One of IndyCar's greatest traditions, and one of the sweetest phrases of motorsport, came from the lips of the great, late Tom Carnegie in his unforgettable bass baritone announcing over the public address system at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, "And it's a new track record!"
Today's results in St Pete would have made Mr. Carnegie proud, as qualifying times on the temporary street track fell with stunning certainty. Team Penske and Will Power led the way in the onslaught, lowering the best previous mark in a contemporary series Indy car by nearly two tenths of a second (Power, 2012).
Power when asked to explain why the second-year Dallara DW12 continues to get faster said "Just the year of development (has made the difference). The engine manufacturers got a bit more power and just through the development (drivers) get a little more downforce and a lot of grip.”
Well, the engine part is true if you're driving a Chevy.
More to the point for the whole field, though, is the change in IndyCar Series rules this year state that tire usage during qualifying is limited only by an entrant’s allocation of rubber.
For road/street course qualifying in 2012, only one set of tires was allowed during each of the three segments.
Each team gets six sets of primary Firestone Firehawks and three sets of alternate tires for the race weekend. The new rules also require that the car use one set of new (sticker) primary tires and one set of alternate tires in the actual race.
Firestone engineers, as is expected, are mum on the construction of the brand new primary tire for St. Petersburg this year. They will allow that the compound is different, and that the sidewall of the tire has been made stiffer.
As to the red sidewall tires, the company claims the results on the track are a tire with higher grip, and a softer tread than a year ago. And a greater discrepancy than before in performance specs between the two sets of tires.
The response so far has been met with enthusiasm from fans and drivers alike. Both groups crave the excitement of a new track record and best car ever raced here.
"It is a new construction of Firestone tires," said Helio Castroneves of the improved performance we've seen so far in testing and on the racetrack in IndyCar. "We have to understand what’s going to happen with this new configuration on the track. You just have to go and feel the car out and see what happens."
The new rules have also introduced an element of strategy into the equation.
INDYCAR vice president of technology Will Phillips puts it this way: “By being able to choose at some tracks, ‘Do I use all my new tires in qualifying in an effort to guarantee myself a better position or do I think I’m better off saving new tires for the race?’ so what we’ve done is opened up more ways to race faster by allowing the strategy to become more involved,”
“I love the idea of not limiting it to one set (of tires) because if you locked the tire or any of those things you were done,” said Franchitti, who started on the pole at St. Petersburg in 2006 and won the ra here in 2011.
“There will be a lot more unpredictability in qualifying and the race. Is somebody going to throw two sets (of alternates) at a good quick time on qualifying day? If you’re somebody who doesn’t normally progress, you’re going to slap another set on and take that chance.”
The end result is that times are changing in IndyCar, for the better. And you can take that to the bank.