By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – Carb Day is the final opportunity for 33 drivers getting their cars well-adjusted before Sunday’s 105th Indianapolis 500. As obvious as it sounds, there’s a wild card that’ll change everyone’s approach. This weekend’s weather conditions will be cooler as a cucumber.
All throughout the Month of May, hot conditions were the total norm. Now, temperatures will be in the high 60s. It’s bound to create more grip on the 2.5-mile circuit, thus creating exciting racing.
How do the competitors feel about the sudden condition changes? Boils down to who you ask across the 33-car field.
Some like Simona De Silvestro sees the weather for what it’s worth, but her confidence was present.
“Everybody has to deal with it the same way,” said De Silvestro. “I’m looking forward to getting Carb Day going and see kind of where we are. Confident with the car right now, so I think we should be okay.”
Ed Jones knows the cooler conditions will play a huge factor, creating some weakness for some competitors.
“People that might’ve been really strong when it’s hot, it can change around quite quickly now,” said Jones. “It’s about adapting to that, and Carb Day is going to be really important to really tune your car up.”
Even the best like three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves is concerned because his car was better in hot conditions.
“My car really feels good (in warmer conditions),” said Castroneves. “However, if everybody is going to have help from the weather, I’m not going to be the same. That’s why I’m excited because I know what we can do out there.”
Santino Ferrucci was another driver who enjoys hot days. Yet is aware hardly anyone was happy after last Sunday’s post-qualifying practice. Cooler conditions will at least bring joy to the field.
“I know I was incredibly loose. Having that cooler track, I’m hoping you’re going to see a lot more passing,” Ferrucci explained. “The second the temperature goes up, the cars spread out because we lose a ton of downforce, and we pick up a ton of drag. That’s just the humidity and air.
“I love a hot day because I love when the cars get loose. I like a rear happy car. As far as a racing aspect, I think it’ll be really good racing if it’s cool.”
If it wasn’t obvious, the main consensus agreed on two things — competition will be a barn burner and adaptation being essential. Missing in the equation is the threatening rain that’ll likely impact Friday’s activities.
Yes, Mother Nature wants to be a Debbie Downer and throw a wrench to the drivers, teams, and fans. That in mind, drivers hope to get as much time as possible.
In the case of Ryan Hunter-Reay, running its max of two hours is very important. It’s not like it was back in the day when you had a whole month worth of sessions. Since the implementation of the GMR Grand Prix in 2014, ironically the year he won the 500, track activity has decreased.
“The short week means that Carb Day is an absolutely critical practice session,” said Hunter-Reay. “Two hours of very valuable track time. A circumstance like this where the track temps are way different than we had. Everybody would like to have two hours. Very important session.”
Hunter-Reay’s teammate Colton Herta sees the possibility of no track activity differently. In fact, the mindset was a complete contrast from everyone else.
“It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be a mix of a lot of things,” said Herta. “We’ve had a lot of rain and it’s washed away the rubber. We’re going to have a green track on Carb Day. It’s been raining all week on and off, so hopefully we can get some rubber down.
“If we don’t (practice), what my thoughts are initially: ‘How much downforce do I want to carry on the first few stints when there’s not a lot of grip?’
“You’re going to be wearing out your tires a lot more on a green track. Do you want to carry more downforce? Even though it’s cooler when you have more downforce naturally.
“A lot of things I’m thinking about at the moment in terms what I want to do for the race and talk over with my engineer. It should be pretty interesting. You can have guys that are really trimmed out or max downforce. That’ll bring a whole lot of passing opportunities and change of strategy.”
Max Chilton mentioned a potential wash won’t be ideal but feels the racing will be tremendous. Not just for the fans, but everyone in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock.
“Hopefully, it’ll aid better track grip which allows more overtaking. There hasn’t been a huge amount of overtaking this month. Anything to help us put a better show on is better for everyone,” said Chilton.
“The rain won’t help things if we don’t get much Carb Day practice. Again, we can still put on a good show. It definitely doesn’t look like it’s going to be hot on Sunday. It definitely plays a part with the weather conditions. I just hope we can do some good overtaking and mix the leader around.”
Overtaking in mind, should a driver be in position of winning the 500, it has its caveats. Truer words couldn’t be true if a driver was in position to win the race.
A driver going from third to second in Turn 1 is doable, but the possibility of taking first in Turn 3 will be difficult. Perhaps too late where the winning move being done a lap early isn’t terrible.
Marco Andretti, who’s still looking for that elusive win, commented about that very scenario.
“That’s super circumstantial. You don’t know the gap from second to first,” said Marco. “I think it’s harder from third on back to pass with we brought here. Maybe with the cooler temps, it’ll allow you to carry more throttle and pick up a tow.
“If it doesn’t rain, we’re going to find out what the cooler temp does to race ability and stuff like that. It’s hard to really know, but the leader has a little bit of a problem staying there. You’re carrying the most drag out front.”
Marco added should tire wear play a role at the end of the stint, clean air is needed to be flat. This could help a driver winning the race. However, if there’s a lot of tire grip with cooler temps, a driver will be a sitting duck.
Simon Pagenaud backed up the “sitting duck” sentiment, but for wind manipulation while leading.
“If it was a really hot day, the handling will have a much bigger impact,” said Pagenaud. “Maybe you can hold the lead longer. If it’s colder, then it’s going to be a fun race for everyone to watch.”
Cooler conditions also brought some skepticism as whether the racing will pan out that way. Graham Rahal, who texted his engineer Neil Fife before Indy 500 Media Day Thursday, discussed about the conditions.
If it was anything like last month’s test, Rahal’s confidence may impose a threat to the rest of his competitors.
“We we’re really friggen good compared to most guys. The conditions are going to be similar to that,” said Rahal.
Despite feeling that way, Rahal also acknowledged the cooler temps will help everyone.
“Everybody’s going to gain downforce and be faster. We’re looking at right now compared to Sunday, it’s mid 120-140 pounds of downforce. That’s a lot! That’s a lot,” Rahal exclaimed.
“That’s more than what we can pull off really to go qualifying. That’s the kind of gain yet again. Plus, the conditions will be better on the tires – cooler conditions, less deg. That’s going to help everybody. However, some cars may tip over too and really change the balance too much. We have to hope that we make the right moves and do the right things.”
Like everyone attending IMS or tuning in on NBCSN or Peacock, time will tell if Carb Day paints a picture how Sunday will fare. That’s if weather cooperation has a say into the 11 a.m. ET session. For now, we know how the brave racers felt throughout Thursday.