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Indy CARB Day

By:  Mark W. Theisen

     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 27, 2011:  Scott Dixon and Alex Tagliani paced the “carburetion day” practice session this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in what was the final opportunity for teams to ready their cars for the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

     The term “carburetion” is a carry over from years past when the teams were given the opportunity to set their carburetors for the race.  Now, with current engine configurations, it is just the final one hour practice given each qualified car to make the adjustments they feel will make their car as fast as possible for the race.

     Many feel, however, that this session was more an exercise in familiarization with race trim because weather conditions will swing about 180 degrees between this morning and Sunday morning.

     Temperatures in the mid 50’s with overcast skies and high humidity greeted the teams today and by Sunday the temperature should soar to the upper 80’s and even 90, the hottest temperatures of the month and that will make the information obtained today difficult to impose on to the actual race day set up because it will be so different on the track.

     Today the cars stuck to the track better because of more down force being generated by the cooler temperatures not to mention increases that are the result of the cool.  The higher the temp the less grip so it will still be a guessing game come Sunday.

     Dixon, whose 225.474 paced the 33 cars on the track today, said after the session, “It is now in the hands of the engineers, they have to make the adjustments to the car that will fit the heat and humidity of Sunday.  I was able to give them a base line today, but that will go away when it warms up.”

     Dixon was then asked if his team’s nine year history with the current Dallara chassis and Honda engine will give them a leg up over the rest of the teams come race day and he replied, “We (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) do have extensive data for this car and this track in all weather conditions, but it is what we do with that data and how the race unfolds on Sunday that will determine how well we do.  There are certain things we can do but naturally but it still depends on things that go around us that we can’t control.”

     He expounded on that by saying, “today some of the cars around us were already having stability issues and that will only compound with the extreme changes that we will have to deal with come race day.  We prepare and then we hope.”

     Tagliani, the pole sitter for the 500, showed that his month long position atop the speed chart has been no accident and despite being accused of concentration on winning the pole and not on race set-up during the week leading up to qualifying he was with the fastest cars at the end of the practice session today.

     “We were fast right out of the trailer,” said Tagliani, “and we built on that momentum all month long.  We can here with a plan and so far, it has gone better than we ever expected.”

     Tagliani’s former team, FAZZT Racing, was bought by Sam Schmidt Motorsports in March and incorporated into the Schmidt operation.  What FAZZT brought to Schmidt was information and data on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway obtained after a high successful 2010 race here.

     “We did a good job today and all month long,” said Tagliani, “now we have to do better.  We know that conditions will change between now and Sunday and that will result in major changes to the car from what we learned from this session.  We have to hope we make the right changes and if not we will have to address them as the race goes along.”

     Tagiliani also noted that he observed certain drivers having a more difficult time on the track than others in traffic as they practiced in race traffic and trim for the first time.

     “It will not be any easier on Sunday,” said Tagliani, who was not able to practice with a “stable” group of cars until late in the session.

     “We came into today with a major change program and implemented those changes slowly so as to see what each change did to the car and that is why we worked our way up the speed chart and not started on the top as some others did today,” said Tagliani.  “We have been on a plan all month long and did not want to deviate from it if possible.”

     Dixon’s teammate and defending race champion, Dario Franchitti, finished with the third fastest speed of the session and is poised to repeat as a race winner.

    “It does give us a leg up,” said Franchitti when asked if he feels he has advantage.  “These cars have been around here a long time.  Each team, including those that have not been here as long as we have their data, it is how that data is used and that is why I believe we have that leg up.  It is still a very long race; you just have to be prepared for it all.”

     Vitor Meria and Dan Wheldon rounded out the top five in the session with Buddy Rice, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and John Andretti right behind as the speed gap between the fastest car and the slowest still incredibly close.

     It was an emotional week for Hunter-Reay beginning last Sunday when his Andretti Autosports car was bumped from the field and as everyone went home he was on the outside looking in at the 500 field.

     On Monday his team and that of A.J. Foyt completed a deal that would take Bruno Junqueira out of the #41 car and put Hunter-Reay in it for the race, Foyt earns car owner points while driver points go to Hunter-Reay.

     That switch was much ballyhooed all week long but it was made with sponsor interests in mind and the fact that the Junqueira deal was for one race and Hunter-Reay’s was a season long program.

    In the end it did take from the Sunday drama but it was not the first time a switch like this has happened and it will continue to happen unless the Indy Racing League incorporates rules against it from happening in the future.

      Hunter-Reay shook his new ride down this morning and was very comfortable in car as was indicated by his final result.

      “I have driven for A.J. (Foyt) before,” said Hunter-Reay.  “I was familiar with how he operates his team and his cars and that made this all that much easier. We just have to be patient Sunday and around at the end as see what happens.”

     The one hour session went without incident and the teams now have a day and half to watch the weather and makes the changes to their cars that they feel will propel them into victory lane come Sunday.