Diez Column: Race fans gear up for Memorial Day weekend
It’s Memorial Day weekend, a time to honor our fallen military heroes. It is also the biggest weekend of the year for race fans, whether you like stock cars, Indy cars, or Formula One cars.
Formula One knockout qualifying took place earlier this morning (Monaco is nine hours ahead of us), and NASCAR Nationwide series qualifying and racing from Charlotte are also on tap for today. Tomorrow’s agenda includes the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500, and the NASCAR Sprint Cup series’ longest race, the Coca Cola 600 from Charlotte. Maybe it’s just as well the weather here isn’t going to be ideal, so race fans won’t feel too guilty about watching the TV all day.
However, the forecast for the racing venues looks excellent. Indianapolis will be sunny and humid with a high of 93 degrees, which could contribute to driver fatigue. Charlotte’s high will be 89 with sun and high humidity as well. But since the race will begin in daylight and run into the night, the teams will be chasing setup throughout the 600 miles. Monaco expects a high of 73 degrees and some rain showers, which will make an already tough track even more treacherous. But since the F1 guys race in the rain, the event will go on.
For those of you who prefer to hear the roar of engines up close, smell hot oil and burning rubber, and get dirt in your beer, Fernley 95A Speedway will be in action tonight with IMCA Modifieds, Dwarf cars, four stock car divisions, and Outlaw Karts.
Last week’s NASCAR All-Star race wasn’t nearly as exciting as in years past. The new format required a rather odd strategy, and the 48 team led by the wily Chad Knaus and five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson had that strategy nailed down. After winning the first segment and guaranteeing being first into the pits at the mandatory stop before the final segment, Johnson hung back about half a lap for the next three segments. This reduced the possibility of getting caught up in a wreck. The other three segment winners also figured this out, and it made for kind of a boring race. Johnson also had the best pit spot because his team won the pit crew competition, and that also helped him exit the pits in the lead and motor away at the final green flag. I believe that NASCAR will once again do some format tweaking to prevent a similar situation next year. On the plus side, A.J. Allmendinger drove a terrific race in the Showdown, finishing second after pitting for a flat tire at the start.
Indy qualifying last weekend was also a bit anticlimactic. With only 33 cars in the field, there was no bump day drama. However, the pole qualifying format introduced last year, with the fastest nine drivers vying for the top spot, did produce the closest qualifying margin in the track’s history. Penske Racing’s Ryan Briscoe took the pole position from Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe by a mere 23 thousands of a second. That equates to a little over 9 inches in a ten-mile qualifying run of four laps around the Brickyard. Briscoe’s average speed for the four laps was 226.484 miles per hour to Hinchcliffe’s 226.481 mph. Both had Chevrolet power. The once-dominant cars of Chip Ganassi, with Honda power, qualified well down the order. Graham Rahal was fastest of the Ganassi group in 11th, followed by Charlie Kimball in 14th, Scott Dixon in 15th, and two-time Indy winner Dario Franchitti in 16th. The only two Lotus-powered cars in the race, driven by Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi, qualified 32nd and 33rd, more than 10 miles per hour off the pace. IndyCar officials may allow the Lotus teams to run the higher qualifying day boost for the race to make them more competitive.
Finally, in response to instances of cars lifting slightly off the track during crashes into the SAFER barrier at Indy during practice and qualifying, chassis maker Dallara is modifying the underwing supports on all cars. They are cutting three slots in the supports to reduce lateral stiffness and make the cars less likely to lift on impact.