BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Firestone Racing has done its job, now it’s up to the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers to do theirs in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Firestone, the exclusive tire supplier to the series since 2000, has been requested in recent years by INDYCAR and its drivers and teams to produce race tires not quite as durable from the beginning to end of a stint. That change, coupled with the fast cornering speeds and abrasiveness of the Barber Motorsports Park road course, means both the Firestone primary (black-sidewall) and alternate (red-sidewall) tires in use for the 90-lap race may well “fall off” in performance sooner than normal.
The 21 drivers and teams competing this afternoon (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) are well aware and compensating for it.
“This track is a little unique in that it just really takes the life out of the tires halfway through the stint,” said Josef Newgarden, starting third today in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “And what you saw last year and the passing that you saw last year was attributed to that.
“We have great Firestone rubber -- not a knock on Firestone, but it's just kind of the trait of this track. It takes the tires away pretty quickly after that new tire grip, and that creates instability at the rear. The car is kind of all over the place. You can get loose in any one of these corners really and someone can pass you.”
Simon Pagenaud starts from the pole in the No. 22 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet, with teammate Will Power alongside on Row 1 in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy.
Sebastien Bourdais, who set the track record in Segment 2 of Saturday qualifying, will start fifth. Like the others, the uncertain tire durability poses the biggest question mark. Each car is required by INDYCAR to run at least two laps on a set of primary tires and two laps on a new set of alternates. Teams must keep one new set of alternates from their three-set weekend allotment for the race.
“We're a little concerned for a full stint on these reds (alternates) because, first of all, there's only one that's going to be brand new,” said Bourdais, driver of the No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing Chevrolet. “Second of all, they seem to fall off pretty quick. Then when they lose their edge, if it's the front (tires), you can manage. If it's the rear, it gets pretty interesting.”
Should make for an interesting race, indeed.
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race facts:
Start engines command: 3:38 p.m. ET
Green flag: 3:45 p.m. ET
Race distance: 90 laps/207 miles
Track length: 2.3-mile permanent road course
Race fuel: 75 gallons of Sunoco E85R
Pit window: 22-26 laps for fuel, could vary depending on tire performance
Telecast: 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network