FONTANA, Calif. – One of the oddities of the Auto Club Speedway is that the track surface, while rough and tumble for NASCAR that has produced great racing in recent years, has made for one of the more challenging oval events for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
In particular, the track surface comes up and peppers the cars and drivers.
On Friday, drivers discussed the concerns they have about going through tearoffs and how they need to manage them throughout Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).
“There’s something with the track and debris, it’s always been that way,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner. “I wish there was something you can do with the vacuuming with the extraction of the gravel. It’s literally gravel. I had marks on my hands.
“We’re gonna have to have a tearoff strategy, more than a fuel or tire strategy,” he added. “You’re gonna have to have restraint. Every one is priceless. If I had my way it’d be every 10 laps, but you’ll have to make it last a stint and a half. It’s not even dirt, I think it’s just particles of the track. Seems to be getting worse in recent years.”
Hunter-Reay tweeted this picture of the buildup after Wednesday night’s test session.
Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe said this is a serious issue that will need to be dealt with.
“I’m gonna try to track down thinner, multilayer, tearoffs, because I had to drive through the bottom of my visor,” he said. “My last one for 20 laps, the visor was written off. It’s a genuinely serious concern. The problem is what we’re seeing isn’t just dirt or dust. You can send a blower out, but it’s not normal debris we see at a race track.”
Ryan Briscoe offered a measured response.
“It seemed like a lot of sand the other night, but we didn’t notice it so much today,” said the driver of the No. 8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “I’m not sure if from the track, or the steel mill, but there’s a lot of it man. It’s like rain with spray, there’s a lot coming off the car.”
Less worried were Ed Carpenter and Charlie Kimball, a past Auto Club Speedway winner (Carpenter in 2012) and a driver who nearly won here last year (Kimball).
“I don’t think there needs to be the complaining, it’s the same for everyone,” Carpenter said. “We will just have to pass cars earlier than what I was hoping for.”
Added Kimball, “Vision could be an issue. With 22 of us to start. It’s gonna be challenging. But with attrition and as guys spread out, it shouldn’t be too bad.”
We shall see how the drivers handle the conditions on Saturday night.