(via Motorsport.com) – Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is one of many teams that left the Road America race frustrated, but in a good way – the black-and-gold cars had the pace to be fighting for podium finishes. David Malsher reports.
As James Hinchcliffe’s race engineer Will Anderson explained last week, Road America provides some real setup conundrums but in practice for last weekend’s REV Group Grand Prix, the Arrow SPM whittled away at their lap times. Hinchcliffe wound up ninth, just 0.15sec from making it into the Firestone Fast Six – yes, times really are that close even on a 4.014-mile track, the longest in the NTT IndyCar Series. Teammate Marcus Ericsson was kicking himself after exiting at the Q1 stage despite comfortably having the pace to get through to Q2, but running wide at the Carousel on his hottest lap.
“Obviously very disappointing,” he remarked afterwards, “but still it shows that we’re making progress and we have the pace to fight around the top 10.” His race engineer Blair Perschbacher added: “For a rookie, it’s a very difficult track to learn where the limits are without overstepping them. At least it’s obvious how hard Marcus was pushing; he got comfortable with it quickly.”
The problem with starting further back in the pack is that it’s all too easy to end up being part of – or affected by – someone else’s accident. Sure enough, the 28-year-old Swede, after making a strong start, found himself confronted by two IndyCar veterans colliding at the bottom of the hill at Turn 5, and had to swerve around them, taking him off track and losing out to those who had started behind him.
Hinchcliffe had a very prominent role to play.
From ninth on the grid, at the start the #5 Arrow SPM-Honda immediately passed Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Racing), next time by he had disposed of Sebastien Bourdais (Dale Coyne Racing) and then at Turn 3, Lap 3, he muscled past Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) to grab sixth. Then he started applying the pressure on Newgarden and Graham Rahal (RLLR) ahead.
Hinchcliffe would make his first stop one lap earlier than some front runners, two laps earlier than others, his pit crew performed perfectly and then he absolutely nailed his out-lap. That combination – and a bad pitstop for another front runner – saw him vault forward two places, as Rahal emerged from pitlane just ahead, but Hinch had the bit between his teeth.
“We had just enough momentum to get by him and that put us into fourth,” James tells Motorsport.com. “All the front runners including us had chosen the softer alternate tires to start with, but for the second stint, we chose to run used primaries because they come up to temp quicker than a brand new set. The sheen on brand new tires sometimes makes it a little slippery for the first few corners after a pitstop, and so with track position being so crucial here, we wanted to ensure our out-laps were absolutely as strong as they could be. I’d hate to have the Arrow crew deliver me a great pitstop, like they have all year, only to have us bleed that advantage away with a difficult out-lap. Well, our tactic worked really well and so there we were in fourth.
“Then obviously that second stint for us was largely fuel-saving and tire management, running just close enough to Josef to be able to save fuel in his draft but not too close where the dirty air starts causing you to slide in the corners. It’s easy to lose your tires at Road America because it has so many long duration corners and the surface is quite abrasive, and so looking after the rubber becomes just as much of a challenge as keeping the fuel number in check. Obviously we had to go slightly easy on fuel because we had stopped a lap sooner than the others.
“So we found the compromise and managed the gap to Josef ahead at 1.5-2sec, while I also kept my eyes on my mirrors to make sure Rahal didn’t come back at us. We held onto fourth through those second and third stints, but for the final pitstop Rahal and Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) went a lap longer to try and jump back past us again. They were just close enough to me that the overcut with the primary tires was the way to go because the pace wasn’t falling off the way it had on the reds, so you saw them come out just in front of me.
“I was able to get around Herta down the inside of Turn 3, but he was on fresh red tires so he was able to get back around us when his tires peaked. If we could have held him back a couple more laps, the best part of his tire advantage would have been gone because the reds wore pretty quick, especially in dirty air, so that was disappointing.
“Then when his tires started to go, we closed back up on him, and he made a mistake exiting Turn 1 that lost him so much momentum that it almost forced me to pass him into Turn 3. Unfortunately, on that long, long run down to Turn 5, my push-to-pass boost ran out and that left us as a sitting duck. He was able to come back at me – I think he had about double the P2P that we had at that point – and when he braked for Turn 5, Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) followed him through and past us.
“Scott and I made contact, and as my car pitched sideways, I accidentally hit the upshift paddle into second gear, which killed my momentum exiting the turn. By the time I’d flicked down to first again, Felix Rosenqvist (Ganassi) had got a good run and he was alongside and past me into Turn 6.
“At least we were able to get back into seventh further around when Herta ran out of tires and went off the road.”
Hinchcliffe’s relaying of the story is a blend of enthusiasm for playing a leading role in a great race on a great track, tinged with disappointment that the result doesn’t quite tell the whole tale.
“Yeah, that’s about right,” he agrees. “It’s almost tiring to say it now, but again we didn’t get a result representative of our true pace – that was definite top five that became a seventh place. You look back and you see that at the Indy Grand Prix, myself and Josef – before the rain started – were on a strategy that would have put us up front. At Detroit Race 2 we were fighting for the win. At Texas we were fighting for a podium. And then here, we were in lockstep with the Penskes, conserving tires, conserving fuel and keeping the gap the same.
“The fact that is, we should be massively encouraged by the speed we’ve shown. It’s just tough when the chips don’t fall your way – potential good results ruined by bad luck or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But we’re very happy that the pace is there and it’s consistently there across pretty much every type of racetrack we go to. It would just be nice to get rewarded for that.
“The best way to look at is for us to just keep our heads down, keep doing what we’re doing, keep knocking on the door and eventually the door will open and our bad luck will run out.”
Hinchcliffe is, of course, looking forward to Honda Indy Toronto and racing in front of his home fans. After that will come Iowa Speedway, where he and the Arrow SPM team won last year. As he admits, however, at any track on the IndyCar schedule, a setup that worked last year won’t be enough to guarantee glory this time around. Indeed, that difference is actually accentuated at the 0.894-mile oval near Newton, IA.
“We definitely can’t just lift the data from last year and apply it this year,” says James. “Even without the natural evolution of everybody’s car from 2018 to 2019, remember in addition it’s gone from being a day race to a night race, so the tires are going to behave totally differently in the cooler temperatures. Also, IndyCar has upped our turbo boost from 1.4-bar to 1.5-bar for the first time on a short oval. So more power, more grip because it’s cooler, so it’s almost a completely different race.
“The good thing is that Arrow SPM is doing a great job of adapting our 2018 setups for this year, so I’ve got total faith that we’re going to be strong.”
Hinch also has faith that his teammate Ericsson is going to be strong, despite only testing at Iowa Speedway for the first time on Tuesday. Asked if he had passed on advice, Hinchcliffe said: “Oh for sure, because there’s a lot of things to fill someone in on going to a short oval for the first time.
“But I’ve got to say Marcus has been picking up the ovals pretty quickly. His very first rookie test at Texas was a little daunting, but as he got comfortable through the Month of May at Indy and then went back to Texas for the race, he got more confident. He had a good run there, so I think he’s getting up to speed on ovals.
“That said, learning how to deal with the bumps and the tire deg on a short oval like Iowa is what I’d call the ‘last big first’, in his rookie season. But I think he’ll be just fine.”
So too he will. If the team can just turn its luck around…
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