Motoring To Michigan

BROOKLYN, Mich. - The IRL IndyCar Series continues its 10th season of competition with the Firestone Indy 400 on Sunday, July 31, at the Michigan International Speedway.

The 2-mile oval is known for fast, wide-open racing and has produced two of the 17-closest finishes in series history. The close-quarter, high-speed action makes Michigan a challenging track for drivers and their teams as described in the following first-person narratives:

THE DRIVER: Buddy Rice made his IndyCar Series debut at Michigan International Speedway in 2002, finishing second to Tomas Scheckter. Last year, he claimed a victory of his own on the 2-mile oval.

Rice has struggled to regain his winning form in 2005, but will have extra motivation for running well at Michigan. His mother's family hails from Lansing, Mich., not far from the track.

“I really like the track at Michigan International Speedway. It is wide and very fast. It is pretty special for me. My mom's side of the family is from Lansing, and we have a good group come to that race.

“I have had very good runs there including my IRL debut in 2002 when I finished second to my teammate at the time Tomas (Scheckter). MIS was a good place for my IRL debut. It is wide and a driver can make a mistake, and he won't pay for it.

“Then last year, we had a great strategy and it played out for us. Winning the MIS race was a very satisfying win because we stay right behind Tony (Kanaan) and played a waiting game. It is always tough for a driver to sit back and wait because you want to go to the front and lead if you have the car to win.

“We had a strong car and played out the strategy just right. You can't always do that in racing. We need that kind of performance again this week. I expect us to have another good race for our team. I think Vitor (Meira), Danica (Patrick) and I will be there at the end.”

THE ENGINEER: Wisconsin native Garrett Mothersead is in his first season as race engineer for Alex Barron’s Toyota-powered Dallara at Red Bull Cheever Racing.

Mothersead, who served as a data acquisition engineer for Red Bull Cheever Racing in 2004, has previously worked with several Indy-style teams, including Team Rahal.

“Michigan is a classic superspeedway, which require minimum drag and lots of horsepower. Both Alex and Iain Watt (engineer for the No. 83 car) won there together in 2003, so they both have a good feel for the place, which should help our team. Michigan and Fontana are very similar, except Michigan has a little more banking, about 18 degrees.

“Michigan winters have given the track very odd bumps and some of them are quite big. Qualifying is pretty straight forward, but you can win this race from anywhere in the pack, so a majority of your time is spent working on the race.

“The race itself tends to be all about drafting and being in the pack, so you must pay particular attention to the balance in and out of bad air. Also three-wide racing happens, so you have to make sure the balance is good in any groove.

“It’s a long race and you have to keep working on the balance and not make any mistakes on the track or in the pits.”

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD: Firestone’s race tire development team considers the configuration of each track as it chooses the tire compound to be used at each track.

According to Firestone engineers, the high banking at Michigan requires a Firehawk tire built for most durability and a compound with high-heat durability that are needed at all superspeedways.

The tire specification for MIS is new for 2005, featuring a new left-side tire compound and minor modification to the front-tire construction. The changes were made to help the Firehawks stand up even better to the punishment handed out by the high speeds and loading forces generated at this high-banked superspeedway.

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