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Filtering by Tag: Indianapolis

Getting ready for Indy 500 and the F1 Grand Prix of Monaco

Eric Graciano

- #SJblog 85 -

JT – In recent IndyCar events, Simon Pagenaud dominated at Phoenix, taking his first win on an oval. Really, Penske as a whole was strong as were the Chevrolet cars in general. Seven of the top ten finishers were in Chevys. Scott Dixon must have been fairly pleased to be the best of the Hondas with his 5th place finish.

More recently Scott finished 2nd in the Indianapolis Grand Prix, the prelude to the Indy 500. He was the best of the Honda finishers, bested only by Chevy-powered winner Will Power.

But the big news as we count the days until the Indy 500 is that Scott put in four fantastic laps at the Speedway to win his third Indy pole at 232.565 mph!

SJ – Getting the pole at Indy again is great obviously, and it was a mighty run from Scott for sure. Indy qualifying is not easy under any circumstance. But to go out cold without even one lap in practice all day – he went straight from qualifying on Saturday to qualifying on Sunday – in a car that you have no idea about in terms of how it will perform, that’s impressive. Everybody is trying to trim their cars to the absolute limit and I think Scott and his engineer Chris Simmons went all out this time. Scott said he had a small breather in turn 2 every lap just keep the front tight and he was still doing 232 laps so the car must have been extremely light on downforce. Typically, if you have to lift anywhere on the four lap run the time won’t hold up.

JT – Last weekend’s action at the Speedway proved again that nowhere else is qualifying for a race more dramatic than at Indianapolis.

SJ – Indy is fantastic, the whole format, the build up and the process, everything is just magic. It’s so exciting both for the fans and the competitors. There’s nothing that comes close to it really. It’s a very special place. It’s a pity there’s not enough cars for bumping as there used to be, that was almost more exciting than the fight for pole many times. But the format is great, and the crowd was fantastic this year, you could even hear the roar on the TV when the guys were posting the big laps. Great stuff!

With Alonso being there this year as well, I think a lot more people that normally would not tune in are going to realize again how incredibly exciting it is and how great IndyCar racing and the Indy 500, in particular, are. It’s an outstanding event and qualifying is really an event in itself, apart from the race.

Alonso also mentioned that he wants to be a “complete driver” which I think is fantastic coming from him. I think his involvement this year could start a trend. I’m sure he’s loved every minute of this experience so far.

Attendance for the race this year could well be the biggest yet. It will for sure be the biggest crowd Alonso has ever raced in front of. It’s the biggest crowd anyone ever races in front of period. The whole experience is totally exceptional.

I remember the first time I raced there, walking out onto the grid for the first time after having been there all month and it’s amazing. Qualifying has a pretty good crowd but when you walk out onto the grid on Sunday morning before the start you suddenly see this mountain of people in front of you. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. It’s an incredible experience.

JT – Does the massive crowd distract you during the race, as opposed to practice when the seats are basically empty?

SJ – It’s different. You get in the car on race day and there are all these people and you find that the track has suddenly shrunk. Your view peripherally is completely different. The track feels like it’s half the size compared to what it was when the stands were empty. It’s kind of bizarre and it takes a few laps to get used to. You just have to readjust. You have visual reference points and you just have to adjust them a bit.

If you’re running in the middle of the pack during the race - or in the last 500 I raced in where I started from the back row because I qualified on Bump Day and I bumped the Penske’s out of the race – when you’re behind all these other cars, and because they’re running on ethanol you literally can’t see anything the first three laps. Your eyes are watering so much, just dripping from the exhaust fumes. They’re so strong and the smell is just insane.

Then there’s the turbulence. The whole car is just dancing around all over the track. You’re basically hanging on for dear life before the field gets strung out a bit. And back then, going into Turn 1, you couldn’t even hold your head straight. We didn’t have the head rests they have now and your helmet was bouncing around all over the place which also prevented you from seeing a damn thing.

JT – Four of the five Andretti cars made the top nine with the fifth in the 10th starting position. Scott’s on pole with Tony Kanaan 7th for Ganassi. Only one of Team Penske’s drivers made it into the top nine, Will Power. This is a bit puzzling given Penske’s typical performance at the Speedway.

SJ – Yes, this is highly unlike Penske. They go for it big time in qualifying normally. I don’t know if they’re struggling to find speed or what their issues were. We’ll find out on Sunday. Qualifying is a different deal though, just because you can’t find the ultimate speed in Qualifying, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a quick race car. The other thing is that at Indy more than any other track the cars are very sensitive to any changes in track conditions. If the wind direction or speed changes or the temperature goes up it can very quickly go from a perfect car to one that is nearly undriveable in a matter of a few laps. This is why you often see someone that starts upfront going backwards very quickly. Every team is spending as much time as they can running in every possible condition during practice to gather as much data as possible for race day.

