NASCAR’s Stefanyshyn: New rules package is not the “final solution”

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In a teleconference that took place shortly after NASCAR released its 2014 Sprint Cup rules package, the series’ vice president of innovation and racing development, Gene Stefanyshyn, stressed that it was just step one in a process of improving the racing with the Generation 6 cars.

With the 2014 season set to unofficially kick off early next month with the Preseason Thunder test sessions at Daytona, Stefanyshyn said that NASCAR was limited by timing in regards to how many changes it felt it could pull off with the package. As a result, he said that “it shouldn’t be construed that [the package] is the final solution.”

“The amount of flexibility we had given timing was not as great as we have say working on [2015], we’ve got a whole year ahead of us,” he said. “So this is really the first installment in a journey towards a continual improvement process in regards to our race product.”

Stefanyshyn explained tweaks to the chassis set-up for the 2014 season that eliminates light springs used to bring the car to inspection height and how heavier springs in the front end will keep teams from having to load the entire car on its suspension. He hopes that these changes will provide a more stable car for drivers in the middle of traffic.

He also took reporters through the elimination of the pre and post-race front height rules. Cars will remain on blocks during the inspection process but when those get off the blocks, teams will then change the car to what he called “race attitude.”

“If they want to drop the front end of the car down to half an inch, they’re able to do that,” he said. “If they want to drop it to 1.5 inches, they’re able to do that. So we’re actually letting them put the car in more of a race position.

“Because what happens when the car is sitting there statically at 4.25 inches, as soon as it gets on the track, the downforce on that car drives the front end down towards the track anyway. But then what happens is that front end tends to bounce and load and unload, and this is how you get some of the instability.”

Downforce should be increased with the implementation of a bigger radiator pan and rear spoiler, the latter of which will have its top two inches in clear Lexan for visibility purposes. Speed should also go up thanks to the changes, so the RPMs will be brought down slightly to a planned maximum range of 9,300 to 9,400 – which according to Stefanyshyn should end up as a cut between four and six percent.

Interesting to note is the lack of a tapered spacer on the 2014 rules package, which would have resulted in lower horsepower on the Cup cars. Stefanyshyn said the option is still on the table for 2015, but that the aforementioned timing issues played a role in them deciding not to use it now.

“We’d like to be able to do perhaps three things at once, and we think we can come up with a more robust solution that can serve us better in the longer run,” he said. “So this is something I think we are going to definitely look at for ’15.”

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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