JT – IndyCar’s most recent round, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, was an interesting race but very damaging for Scott Dixon in the championship chase. Dixon collided with Helio Castroneves while attempting a pass in Turn 2 on lap 15. Scott tried to go inside Helio but Castroneves shut the door, squeezing Dixon until contact was made.
Scott’s left front suspension was broken and his race was effectively over even though his Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was repaired by the team and ran a few more laps before retirement. He finished 22nd. Castroneves’ car was damaged as well but he continued to finish 15th. This dropped Scott to 5th in the standings, 127 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud. What did you think of the incident?
SJ – Well, a weekend that looked like it was going to be pretty much a home run turned bad as soon as qualifying started. Obviously there was a bad call on strategy during qualifying, a miscommunication really that turned out to be very costly. (Light rain was present on part of the track and the team decided to bring Scott into the pits waiting for it to pass. They were confident that Dixon’s previous laps were quick enough to keep him in the “Fast Six”. Dixon had wanted to stay out. With the track drying, lap times fell and Dixon fell back to 11th where he would start the race).
Strategy-wise, they did the right thing for the race (Scott made an early pit stop to go off-sequence) but it put Scott in proximity to Helio. He had managed to pull off the same move with three other guys before trying to pass Castroneves, who slammed door shut on him after leaving it open just enough to make a dive on the inside and then finding there was nowhere to go once he had committed to the late brake move. The door was definitely open wide enough to have a go, but the Helio did a Helio and just slammed the door shut and that effectively ended the race for both of them.
It was a costly loss of points for both of them. The championship will be even tougher now but there are still four races to go with 250 points on the table. So it’s still possible to win it. Scott wasn’t in a much better position last year at this point. You never know.
JT – Simon Pagenaud had a good race, starting on pole then passing Penske teammate Will Power in the late stages to take the win, his fourth of the year. He’s driving at a high level and has momentum.
SJ – I think Power and Pagenaud were pretty close in terms of pace. Power went offline and picked up a bunch of rubber on his tires that killed his pace. He had no grip in the last corner before the pits and that set up the move for Pagenaud. But Pagenaud is doing a terrific job. If he keeps finishing well consistently like he has all year, it will be very difficult for anyone to win the championship… but not impossible.
JT – Recently, I was watching a few of the CART races from the 1988 season for research for an article I’m working on. It was fun to see those races in part because I was a kid when I first saw them and because it was striking to see how little downforce the Lola, Penske and March chassis had in comparison to the Dallaras running today with Honda and Chevrolet aero kits.
The CART chassis of 1988 look like they were running less downforce on road and street courses than the current cars run with on ovals. It’s a kick to watch them moving around under braking and on corner entry and exit. They look much less nailed down than the Honda/Chevy Dallaras and in many ways they’re more exciting to watch.
SJ – The current Indy car is probably close to being the highest downforce-producing race car ever. They’ve got over 5000 pounds of downforce. It’s crazy. But that’s the way it is with the cars in almost every category now. It goes back to what we’ve been talking about for years now. They keep increasing the downforce and decreasing horsepower. It’s a vicious circle.
At the same time everyone is complaining there is not enough passing. All this high downforce does is make the racing about mid-corner speed and momentum. There is not enough power to pull the cars down the straight so minimum speed mid corner is what determines the laptimes. The cars are just planted now in everything from F1 to sports cars and it’s all the same.
With all the downforce the cars generate today you have to adapt a very strange driving technique. You have to focus on carrying speed through the middle of corners and the only place you can make up time is through the slow corners. You can have the biggest balls on the planet in the fast corners and if you gain one tenth of a second it’s a miracle.
In the past you really had to pucker up and use all your courage because you could make up close to a second by balancing the car on the limit in the faster corners.
I notice the engineers in F1 are already excited about the new style cars as they already generate a lot more downforce than the current one’s. They are talking about 25-35% more, which is a massive increase, and the braking distances subsequently getting even shorter than they are now and they predict the laptimes will be smashed on every track by 3-4 seconds according to their simulations. My question is, how on earth is that going to improve the racing, they are already almost in the corners when they hit the brakes, the speed midcorner is already very high, so where is the passing going to take place? Maybe I’m missing something but I can’t see how the racing will improve if the cars will have even more downforce, regardless if the downforce is generated from the top or the bottom of the car. I hope I’m proved wrong.