JT – Getting back to the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the race at Phoenix, what did you make of those two?

SJ – I think Scott did extremely well to finish in 2nd in the Indy Grand Prix. I think the differences in the Honda and Chevy aero kits definitely gave the Chevys an advantage drag-wise in both those races, but then Honda clearly have an advantage at the Speedway so one outweighs the other I guess.

Whatever the intent was when IndyCar set out to have manufacturer-specific aero kits, I think it’s really kind of backfired. For the Indianapolis Grand Prix, Chevy had the edge. For the 500, it’s obvious that Honda has an advantage. Then again, the Chevys have a big advantage at Phoenix and other short ovals.

So the performance is not really equal for one or the other manufacturer depending on where you go. Chevy and Honda had to submit a finalized aero kit at a certain date in the past and that’s it. They’re both stuck with what they have. That’s not really a proper way to determine a championship or even the outcome of an individual race. So whatever IndyCar’s intent was, it hasn’t worked out to be what they envisioned.

I think you have the manufacturers do the engines and you have a spec car or you free up the rules and let the designers and teams do what they want to do. It’s so hard to regulate these things fairly, which is what will happen from 2018 onwards, and how it was before this latest aero experiment with different body kits for each manufacturer.

It’s the same with all these BoP (Balance of Performance) formulas and with driver ratings we have to deal with in Sportscar Racing. Trying to regulate these things rarely works out well. I still firmly believe that it should be an open competition and may the best man win.

We kind of knew Phoenix would be a problem for the Hondas since before the season started. I think Scott’s happy with his finish – you know, best in class and good points for the season (Dixon is now 2nd in points behind Pagenaud) – there’s not much more he could have hoped for there.

JT – The Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was the most recent F1 contest. Again, it wasn’t the most scintillating race. In summation, it seemed that Sebastian Vettel won the race at the start going into the first corner and then Ferrari’s pit strategy lost the race, allowing winner Lewis Hamilton to gain massively on Vettel. Further aid came when Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas held Vettel up behind him.

When Stoffel Vandoorne collided with Felipe Massa in Turn 1 on the 34th lap, a Virtual Safety Car period ensued. Mercedes pitted Hamilton for soft tires but Ferrari left Vettel out. That seemed to be a tactical mistake. Do you agree?

SJ – Yes, I would agree with you. It boggles my mind why Ferrari didn’t stop when there was a VSC. That’s race strategy-101. If you have a virtual safety period and you’re in a pit stop window, you have to stop.

I am not 100% clear if the pits were closed during the safety car period or not, in which case maybe Vettel passed the pits as the track went green and Hamilton being 8 seconds behind was able to duck in just as Vettel passed the green flag.

It’s fantastic that the championship is so close and we now have two teams fighting for the title. And it’s great that Ferrari is one of them. Kimi had bad luck at the beginning, getting taken out on the first lap when he was nudged by Bottas into Verstappen. I think Verstappen’s move trying to go three wide on the outside was a pretty low percentage move. The chances of pulling that off were pretty small but I can also understand him trying as that would be his only chance of passing the guys in front as it’s virtually impossible to pass anywhere on that track under normal racing conditions.

JT – The Russian Grand Prix had a somewhat surprising result. Mercedes GP’s Valtteri Bottas won with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finishing 2nd and 3rd. Lewis Hamilton finished off the podium, having struggled all weekend. Bottas had a terrific start from third position on the grid, passing both Vettel and Raikkonen to take the lead into the first corners.

He led the rest of the way and drove well. His only test came from Vettel who closed on him in the final laps. But Vettel was never close enough to challenge Bottas. Otherwise, there was almost no overtaking in this processional race. What did you make of it?

SJ – The race was more or less what we’re used to seeing but I thought Bottas did a terrific job. He had a great start and was under a fair bit of pressure at the end and stayed cool and calm to win his first GP.

There wasn’t any passing but it’s the same thing we’ve been talking about for a long time now. More downforce never makes racing better and unless there are some sort of freak circumstances this won’t change until they either change the philosophy on the car designs or re design the tracks to make them more challenging so that drivers will occasionally make a mistake or simply make it possible for a more skilled driver to take a corner faster and by doing so being able to pass.

JT – Ferrari locked out the front row after qualifying in Russia and now seems able to match or exceed Mercedes’ pace over a lap depending on conditions. It’s a marked improvement for them.

