Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Schmitz: Optimistic Approach Into Sunday’s PPG 375

By Phillip Schmitz, Staff Writer

FORT WORTH, Tex. — Saturday was a busy day for the NTT IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway with dual practice sessions and an additional special session to add rubber in the second groove in the turns.

Qualifying was also held Saturday, with Felix Rosenqvist grabbing his second straight pole position at the 1.5-mile oval. The No 6. Arrow McLaren Chevrolet set a two lap average of 220.264 mph ahead of six-time series champion and five-time Texas winner Scott Dixon.

All that’s left for the NTT IndyCar Series is today’s race, the PPG 375 at Noon ET on NBC.

Outside of Conor Daly spinning off turn 4, but luckily not making contact with the wall or any other competitors, the only other issue to come out of practice was from the Meyer Shank Racing stable. Driver Helio Castroneves would miss out on final practice after suffering a mechanical issue that was discovered after his qualifying run.

Saturday also saw teams working on perfecting their setups with the new downforce elements added for this weekend at the high-speed track. INDYCAR made changes to the cars to have more grip and stability in the turns. A potential trade off from adding these downforce elements is the change of tire degradation.

Tire degradation throughout a tire stint in recent races at Texas has been quite high for the open wheel cars. This weekend with the added downforce, the degradation for the race might be not as bad as in the past. Perhaps the added downforce will put less of a strain on the Firestone tires throughout the course of the day.

Speaking about tires, the start of Sunday’s PPG 375 might be a bit tricky for some of the drivers. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series served as the companion series for the weekend, holding practice, qualifying, and the race itself in a one day show on Saturday at the track. With no IndyCar practice session being held after the NASCAR Truck race, the IndyCar drivers will have to be mindful of the differential in the Goodyear tires that were used in that race versus their own Firestone tires.

INDYCAR also had a session to add Firestone rubber in the second groove of the turns to potentially make Sunday’s race have more action than in years past. While the likelihood of a pack race like in the 2000’s is low, I do think we’ll see more side by side racing and more passes than in the past.

One other reason for this suggestion is a rule change done by INDYCAR.

Unlike last year where teams were forced to race with the setup they qualified due to the impound rule, it was announced going into this weekend that the impound rule will be waved for this weekend at Texas. That allows teams to have the ability to change their car setup from qualifying trim to race trim for Sunday, which could translate into having a better race when the green flag drops.

The last optimistic part is something everyone doesn’t like to talk about when the NTT IndyCar Series races on ovals.

That is the potential of rain affecting the race. Some projections suggest rain to be in the area around the start of the race. While other projections suggest it could affect it perhaps after the halfway point, or hopefully when the race is over.

If rain does play a factor in the race, especially if it’s going to hit after the halfway point, the intensity of the race might be higher than normal, with the race becoming official once it hits that point. Teams also might gamble by stretching as many laps they can on fuel to be up front when the rain hits.

With many different factors playing a role going into the PPG 375, the new downforce elements, the impound rule being waved, and the potential of Mother Nature playing a role, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top in the NTT IndyCar Series when it’s all said and done.

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