The name of the game for Sunday’s IndyCar race from Road America appears to be the battle to keep performance in the tires for more than a couple laps.
For reasons unknown to the drivers, the series-mandated Firestone tires are simply not lasting as long as they have in previous years when the series has visited the 4.05-mile course.
There were hints all weekend as to how critical the quick degradation of the tires would be, but Saturday’s qualifying cemented its importance.
The softer tires did not even last long enough to put in a couple fast laps, and Josef Newgarden was able to rocket to pole by employing an alternate strategy and running his fast laps on the harder, black-walled tires.
After qualifying, the veteran elaborated on what can be done during Sunday’s race to help the tires to last as long as possible.
“The name of the game is not over-slipping the tire,” explained Newgarden. “The tire is always sliding.
“[The cars] generate grip by slipping the tire, but you don’t want to over-slip it. You want to slip it just enough to get good grip, good speed, but not doing any damage.
“Some guys are easier on tires versus not. Colton [Herta] is certainly one that you’d see him be strong in the beginning, fade pretty aggressively a couple years ago. He’s better at that now.
“Longitudinally and laterally are how you’re wearing the tire out, how much you’re sliding it.
“There’s a lot of long-duration lateral corners here where you are constantly loaded for five, ten seconds, like the carrousel.
“You can do a lot of damage to tires if you’re too aggressive in those types of corners. There’s all kind of sorts of stuff you can do to dial out the wear, but you’re sacrificing speed if you do.”
There will be considerable thought put into tire strategy ahead of Sunday’s race, as teams are expected to try to run as few laps as possible on the softer tires.
There is an added element of rain as well, which is expected to arrive right around race time. If rain does come, any requirements surrounding tire compounds are removed as soon as the rain tires are fitted.
The 55-lap race from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin gets underway Sunday at 12:30 PM EDT.