Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda duo Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon have admitted they’re heading into tonight’s IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway with question marks over how much grip can be found at the reprofiled Turns 1 and 2.
As well as improving the drainage system, the changes at TMS since last year's IndyCar race here included re-profiling Turns 1 and 2 to make them 20 feet wider, and lowering the banking at that end from 24 to 20 degrees. Kimball, who will lead Dixon to the green flag in the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 this evening after scoring his first ever IndyCar pole position, says those changes have given the track a different nature at either end and created question marks for the drivers.
“I think in Turns 3 and 4 it races like a super speedway," he said, "but in 1 and 2 it almost races like a short oval. OK, a short oval where you're doing 220mph! But on the short ovals track position is key, and having the best track position out there and having some teammates around me, as well – Scott and Tony [Kanaan, who qualified fourth] have incredible experience on these ovals – it's nice.
“It could be a one-groove racetrack, but you never know. I mean, we haven't run at night. It'll be interesting to see how the track evolves and develops because it is new, especially 1 and 2. It's new asphalt everywhere, but the reprofiling definitely changes how you race through those two corners.”
Kimball said that one of the difficult parts about learning the new track had been the revised perspective from the cockpit on turn-in and then through the Turns.
“It was something that Scott mentioned after he tested in April,” he commented. “He talked about how early and how different the visual cues were going into Turn 1 because of the fact that I think they left the top or the outside edge and then by reducing banking just made it wider.
“They've added a lane or two lanes at the bottom. And it means that you turn in a lot earlier, and it's almost a double apex corner. It's very different in sensation than what I'd gotten used to around here.
“So it took a little while this morning. I mean, the first outing I wasn't anywhere close to being flat, and then by the end I was really comfortable as we were taking a bunch of downforce out.
“It does take a little while to get used to it, and I think it may change how you race because of where you're turning in and how long you turn through Turn 1 and 2, and with the changes that Firestone has brought, it's different than the test in April. We're still learning on that, and we're still learning how the tires are going to degrade or not degrade or last or not last for a whole fuel stint.”
Dixon, who is leading the IndyCar championship but still seeking his first win of the season, added: “I think at [Turns] 3 and 4 it’s going to be a little easier to run side by side. 1 and 2 right now, especially when you move up to the upper lanes, is pretty slippery.
I know at the test the second lane was quite useful. I'm not sure how they did the aging process, but it's definitely night and day different from the dark patch where the rubber is as you get up a bit higher.
“I think they've done a great job. Obviously this track has got to be used for many different formulas, not just us. But I think we have a package that is workable and something that will provide good racing.”
Several drivers have commented that, following some blistering issues in the test, the tires that Firestone have brought are hard enough where they won’t degrade. But Dixon, who was fastest in the April test at TMS, said he’s not totally in agreement on that matter.
“It's definitely going to be about maintaining speed, probably for the last 20 laps of the stint,” he said. “Even this year, maybe it's not that much degradation, but we have some blistering and the grip does fall off a bit.
“Here it's always about the last 20 laps at least and making sure you can maintain the speed.”