Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

Tire Test Offers Preview of IndyCars at Watkins Glen

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

When the Verizon IndyCar series announced Watkins Glen International as a replacement venue for the failed Boston Grand Prix, there was immediately speculation as to what type of speeds we might see. The iconic 3.4 mile road course was recently repaved and now offers an ultra-smooth driving surface.

Five drivers took to the track, located in upstate New York, participating in a test session to supply Firestone technicians with data to allow for tire compound selection.  During the five-hour session, all five drivers posted times that were under the existing track record that has stood since 2009.  The times were not just close to the record, but in the neighborhood of three seconds quicker.

Present at the test were the Penske-Chevrolet cars of Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the Ganassi-Chevrolet of Scott Dixon, and two Honda-powered cars; the Andretti/Herta entry of Alexander Rossi and the SPM car of James Hinchcliffe.

In addition to being fast, the drivers remarked that the course also offered a very physical challenge.

“Turn 1 is really fast, the esses are really fast, the bus stop is fast, Turn 5 is fast, 6 is fast, 7’s pretty quick – actually pretty much other than Turn 9, they’re all fast corners here,” said James Hinchcliffe.  “It beats you up, man. It’s going to be really physical, especially on reds (Firestone alternate tires). I can only imagine what that’s going to be like. Definitely will be hitting the weight room before we get here.”

The historic Watkins Glen circuit was the home of Formula One in the United States from 1961-1980, and has hosted IndyCars in the past from 1979-1981, and then again from 2005-2010. In addition to its open-wheel history, The Glen has held a NASCAR Cup race on the short course since 1986, and has a long tradition of Sports Car racing as well. Target Chip Ganassi driver, Scott Dixon, is a big fan of the circuit having taken three consecutive IndyCar wins between 2005 and 2007.

“I think with the re-pavement, it’s going to make the racing pretty good,” Dixon said. “Even off-line it’s still pretty grippy, so it might give you a few different options for passing. And typical Watkins Glen style, I think if you trim out, especially for the back straight, I think you’re going to have some good speed going into the bus stop.”

As far as Firestone was concerned, the test provided valuable information for the race, which is scheduled for Sept 2-4, 2016.

“Firestone always brings us such consistent tires.” said season points leader, Simon Pagenaud. “The goal is to find a product that they like, that they want to bring to all the competitors. So far there were no surprises for them. I think they have a good direction where they want to go.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series will be racing this weekend at the Road America circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,

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