Bruce Martin's Saturday Edmonton Notebook

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Bruce Martin

EDMONTON, Alberta – Cost control was the topic of Saturday’s IZOD IndyCar Series team owners meeting held after the morning practice session at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport – site of Sunday’s Edmonton Indy. The team owners of the series have meetings every week to discuss issues as they arise and according to several team owners controlling costs continue to be the focus.

In a season where every team owner has had to purchase a 2012 Dallara DW12 chassis along with engine lease agreements with Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus and a new price point for the Firestone Firehawk Indy tires team owners are looking for ways to keep costs down in the IZOD IndyCar Series. And that may mean delaying any type of additional Aero Kits for another season.

“If we would look at ways to save money it’s a good idea to do that and that (Aero Kits) and that is an expense we would rather not incur right now because the startup of this year has been pretty expensive,” said team owner Dennis Reinbold of Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. “When we started out this year there were a lot of question marks about the car and a lot of concerns about it but the way it has raced up to and including the Indy 500 and post Indy has really been a pleasant surprise to everyone. The car has been really, really competitive so that is one of the factors. Do we need an Aero Kit because the racing has been great. We’ve had some of the best races we have ever had in the series.”

On June 9 at Texas Motor Speedway INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said there were some companies interested in building Aero Kits but he didn’t want to change the outstanding racing that the Dallara DW 12 has provided this season. Bernard reiterated that point at Toronto on July 8.

So far, no company has announced they are building an Aero Kit for the chassis for next season. And many of the team owners are fine with that.

“I don’t really know at this point,” Reinbold said. “If it were a question of branding I could understand the need for that. But I don’t know the level of interest right now. As a team owner, it’s an unnecessary cost. If one came out we would probably feel like we would have to buy one for a competitive advantage.”

Reinbold said all costs have to be reviewed across the board in order to keep the series with a full grid of teams and cars.

THE 10-GRID SPOT PENALTY REARS ITS UGLY HEAD ONCE AGAIN

Pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, seventh-place qualifier Will Power and 20th-place qualifier Oriol Servia have all incurred the 10-grid spot penalty for unapproved engine changes for Sunday’s Edmonton Indy.

Although Hunter-Reay will be awarded the one bonus points for the IndyCar championship for winning the pole he will be docked 10 grid positions for an unapproved engine change after his Chevrolet engine was switched coming into this weekend after Andretti Autosport said it was a mileage issue. So instead of leading the field to the green flag to start Sunday’s race at 2:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time Hunter-Reay will start from the 11th position with four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti moving over from his second-place starting position to the pole. Scott Dixon will also drop 10 spots for an unapproved engine change in Toronto and will started one spot behind Power in 18th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

Photo by: Covy Moore

It’s the second time the pole winner has been penalized this year as Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe won the pole for the April 15 Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach but had to start 11th when all Chevrolet teams made an unapproved engine change to correct an issue with the engine.

With the extra bonus point Hunter-Reay takes a 35-point lead over Team Penske’s Will Power into Sunday’s race.

Hunter-Reay’s Dallara Chevrolet was the fastest in a challenging Firestone “Fast Six” qualifying session with included a dry track, then rain and then a drying track by the time the “Fast Six” was contested. Hunter-Reay lapped the 13-turn, 2.224-mile temporary street course at Edmonton’s City Centre Airport in 1:17.2338 for a lap of 103.664 miles per hour.

It’s Hunter-Reay’s second-career IndyCar pole. His previous pole was at Milwaukee in a Champ Car Series race in 2004. It’s the 23rd pole for Andretti Autosport.

“It’s certainly unfortunate to be taking the grid penalty with our first pole this year and my first pole in a long time but 11th is better than starting 15th or 16th,” Hunter-Reay said. “We also saved a set of Firestone Reds so that was another bonus. It was a strange session from going from full-dry to full wet to a drying track on rain tires back to Reds again we really had to keep on your toes. The team gave me a great car and we really progressed over the weekend. We were out to lunch on Friday morning and to be on the pole is a huge testament to your team.

“That session was white knuckle, I’ll tell you that much. You constantly had to be on edge. The line from getting a lap in and throwing it off track was very, very small.”

Franchitti was second quick on Saturday but will be in the first starting position on Sunday. His lap was 1:17.2446 (103.650 mph) in a Dallara/Honda for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s Franchitti’s first front row start in his fourth race at Edmonton.

