Keselowski’s crew chief on cooldown issue: “It’s a tough spot”

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The most jarring quote from last weekend’s NASCAR activities at Las Vegas Motor Speedway came from Brian Vickers, who said that having to run slow laps on track during qualifying in order to cool down his engine was “the most dangerous thing [he’s] ever done in racing.

But at least at Las Vegas, there was a proper apron that Vickers and other competitors could go to do those slow laps while other competitors zoomed along at speed.

Real estate’s going to be much less available this weekend at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway, and with that in mind, the prospect of a nasty wreck between a slow car and an at-speed car is raising more and more alarm.

NASCAR has maintained that it doesn’t want teams to use cool-down units on pit road because it would require the opening of the hoods of their cars, potentially enabling crew members to make illegal adjustments if they were so inclined.

Still, that hasn’t stopped drivers from lobbying NASCAR to make changes to this aspect of the new knockout qualifying format, which has otherwise been accepted as a positive change from the old single-car qualifying format.

Paul Wolfe (pictured, left), crew chief for Las Vegas winner Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Ford Fusion, said today in a teleconference that Bristol’s tight confines could indeed lead to problems, even if he himself thinks the cooling problem won’t be as pronounced.

“I think the cooling will be obviously a little bit better this week just from the fact that it’s 15-second laps. The engine temps won’t get quite as high,” Wolfe said. “But yeah, trying to go out and cool down at Bristol, yeah, that could be a potential issue.

“There’s really no room to get out of the way, unless you’re just running around on the flat part there on the apron…Every week is bringing a new challenge, a different style of racetrack and tire changes that up some. We’ve just got to prepare for the best.”

Wolfe also said that he wasn’t sure a rule forbidding teams to put tape on their cars’ grill during qualifying would necessarily be a better choice. Additionally, he noted how taxing NASCAR inspectors could have it policing the teams should new rules emerge.

With all of that in mind, he’s focusing on making sure he and his team can quickly adapt to whatever NASCAR decides in regards to the matter – whenever it happens.

“I don’t know, it’s a tough spot,” he said. “I guess for myself and for our team at this point, we’re just trying to be able to react to any type of change that there is and do the best job…As far as the 2 car over the last two weeks, there’s only one instance really where we needed to go out and cool down. I think it’s those guys that are right on the edge that need to make multiple runs.

“…We’re just trying to continue to understand all those dynamics [in qualifying], and as we get to different tracks with different characteristics, just trying to stay on top of it and continue to have strong efforts like we have had the last two weeks.”

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.