SJ – I really think one of the key ingredients there is what I’ve said for months now. Vettel made the effort to be an integral part of Pirelli’s tire testing and development program for 2017. None of the other top guys made that commitment. The other teams can say what they want about the testing being done with an old and different car but it doesn’t matter. It’s the feel of the tire that matters as much as the grip for most drivers.

If you can influence that feel from the tire to get it to where you’re comfortable with it, that makes an enormous difference. The tires are the one area where you can gain or lose a massive amount of performance. Vettel has helped Ferrari get the car dialed in with the tires. And that’s where Mercedes and maybe even more Red Bull is struggling at the moment. They didn’t test the new tires with their regular guys as much and that’s in my opinion why they’re now struggling to make the car work.

JT – In other F1 news, Force India continues to impress, holding fourth in the championship behind the big three teams with double the points of Williams F1, their closest mid-pack rival. Meanwhile, Haas Ferrari has been struggling, suffering brake problems and a car which alternately suits one driver or the other but not both.

At the absolute bottom of the grid are McLaren Honda and Sauber Ferrari. Neither team has scored a point yet and McLaren has had only one finish over the opening four rounds of the championship. Ironically, the two are now linked with the recent announcement that Sauber will use Honda engines in 2018. What are your thoughts about these developments?

SJ – Force India has been quite impressive. They’re definitely punching above their weight so far, similar to how they performed last year. Haas keeps having brake problems. It’s a bit mysterious but on the other hand the braking systems today are so complicated it’s not too hard to imagine.
Sauber switching to Honda is interesting. I guess it’s a financial matter as much as anything. I personally think Honda will eventually get their engines right. It’s just a matter of when and how. If the engine formula remains essentially the same and they have enough time, there’s no doubt they’ll fix their problems and become a factor again.

And at this point it’s far better for McLaren to have another team running Honda engines to share the development load. Plus, Sauber isn’t exactly going to be a threat to McLaren. McLaren’s agreement with Honda did prevent Honda from supplying other teams and that hasn’t been helpful but I guess you could say that no one expected Honda to be as far off as they have been either.

JT –Up next for F1 is the Monaco GP. In contrast to Indy where both qualifying and the race are important, qualifying is perhaps more important than the actual race at Monaco.

SJ – Qualifying is definitely the thing that really matters at Monaco. Unless there are freak circumstances during the race with rain or something like that and there are strategy calls they can’t plan for comes into play, not too much changes after qualifying positions are established.
Otherwise, we’ll see the usual procession we are used to. The race is pretty much over after the first corner all things being equal. Even with the Formula E race there a couple weeks ago which uses only half the track, it was virtually impossible to pass. There’s really only one line around the entire track. Even if you get a run on someone coming out of a corner there’s really nowhere to go. You follow one line which applies to the entire track. There just isn’t one single spot which is really an overtaking place.

SJ chats with Jan Tegler: Indy 500, Monaco GP & the FIA Formula 3 European Championship

Stefan Johansson

Jan Tegler – IndyCar followed up an exciting Indy 500 with the “Chevrolet Dual in Detroit” last weekend. Both Honda and Chevy claimed wins during the doubleheader. The racing was curtailed by rain on Saturday and heavily influenced by it on Sunday. Carlos Munoz took his maiden win for Andretti Autosport on Saturday while Sebastian Bourdais won for KVSH Racing on Sunday.

It was a mixed weekend for Scott Dixon with a 5th place finish on Saturday and 20th place finish Sunday after contact with his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball. You were on hand, what did you think of the racing and the weekend for Scott?

Stefan Johansson – Overall, the weather really put a damper on the whole weekend, especially on Sunday it was just miserable. The weekend wasn’t great for Scott but not a total loss. The way the strategy played out on Saturday turned out to be alright but not great. They were the first car to roll the dice and go to wets but they were about five to six minutes too early once it went green.

They lost about 15 seconds per lap before the rest decided to come in and go to wets. This meant the others had enough time to stop under green, rejoin and still be ahead of Scott. After that there wasn’t enough time left to make an impact on the people in front. Finishing in 5th place wasn’t bad considering the incidents on track and the fact that the race didn’t go the full distance.

On Sunday, things were going well near the end of the race. Scott and Will Power were the only two cars that would have made it to the end on fuel. Running in the top ten, I think Scott had a good chance of winning at that point. But then he was taken out in the accident and that caution basically saved everybody else.

Sebastian Bourdais did a great job and his KVSH Team got him out in front of everybody else on their last pit stop so in the circumstances they deserved the win.  Sebastian is a terrific driver. He didn’t win four Champ Car titles for nothing. He did everything he needed to do given the opportunity on Sunday. It was great to see my old buddy and sparring partner Jimmy Vasser win another race.

