Honda Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg - Day 3

Dixon: Big tire change from 2012 to 2013

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Though nowhere near as dramatic – or newsworthy – as Pirelli’s new 2013 compounds have been in Formula 1, the newer compounds Firestone has brought to IndyCar this year have already made an impact on the racing.

Firestone’s primary blacks and alternate reds for Barber Motorsports Park this weekend are both softer than a year ago, and producing higher grip levels. The combo of the grippier tires and the resurfaced Barber track led to record lap times in testing last month.

“We did use the new tire I believe at the Barber Open Test, so those tires haven’t changed as much for the road course, even though the lap times we were about two seconds below pole time of last year,” said Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. “We think a lot of that is due to the surface upkeep, that they’ve sort of cut it a little bit or brushed it or something, and the track grip was up a huge amount at the test. So we’ll see if that probably lasts through this weekend, as well.

Dixon’s preference for oversteer (a looser car) was compromised at St. Petersburg.

“St. Pete definitely the street course tire has, for me has changed significantly in being that last year the car, we were constantly fighting sort of issues with rear grip,” he said. “I love to drive a loose car, so I think it sort of helped me, the new car last year with the combination of the tire. This year it’s a lot of rear grip, a lot of understeer. It seems like it wears the front tires off a lot quicker, as well. So we haven’t kind of seen that quite as much at the Barber test that we did have.”

For Barber, Dixon said the difference between Firestone’s two compounds need to be different enough to ensure as good a race as occurred last year.

“Maybe with the warmer temperatures going back a month or so later; I think the track was pretty cold then, so we were looking at 20 or 30 degrees warmer for this race weekend, which may change a little bit,” he admitted.

“But yeah, I guess the red tires were pretty key to last year and the great racing that we have. I think it’s important that Firestone work on that,” he said. “We see how the Formula 1 races go, and Pirelli are getting a little bit of flak, but the racing is fantastic. It’s more in the driver’s hands of managing the tires, looking after them, making sure they can get through a whole stint, teams working out strategies to figure out ways to get to the end quicker. It creates a lot of differences between teams and drivers and that creates racing on track.

“This weekend is a little bit unknown just because it’s the first road course race of the year. I hope there’s still quite a bit split between the reds and the blacks. I think at St. Pete it almost seemed like the gap between the reds and blacks was a lot less. I know they’re normally quite conservative at the start of the year, Firestone, to make sure we have a durable tire, but hopefully for me I’d hope that the reds fall off quickly and you have to really maintain a smart pace and a setup and manage the car well throughout the racing stint.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 13th is Carlos Munoz, who fell back to earth a bit after winning Indianapolis 500, then series rookie-of-the-year honors in consecutive years.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2014: 8th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 3 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 8 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 10.5 Avg. Start, 12.6 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish

Munoz fell down to earth a little bit in his second full season in IndyCar, albeit not as badly as fellow 2014 rookie Jack Hawksworth, who’d switched teams and had a myriad of issues throughout the season. He won his first race in the rain at Detroit race one, which was well judged, but there were precious other highlights from the driver who has showcased “wow” potential in the past.

His qualifying fell off year-to-year and that was probably the single thing to pinpoint as to why the decline occurred, falling from eighth to 13th in points. What had been a 10.5 average in 2014 fell to 14th this year, and behind teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Ovals seemed his strongest type of circuit this year on the whole. Like teammate Justin Wilson, he’d been in position to score what would have been his third straight Indianapolis 500 top-five finish if a late splash of fuel wasn’t needed. Sixth at Texas from fourth on the grid marked his best overall weekend of the year, and fifth at Iowa and Pocono were also fairly good results.

But whereas Munoz picked his spots well last year and delivered a handful of podiums, his Detroit win marked his only podium visit this year. He didn’t really make much of an impression and was more anonymous than not over the course of the year. His future with Andretti is uncertain for 2016.

Williams maximizes wet setup work despite limited running in Sochi

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With action pretty much limited in both practice sessions due to the diesel spillage in free practice one and rain in free practice two for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, teams could only do limited wet-weather runs.

Williams Martini Racing tried to make the best of the circumstances, as one of only five teams that completed laps in FP2 (McLaren, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Ferrari) with eight cars.

Felipe Massa led second practice but it was an essentially meaningless session.

“It was quite a stunted session today which stopped us from completing all of the work we wanted to,” said Rob Smedley, Williams’ head of vehicle performance. “We had planned to run in the wet but we had a strange situation this afternoon in that half of the circuit was much wetter than the other half which made most of the tests null and void.

“We have been working on the wet set-up of the car and so wanted to get out at the end of FP2 to see the progress we have made. In a similar vein to our low speed corner work in Singapore, we seem to be making progress. We got through all of the bits and pieces we wanted to get through in terms of control systems and power unit set-up, and we have to go into tomorrow with a good plan for FP3 to get the car set-up for qualifying and the race.”

Valtteri Bottas finished third in Sochi a year ago, while Massa seeks a rebound after a fuel flow issue in qualifying resigned him to a Q1 elimination and an 11th place finish.