Heikki Kovalainen may have only been confirmed as Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement at Lotus for the final two rounds of the season yesterday, but the Finnish driver has immediately fitted in at the team by excelling during practice today in Austin.
Kovalainen, who raced in F1 between 2007 and 2012, has only had a handful of practice run-outs for Caterham this year, and many were unsure whether or not he would be able to fit in at the team. However, Lotus’ decision to hire him instead of promoting reserve driver Davide Valsecchi (citing Kovalainen’s experience as the determinant factor) was vindicated by the Finn’s performance on Friday, finishing fifth in FP2.
“It’s been a pretty smooth landing, joining Lotus F1 Team,” Kovalainen said. “We’ve had no major issues on track today and we just need to keep chipping away to see how good we can get the car for tomorrow and Sunday. We lost a bit of track time in the morning, but the car balance was reasonably good straight away.”
Kovalainen finished ahead of teammate Romain Grosjean in FP2 despite both drivers being fuelled equally.
“I was able to settle in and work immediately on the setup and tire work. All the procedures and routines are quite similar up and down the pit lane, plus I’m familiar with all the systems from driving with a Renault engine already this year and previously, so it was a pretty straight-forward day.”
Like many drivers, Kovalainen is vying for a seat on next year’s grid, and if he can continue this form throughout the rest of the weekend, the Finn will be doing himself a world of good. Further to that, he is looking to end his record streak of sixty-one consecutive finishes outside of the points, dating back to the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix.
In a continuing effort to help fans keep track of the on track action, SuperMotocross is in the process of developing and implementing leader lights for the unified series.
Currently Supercross (SMX) utilizes stanchions in the infield that are triggered manually by a race official. At least two stanchions are used in each race as a way to draw the eye to the leader, which is especially useful in the tight confines of the stadium series when lapping often begins before the halfway mark in the 22-bike field. This system has been in place for the past two decades.
Later this year, a fully automated system will move to the bike itself to replace the old system. At that point, fans will be able to identify the leader regardless of where he is on track.
The leader lights were tested in the second Anaheim round this year. An example can be seen at the 1:45 mark in the video above on the No. 69 bike.
“What we don’t want to do is move too fast, where it’s confusing to people,” said Mike Muye, senior director of operations for Supercross and SMX in a press release. “We’ve really just focused on the leader at this point with the thought that maybe down the road we’ll introduce others.”
Scheduled to debut with the first SuperMotocross World Championship race at zMax Dragway, located just outside the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 3D carbon fiber-printed LED light will be affixed to each motorcycle. Ten timing loops positioned around the track will trigger the lights of the leader, which will turn green.
SMX’s partner LiveTime Scoring helped develop and implement the system that has been tested in some form or fashion since 2019.
When the leader lights are successfully deployed, SuperMotocross will explore expanding the system to identify the second- and third-place riders. Depending on need and fan acceptance, more positions could be added.
SuperMotocross is exploring future enhancements, including allowing for live fan interaction with the lights and ways to use the lighting system during the race’s opening ceremony.
Read more about SuperMotocross