Why some teams chose a two-stop race during US Grand Prix

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By no means a classic, Sunday U.S. Grand Prix was all about controlling lap times to achieve strategic objectives.

Pirelli opted to bring the hardest two compounds in their 2013 range to Texas. Combined with a track surface that’s not too abrasive, that meant that the fastest way from lights to flag was always going to be a one-stop race, as it was last year.

Degradation of the tires was relatively low overall, but teams had to spend Friday and Saturday collecting as much data as possible on both medium and hard compounds, to calculate their optimum race pace and the right point in the Grand Prix to switch between them.

While I suspect everyone set out with the intention of completing just one pitstop, we did see a few opting to make two, in either an attempt to free themselves from early race traffic and run shorter stints in clear air at a faster pace, or because of poor tire management and running out of grip with a handful of laps still to go.

Those that tried to free up their races with two stops did so because they had no real choice. To run for long spells in queues of traffic overheats the car, hurts the tires much more and can lose way too much overall race time. DRS often gives little advantage when a string of cars all benefit from its usage at the same time and on a track that only really has two clear cut overtaking places, being held up like this can frustrate drivers to the point of making mistakes. It’s often more advantageous to abort plan A, even though theoretically quicker, to put your driver onto a different part of the race track with some fresh tires and tell him to go for it.

It’s no surprise that the guys at the front of the field all stuck with their one stop plan and managed to go as deep into the race as possible on the medium compound, to minimize the risk of getting into trouble with the hard compound towards the end. It was a safe, relatively risk free strategy that the front runners were all able to deploy as the field spaced out enough to ease pressure on each of them.

The early safety car of course played right into the hands of those on the one stop race, allowing them three less racing laps with which to take life from their used medium tires.

The main strategic decisions then, came from teams and drivers managing the use of their tires, knowing when to push and when to hold back, when to deploy KERS and when make the switch between compounds. This is where the work from Friday’s practice sessions really paid off and those that had the best understanding were able to be pro-active, whereas those who were caught out by changing conditions, higher fuel loads or race traffic, could do nothing but react.

There were the normal mixture of successes and failures at the Circuit Of The Americas, but one thing that’s become thoroughly normal in recent times is that Sebastian Vettel and his entire Red Bull team got things exactly spot on again.

A great start, laptimes managed to perfection to deliver optimum stint lengths and the guys in the pitlane even managed a new world record pitstop time on the sister car of Mark Webber. All in all, a decent day at the office.

INDYCAR: Zach Veach ready for stronger second half of season

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If you hear Zach Veach humming or even singing The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” this weekend at Road America, there’s a jolly good reason for it, as they say in England.

Much like the way teammate Alexander Rossi has nicknamed his car “Baby Girl,” Veach has nicknamed his road and street course car “Penny Lane,” thanks in part to his girlfriend being a huge Beatles fan who has helped Veach also become a fan.

The Stockdale, Ohio native also has a nickname for his speedway car: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”

Veach has had a tough rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He comes into this weekend’s Kohler Grand Prix in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, ranked 15th in the standings with 147 points, but an already massive 210 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

He could easily sing The Beatles’ “Help!”, given how the season has gone so far.

The 23-year-old Veach’s best finish – and only top-10 showing thus far in 2018 – has been fourth at Long Beach – in “Penny Lane” of course, a finish he hopes to equal, if not improve upon, Sunday in central Wisconsin.

He’s struggled since Long Beach, though, failing to finish higher than 12th in the following six races: 13th at Birmingham, 23rd in both the Indianapolis Grand Prix and Indy 500, 12th and 13th at Detroit’s Belle Isle and 16th at Texas.

He also finished 16th in each of the season’s first two races at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.

But Veach hopes to be singing another Beatles song on the 4.048-mile road course: “Twist and Shout” in hopes of having a strong finish on the twisting 14-turn kettle moraine course.

Zach Veach, driver of the #26 Relay Group 1001 Honda, practices for the DXC Technology 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8, 2018. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Veach has a good reason to be optimistic for success at Road America.

“Road America has actually been pretty good to us in USF 2000 and Indy Lights,” Veach said. “I think we have four or five podiums there. In 2016 (racing for Belard Auto Racing), we set the track record in Lights, won the first race and finished third in the second. I’m hoping that speed continues (in Sunday’s IndyCar race).”

While he acknowledges this season’s struggles thus far, Veach also knows he’s learning and improving.

“I think the biggest thing is the braking capabilities of the Indy car,” he said. “You’re going from steel rotors (in Lights) to carbon pads. Honestly, it feels like you can brake 150 feet deeper going into a corner with an Indy car, but at the same time, you’re also going into that corner 40 to 50 mph faster in an Indy car than in a Lights car.

“Our first year in Indy Lights wasn’t anything spectacular, and then we came back and almost won a championship. I think that’s just the way I go about things. I take inches at a time instead of miles, but I feel like we’re getting to that point where we need to be in IndyCar.”

Veach is no stranger to Andretti Autosport, having raced with the team from 2010 to 2014 and then signed a three-year contract to drive in the Verizon IndyCar Series last fall.

“To have the opportunity to race with Andretti is almost perfect for me as far as growth and development,” Veach said. “With the three teammates I have and the skill and experience they have, it’s allowed my learning curve to accelerate that much quicker.

“That’s the tough thing. It’s a rookie season and when I look back at it and look at numbers, you may say things didn’t look good at certain races. But when I look back at them, I say to myself where that’s when I did my best fuel save, or that’s when I figured out how to fix an issue with braking. There’s so much I’ve picked up.

“But I feel like these last two race weekends have been arguably the most comfortable I’ve felt. Detroit, I was looking so great for 12th and 13th, and Texas, racing from 16th to 3rd and then I made a mistake (finished 16th). I finally feel confident enough to say I can race these guys and can race them hard and the car is finally starting to feel small, if you want to say that, like I’m driving the car instead of being stuck behind somebody else.”

While he’s learned from all of his Andretti Autosport teammates — Rossi, Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay — Veach feels he is closest to fellow young driver, Rossi.

“We’re both on the younger side of the spectrum of our teammates,” Veach said of Rossi. “And he’s the newest guy learning IndyCar, so he got that experience a little sooner than the other guys as far as time.

“For me, I’m in much the same position he was in two years ago. He’s been real helpful in helping me get up to speed.”

With eight more races remaining in the season, Veach’s primary goal is to finish his first full IndyCar season in the top-10. He’s currently 66 points behind the 10th-ranked driver, teammate Marco Andretti.

“If we could be top-10 in the championship, that’d be great, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Veach said. “We want to try and be consistently in the top-10 in the second half (of the season) in race results, too. And if we could get some top-fives, that would be fantastic.

“We just have to keep improving on qualifying, which shows how well you understand the car and how you can get the most out of it. I feel our race speed has been good, but when you’re starting at or near the back, it’s hard to move forward.”

Even so, there’s still good reason for optimism for Veach.

“Andretti always gives its drivers some of the best cars, so at the end of the day, it comes down to you learning as much as you can and learning as much as you can get out of a race-winning car,” he said. “I’ve just been lucky. This is my sixth season with Andretti if you count the ladder series, and it always has felt like a family.”

And if he has a strong finish Sunday at Road America, don’t be surprised if Veach hums or sings another Beatles song, “I Feel Fine,” as he leaves the legendary road course.

Follow @JerryBonkowski