* The Heartland Express The IRL IndyCar Series returns to America's heartland to celebrate the Fourth of July at Kansas Speedway. While Dorothy and her faithful sidekick Toto relied on ruby slippers for their Oz-to-Kansas odyssey,...
* The Heartland Express
The IRL IndyCar Series returns to America's heartland to celebrate the Fourth of July at Kansas Speedway. While Dorothy and her faithful sidekick Toto relied on ruby slippers for their Oz-to-Kansas odyssey, six drivers in the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 will rely on the more conventional motivation provided by Chevy Indy V-8 engines in Sunday's 200-lap, 300-mile contest.
* The Long, Hot Summer
The seventh round of the IRL IndyCar Series marks the second race on a 1.5-mile speedway with the new 3.0-liter Chevy engine. With 15-degree banking, the Kansas track differs significantly from the towering 24-degree banked turns of Texas Motor Speedway, the site of the last IRL event on a 1.5-mile oval.
"We were very encouraged by how well several Chevrolet drivers performed in Texas with the revised 3.0-liter engine package," said Joe Negri, GM Racing IRL program manager. "Kansas Speedway is also a high-speed track, but handling will play a more significant role than at Texas. You need horsepower, of course, but you also must have a good setup to get around Kansas Speedway quickly."
Previous IRL events at Kansas Speedway have seen temperatures exceed 100 degrees. While the forecast for this weekend predicts milder weather, the heat and humidity of a Midwestern summer are a consideration for GM Racing engineers.
"Just as heat affects the performance of a human athlete, high temperatures also affect the performance of a racing engine," Negri noted. "GM Racing is continuing to develop a Chevy Indy V-8 specification to allow the engine to perform at its maximum potential in the hot and humid conditions that we expect to encounter in July in August."
* Aero Adjustments
Hot weather and rule changes also impact the aerodynamic performance of an IRL race car, as GM Racing aero/chassis specialist Kevin Bayless explains:
"As the temperature goes up, the density of the air goes down, so teams will need to compensate with more downforce," Bayless noted. "This will be the first race run under the latest IRL rules for speedway configurations. Unlike the previous speedway races this year, the cars will be running in the post-Indy 500 specification with domed skids and 1/4-inch vertical wickers on the car centerline. Teams will also be allowed to use tire ramps, sidepod extensions, brake backing plates and brake scoops. The cumulative effect of these devices is to increase downforce, so I expect that we will see a significant increase in downforce over what was allowed at Texas, Homestead and Motegi.
"Successful teams will have to sort out how much downforce they need to deal with the conditions," Bayless added. "The drivers and engineers will be working with all of their aerodynamic tools to come up with most efficient combinations for qualifying and for the race. This will be the first time they've raced under these conditions, and to my knowledge no one has tested this particular aerodynamic package. With the limited track time in a two-day event, the learning curve will be very, very steep at Kansas Speedway."
* Charting the Changes
Chevrolet's driver lineup will have a different look at the Argent Mortgage Indy 300 as new faces will appear on the Bowtie roster. On Tuesday, Panther Racing announced that it was parting ways with Mark Taylor, driver of the Menards/Johns Manville Chevrolet Dallara. Townsend Bell was subsequently named as his replacement for this weekend's race. On Wednesday, Al Unser Jr., who drove the Patrick Racing Chevrolet Dallara in three events this year, announced his retirement from IndyCar Series competition. He will remain with Patrick Racing as an advisor, and his replacement in the cockpit will be named shortly.
Chevrolet played a key role in Unser's legendary career. He won 14 CART races, the 1990 national championship and the 1992 Indianapolis 500 with turbocharged Chevy Indy V-8 powerplants. Unser scored two IndyCar Series victories with IRL Aurora V-8 engines, and he drove Chevrolet Camaros to championships in the all-star International Race of Champions series in 1986 and 1988.
"Al Unser Jr. has been star in American motorsports since he drove Chevy-powered sprint cars as a teenager, and we are proud that Al scored many of his most memorable victories with GM power," said Doug Duchardt, director of GM Racing. "He raced with intensity and determination, yet he was always a sportsman. We are pleased that Al will continue his longstanding association with GM Racing in his new role at Patrick Racing, and we wish him success in the next phase of his exceptional career."
Bell will make his IRL debut this weekend, but the 29-year-old Californian has considerable experience in open-wheel racing. He was the Indy Lights series Rookie of the Year in 2000 and the Indy Lights champion in 2002. He drove in the CART series in 2002 and in Formula 3000 last year.
"I'm very happy that Panther Racing has given me this opportunity," Bell said. "The Indy Racing League is a great series that continues to grow in popularity. I'm excited to be here. Panther has enjoyed great success and I'm hoping to add to their accomplishments. I'm looking forward to racing in the United States and being back on the ovals. I've raced against a lot of the drivers in the series so it will be good to renew some rivalries as well. We're getting ready for the race at Kansas this weekend, and I am really looking forward to representing everybody at Menards, Johns Manville and Chevrolet."
* Chevrolet Drivers on Kansas
ALEX BARRON, Red Bull Cheever Racing Chevrolet Dallara: "I didn't race at Kansas last year, but from the past I know that the weather has always played a big part in the race for physical endurance because it's so hot and humid. It's one of three races (along with Texas and Chicago) where the tracks are similar, so lots of the setup carries over. We're ready for a good run to keep or improve upon our current standing in the points (8th). Kansas is fun to race on and the fans really seem to enjoy the race."
ED CARPENTER, Red Bull Cheever Racing Chevrolet Dallara: "I'm excited to go back to Kansas because I've raced there the past two years in the Infiniti Pro Series and finished in fifth and sixth. It's a fun track and I've had more experience this year on mile and a half ovals, so I'm looking to be competitive going into Kansas and in the hunt for a good finish. Even though I've been unlucky and haven't finished the last two races, I have good chemistry with my new engineer (Iain Watt) and feel really good about the upcoming races."
FELIPE GIAFFONE, Team Purex Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet Dallara: "Obviously, looking back now, Kansas was the toughest race last year in the IRL with my accident and all. I don't really associate the accident with the track, and I'm looking forward to going back. Kansas is one of the best 1.5-mile ovals that we visit. They don't have as much banking at Texas, so handling is a little more important, which is good. The race is close and Chevy has been working hard to give us the power we need. It's a power race track, and we should be right there."