Graham Rahal, who ended Day 3 of Indy 500 practice at the top of the speed charts, says JR Hildebrand’s accident was understandable because of the extreme nature of the car’s behavior in traffic at IMS with the new spec aerokit.
Hildebrand slapped the Turn 3 wall while running at the tail of an eight-car convoy, and Rahal sympathized as he had felt something similar imminent when running in the tow. As a result, he said, making progress through a pack of cars remains difficult.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-Honda driver said: “I think [running] first and second is awesome. Anything beyond that is tough. You see that.
“Obviously with JR's incident, I can't tell you how many times I thought I was going to be in that scenario today where the right front tire is so overworked, you have so much slip angle in it, it just gives up. When it gives up, it's like ice and then, bang, you hit a curb… That's exactly what it feels like.
“It's difficult because you don't know what a fine line it is. Sometimes it's slide, slide, slide, then OK. Other times it never comes back. I just think the further back you are, you have to hang on. These cars, you got to drive the you-know-what out of them. The rear is sliding around, the front is pushing. It's not pretty, that's for sure.
“But the one thing it does do – if you do get a tow, it is massive. I mean, when you get 10 car lengths back, the acceleration rate is unbelievable. Do you want to lead the last lap or not? Where do you place yourself if you're in that position in the race? I don't know. If you're leading, you could be in trouble.
“A lot of it is trying to understand the way that it wiggles. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true. We're used to the old car. You know what it's going to do. You know what to expect. This car is a different animal. Fortunately with this car – knock on wood, I don't want to jinx myself – when it does tend to go, the front is what gives up. That's a much better feeling than the rear. In the old car, the rear would tend to go. This is definitely better.
“But for sure, understanding the front wing, what angle does it work at, what angle does it stall at, the end fences, all of this stuff is so new, just to try to make it work is a bit of a chore.”