FORT WORTH – Five days. That’s all that remains for Verizon IndyCar Series teams to figure out the new superspeedway aero kit, which emphasizes downforce over horsepower, before they face racing conditions in a little race called the Indianapolis 500.
Leading the 33-car field to the green Sunday will be polesitter Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in Monday’s practice sessions with a speed of 226.542 mph.
“We’ve had a really smooth month,” said the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver during a media event at Texas Motor Speedway. “The cars are different, the style of racing is different. The race this weekend is going to be on the edge-of-your-seat stuff. The draft is fairly big, it’s going to be impossible to pull away from the field.”
Dixon’s fastest speed in May was 233.001 mph in the seventh session, which is the second best behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves at 233.474 mph.
“It’s kind of the rules package that we run, we sort of work within that window,” Dixon said. “So as far as big picture, what combination would be better for each person, it’s kind of hard to tell. We’ve been through different versions of IndyCar racing throughout the years and I think the racing in ‘the show’ right now the best in the world.”
The fastest qualifying Honda for the Indy 500 was Justin Wilson in the No. 25 Honda for Andretti Autosport, who will start sixth.
Wilson says the only drawback of the last two weeks of preparation has been a lack of testing the aero package in warm weather conditions.
“Now it’s a case of getting a fast race car,” Wilson said. “We’ve got 500 miles to do and want to make sure we’re good in traffic, be good on our own. That’s the hard part now.”
Wilson’s best overall speed is 230.348 mph, which is 20th fastest.
“The aero configuration has changed a couple of times,” Wilson said. “We trimmed right out for qualifying, we’ve put the downforce back in yesterday for more race running. We had done that earlier in the week, we put a lot of downforce on to get ready for running in traffic.
“Right now, it feels fine. Personally, you always want for horsepower. You want to be able to drive the cars through the corners and have fun with that. At the end of the day, if my car is one percent better than everyone elses, then I’m going to be happy.”
After Sunday, it will be two weeks before IndyCar returns to oval racing at Texas Motor Speedway, this time with a slightly different aero kit from the one used at IMS.
Dixon was part of a very early test of the aero kit at TMS and said the series has gone through many iterations of the kit since then.
“I expect the racing to always be good here,” Dixon said. “These last few years, (the racing field) has probably been a little strung out compared to some of the early years when we would pack race here, which for the drivers, we prefer what we’ve had the last couple of years. Driving the car is much more difficult and it’s very exciting for us.”
Dixon believes rules dictated by IndyCar gives teams a “big range” of possibilities to work with on the aero kit.
“I think the racing style could change a little bit,” said Dixon, who won the 2008 Bombardier LearJet 550 at the track. “You could have someone very quick at the start of the stint, but have a massive falloff and not be very good over the 30, 40, 50 laps that they need to go on one set of tires.”
Wilson, who won the 2012 race but doesn’t have a deal in place to compete in the June 6th race, agrees.
“You’ll see some people pile on the downforce and run a couple of mph hour slower most of the night,” Wilson said. “But they’ll keep their average speed up because they’re not wearing out the tires. You’ll have some people sprint off in the distance for a couple of laps and slide around and wear them out.”
But before that comes the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit and the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at Indianapolis, where the last opportunity for teams to prepare for the race on-track is Carb Day on Friday.
“We’re still trying to make those last couple of tweaks that will hopefully be the race-winning tweak,” Wilson said.