2 TESTS BUT FIRST RACE AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Legacy Credit Union will mark the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series race here. The series held open tests at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course prior to...
2 TESTS BUT FIRST RACE AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK
The Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Legacy Credit Union will mark the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series race here. The series held open tests at the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course prior to the 2009 and 2010 seasons. It will also be the first race of the season on a permanent road course after the previous two rounds have taken place on street courses. Cold temperatures at this year's test here in late February delayed the start of running each day but the team was able to get through a good portion of their work list. Formula Dream/Panasonic driver Hideki Mutoh feels that after two more practice sessions the team should be better-prepared to earn a good starting position in qualifying on Saturday morning. "For sure we made progress at the test over the lap times from last year but there is room for more improvement. We still are not perfect but there are two sessions before qualifying so I think that will be enough to get ready for it. At the test, it took quite a while to get up to speed because it was so cold but I don't think that will be the case this time. But I think the car setup will be quite similar so it won't matter much that the temperatures were very different when we tested there before."
THE MECHANICS OF IT ALL
Todd Phillips is in his eighth season with the team this year and third in the role of chief mechanic. He was promoted to chief mechanic for Graham Rahal in May 2008 and worked with him through the 2009 season. He is currently working in the same capacity with Hideki Mutoh this year, his 15th in auto racing. Through his career, he has worked on cars piloted by Robby Gordon, Scott Pruett, Oriol Servia, Cristiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Briscoe, Alex Figge and Justin Wilson in addition to Rahal and Mutoh. Following is a Q&A with Phillips.
Compare the approach to accomplishing the setup on the race cars now at the beginning of Year 3 in the IZOD IndyCar Series as opposed to the one month notice we had for Year 1. b^0x001cThe approach to the setup from the first month to now has changed with the fact that we can do a rough setup as we build the cars on highstands based off of our database of setups. Whereas in the past we would just build the cars and learn as we went along. It is much easier now due to having the knowledge that we've gathered and the understanding of how adjustments affect the Dallara."
Since we joined the IZOD IndyCar Series and began work on the Dallara, how much easier is it to accomplish mechanical changes than before? "I would say mechanical changes are probably 50 percent easier to accomplish since we joined the series based off of our knowledge of the car and the experience of the team."
What is the work flow at the shop versus work flow at the race track? Where have we made the most improvements in terms of the preparation of the cars and etc? "Typically, the work flow at the shop is a little busier than at the track as we prepare the cars. An ideal workflow at the track is simple although that can change very quickly! I would say we've made the most improvements just in gaining knowledge of the Dallara. Given the team has been racing for 25+ years, the infrastructure was already in place for mechanical preparation. In terms of things I oversee, I would say that we've improved in just about all areas since 2008. Updating our equipment in the two off-seasons since then has made a big difference. We are able to set up the cars, build and repair them much more efficiently now that we have the appropriate equipment to do so."
What is your opinion of the IndyCar Series' grouping of road/street and ovals this season? How has this helped you? "I like the grouping of the different types of circuits because it allows us to be more consistent in our preparation and it saves us time as there are fewer components to change over."
What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like best about your job? "The biggest challenge of my job is organization. Staying ahead and being prepared is very important. The best thing I like about my job is being able to prepare a reliable and competitive car."
What are some of the things you would like to see incorporated into a new Indy car that would help you perform your job better and would be good for the fans? Things you have seen on cars you have worked on or things you have heard about or could be created? "I think one of the things I would like to see on a new Indy car is to have the front dampers on the top of the chassis as opposed to the bottom. This would allow us to work on them much more efficiently. I would also like to see smaller turbo charged engines return because I think that would give the fans something to relate to."
NHR / NHLR ON ROAD AND STREET COURSES
Since being formed by Carl Haas and Paul Newman in the fall of 1982, the team has earned a total of 107 wins and 109 pole positions. Eighty of their 107 wins and 90 of their 109 poles came on road and street courses. The team's previous win on a road/street course was in Detroit by Justin Wilson on 8-31-08. Their previous pole on a road/street course was in the St. Pete season opener last year by Graham Rahal (4-4-09). Nine of the 17 races on the 2010 schedule are on road and street courses.
Hideki Mutoh, driver of the No. 06 Formula Dream/Panasonic Dallara-Honda-Firestone entry:
HIDEKI AT BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK
This will be Hideki's first race here and his third event with the team after having driven for Andretti Green Racing, co-owned by former NHR driver Michael Andretti, for the past two seasons. Mutoh progressed to Round 2 of qualifying at the previous race and hopes to better his highest qualifying and finishing position on a road/street course of fifth -- both of which came at the 2009 event at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma in 2009. He also finished fifth at Mid-Ohio in 2009. Mutoh's overall highest series start is THIRD at Nashville Speedway (oval) and best overall series finish is SECOND (Iowa 2008; oval).
HIDEKI UP FRONT
Mutoh has led 74 laps in his IZOD IndyCar Series career and all of those took place on an oval (Richmond 2009). At the previous race -- the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg -- Mutoh was in second place between the Team Penske cars of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves for eight laps and, had a caution flag not come out, might have led his first laps of a road/street race when Briscoe, on a different pit sequence, made his next pit stop under green. Mutoh hopes to run up front this weekend as well. "It was good to run up front in St. Pete. I think Briscoe (leader to second place Mutoh) was saving fuel a little bit and I was too so we didn't push for maximum speed much but still I was able to follow him at the same pace and kept Helio behind me, which I couldn't last year so that was good. For sure I am more confident now. We hope to keep the Formula Dream/Panasonic car running up front."
ON BARBER AND ITS SIMILARITIES TO SUGO IN JAPAN
"The Barber Motorsports track is nice," said Mutoh. b^0x001cI enjoy the elevation changes, especially in Turns 14 and 15 which is my favorite part of the track. Those turns are quite fast corners with nice elevation changes and some banking. The track has a combination of fast and slow corners but they are mostly fast which makes it a challenging, but fun track to drive. There isn't another track in the United States that I can compare it to but there is a track in Japan called Sugo. The layout isn't that similar but it also has some fast corners with some banking and uphill and downhill parts that are similar to this one. To go fast at Barber you need a car that has good traction on the exit off the slow corner but you also need rear stability for the fast corners. You need to find a compromise between those two things to go fast at Barber."
ON THE TIGHT FIELD AND THE COMPETITION
"I knew (points leader) Will (Power) was a good driver and he is with a good team so it isn't that surprising that he is doing as well as he is. He has a good lead but this season the competition is really tight. For instance, in the practice session in St. Pete there were 20 cars within one second and that's quite amazing. For sure it is very tough this season. To have a good weekend we need to get a better qualifying position because now it is really hard to overtake during the race. Your qualifying position is key."
FILL 'ER UP
Could the fuel management changes the series instigated at the beginning of the season have a big impact at the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama? "I think the fuel management change the series made has made a difference after the two races. It is more up to the driver but I think we need more time to perfectly make the most of this change and its effect on the show. At St. Pete we didn't need to save as much fuel because of the way the yellows fell so I didn't try too that much. For sure it will make an impact on some races though. Maybe it will be a big impact on the race at Barber."