Overall though, it was a typical Detroit race, where strategy is more important than speed a lot of the time. Again, the show was great and both races ended up being exciting to watch.

JT – Looking back to the previous week and the Indy 500, Scott seemed to do everything he could have done, driving a perfect race, leading the most laps until the car experienced problems in the final stint. The race was a good one otherwise with a pretty impressive battle between Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power for the win in the last five laps with Montoya prevailing. 

SJ – What happened right at the end was that the radiator got clogged with debris and the engine temperature shot through the roof. He basically had to back off completely. He was running 223 mph laps earlier in the race and could do that all day long on his own. But with the engine temperature so high all he could manage was 217 mph with a tow. He just had no power left and he had to go to safety settings on the steering wheel to preserve the engine.

It was a good race no doubt but personally, I think Scott would have walked it and won if he hadn’t had the overheating. The car was so fast and he was really just cruising all day. He was completely in control of the race. I think he had enough to stay out in front of Montoya and Power.

Unfortunately, if not for all of the “ifs” and “buts” we’d all win lots of races but racing is heartbreaking a lot of the time.

JT – The Indy 500 again proved to be the best racing of the big three on Memorial Day weekend, eclipsing the Charlotte 600 and absolutely burying the parade that is the Monaco Grand Prix.

SJ – It just goes back to what I’ve been saying for a couple years now. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that IndyCar is the best racing in the world right now week-in, week-out. I really believe that. Every race is exciting and there’s action all the time – passing, incidents and good hard competition throughout the field.

It’s just a shame IndyCar can’t relay that to more fans. The Indy 500 had great TV ratings but apart from that race, there is nowhere near enough attention attracted by the series. Instead of spending all the money Chevy and Honda have spent on the new aerokits – millions of dollars for sure – if that would have been allocated to good marketing I think it would have benefitted IndyCar significantly more than these aerokits that no one but die-hard fans sees a difference in.

It’s always easy to be smart in hindsight but I don’t think you can say these aerokits have improved the racing, and I don’t think there were a lot of people who really understood the reason to do it to begin with. As I’ve said many times now, the one thing there was nothing wrong with in IndyCar was the cars themselves and the racing.  They produced great racing and they were affordable to run. All this did was add extra cost for the teams, something many of them could certainly do without. I don’t even want to think what Chevy and Honda spent between them developing these kits.

JT – The Monaco Grand Prix paled in comparison to the Indy 500 to put it politely – a dull race up to the point where Mercedes’ gaffe in pitting Lewis Hamilton from the lead led to his losing the race and gifting the win to teammate Nico Rosberg. It really was simply an embarrassing outing both for Mercedes and Formula One. What’s your view?

SJ – Well, there have been so many comments and arguments there isn’t much to add. It was just a gigantic screw-up on every level. In a way, that kind of sums up the way F1 is at the moment.

Toto Wolff’s (Mercedes team boss) comment - “Data doesn’t lie. We had to go with what the data told us to do in that situation” - it’s simply ridiculous to say that. You’ve got 12 laps remaining. Unless the car has some sort of failure, you just don’t stop in Monaco, end of story. You could be five seconds a lap quicker than the car in front of you and you literally can’t get past. Anyone with the slightest amount of race craft knows that.

I think what triggered the panic at Mercedes was that Lewis was complaining that his tire temperatures were dropping. In fairness, it’s always toughest for the leader to make a call when a caution or a safety car comes out. Whatever he does, the others have the opportunity to do the same or the opposite.

In this case, the general rule of thumb is always – “if in doubt, stay out”. With less than 15 laps to go at Monaco you should never stop unless you have a limping car.

One thing is clear. If Ross Brawn had still been with Mercedes calling the races you know that would never have happened. Ross has the race craft; he and Michael [Schumacher] during their heyday were terrific with race strategy. One reason they were so good and why they snookered everybody so many times on strategy is because they were both trained in sports car racing.

It’s the best form of racing to hone your race craft. You have to make strategic decisions all the time - in every race – for six hours, 12 hours, 24 hours. You can make a season’s worth of open-wheel decisions in one 24 hour sports car race. There’s so much more to consider in every regard – tire wear, fuel consumption, weather conditions, track position.

I think Mercedes’ mistake sums up the mindset in F1 right now. Race craft is a thing of the past, certainly from a driver’s point of view. You don’t need it as a driver. You just listen to your engineers. They tell you to speed up a bit or to slow down, or change a setting on the steering wheel and drivers just drive to whatever commands they get.

