Indy 500 Pre-race Thoughts

The blog has been silent about the Indy 500 over the last couple of weeks of run up to the race.  On this “Carb Day” I’ve decided to take a shotgun approach to a blog post and just fire off a number of thoughts and opinions I’ve developed over the last two weeks. Prior apologies for typos, grammatical errors, or not making sense; I’ve been awake for over 24 hours…

Lotus has embarrassed itself and IndyCar.  Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t see HVM or Fan Force United getting very far in the race; I don’t think they can maintain a pace over 105% of the leader.  Indianapolis has pointed out just how underpowered and slow the Lotus/Judd engine is.  Lotus took a job and didn’t make the effort necessary to be in the ballpark, much less be competitive with Chevrolet and Honda.  I think that this is due to a number of factors.  First they underestimated the competition and the job at hand (and to an extent I think that Honda may have underestimated Chevrolet, but to nowhere near the extent that Lotus has erred).  Second, I think that they ran into financial and corporate problems that they didn’t expect last year.  Finally, I think that Lotus as a brand as simply spread themselves too thin over F1, various feeder series, Sports Cars, and IndyCar.

You can’t blame HVM or Fan Force United for this.  As a matter of fact I’ve gained a great deal of respect for both teams.  They’ve kept their heads down and at least in public haven’t complained.  I don’t agree with a lot of the disrespect that’s been leveled at Jean Alesi.  He’s recognized how much of a pickle he’s in and has admitted it publicly.  With what he’s been able to do with the Lotus compared to Simona Di Silvestro I have no doubt that he would be able on a par with the slower Chevrolet or Honda teams with one of those engines.  Quite simply, Lotus has let down their customers.

The Chevrolet – Honda battle at Indianapolis is going to be an interesting one.  When IndyCar turned the boost up, the Chevrolets were clearly faster.  In normal race boost settings, it seemed that Honda had the edge.  What does it mean?  I’m curious if the Chevrolet teams, in race trim, are running more downforce than the Honda teams with a possible power advantage almost making up the difference?  In the previous races, Chevrolet seemed to have an edge in fuel mileage; will that carry over to the oval races as well?  How much of a mileage advantage might they have over the course of 500 miles?

Officiating thus far in the “Month of May” has been head and shoulders above previous years.  If a Chief Steward is constantly in the limelight, it means that he’s not doing his job right.  This year, Beaux Barfield has for the most part remained out of the spotlight.  Even with the Lotus travesty he has remained more or less in the background and things have run smoothly.  In the past, rules violations and penalties were kept secret, this year when there were violations of the rules we were told which teams violated which rules and what the fines were.  Thank you IndyCar for shedding some sunshine on your rules enforcement.

That doesn’t mean I agree with all of the rules this year.  The idea to use a higher boost level for qualifying than what was used in most of practice and what will be used in the race was a gimmick.  They should have qualified with the boost settings they would race in or they should race in the boost setting they qualified in; they shouldn’t be using two different settings just to make the qualifying speeds closer to years past.

On the other hand, I agree with not granting Lotus more boost for the race to make them more competitive with Chevrolet and Honda.  Giving Lotus more boost would have opened a Pandora’s Box that haunt IndyCar for a long time to come.  Unfortunately Lotus didn’t put as much effort into developing an engine as their teams have had to put into trying to make it competitive.  Giving them extra boost would have done nothing but reward that lackluster effort.  What would have kept Honda for asking for extra boost to give them parity with Chevrolet?  Next year, if a body kit manufacturer found themselves behind the eight ball, what would keep them for asking for extra dispensation?

I have to be honest, the aesthetics of the DW12 are not growing on me but it doesn’t matter.  The DW12 has seemed to be quite good in race trim and that’s all that matters.  Cars practicing in race trim seemed to be able to draft and pass safely and competitively. Based on the practice sessions I was able to watch, I’m expecting a pretty good race.  Last year I thought the Indy 500 wasn’t as good a race as the 24 Hours of Le Mans was.  This year, I think the opposite might be true.

Based on the weather forecasts, Sunday temperatures in Indianapolis are going to be in the mid 90’s.  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is going to be hot, greasy, and slippery.  I don’t expect the horsepower differential between Chevrolet to make as much of a difference as it would in cooler conditions.  Pirelli’s slogan used to be “Power is nothing without control,” control is going to be even more important in the forecasted conditions at IMS.  Dario Franchitti said during the Indy Lights race today that the track is practically the slickest he’s ever seen it as a product of the weather.  The engineers are going to have a lot to think about between now and Sunday; I’m certainly glad I don’t have their jobs.

Folks, this should be a good one.  Tune in Sunday afternoon and watch it!

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