Will Street Course Level The Field?
April 3, 2008 | 9:51 A.M. EST
Franck Perera was the fastest qualifier of the transitional group, starting 13th on the 25-car grid for Conquest Racing. Oriol Servia led the group in the race, finishing 12th for KV Racing Technology - five laps behind winner Scott Dixon.
Sunday, the Champ Car grads will be on more familiar turf, running on a street circuit - the type of track that was Champ Car's bread and butter. Also playing in their favor is that this will be the first road race to utilize paddle shifters and a variable-ratio steering rack.
However, the teams will still have to come to terms with the IRL's Honda-powered Dallara - which is a big difference from the turbocharged Cosworth-powered Panoz that ran in Champ Car. The teams have had only a month to put the new cars together, with only two days at Sebring being their only testing on a road circuit.
The Sebring results looked promising. Servia was quickest of the second test two weeks ago with a lap of 52.7035, 114.072 mph, followed by Will Power, 52.9451, 113.552 mph.
While Power was only a half-second off the lead Ryan Briscoe's leading lap of 52.4202, 114.689 from the open testing for the IndyCar Series regulars earlier in March, he pointed out that the closeness is misleading.
"If you're a half-second off around Sebring, that's a lot," Power said during testing last week at Homestead. "Sebring is a short circuit with not many corners, and it has a lot of grip. For us, a half-second there is probably one second around a full circuit like St. Pete.
"I'm not sure where we're going to be at, to be honest," Power said. "It's going to be tough. Even if people think we went well at Sebring, that's an easy track to be fast on. This part is the season is going to be pretty hard."
Servia also felt it's going to take longer to be competitive with the series' regulars.
"Closer to the end of the season, we should know the car better and everything should be a little easier," Servia said.
"For sure we have a lot of chance to fight for the victory on the road courses than the ovals," said Perera, who finished 14th in the opener, six laps down. "It's going to be a long season. But I'm a driver that usually learns tracks quickly, so it’s fine for me."
Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing missed the opening Sebring test because the team wasn't ready. Then, Graham Rahal crashed early in the Homestead test and was forced to withdraw, and will make his series' debut this weekend. Teammate, Justin Wilson competed at Miami, finishing 15th.
"I'm pleased that we completed our first IndyCar Series race," Wilson said. "We went to Sebring on Tuesday to get an idea on how these cars feel on a road course. Then, we go to St. Petersburg and do something we are more familiar with. We should be further up front. Not necessarily at the front, but certainly further forward on the time sheets."
Competitors will have a new qualifying system that will be used in all IndyCar Series road and street events. In the past, teams ran single-car time trials. The top six then ran in the Firestone Fast Six Session, with the opportunity to better their time.
The Firestone Fast Six is back, but in a different format.
Teams will practice on Friday for a total of two and a half hours. Saturday, the cars will be randomly divided into two groups, with each getting a final 30-minute practice session. Saturday afternoon, each group competes for 20 minutes. The fastest six cars from each group advance to the second round; the slower cars fill positions 13 on back on the starting grid.
The 12 advancing cars have their times erased and get a 15-minute group qualifying session, with the fastest six moving to the Firestone Fast Six, while the remainder will start the race in positions seven through 12.
Qualifying times are again erased for the Firestone Fast Six, with the teams getting 10 minutes to determine starting positions one through six.
The fourth annual Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg takes the green flag at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The 100-lap, 180-mile race will be televised live on ESPN.