Qualifying with race downforce at Texas will aid TMS novices

Scott McLaughlin and Pietro Fittipaldi agree their efforts at this weekend’s IndyCar double-header at Texas Motor Speedway will be somewhat simplified by parc ferme rules.

Qualifying with race downforce at Texas will aid TMS novices

Aside from five minutes of two-stage pit-speed limiter practice on Saturday and five minutes of install laps on Sunday, the 24-car field will be granted just one-hour of practice (75mins for rookies) before qualifying gets underway.

As was introduced on ovals last year, each driver’s first lap of qualifying will set the grid for Saturday’s race – the 212-lap Genesys 300 – and the second lap will set the grid for Sunday’s 248-lap XPel 375.

Between qualifying and Race 1 on Saturday, the cars will be impounded, meaning that all teams and drivers will be setting their times on the heavier race downforce.

This, according to Team Penske-Chevrolet’s Scott McLaughlin and Pietro Fittipaldi of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR-Honda, will simplify their task ahead of their first race on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway.

“Obviously we will be qualifying pretty much on race condition stuff and I think we start the race on our qualifying tires,” said McLaughlin, who ran his first oval Rookie Orientation Program at TMS last February, and has since taken part in a preseason group test at the venue. “It does take one less complication out of it for me to learn.”

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The three-time and reigning Supercars champion did concede it would have been useful to try trimming out for a more typical oval qualifying session, ahead of his Indy 500 debut, but believes the amount of practice time available at IMS next month will aid his cause.

“For sure it would probably be nice to have an idea of what I want before I head to Indy in terms of qualifying trim,” he said, “but we've got the full month to build up to it.

“The [Texas rules] does make it a lot more simple for someone like myself – even I guess for Pietro who is coming in not a full-timer right now – just to get used to the car.”

Fittipaldi, who had three oval races among his six IndyCar starts in 2018, agreed with McLaughlin regarding consistent downforce levels making things “a bit more simple.”

He continued: “You have one practice. If you were allowed to change the downforce levels and you don't have that much experience, to do qualifying downforce in practice, then change to race [downforce] …I don't think you have enough time to get enough laps. You would be kind of going into qualifying or the race without much experience on the downforce…

“For me it's better that way, just to keep that variable out of it. I'll be able to learn more like this without going into really any unknowns.”

However, neither driver is underestimating the task ahead of them.

“To race single-seaters on an oval, it's very different, especially now with the aeroscreen,” said Fittipaldi who raced Late Models on ovals. “The car has a bit of a different balance than what I was used to from before. Following cars is always very difficult to get used to as well, gaining that experience not only in Texas but as well for Indianapolis.

“You can run laps on your own good, run fast laps, you could be quick in qualifying, but you go out in the race, it's going to be hard to get that experience of following in traffic, trying to time passes and stuff.

“That's going to be the main thing, trying to gain as much experience with that in Texas, then execute everything that's in my control and get the best result possible.”

Regarding his preparation for the two TMS races, Fittipaldi – who tested there along with temporary teammate Cody Ware – said: “You look at race footage and stuff from before, how the car handled in traffic, how people used to plan their runs on the car ahead.

“It’s very easy to kind of overdrive the entry of the corners, not get a run on a guy on exit of Turns 1 and 2, or 3 and 4. Sometimes you have to plan it a couple laps ahead. Sometimes the guys ahead are in heavy traffic, you start getting a run, and if you time it right, you can easily overtake.”

McLaughlin, who unlike Fittipaldi had the chance to run with packs of cars in his recent Texas test, agreed that timing was one of several things he expects to come only with experience.

He said: “It's my understanding of timing in the oval, understanding how hard do I drive into the corner, working out my exits so I get runs down into Turn 3 or into Turn 1, when do I make a passing move, how do I save fuel on an oval.

“Race strategy is a big thing. Especially in IndyCar, the fuel saving is a huge thing. Trying to drive fast while saving more fuel certainly helps you in the long-term.

“Yeah, a lot of things I have to focus on… Thankfully I have thousands of hours of footage I can watch from previous years, including our testing, which will help.”

Pietro Fittipaldi, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda

Pietro Fittipaldi, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda

Photo by: Barry Cantrell / Motorsport Images

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