The NTT Indycar Series finally gets its season going tomorrow night at Texas Motor Speedway. The Genesys 300 is one of only two races this season running on its original date. The second race at Iowa July 18 is the other one. The 1.5 mile oval has hosted Indycar since 1997.
Saturday will be a day of unknowns. The new aeroscreen gets its first test in racing conditions and its first night trial. How will the 35 lap tire limit play out? Five drivers have not driven at Texas before. Will they be a factor? Will the COVID protocols in place be effective? Are the drivers bothered that there will not be fans in attendance?
Texas heat might play a factor in the midday practice and qualifying sessions. We will get a good idea about what further work may need to be done for cockpit cooling. As the sky darkens during the race, how will the drivers’ vision be affected? Scott Dixon expressed concern about the screen at night but thinks everything will be fine.
The added weight of the screen and the higher center of gravity it creates will affect tire wear. This is one of the reasons for the tire limit.
Will tear offs cause someone a problem? The short stints may not help provide an answer.
35 Lap Stints
Indycar has mandated a maximum of 35 laps on a set of tires during the race. I like this idea better than competition cautions since it keeps the track green, but teams should have some latitude. The pit windows CART employed might be a better idea. It would throw some strategy into the race.
We could see some teams pitting slightly earlier to gain track position. Will some teams take fuel every second stop or short fuel each time? I have not heard what penalty will be assessed for a car that exceeds 35 laps on a stint.
Is 35 laps long enough to allow for some tire wear? Is pack racing going to result because the tires are not falling off?
Three rookies, Alex Palou, Oliver Askew, and Rinus VeeKay not only begin their Indycar careers tomorrow night, but begin at a very challenging track. Pato O’Ward and Jack Harvey will also be racing at Texas for the first time. These five drivers will have their own 30 minute session immediately prior to the practice session. Thirty minutes may not sound like much, but it does give them plenty of room to figure out the track and get a sense of how fast it is.
It does concern me having Texas as the season opener, especially after such a long layoff for everyone. Adding rookies to the mix also causes me some worry.
Indycar is fortunate that NASCAR has had several races since the pandemic began and is able to observe how their safety protocols have worked. From what I have heard, they are working well.
Indycar teams may bring no more than 20 people to the track, including the driver. Several teams are bringing fewer personnel. The teams will be housed in every other garage. Pit boxes are extended to 45 feet from 40 feet. Everyone entering the track will have their temperature taken. Masks are required.
If this is what is needed so that racing can occur, I’m fine with it. The last thing we need is for someone in the paddock to get ill. That would probably shut down the season.
We can joke all we want to about how it won’t look much different than many of the recent Texas races, but fans do bring some energy that I feel does come across on television. The lack of people in the stands will be most noticeable before and after the race. During the race I never notice the stands anyway.
It may be something we need to adjust to.
Look for the big three to control the show tomorrow. It could come down to a battle between Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi. Texas usually comes down to a late strategy call. If that is the case Saturday, Newgarden will win again.
We are finally going racing. Special thanks to Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, for working with Indycar to make this race happen. Gossage has supported Indycar since Texas Motor Speedway opened.
The schedule changes allow Tony Kanaan to compete in his 318th consecutive Indycar race. Kanaan was scheduled to only drive the ovals for A. J. Foyt Racing. Had the season began in St. Pete as scheduled, the streak would have been over.
Green flag is 8 pm EDT on NBC.