Team Penske’s Will Power led the way in the first and only practice session for this week’s double-header from Road America, putting in his fast lap of 1:46.002 right at the end of the hour-long session.
Power was able to beat out Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey and team-mate Josef Newgarden, who finished second and third on the time sheets respectively.
Today’s fastest practice times were over three seconds off last year’s pole position. The added 60 pounds of the Aeroscreen combined with the protective device’s extra drag on the circuit’s long straights contributed to the slower times.
Last year’s dominant winner Alexander Rossi had a short trip through the grass as he struggled for rear grip, but not before he was able to put in the session’s ninth best time of 1:46.373.
Ryan Hunter-Reay also took his Andretti Autosport machine through the grass at one point, but no damage was done to the car.
Simon Pagenaud was seen testing out a few different shocks throughout the session and was only able to manage a 19th best time, though only one second off the pace. Team Penske is not worried about the Frenchman’s chances later today, and were simply using the practice session to test out some different setups.
Tire life an issue once again
Last year on the rough tarmac of Road America, tire life was a deciding factor in determining the outcome of the race. The rubber would fall away quickly after a mere ten laps, leading to multiple close calls between drivers as they fought for position in the closing laps.
This year sees the additional weight of the Aeroscreen on the cars, which will only add to the tire degradation problem. Already drivers were fighting loose cars throughout the weekend’s only practice session, foreshadowing problems to come later in the day.
The harder, black-walled Firestone tires will likely be the tire of choice for the race on account of their added durability. Each of the two tire compounds has to be used at some point during the race, however, so strategy will play an important role in the final results.
Last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway saw similar tire degradation issues, leading to Arrow McLaren SP driver Oliver Askew losing control and bringing out the day’s sole caution. Drivers are always mindful of tire life, but it has become ever more important so far this season.
New driver cooling options
A recurring problem of the first two races of the season was driver comfort. High temperatures combined with the lack of airflow in the cockpit due to the Aeroscreen led to exceedingly fatigued racers.
Even though temperatures are not quite as high this weekend in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, IndyCar has made a few modifications to the regulations in order to allow the teams some extra flexibility in keeping their drivers comfortable.
The biggest change is that the driver’s drink bottle can now be placed within the cockpit rather than in amongst the engine components. This should drastically reduce the temperature of the water, especially towards the end of the race.
Teams have been testing out a second air vent to the side of the cars. In the past there has been a single 3D printed air intake on the side of the Aeroscreen that connects to the helmet via a flexible hose. The addition of a second vent will allow air to be directed elsewhere in the cockpit as well.
In addition, the crewmember responsible for removing tear-offs from the Aeroscreen during pit stops will now be allowed to provide a fresh drink bottle to the driver, who will then discard the bottle before leaving pit lane.
Fans allowed at the track
For the first time this year, fans are allowed at the track for this weekend’s contest. The state of Wisconsin has more lenient restrictions on sports events than some other states, leading to the venue allowing fans onto the grounds.
In addition, Road America sits on 640 acres of open land and has minimal grandstands, allowing fans to properly social distance while viewing the cars trackside.
The smell of barbeques will drift through the air as the crowds settle in for an action-packed two days of action.
Qualifying gets under way from the 4.05-mile road course at 14:00 EDT (19:00 BST) and the race will follow shortly after at 17:00 EDT (22:00 BST).