JT – Felix Rosenqvist tested with Ganassi Racing at Mid-Ohio prior to the race, driving Scott’s Dallara-Chevy. Apparently the test went quite well. He also had a stand out performance at the 24 Hours of Spa, driving a Mercedes AMG GT3 with AMG-Team AKKA ASP. Felix drove several stints, including the run to the checkers, finishing in 2nd place behind the winning BMW M6 from Rowe Racing.
SJ – The IndyCar test went extremely well. He impressed everyone there and definitely put his name on the radar for the IndyCar series. Everyone in the team, including Scott, really went out of their way to make sure he was well prepared.
At Spa he did a terrific job too. He was by far the quickest Mercedes driver. And remember they got docked two laps or five minutes before the race started (one of six Mercedes to serve five-minute stop-and-hold penalties for a technical infringement that stripped the manufacturer of its 1-6 qualifying sweep). They made it all the way back to the lead lap then had a puncture and lost a lap again with only a couple hours to go. Felix drove 12 hours out of the 24, and did the qualifying in his car, so I think he’s introduced himself into this category of racing very well by now.
He’s definitely got his mojo going and as I told him before the season began that he should drive anything he can get his hands on because whatever car he jumps in he’ll be dialed in instantly. That’s exactly what’s happening. I went through the same thing in the early years of my career and it helps massively jumping in and out of different cars and being able to get right with the program in very few laps.
JT – Formula One is on summer holiday currently following the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Lewis Hamilton took the win, getting away from the start cleanly while pole-sitter Nico Rosberg stumbled when the lights went out. Hamilton led into the first corner and was never challenged thereafter. Rosberg fell to fourth behind the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. What did you think of the race?
SJ – Yes, obviously with the start Hamilton was able to pull off the race was almost over by the first lap. Lewis definitely has the bit between his teeth right now. I think it will be tough for Nico to change the momentum, but maybe the break is what he needs to be able to regroup and come back fresh for the remainder of the season. Lewis had a monster month of July, that’s for sure!
Getting the start right is so important, especially if you are on the front row. When Nico had the edge earlier in the season, it was for the same reason if you remember. Everyone was totally writing Lewis off because of his lifestyle and this and that, and most of the time is was only because he couldn’t get his starts right, exactly the same that is now happening to Nico. It’s the little details, the minor nuances that make such a big difference. If one of them gets even something minor just a little bit more right than the other, that guy generally wins.
JT – As we’ve mentioned previously, the current format of Formula One exaggerates those small details. Given the configuration of most of the modern circuits F1 races on and the level of downforce the current cars generate, if a driver gets a good start and is able to take the lead in clean air though the first lap, opportunities to overtake that driver on track are exceedingly scarce thereafter. That means many, if not most F1 races, are currently decided in the first corner. That can’t be good for the sport.
SJ – Absolutely, it’s a problem for all the reasons I have already mentioned above and for the past years now. And with the new rules going forward, it’s not going to get better most likely. I don’t know when the penny will drop for the people that write these rules that more aero grip is not the way to go, when in fact, the exact opposite is the right direction. All we know is that the new rule changes are going to cost each team a fortune and yet again, despite the added costs, which by the way very few teams can afford, there will probably very little change to the racing or the pecking order.
JT – Nico Rosberg received a five second penalty for forcing Max Verstappen off track in the hairpin while trying to pass the Red Bull driver. In this instance the penalty might have been warranted. What’s your view?
JT – It did look a bit weird I must say. I don’t really understand the whole thing, normally what you do if you out-brake someone is make sure that you turn in just a little bit later than you would if you weren’t overtaking. That’s typically enough to take the edge off the other driver being able to turn at the same time that you turn and by doing so they have to lift just a little bit longer than they normally do which is just enough to give you the preferred line on the exit of the corner. So the intention of the move was exactly as you would expect.
In this case he really came from nowhere. I couldn’t believe he actually tried the move to begin with because he was three to four car lengths behind Verstappen coming into the braking zone. It was a very late move and I know that if you brake right on the limit you’ll lock up as soon as you turn the wheel. So you want to try to keep the wheel straight as long as you can and slow the car as much as you can before turning the wheel, so maybe this is what contributed to the extremely late turn in to the corner.
But it’s weird with Nico right now. It seems like it’s either too much or too little when he makes a move in a racing situation. In all the confrontations he’s had with Lewis he’s either backed off a bit too early or stayed with a move for too long. It seems like he’s having a hard time gauging his moves in the right way. Again, it’s tiny the nuances that make the difference and it’s easy for me or anyone else to sit and comment in front of the TV about these things, it’s a whole different thing when you’re in the car of course.
Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t. When you have the confidence and everything is going your way you always put the car exactly where you want it and the move sticks. But once you start having a little bit of doubt you’re never quite sure where you want to be. It’s the same if you’re a golfer or a tennis player. If you don’t know what to do simply by instinct, if you have to think about it, it’s very tough. It’s that grain of doubt that can be enough to hamper you.
Then with the penalty we have the same dilemma I’ve been talking about for a while now. You have a different driver-steward in the control tower at every race. Had there been a different driver-steward they might have said Nico’s move was fine. It’s that endlessly variable scenario with the stewards and rulings that’s making it very difficult both for the driver and also for the fans. As a driver, you never know if you’ve gone too far when there’s no consistency in applying rules.
In the past, there were no driver-stewards and things sorted themselves out.
I don’t envy Nico for one second as most of the on track confrontations are with Lewis by nature of the two being in a different league at the moment, and the added fact that Lewis is basically using the same playbook as Senna used. He simply goes for the gap no matter what, so it’s either a matter of the car he’s trying to pass giving enough room, or there’s contact, there is no middle ground. Nico knows this and that makes it extremely difficult for him to gauge where to place the car. Had it not been for Nico giving the room in many instances there would have been even more contact. This will continuously play with your head of course.
JT – As you’ve said previously, if modern tracks had more prominent physical limits much of this would be resolved naturally. If you or a competitor have a strong likelihood of contact with a barrier or of spinning out when exceeding track limits, you’re bound to be more careful, more calculated when you make a move.
SJ – Track limits have become a big subject now and there’s divided opinion. But if you look back over time, how many really bad accidents have been caused by curbing that you wouldn’t want to go near except to lean on them just a bit here or there – curbs that you’d never attempt to go straight over, or cars ending up in the sand trap?
The argument for lower curbing heights was that higher curbs were dangerous for motorcycle racing. So they flattened all the curbing at many of the circuits. But surely there must be a way to bolt reasonably high curbs to the ground firmly so that they could be used for cars and then removed for bikes when they race. They do this at street circuits like Monaco and Macao and I would imagine you could do the same thing on a permanent road course without to much trouble?
That way you could allow the bike guys to race with the flatter curbing then bolt on the higher curbs for auto racing. It’s either that or as Toto Wolff suggested, just let the guys run whatever line they want – no track limits. It’s kind of ridiculous and lap times will be probably two to three seconds quicker depending on the track but I’d love to try it at a place like Austin (Circuit of the Americas) where you have those esses (Turns 3-9) and just straight-line the lot of them.
You would probably change up a gear instead of downshifting and you end up at the end of the five corners by going behind the curbing at all of them. I’m only joking of course, but you could do that there theoretically because of the massive run off areas they have there. It’s a silly thought but that’s the point things have gotten to unfortunately.
Personally, I can’t see what was wrong with grass at the edges of a track. Even if you only had grass for ten feet and then asphalt runoff, that would prevent guys from stepping over the limit because you lose all grip immediately. At places like Mid-Ohio or Road America you still have grass and there’s no problem at these tracks. They’re great and when people go off the track they stay off generally and go into the runoff areas, and that’s the end of that.
Most of the really bad accidents that’s happened in racing have been freak accidents of some kind. Those kinds of accidents can never be prevented. Every now and then they will happen no matter how much you try to eliminate them. But what happens every time is the knee-jerk reaction that follows, often not very well thought through and with the end result even worse than what was there to begin with.
JT – Red Bull Racing now appears to be solidly second in the championship. Ferrari has fallen to third in the standings and doesn’t look like it will be able to raise its performance for the remainder of the season. They finished behind Red Bull at Hockenheim.
SJ – Yes, it looks like they most likely will finish third now. They have a lot of challenges right now and that’s not going to get easier anytime soon. The loss of James Allison is obviously huge and is not going to be an easy one to replace. They are now talking about a McLaren style structure in the design and engineering department, which may or may not be the way to go. But regardless, any major change in this regard inevitably takes a long time to implement. Let’s hope they have the direction already in place so there won’t be any major delays in getting back on track after the Allison departure. The battle for fourth place should be interesting though. McLaren actually might have a say in that too (McLaren now sits 7th in the championship, 54 points behind Williams in 4th place). Their performance is getting closer and closer to the others, and they have the resources to out develop the teams they are fighting against, so let’s see how that turns out, there are still a lot of racing left this year.