F1 veteran Jean Alesi is trying to get into the Indianapolis 500 powered by Lotus. [Russ Lake Photo]
Indianapolis 500 Preview - Part 1
by Paul Gohde
A Centennial- Era Celebration, the largest crowd in years and an exciting last lap win by Dan Wheldon were highlights of the 2011 Indianapolis 500. With new chassis and engines, a strong rookie class and a deep field of competitors, can the 96th 500 come close to matching last year's race, or will a few dark clouds try to spoil the party?
For the 2012 Izod IndyCar series, Dallara has come up with a new chassis that has proven reliable and safe during the four road course events run to date. But testing on ovals leading up to the May 12th track opening at Indianapolis has shown the car to be slower than expected.
An April 4th test for veteran drivers at IMS saw top speeds in the 218 mph range, while the pole speed for Alex Tagliani one year ago was 227.472 mph.
Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus are the engine suppliers this year and so far Chevy has dominated the early competition with Team Penske drivers Will Power (3) and Helio Castroneves (1), winning all four IIC events. Honda has been given a rule change to allow the use of a different compressor cover on their single turbocharger in an effort to level the competitive playing field. An appeal of this change filed by Chevrolet was disallowed and an appeal of that decision was denied on May 11th. Chevrolet makes use of a twin turbo unit. Many feel that this change for Honda will make them competitive with Chevy, especially down the long IMS straightaways.
Lotus was late to develop and test their motor and they have not been competitive in the early going. Several teams have broken ranks with Lotus and have signed with Chevy or Honda. Only the Fan Force United team for Ferrari F1 veteran Jean Alesi and the HVM team for Simona de Silvestro are entered with Lotus power. Dragon Racing is still trying to land an engine deal for Katherine Legge and Sebastien Bourdais, but their move to Chevrolet is being delayed due to pending legal action that the Jay Penske- owned team hopes will be resolved early this week.
Engines for all three makers are in somewhat short supply due to the new regulations for 2012. There is some speculation that because of this, practice during the month may see limited numbers of cars on the track as teams prepare for time trials on May 19- 20.
One attempt to increase qualifying speed came today as IndyCar announced an increase in boost pressure for all three engine packages, to be used by the teams only on "Fast Friday" (May 18) and for the two time trial days. The change in pressure from 130 kPa to 140 is thought to add 40- 50 hp and may result in a 4- 5 mph speed increase for qualifying. The 130 kPa boost level will still be used during all other practice days.
Next time we'll take a look at the entry list for the race and especially discuss the rookies and former race winners who are among the 34 car/driver combinations entered.