AUSTIN, Texas – Because of the high loads put on the high-speed NTT IndyCar Series cars, Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas will feature plenty of “comers and goers” according to series drivers.
That’s because tire degradation will play a role in the race. That is how long the Firestone tires are at optimal grip before the grip level starts to fall off dramatically. When that happens, handling will begin to deteriorate, and speeds will drop. The drivers that manage their tires the best, will have an advantage because they will be able to run faster lap times.
Factor in the two different compounds that are used by Firestone in NTT IndyCar Series street and road course racing and the strategy gets even more intriguing. The harder, primary tire is known as the Firestone “Black.” It has longer durability, but less speed performance. The softer, alternate tire is known as the Firestone “Red” because it has red sidewalls. Those tires have superior performance but degrade at a much quicker rate.
“The tires seem to go off quite a lot,” said rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden. He was the second fastest driver in Friday’s combined practice sessions at 1:47.6150 around the 20-turn, 3.41-mile Circuit of the Americas road course for a speed of 114.073 miles per hour in a Honda.
“Managing that is going to be the key,” Rosenqvist continued. “Everyone just got, like, one or two laps on the Reds (softer, faster alternate tires), then it’s a big question mark how they’re going to behave in the race without laps on them in the warmup session.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting one. It’s a big question mark, like it always is in this area. That’s kind of exciting. We felt pretty good so far.
“I think it’s going to be good, fair qualifying where everyone can get a lap in. Surprised sometimes how much traffic you can get on such a big track.
“Let’s hope it’s a good session and we come out on top.”
Team Penske driver Will Power was the fastest in Friday’s two combined practice sessions when his Chevrolet ran a lap at 1:47.4401 for a speed of 114.529 mph.
“The tires degrade so much, I think it will create some racing,” Power said. “I think there will be some mistakes. It’s always hard to say. You see what happens in these series, they get so competitive, so tight, basically everyone almost runs the same speed. That’s what makes it difficult to pass.
“IndyCar is at that point. Being a new track, no one knows what to expect for the race, so we’ll see.”
Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights Series champion from Mexico, makes his first start of the season for Carlin Racing. The 19-year-old also expects tires to play a major role in the 60-lap race on Sunday.
“It’s going to very interesting in the race because nobody has raced around here in an Indy car,” O’Ward said. “That is going to be the biggest surprise this weekend.
“I think the challenges will be tire degradation, for sure. It’s a very fast, flowing circuit and that takes a big toll on front and rear tires. There are a lot of long, lasting corners so that heats up the tires quite quick. You can go overboard if you are too hard on them.”
O’Ward believes a tire stint will be 12-15 laps and said it is too early to tell if a team needs to pit before a full load of fuel is used.
That should have the IndyCar team engineers and race strategists on pit lane crunching numbers to come up with the winning strategy in Sunday’s race.