Why? It’s part strategy, part weather conditions, part conservation. It’s actually quite complicated and precise. We made a decision to not do too much Monday in terms of volume, considering the temperature and strong wind, so we just performed a routine shakedown on our primary cars. But what we accomplished was significant.
With the practice schedule having been shrunk from several weeks down to one week before qualifying, you’d think we should be running any time we could – even after you take into account any rainouts we might get. Any time the track is open, we should be out there pounding laps, right? Actually, there’s more to it than that. We’re very careful about how we pick and choose our practice laps, and there are reasons behind all of our decisions.
First, each of us only gets 33 sets of tires if we’re a full-season entrant. We’re probably going to need 10 brand-new sets just for the race. Last year we used nine new sets of tires just on pole day – that’s counting practice runs and actual qualifying attempts. Plus we’re going to do qualifying sims on the practice days leading up to qualifying, so really we’re very restricted on the amount of Firestones we have available.
Also we’re limited on the amount of miles we can put on one Honda engine, so we have to be judicious with our use of practice laps. So far, I think we’ve done that, as both the backup cars on Saturday and the primary cars Monday were immediately up to speed, and we haven’t done anything extensive in terms of laps.
We certainly can’t complain about where we are so far. Scott did 10 laps Monday in his primary car, and one of those laps was the fastest lap of the day. I did eight laps and was well over 224 mph.
There definitely is a strategy to the way you use your practice time. You pick and choose your battles – what days you want to run and what days you don’t. The weather is always tricky here, so you have to plan ahead. It can get a little frustrating at times, but it can also be extremely rewarding.
Another consideration that plays into it is the amount of rubber on the track. When it rains, the rubber that’s on the track gets washed away, and we lose some of the grip we had. Part of the reason we didn’t run too much Monday was the fact that Sunday’s rain had turned the track green again.
There is definitely some picking of the weather conditions involved in when we do practice, but if you think you can predict the weather in Indiana in May, you’re going to be surprised at how inefficient you are.
In some ways, it’s good to run in all conditions, but you’ve got to pick and choose. That’s where experience does come in – team experience and driver experience – and the fact that we have been using the same Dallara chassis for a good few years now.
And this year the regulations are almost the same as last year. In past years, there was always a somewhat significant change from year to year in aerodynamic regulations at Indy. This year and last year are almost identical, and the tires are quite similar to the ones we ran last year. That helps us conserve tires and miles.
You’ve got days of inactivity followed by days of massive work. It gets very busy in a heartbeat around here, but everything we do has to be deliberate. We have to think about what we’re doing and what changes we’re making. We don’t just go run for the sake of running. We go out there with a plan and execute it.
Both Scott and I were eager to get out and shake down the primary cars Monday and see what needed to be done to them. We want to see what was different between the primary cars and the backups – or “T” – cars. My T-car was really good on Saturday – my first lap was a 224.1, and I lifted on that lap when I caught traffic. The primary car was just as good, as I went 224.4 on Monday. But that was in full race trim with plenty of downforce. I certainly couldn’t have done that on the first lap in qualifying trim.
The backup and primary cars are nearly identical, and there are often times when teams choose to use the T-car in qualifying and the race. We did that last year and won, so it could happen again.
It’s been so nice to get back out on the Speedway. You forget how much fun it is to go around here when the car feels good. On Saturday, I knew immediately that it was good. There’s a certain mindset to go out here and go flat on the first lap. You’ve got to have a lot of trust in your team and your car.
But there’s nothing like that feeling when you’re flat out on the very first lap. You take it into Turn 3 and you’re wide open and the thing loads up and you come out of Turn 4 in perfect order. But the real test on that first lap is Turn 1. For me, it just sat in there nicely and felt fantastic.
There’s no question. It’s a great feeling to run fast here again.
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