said that passing should be hard and the leader should have an advantage, they cars have separated a little more for their liking from one another.
This test is to reel them back in a bit but not go to the extreme of the era from 2012 through 2017 though too. There’s a happy medium in there and that’s what they’re trying to accomplish by this test.
The Aeroscreen made it hard to find the edge. Drivers were saying this past August that with the Aeroscreen, that air movement that you used to feel inside of the car to feel the danger zone was no longer feasible.
“You lose an element of sense,” said Santino Ferrucci. “With the Aeroscreen, you no longer have a sense with your head. With that, you don’t have the air, the feeling how close you are behind a car, the sound and that sixth sense. Without it, we can get really close to cars in that one second gap but what happens is, you actually can’t feel the air when it washes you out and can’t catch the car. So, a lot of us have been really close to sliding out and hitting the wall in Turn 1, Turn 4, so it’s mainly because of that missing feel.”
Graham Rahal agreed with that, telling me you can’t find the limit of these cars due to that.
Here’s what the drivers said about the Aeroscreen and the potential it had for the race on media day this past year.
“Yeah I think it seems to pull up pretty effective,” said Scott Dixon. “I think still four, five cars back is going to be pretty tough. I think it’s still going to be the typical track position race we’ve seen the last few years. Restarts are going to be important, things like that.
“I think definitely for the first three cars you feel that a little more. Again, I think as you move further through the pack, it just depletes a little bit more. I think it is there, especially the car out front is pretty much a sitting duck right now.”
James Hinchcliffe, who was quickest on opening day, also agreed with Dixon.
“Honestly initial thoughts are quite good,” said the popular Canadian driver who was chasing his first Indy 500 crown. “Kind of like Scott said, it felt fairly normal. You’re still getting used to the lack of kind of wind noise, the difference in where the air sort of hits you, how you feel it. In terms of the car, the handling, handling in traffic, it was pretty similar. It didn’t do anything kind of unpredictable or freaky.
“As far as the quality of the racing, it’s still early days. Like Scott said, once you’re kind of fourth, fifth back in line, it starts getting a lot trickier. The track got a decent amount hotter this afternoon when everybody was out there doing a group run. It’s still day one. We still have a lot of rubber to lay down before we get to the race. Hopefully that will help.
“There were a couple times I felt like the runs were maybe a little bit strong, that effect was a little bit stronger than what we’ve had in the last couple years. That is one of the complaints we have had, that you get a good run off the corner, really close to a guy, and just not quite pull up all the way.
“Had a few today that felt like we were pretty decent. Unfortunately the guy was also in a four-car draft so I wasn’t able to get around him. It was nice to at least get that feeling.
“Like Scott said, the guy up front is almost going to be the slowest car on track compared to the next couple behind him.”
Hinchcliffe’s former roommate Conor Daly agreed with both Hinch and Dixon.
“I definitely won’t beat around the bush, they don’t race well,” said Daly. “It’s tough. It’s hard to know if it’s the Aeroscreen that’s making it a little bit worse. Probably is. That’s the only difference and only variable.”
Daly’s teammate in this race last year, Ryan Hunter-Reay, says that they expected it to be different than last year package but that’s because of the Aeroscreen too.
“We expected it to be a different car,” said the 2014 Indy 500 champion. “It’s a big piece of equipment deflecting the air differently. It’s heavier. It’s making more disturbed air which is making for a bigger draft but again with less grip in the corners with less downforce it’s making it tough.
“Passes are tough to come by. The cars are really light in the corners because of that.”
Last year’s runner-up finisher and the 2016 race winner echoed what everyone else said.
“It’s going to be a track position race, for sure,” said Rossi. “It’s going to be really hard to pass and really hard to get runs, so I think qualifying is going to be extra important this year. I feel pretty good about that.”
Last year’s Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, the one to beat Rossi across the yard of bricks, said even his car has been affected in traffic too.
“Suffering with quite a bit of understeer in traffic,” Pagenaud said. “I think that’s the case from everybody from the onboard I’ve watched.
“It’s a little harder to close up for some reason. I don’t know if it’s because we have a little bit more drag on the cars due to the excess weight with the Aeroscreen. It will be what it will be.”
So many may wonder how passing up front will be easier than in the back? It’s all about the invisible bubble. See, the cars from fourth on back, they have all that dirty air in wake. Think of it as when on a boat, the waves behind the boat are choppier. That’s what’s happening here. If you can get close enough to the boat, the water is calmer, but the further back you get, the waves are rougher.
That’s what’s happening on track. If you’re behind the rough water, it’s hard to get into the rough water and have your car handle right. That makes it harder to push your way up into the bubble of calmer water to get a good tow to get around that car in front of you.
Up front, the choppier seas are behind you, so the second and third place cars can take advantage of the drag from the Aeroscreen that’s causing the leader to pull back into them.
So, you need to just remain in that bubble in wake of the car in front of you and if you can, passing can happen. If you fall behind it, so far it’s showing that it’s going to be hard to close up to the front again.
“It is extremely challenging to overtake,” said Takuma Sato, who ended up winning the race. “I think two things happening. Obviously, like I said, the Aeroscreen is obviously a great safe device, but a big chunk of the weight on the higher part of the car is affected physically for the car. We lost quite a lot of grip and aero efficiency.
“Secondly, I think IMS did a great job in terms of the treatment for the track surface. It’s got more grip. I think it’s a consistent grip made the tire last longer. Let’s say 30 laps of the stint, used to be we had more degradation higher. Today with the conditions, it was actually very good, small degradation. Actually make it even more difficult to overtake.
“You can still follow it, but once you get to follow, getting really, really close, you have a massive washout, then we are starting to slide. That’s making it very difficult. But still I think up at the very front you’ll be able to swap the leader change. But third car onwards, I think it’s extremely difficult to overtake.”
Sato was asked if this package was around in 2017, would he have been able to overtake Helio Castroneves in the end of that race for the win?
“I think it’s probably even more difficult with this year’s car, the circumstance,” said Sato. “I think the guy leading the pack who always have air in front of you. I think the guy in second have always opportunity to overtake relatively easier compared to in the pack. I think third car is extremely difficult.
“If you’re in sixth place, going to the last 10 laps, extremely important to get earlier into the pack in the front because otherwise you will get no chance. That is probably the biggest difference from previous year to this year. I think track position last stint you need to go by top six. I think it’s very, very important.
“The most important thing is on the last stint where you are in track position, which you can make it my strategy, I think millions way you can do that.
“Still bottom line is you need to be sixth in last 10 laps, otherwise difficult to win.”