Well, the league didn’t need this. Just as all of the new aero tweaks and the overtake assist button come into play, the weepers from all of the rain this week put an end to practice and qualifying before it even started. When the teams really needed some track time to evaluate the changes in the cars, the weepers show up and prevent a single car from turning a wheel. All Friday practice sessions were cancelled along with qualifying. The cars will line up tonight based on owners points.
The league has shuffled the schedule around to allow a single practice session for an hour and a half at 2:00 this afternoon (central time). That is the only time that any of these teams will have to sort out their cars with the new (old) aerodynamic devices. The teams that will benefit the most are those that were in the series a few years ago, when they last ran this package (Penske, Ganassi, AGR, etc). Those that will be hurt the most are the newer teams that have no experience with these downforce devices (NHL, KVRT, Dale Coyne, etc).
The “push to pass” is really new to everyone. There is no real correlation between the version that Champ Car utilized through the turbo and what Honda and the IRL have devised for the naturally aspirated engines of the IRL. Each team will be allowed only one push of the button in practice this afternoon to get a feel for tonight’s race.
Lining up by points instead of qualifying, was also a mixed blessing for different teams. Those that benefited were obviously Ganassi since they get to occupy the front row without even firing the engine. Based on their performance this summer, I’d say that Andretti-Green is probably ecstatic with their starting positions. Danica Patrick will roll off in fifth-place; Marco Andretti will start in sixth. Tony Kanaan, starting ninth, will have his best starting spot in weeks; and Hideki Mutoh will start eleventh. Collectively, this may be their best start this season.
Those that were forced to start in the back by the cancelled qualifying were Will Power (twentieth), Sarah Fisher (twenty-second) and Tomas Scheckter (twenty-third). Scheckter was hurt the worst because he has moved to the #43 car this week as Milka Duno is back in the #23 car. She is benefiting by Scheckter’s good finishes in that car by starting fifteenth, undoubtedly one of her highest starting spots. Will Power will have to charge from the back driving in only his second oval all season, with Indianapolis being the other.
Barring some bizarre incident, I would look for the usual suspects in red cars to dominate this race. The first three rows are occupied by Ganassi in row one, Penske in row two and AGR in row three. Pit stops may cause a little shuffling between the front two rows, but I don’t foresee any challenges coming from beyond row two. Had they had their normal allotted practice time, I think some teams could have gone different ways with setups. Now, I think teams will play it safe.
Of course, now that I’ve said that, watch Danica pull off her second win or possible Dan Wheldon completely reverse his recent fortunes and put Panther Racing back in victory lane. It’s possible, but I don’t see it.
Although he made up a little ground last week, I still think Helio is pretty much out of the championship hunt. He would have to win and have the first three in points have some rotten luck tonight. I don’t see it happening. Ryan Briscoe needs a decent finish while some bad luck hits both Ganassi cars. That, I could see happening.
It’s a shame that the weepers appeared when the IndyCars needed practice more than ever. They needed practice just to show the doubters that there was a reason to tune in tonight. This crammed practice session this afternoon means that the teams and drivers who are on top of their game, will be the ones to figure this track out in an abbreviated session. Based on the entire season, that means just two teams. Enjoy the race.