INDYCAR at COTA could be case of ‘comers and goers’

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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.

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”