That’s one of the reasons so many of the drivers are now paying attention to sports car racing. Nico Hulkenberg is the latest to be part of the trend but I think there are a lot of drivers sniffing around wanting to do sports car racing because they’re racers and they want to race. The racing in F1 isn’t satisfying them anymore to the point where they really get a kick out of it.

For any driver worth his salt, you want to drive a car on the limit for as long as you can. When you can’t do that, what’s the point? The excitement is gone.

JT – Speaking of the mindset in F1 currently, what’s your take on the recent meetings of the series’ “Strategy Group” to discuss proposals for making F1 more exciting? Will anything come out of them?

SJ – No. In my opinion, creating this Strategy Group is one of the biggest mistakes they’ve ever made. It’s had different names over the years but it allows the teams and more importantly, the engineers and designers, to be part of the rule-making process. It’s a disaster and the people involved will never want to change things. They’d like to add more complexity if they can, not less.

If the engineers and designers could have eight wind-tunnels instead of two or more simulators, they would. It never ends. There are two governing bodies in F1, the FIA and the FOM (Formula One Management). They are the ones who should make the rules. They need to be mowell thought out, well-formed rules that can be maintained over as long a period of time as possible. Rules stability will always bring the costs down and make the overall grid more competitive as a result.

The bottom line is that you can’t run any racing series as a democracy. That has been proven over and over again, with Champ Car being a recent and perfect example. I sat in on a lot of the meetings the team owners had and I simply couldn’t believe some of the things I was hearing - never mind the shenanigans going on behind closed doors.

There are, or at least were, two consistently strong series in racing, F1 and NASCAR. And they were both run like benevolent dictatorships but with an iron fist. They were both able to see the bigger picture and where things would go in the future. In the case of F1, Max [Mosley] and Bernie [Ecclestone] together ran the sport pretty well. They didn’t always please everyone and occasionally they would throw a grenade into the proceedings to make people wake up a bit. Then everybody would scream and shout for a couple of weeks. A little later, they’d back off twenty percent from their original positions and after the furor died down everybody would just get on with the job. Lo and behold, that actually worked.

Now the people in the sport waste their times in these meetings and the best they can come up with is a return to refueling during pit stops?

Frankly, who cares? Do they think fans are going to stampede to races again because they have fuel stops? As Christian Horner (Red Bull Racing team boss) said, the only decision they’ve made so far is to ban drivers changing their helmet designs during the season. Last year it was allowing drivers to pick their own car number.

Nothing will result from the meetings. It’s hard enough to get them to agree on where and when to have a meeting because they’re all so suspicious of one another and whatever secret agenda they think the other teams might have. As long as the teams are involved in decisions on the rules-making process it will never work.

Worse, from all of the meetings they’ve had over the last few years not one single proposal has touched on really bringing costs down. Refueling was banned because it was too expensive in the past. How on earth do they think it will be less expensive now?

And being F1, refueling couldn’t be done with gravity-feed fueling rigs in 15 seconds or however long it might take. No, they want it to be done in two to three seconds to match the current time it takes to do tire changes. Imagine, they’d need some ridiculous amount of pressure to the push fuel into the cars that quickly. That’s a recipe for disaster to begin with - why add that complication?

And with pit stops that short what’s the point anyway? I would like to see them bring the human element back into it. How about having two guys in total to execute a pit stop like teams in sports car racing do? Those guys are seriously good at what they do and then you have something that could actually make a bit of difference to the outcome of a race.

Strategy would be more in play because pit-deltas would be close to half-a-minute if not more. Deciding whether to pit or not would make a big difference. The small time it takes to stop now is almost pointless and everybody is pretty much on the same strategy most of the time.

Now, there are four guys on each corner of an F1 car during a pit stop now plus a couple more with the front and rear jacks so it’s 18-total. To me it makes no sense.

JT – Another feature of the current rules that you’re puzzled about is the development “tokens” made available to engine constructors for 2015. Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault were given 32 tokens for power-unit development before the season began to “spend” as they saw fit. Honda was given nine tokens (an average of what the other three engine builders had left ahead of the season’s first race).

SJ – Why don’t they do the same thing - allow only so many development tokens - for the chassis, or the other way around where they leave the engine development open the same as it is for the chassis?

Apparently, it’s ok to have 80 different front wing configurations in a season. Ferrari proudly announced that they started the “development arms race” as they call it. They’ve got a new brake duct with 35 pounds more downforce and ten pounds less drag or whatever the numbers are. Who cares about a brake duct? That alone has probably cost them four or five million dollars to develop.

