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.”