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Phoenix Test in the West notes, musings, observations

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Some notes, thoughts and perspective follow below after the Verizon IndyCar Series two-day Test in the West at Phoenix International Raceway:

  • Back to the glory days speed. You might remember in the late 1990s when CART ran at one-mile ovals in Milwaukee and Nazareth, while Phoenix dropped off and hitched its wagon to the IRL. But for a couple years, speeds at the one-milers were insane: 190-plus mph at Nazareth and mid-180s at Milwaukee were the pole speeds. And this weekend, it came back. Some speeds were tow-assisted but still, seven drivers had best speeds of over 190 mph, and the slowest best speed for the week was 184. For reference, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series track record at the same track is in the 143 mph range… IndyCars are running six seconds per lap quicker at the same track. How they’re getting there though, is the big question mark before the race.
  • The downforce dilemma. So when the speeds were that high in the late 1990s, CART then struggled with what wing package to bring – it’s the age-old debate between low and high downforce. High downforce brings higher cornering speeds; low downforce brings higher straightaway speeds and a greater gap between terminal velocity and cornering speeds. The super speedway wing package came in 1999 to short ovals, then with an aided Handford Mk II device for a mid-range downforce level. Right now in 2016, it’s skewing to more of a higher downforce package at PIR but even so opinions are split about whether it’s the right amount. Michael Andretti told Motorsport.com he wants more downforce, while defending series champion Scott Dixon told a group of reporters at the end of the session the current level is good. “Starting right now, I think it’s gonna be a good race. Is it gonna be hard to pass? Yes, but I think it’s possible,” said the four-time champ. Watch this space and we’ll have more thoughts about downforce in the days to come.
  • Tightly packed field. As noted, the speed gap was only six mph from 1-21 – and an even smaller two mph, or just 0.2964 of a second – from 1-18 in looking at the combined times. With different gearing, Dale Coyne Racing’s two cars could have found an additional tenth or two as well to make it even tighter 1-20. Compared to oval races in the past where there is at least some separation, right now, the quality and depth of field is as strong as it’s ever been, even with a reduced car count.
  • On Chevy vs. Honda. One issue apiece for both of them, with an engine failure cutting Will Power’s test short and with a mistake by Jack Hawksworth exiting Turn 2. Honda seems a bit closer to Chevrolet, but times could be a bit deceiving with at least one Honda team opting for qualifying simulations during the evening rather than race runs. Most of the fastest laps of the weekend were set on Saturday afternoon, not evening, as Honda’s best times were.
  • A bigger than anticipated fan turnout. Didn’t get over to see it in Turn 1 or from talking to track staff, but it seemed as though more fans came to the test than was expected. I’ll refer you to these tweets from veteran reporter Bruce Martin, who got the lowdown on how track staff handled the influx of fans. The hope and prayer is that between now and April, the marketing push gets hit harder. Two-time Indianapolis 500 champ Arie Luyendyk and 1992 race rookie of the year Lyn St. James are Phoenix locals, and St. James was on site all weekend at PIR helping to get the word out.
    https://twitter.com/BruceMartin_500/status/703677820040572928https://twitter.com/BruceMartin_500/status/703678061674414081
  • New sheriffs in town. You can read the full transcript of the INDYCAR Stewards Press Conference here if you like. The early takeaway – and it’s early days yet with all we have to go on initial impressions rather than proper race situations – is that you feel as though the sanctioning body has finally taken control of its new staff and management situation after a two-to-three year transition period. It’s obvious that the latest new regime, with Mark Miles and Jay Frye at the top, and then the new quartet of Bill Pappas, Dan Davis, Max Papis and Arie Luyendyk, enter with high expectations and a high sense of optimism. Having Will Phillips gone is interesting/intriguing from a technical side, while without Derrick Walker and Beaux Barfield – Walker gone after 2015 with Barfield having left after 2014 – Race Control now has people who I hope we don’t have to hear from near as much. Accountability is important, for sure, as Miles outlined, but we don’t want the officials to be a story.
  • April’s gonna change from now. The race is called the Phoenix Grand Prix and by that point, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race will have also run at the track. That’s gonna be a lot of Goodyear rubber that will have gone down since, which will feel different than the 5,300-odd plus laps completed by Firestone this week. “I think it’s going to be interesting because NASCAR is going to be here about two weeks before we race, two, three weeks, so I think it’s going to change the track a lot with all that rubber they’re going to lay down and everything, so we’ll see how the track changes,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, who’s the only driver in the field who by April will be able to say he’s raced at PIR in both events.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.