Throughout its 21-year history, Texas Motor Speedway has been one of the most daunting tracks on the Verizon IndyCar Series Schedule. The high speeds and wheel-to-wheel competition on the 1.5-mile oval have led to close finishes, spectacular crashes and high emotions over the years.
The DXC Technology 600, set to take place on Saturday night looks to be more of the same. In addition to the normal challenges Texas presents, teams will also be working with a new speedway aero kit and a new Firestone tire.
Most notable of the changes for the 2018 races is the new aero kit. Although several teams and drivers have tested the new aero kit at Texas, and the kit was run during the May 27 Indianapolis 500, this weekend’s iteration will have some notable modifications.
According to racer.com, maximum rear wing angle has been increased to -3 degrees, up from the -6 degree angle used in May. The change is anticipated to add up to 100 pounds of rear downforce.
There is no set front wing angle for the front of the cars and teams are allowed to use gurney flaps for adjustments, however.
Additionally, the diffuser exit sidewalls will be taken off in an effort to remove up to 250 pounds of overall downforce. Firestone will also be bringing a new tire compound for the race, and with just a 90-minute practice session before qualifying, teams will be scrambling to dial in cars on Friday morning.
The recent move to alter downforce settings comes as the series attempts to avoid issues from last year’s Texas race, and placate teams frustrated after Indianapolis.
Last year’s 248-lap event at the track saw nearly half the field involved in crashes, leaving teams and drivers frustrated with the amount of carnage. This year’s Indianapolis 500 saw several single car crashes with drivers struggling to maintain grip with the new car and high temperatures during the race.
Texas presents those challenges as well, with an added element. Saturday night’s race will start less than an hour before sunset and transition to dark before the checkered flag falls. This will be the first time since ISM Raceway in April that teams will be racing during a day-to-night transition, that of course being with the short oval aero kit though.
Several teams have also tested the new aero kit over the past eight months, but that was under drastically different conditions as well.
In October, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe and Chip Ganssi Racing’s Scott Dixon tested the new kit for Honda,. A month later, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and the Ed Carpenter Racing duo of Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot took to the track for Chevrolet.
Since the turn of the calendar, the lone test at the track was a March 15 Firestone tire test, in which nine drivers among eight teams participated. Although high winds and a major shunt by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato, the tire provider did come up with a new compound for this weekend.
2018’s tire compound will be a critical element to this weekend for the teams. The quality of the tire from last year’s event came under some scrutiny. With about 90 laps left in the 2017 race, the series mandated a competition caution every 30 laps in order to better monitor tire wear.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens expressed the change in conditions from the March test.
“It wasn’t a great test for us since it was so windy that day,” Wickens exclaimed. “but summertime in Texas, I’m sure it’s going to be hot and completely different to how it was then.”
With opening practice, qualifying and final practice set to take place as Friday conditions transition from daylight to near sunset, teams have their work cut out for them. Although he did not test there, 2016 Texas winner Graham Rahal noted how teams will have to be on top of their game in preface setups this weekend.
“I think the new aero kit is going to behave quite differently than it did at Indy, but I also think that when we show up it’s going to be a real work in progress,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver noted.
“I’m sure that from an aerodynamic perspective, INDYCAR is going to have to keep doing some work to get it right. If you look at the way the aero package is set up currently, I think that it’s going to be very difficult to run together but I did not test there so I’m not a great judge of that because I haven’t had any laps there yet. But I definitely think it’s going to be a work in progress and the folks at INDYCAR are ready, willing and able to adjust if we need to, to make the show great.”
The lack of superspeedway racing with the 2018 aero kit and the unpredictable nature of racing at Texas Motor Speedway will make the DXC Technologies 600 race weekend worth watching. The close nature of Verizon IndyCar Series competition makes any advantage the teams find worth so much as the season’s most grueling stretch winds down.
Image courtesy of INDYCAR Media