Track Talk: IndyCar Grand Prix
When the announcement for the inaugural IndyCar Grand Prix was made in the fall of 2013, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles immediately revealed changes to the layout used from 2000 to 2007 for the Formula One United States Grand Prix.
While the clockwise-direction of the Formula 1 design was maintained, various corners were removed or altered to increase the opportunities to overtake. The first chicane at the end of the long front-straightaway was moved further down the track and tightened to encourage more aggressive outbraking maneuvers. The turns five through seven horseshoe was eliminated, in favor of a fast left-right chicane that leads the drivers onto a longer, and faster Hulman Boulevard backstretch.
The unpopular double hairpin behind the Hall of Fame Museum was changed to an easier right-left section and the entry to the so-called “Snake Pit” complex inside turn one of the oval was widened. The output from the adjustments has varied. Passing remains difficult; however, the change-overs have allotted three fair chances to gain position per lap.
A critical factor in this event every year is surviving turn one on the opening lap. The narrower confines have bitten pilots who are too eager to make a big move on the initial circuit and has even seen some get squeezed into the outside wall in preparation for the chicane, a hand Tony Kanaan was dealt in 2016.
Based on the advantage/danger factor at turn one, exiting the Snake Pit cleanly at the end of the previous lap is critical to success, as is mastering the tricky switchback onto Hulman Boulevard. While ignoring the urge to lift off the throttle in the negotiation of the latter is critical, the curbs here and at several major corners are unusually high, and can launch cars and drivers who get too brave. Although lowered a touch to prevent the huge jump suffered by Marco Andretti in 2014, the penalty for being slightly off target can be significant.
While the two straightaways are the most common areas for ground-gaining, the short chute before the Snake Pit section offers one final desperation chance to pass. It may require a tire-smoking charge down the inside, but if one can maintain the proper line, completing the lunge can be successful. Of course, a move such as this could allow for a potential reversal of fortune entering the pit straight and the long run to turn one, due to lost momentum.
Despite Boles’ attempt to allow for charges through the field to be possible, such as Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves moves from mid-pack to runner-up honors in 2015 and 2016, qualifying has been paramount to finding the winner’s circle on Saturday. Each of the last three Verizon P1 Award recipients has crossed the finish line first after 85 laps, with current Team Penske chauffeurs Will Power and Simon Pagenaud each lifting the big trophy twice.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, does not provide the technical challenge that was witnessed last month at Barber Motorsports Park; however, it does offer a greater shot at a more competitive event that the fans may gain greater enjoyment from.
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