Ever since the 10-grid spot penalty for unapproved engine changes went into effect this season because of competition between manufacturers Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus it was designed to keep teams from changing engines every session. But in the initial season of this rule some engines have suffered issues before reaching the mileage requirement of 1,850 miles.

The intent of the rule is to keep costs down in an effort for the manufacturers to police themselves.

“You have to have something in place where you can't just change engines every session,” Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe said. “Comparing to other series, like Formula One, they have a five-spot penalty. Comparatively, five there is like 10 here. It's easier to pass here. Seems to be very mixed up all the time. I think it's been working well, honestly. We've probably seen more penalties than everyone would like to see. That will come with experience and reliability down the road. But I think you need to control it somehow for the cost and development.”

Briscoe’s teammate admits it might confuse many of the fans that come to Sunday’s race expecting to see Hunter-Reay on the pole and will instead see him 11th.

“As long as it is explained well to the fans because sometimes people don't realize that there is this type of rules,” Helio Castroneves said. “We understand. As Ryan said, it keep the costs down, competitive, all these things. Manufacturers actually are the ones that asked for these types of rules. It wasn't even the series or the drivers, so I think it's fair.”

Franchitti, however, does not like that some of these engines are also used in testing and the extra strain on those engines sometimes comes into play with this rule.

“The only modification I'd like to see is if you break your engine in testing, I don't think it's really fair,” Franchitti said. “There was a point in the middle of the year, Scott Dixon had a blow-up. A bunch of other guys had penalties like James Hinchcliffe. That I would like to see taken away. But if you blow an engine up for practice or qualifying, I think it's a fair rule.”

Alex Tagliani believes the rule is necessary, especially this season.

“If that rule would not be there, I think we would see a lot more engine changing and the costs would skyrocket,” Tagliani said. “It's a good point that Dario is making. You need to go testing. Right now with the rule the way it is, everybody is afraid of testing, because if something happens in testing, you get penalized in race weekends.”

And the driver that suffers the biggest penalty this weekend is Hunter-Reay, who goes from pole to 11th but understands the reasons why.

“Everybody here has swallowed that pill,” he said. “It's part of it. It's just the way the series is this year. New engine manufacturers, or new engines I should say, coming in. It's a new formula. We're going to have some of that. We can argue all day if 10 spots or five spots is right. It definitely hurts when it happens, that's for sure.”

DIXON’S DILEMMA

Target/Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon missed the Firestone “Fast Six” in the third round of the knockout qualifying session when in the final minute he moved into fifth only to be dropped to eighth before that session ended. But he fell afoul of the engine rule and was added the list of drivers issued the 10-grid spot penalties, joining pole winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and seventh-place qualifier Will Power.

Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

“It was the last lap that counted and I didn’t get it together,” Dixon said. “In the wet we were only two- or three-tenths off which was very, very small. We still missed it so we’ll have to work our way up. We’ve got a lot of work to do, man, a lot of work.”

Dixon is currently fourth in the standings and with points leader Hunter-Reay gaining one point by winning the pole he is now 55 points out of first.

WHERE THERE’S A WILL; THERE’S A WAY

Will Power was set to start seventh on Sunday but an unapproved engine change will drop the Team Penske driver who is second in points to the 17th starting position.

“It’s a tough finish for the Verizon car today, I thought we had a fast car but we didn’t play the weather correctly,” said Power an Edmonton winner in 2009 and 2011. “It sprinkled enough to use the wet (tires) but then created a dry line pretty quick. I should have known better there as the fastest laps were coming at the end. Tomorrow will be a great challenge and we need to have a good result.”

PLAYING BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL

With “Push-to-Pass” back in the IZOD IndyCar Series for the second race this season, where is it most effective – to pass another car or to keep from getting passed? Is it offense or defense?

“It can be used either way,” Hunter-Reay said. “We've used it for many years, so everybody is pretty used to it. As to how powerful it is, I'm not really sure. I didn't use it a whole bunch in Toronto, thinking I was going to save it till the end but we ended up going yellow. Maybe these guys can comment on it. It certainly helps. If you're making a run on somebody, it helps make that little bit of difference that you're looking for.”

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Special feature
Tags dixon, featured, franchitti, hunter-reay, martin, power, reinbold