That’s the level of ridiculousness F1 has got to now. But there are so many things that would be easy to implement to bring down costs. Crash-testing is one area. Each team is required to do crash-testing on their tub and more importantly to pass it, which is not a very easy task by all accounts. Each team is spending a fortune just to pass this test. Why not just give the teams a standard tub and nose that’s approved by the FIA with all of the crash-testing already done? They could just bolt on their own aerodynamic bodywork on top of it.

That alone would take a huge cost burden away. But the big teams in particular don’t seem to want any changes. That defies logic in my opinion. A more competitive, broader field benefits everyone. Without too much effort, a winning F1 team should be able to run for $100 to $150 million per year. Also-rans should be able to do it for $30 or $40 million a season. And in the end, it’s always the top teams that do the winning no matter what. IndyCar is a perfect example of that where it’s basically Ganassi and Penske and occasionally Andretti who do all the winning, despite the fact that all the teams have the same cars.

Teams wouldn’t even strictly need sponsors because everything would be paid for by Bernie and any money they earned above their costs would be profit. At that point, the value of each franchise would go through the roof because people would find that F1 was a business you could actually make money from.

And let’s face it; F1 is still by far the most glamorous and high profile sport in the world. Anyone with enough money and a big ego will always line up to have a go at being an owner. Now, you’re lucky if you can give a team away and have someone else assume its debt. That’s what it has come to. There’s not a team that would be able to sell their operation at a profit right now.

JT – Apart from F1, the cost and viability of auto racing across the spectrum is questionable now, wouldn’t you agree?

SJ – Yes, it’s a tough time in motor racing in general. We keep talking about the teams and series but the promoters are having the same problems. There’s no coincidence that there’s no German Grand Prix, the Italian Grand Prix is currently in doubt. Spa (the Belgian Grand Prix) is right on the limit every year as is the British Grand Prix. No one can make any money.

JT - We’ve mentioned it previously but as time goes on, the FIA driver ratings system seems more and more pointless as a spectator. Obviously, the system is aimed at attracting more gentlemen drivers to sports car racing and generating business for teams but for fans it’s another level of needless complexity.

SJ – I think it started with good intentions. It was basically a way for “gentlemen” drivers who were also supporting the teams financially to be able to compete on high level. Now, all these teams scout the whole world for fast young Formula 3 kids.

These kids are talented and professionally groomed but haven’t been rated yet. It goes against the whole idea of giving the gentlemen drivers a break with the assumption that they’ll bring money to help fund the teams. The rating system is completely out of whack.

The way it used to be sort of worked itself out organically and the end result was more or less the same as it is now. The teams with ambition always find a way to get the results. Those with less ambition end up running a guy who helps foot the bill. All the ratings system has done is basically kill the careers of a lot of very talented professional drivers who simply can’t get a drive because their rating is wrong and there’s not enough room in the teams for them.

JT – One of the more bizarre features of last weekend’s racing was the cancelation of the third leg of the FIA Formula 3 European Championship race at Monza after nine laps due to poor driving standards. Multiple accidents in race-one led to drivers being warned about driving standards. After more incidents in race-two and crashes early in race-three the competition was abandoned. On a positive note, Felix Rosenqvist won all three rounds.

SJ – Felix certainly did the business in Monza with a hat trick both in qualifying and all three races. It can’t get any better than that. Unfortunately, due to the poor driving and all the safety cars, etc. they only handed out half-points for races two and three.

There used to be a kind of silent code of conduct amongst drivers but sadly it’s a thing of the past. There were no real rules as to what you could or couldn’t do in terms of blocking for example - there was just a quiet understanding of how far you would go. And if there was ever a dispute it would get sorted behind the transporters between the drivers themselves and then it would never happen again.

Unfortunately, I think it all started in the mid to late 1980s with some of the drivers that the current generation still looks up to. The code of conduct was just ripped into shreds and then some of the other big names in the 90s took it to a whole other level after that. Because these guys were the stars of their time, now that’s how young drivers think they should drive.

I also think it’s partly because they don’t think they can get hurt anymore. Years ago you were never sure if you’d walk again if you did stupid things like they do now. There’s a whole different mentality today and until you’ve had a big one or two you tend to feel like you can walk on water.

