IndyCar’s Texas formula safer, but slightly overdone from 2012

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IndyCar had to make adjustments to the style of racing seen at 1.5-mile ovals going into 2012 after the tragic accident that claimed Dan Wheldon’s life at Las Vegas in 2011. The new Dallara DW12 was meant to help the safety aspect, and at Texas a year ago, coupled with tweaks made by Firestone to give a tire that went off quicker and series vp of technology Will Phillips, it worked largely to perfection.

What also helped that race was the finish, when you had two unexpected drivers in contention for the win. Graham Rahal hadn’t won since 2008, and Justin Wilson had never won on an oval. So when Rahal walled it off Turn 4 with a couple laps to go and Wilson scythed past to take the win for Dale Coyne Racing, it helped elevate the race to another level.

Further adjustments were made to the cars this year, but the confusion of available information made it difficult to decipher exactly what tweaks had been made. Firestone brought a new tire that featured a slightly softer body construction and tread compound on the left-side tires to increase grip and a slightly harder right-side tread compound to add durability.

Wilson had said in a teleconference earlier in the week that IndyCar had taken off 300 pounds of downforce, but it was later clarified to IndyCar PR by Phillips that IndyCar had not done so. Phillips related to IndyCar PR that the downforce level was similar but they had taken away some drag to increase speeds. Indeed the pole speed climbed several mph from 2012 (215.691 to 219.182).

What wound up happening on Saturday night was that finding the balance was the key to success, and only race winner Helio Castroneves and Team Penske found the maximum. Cars came and went depending on how their cars held up when the tires fell off, and that could have been anywhere from five to seven laps into a stint. The lap speeds started in the 208-213 mph range, but dropped into the 200-205 range after the tires were gone, where they stayed over the rest of the stint.

The other ace up Castroneves’ sleeve was that he only made three pit stops, when four or even five for others was the norm. The combination of less time spent on pit road, with his ability to have a balanced car that could run both high and low lines at Texas, made for an all-but-unbeatable package – particularly when the sun went down.

IndyCar has almost backed itself into a corner with the way its product has evolved in the last 15 months. The expectation has been for every race to match the intensity and action of a road or street course race, or the constant passing lap-after-lap as seen at Indianapolis.

What Texas was, was a clean, safe 228 laps where not a single accident occurred other than Oriol Servia’s spin, and drivers drove their hearts out to hang on to ill-handling race cars. That takes mad levels of talent. It was not a pack race, as Texas itself has not been in several years.

It was not a thriller, especially compared to the other seven races this season, and the drama that was still happening could have been presented better.