MADISON, Ill — It’s a one day show for the NTT IndyCar Series at the World Wide Technology Raceway this weekend. That’s a challenging feat in itself.
On Saturday, the 24 drivers had a 90 minute practice session followed by qualifying less than two hours later. Two hours after that, is the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, INDYCAR Radio Network).
For the 90 minute practice session specifically, don’t pay much attention to the speed charts. Yes, Team Penske went 1-2 with Josef Newgarden topping the session with a speed of 178.774 mph in his No. 2 Chevrolet. His teammate Scott McLaughlin was P2 at 177.669 mph. The reason though on why I feel like that session’s timing chart was irrelevant is because conditions during practice are going to be much different than the conditions later in the race.
See, it was hot and slick in practice. The race later will be at night under the lights. The cars were sliding around all session long with a lot of tire fall off. Granted, the tire deg was by design. Firestone brought a different tire over last year and it is set up to fall off quicker. The deg was sped up by the hot track temperatures.
That deg will still be around in the race, but it will come slower than in practice meaning setups are going to be altered as a result. Night races always naturally add more downforce by nature of them. The track is cooler which means by default more grip.
So, practice isn’t going to translate over who wins this race in saying that. While it could for qualifying, I say it’s still not going to be a lot since the qualifying draw is in the opposite direction on the entrant points. As an example, Alex Palou leads the points and will qualify last.
That’s an advantage the longer you go in qualifying since more and more Firestone rubber gets laid down by the lap. Plus, the guys towards the top of the entrant points are some of the fastest of the season. Its why they are where they are in points.
That’s why practice was sort of irrelevant in terms of speeds.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (177.541 mph), Graham Rahal (177.473 mph) and Scott Dixon (177.463 mph) rounded out the top five in the session.
Romain Grosjean was P11 in his oval debut after turning 72 laps in the incident free practice.
The other factor is that the cars that tested here last month seem to have a leg up because of that. Taking part in that test was all four Andretti cars, McLaughlin, as well as both Coyne, ECR and Foyt cars. Its not a fluke that out of the top six in the speed charts last month were in the top 10 in the lone practice session of the weekend.