On a sunny but chilly day in October, six Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had their sights set squarely on next May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Four Indianapolis 500 winners – Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Alexander Rossi (2016) and Will Power (2018) – were joined by Ed Carpenter and Graham Rahal for a test Wednesday on the 2.5-mile oval to confirm the Firestone tire specification for the 2019 Indy 500 and try out aerodynamic parts to see if they improved the handling of cars running in groups.
“I think everything went well,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR vice president of competition/race engineering, who oversaw the six-hour test along with INDYCAR Director of Aerodynamic Development Tino Belli and INDYCAR Technical Director Kevin Blanch.
“The test went very smoothly and efficiently,” Pappas continued. “Everybody worked well together. Again, it shows the effort that Firestone, INDYCAR and the teams are making to make the series better. We’re very, very happy with the way the day turned out.”
The first two-plus hours of the test were spent confirming that Firestone’s tire specification for the 2019 race – first tested at IMS in August – still worked well after an RPE penetrant had been applied to the track surface in between the tests. The Firehawk tire spec received rave reviews.
“The ’19 (tire) is much more consistent, it’s much easier to feel what it’s doing, the grip level is up, which we need mechanical grip,” said Dixon, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda who claimed his fifth series championship a month ago. “Firestone, to be honest, has done a very, very good job.”
Dixon added that the tire specification could also benefit racing at other ovals including Pocono and Iowa.
The drivers spent the afternoon running together, testing the tires and different aero bits and wickers to see if they made running in traffic more stable. One of the primary criticisms from this year’s Indy 500, which saw the first superspeedway use of the universal aero kit, was the difficulty of being the trailing cars in larger groups. Pappas said Firestone’s new spec made a massive difference.
“The ’19 tire that we tested in August (and again on Wednesday) was overwhelmingly the biggest factor to improve the competitiveness of the pack from second back to sixth,” Pappas said.
While further analysis will be done on the aero parts tested, they could be made available in the 2019 superspeedway package to give teams incrementally added downforce, allowing more options for setups.
“The 2019 options – tire and aero – that we came here with were certainly a step better than last year, so that’s obviously a positive thing,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport. “How that equates in May, when ambient and track temperatures are a lot different, is going to be a mystery for all of us. But something good now won’t be bad (in May), it just won’t be as good.
“Everyone’s working hard to make sure that the 103rd Running is definitely kind of more of what we’re used to and something that all the teams, drivers and fans can be happy with.”
The drivers were unanimous in saying any day they get to drive an Indy car on the IMS oval is a good day.
“It was actually fun,” Power said. “It’s easy to follow (other cars in traffic) and I was enjoying myself there. I kind of wanted to keep going. It’s good to get a bit of offseason practice in for the 500.”
The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is also eager to return in May as the defending champion of both IMS races – the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course and the Indy 500 on the iconic oval.
“I can’t wait to come back here and defend the crown,” Power said. “Both crowns – the road course and the 500. I love driving into this place, man. Just love it, love it.”
While the day was enjoyable and incident-free, the drivers also knew their work was important.
“At the end of the day, this is the biggest race in the world so we’re trying to make it more exciting for the fans,” said Kanaan, driving the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. “Not that it hasn’t been, but there is always room for improvement. We tried a couple things and we had some fun today. It’s always nice to be back here.”
The 2019 IndyCar Series season consists of 17 races, starting with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. The INDYCAR Grand Prix is set for May 11 and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 takes place on May 26. Ticket information for both IMS races is available at IMS.com.