The Last 5 Minutes of Qualification: Stefan Johansson Talks About 1995 Indy 500 Bump Day

Stefan Johansson

A Conversation with Patrick Karle

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Stefan Johansson’s 1995 Indianapolis 500 “Bump Day” run, which has to be remembered as undoubtedly one of the most interesting and exciting and perhaps, in retrospect, most bittersweet, moments in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Stefan Johansson, then a 38-year-old Swedish driver who made his mark in Formula 1, showed up in Gasoline Alley for looking for his third 500 start. With thick blond hair and boyish grin, he looked so much like an American cowboy that the reporters nicknamed him “Steven Johnson.” Although Stefan had participated in 103 Formula 1 Grands Prix 1980-1991, as the lone driver on Tony Bettenhausen’s Alumax Motorsports Team, few took him seriously; yet he would become the hero of that last great opera of speed.

Driving a one-year-old Reynard 94i/Ford XB V8t on Goodyear tires, Johansson bumped his way into the 31st position on the starting grid with a solid four-lap average of 225.547 m.p.h. only five minutes before the gun sounded the end of the qualifying period at 6 p.m.

Johansson’s run bumped two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi from the field of 33 by a few tenths of a second, ending Team Penske’s chance to win a third Indianapolis 500 in a row.

Penske cars had won the 1993 and 1994 500s with Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr., respectively.  In fact, the Penske 23B, powered by the 209-cid Mercedes-Benz 500I purpose-built pushrod engine that author Jade Gurss nick-named “the Beast,” had so dominated the ’94 field that the United States Auto Club (USAC) had drastically reduced its horsepower advantage for ’95 and basically outlawed it for 1996.  Historians generally agree that without the Beast’s extreme horsepower, Unser and Fittipaldi struggled with Reynard and Lola chassis until the clock ran out.

Ironically, 1995 was the first time that Team Penske failed to field a car in the 500-mile race since 1969, and one of only 16 times in 78 years that the defending champion had failed to make the show.

I recently talked with driver Stefan Johansson and what it was like at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that day--May 21--twenty years ago.

Patrick Karle: The rules for qualifying were far different from today. How did the qualifying process work?

Stefan Johansson: It was the car that qualified, not the driver, and each car got three attempts to qualify. No matter who was driving, it was the average of the four laps that got you into the race. The rule that only the 33 fastest cars made the show and the fact that there were more than 10 cars that weren’t fast enough to qualify made bump day like a wall that you had to climb over to make it into the field.

PK: And how did the rules affect the fan experience?

SJ: The fans loved it. When you figure we ran 18 days, the Indianapolis 500 was a month-long endurance race with something happening on the track almost every minute. Qualifying was a series of mad, four-lap dashes around the 2.5-mile track.

They packed the Speedway up to 200,000 strong even on Pole Day. When you walked out onto the line and looked up into the stands at all those people the rush was unbelievable.

PK: They came to see speed records set, and they weren’t disappointed. Arie Luyendyk set an unofficial one-lap record of 234.913 mph on the last day of practice. Scott Brayton grabbed the pole in a Menard with a run over 231, and a lot of drivers qualified with speeds over 227. But there were exceptions, right?

SJ: Yes, we soon found out that the Penske cars that year just didn’t work at all on the Speedway. There were only 3 of using the Penske chassis that year: Emerson, Al Jr and myself. Earlier in the year, Tony (Bettenhausen) bought two PC 24s, and there had been a joint tech committee between Alumax Racing and Team Penske. Between me and my engineer, Bernie Marcus, we always seemed to find a little more speed than the others, but it soon transpired that there was a basic design flaw with the chassis that affected the car more on the Speedway than seemed to be the case on the regular ovals and road courses earlier in the year. Both me and the Penske drivers used up all three attempts on each chassis the first weekend. The cars simply were not fast enough—no matter what we tried. So for the second weekend of qualifying Bettenhausen switched to a year-old Reynard, which in fact was Hiro Matsushita’s show car, but this meant we now had only one car and three chances to qualify. Penske did the same and found a Lola for Emerson and a Reynard for Al Jr.

PK: Qualifying took the full two weekends. The field wasn’t filled to 33 until Emmo made his second attempt, becoming 32nd fastest at 224.907. Minutes later Scott Sharp bumped the slowest car out, and, incredibly, Emerson Fittipaldi, two-time world driving champion and two-time Indy 500 winner, became the man on the bubble. How does this happen?

SJ: That’s racing and in this case it was culmination of everything that had transpired through the last two weeks.

PK: If the run for the pole required horsepower, bumping was more like a complicated tango of egos and equipment.

SJ: True. Bumping involved a lot of strategy and it was almost like a game of chess. You had to pick the right moment and make your move. On the first run, we were quick enough to make it comfortably and then the pop off valve blew off so we had to abort that run. We then had to wait until later in the day when the track cooled down a little before we tried our second attempt. While I was waiting in the tech line to make my second attempt, Bernie said to go out and try to turn four consistent 224s. I went out and took the green flag, but the car was too tight and draggy in the corners and instead we turned three laps slightly below 224, and Tony waved off the run with a yellow flag.

Next, Marco Greco turned two laps just a tick over 222 and waved off. Defending champion, Al Unser, Jr., went out and after turning a lap at 224.101, he was waved off. It was Al’s last attempt on the car, and he walked back to the garages with only 24 minutes to six p.m.

PK: Jeff Ward, Marco Greco and Davey Hamilton made attempts to be waved off one, two, three. Then it was your last chance. There were only 12 minutes remaining on the USAC official clock!

SJ: Rather than stopping in our regular pit after the previous run I drove the car straight to the tech line in the hope we would get one more run before the pistol went off for the day. Tony and the rest of the team had pretty much thrown in the towel at this point, but I spoke to him and told him “I know I can do it.” I then told Bernie to take out all the downforce, which was a big step, like 5-6 times more than you would ever do in one change, and let’s just go for it! Both Tony and Bernie said no. “We don’t want to have peel you off the wall, you don’t have to do it.” At this point I was in a different zone and was so sure I could pull it off that there was not a question or doubt in my mind. So they took out enough wing front and rear to free it up as much as was possible with the adjustments we had left, and we pushed it through tech inspection. When USAC Tech Inspector leaned into the cockpit for the 9th time that month to tell me the rules for the qualifying run, I interrupted him and said I know the drill, just let me go!

PK: I was there that afternoon and I will never forget the scene: The shadow of the grand stands hung over the track like a tunnel, yet the air was hot with more than 200,000 fans breathing and sweating.  Far down the line we heard the first rousing of Stefan’s engine, then we saw the #16’s blue nose cone, wings and spindles of the wheel assembly through the crowd standing on the pit lane, the engine stuttering as it worked against inertia; we saw the blue and white Reynard passed the scoring pylon, and up the pit lane and onto the track itself.

SJ: The rules allowed two warm-up laps before you took the green and I worked it up to speed, shifting into sixth gear as I crossed the Yard of Bricks the first time around. I got the engine up to full song the second time around, then Duane Sweeney waved the green flags and I was on it.

PK: What was it like out there?

SJ: The car felt pretty comfortable in the warm up laps but I had no idea if it would stick going into Turn One for the first flying lap and I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, and I put my left foot on top of my throttle foot to make sure I wouldn’t lift. The car stuck and it had a pretty decent balance and at that point I had a good feeling it would be a quick run. I made some small adjustments to the roll bar which made the car even better for the following three laps.

PK: Your first lap was 224.826. Lap 2 was 255.739. Lap 3 was 225.921. The final lap was off a tick at 225.705. Your four-lap average was 225.547. When did you actually realize you’d qualified?

SJ: I knew it when I finished the run as I was able to calculate in my head that it was good enough, and I actually broke down completely on the in lap going down the back straight, I had made it, on my ninth attempt and the pressure from the whole month finally released and I just couldn’t control my emotions at that point.

PK: Stefan Johansson drove the #16 Alumax Reynard into the 1995 Indianapolis 500—with only five minutes left on the official USAC clock. You received a standing ovation on both sides of the 5/8s mile straight.

SJ: Yes, I did, and it was amazing, all the team members from all the different teams, including the Penske guys, were clapping their hands as I drove down pit-lane, I will never forget that!

PK: Bobby Unser liked to say “It just goes to show you the big teams don’t always win.” It was a long, hard month, and when the final gun went off, you were the last man who made it into the show.

SJ: This is what made the Indy 500 the greatest show on earth, I am forever grateful I had the opportunity to be part of that history. I will always remember that day and those four laps, because in so many ways it made me realize the person I am, and what my limitations are, and what you are capable of doing when the pressure is on. And it was true. All the work, strategy, and effort that went into just getting a car into 31st position—not even winning the race.

PK: A lot of things have changed at the speedway since then, including the widespread use of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media, the new Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the new one-weekend qualifying format. You have a good relationship with the new generation of racers. You're still vitally involved there as manager of 2008 winner, Scott Dixon, who is a first-rate champion. Do you think the Indianapolis 500 is still the Greatest Spectacle in Racing?

SJ: There is nothing that comes close to the Indianapolis 500 in my opinion and the races now are every bit as good as they’ve ever been. We’ve had some fantastic races since 1995, including the years Scott, Helio, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dario Franchitti and Kenny Brack won. Indianapolis will always be the biggest single race to win and it is without a doubt the best show in motor racing, if not in sports in general.

Watch the video here!