It was a great opening day for Indycar. Fans reunited after a long winter, cars ran two very active sessions, and there was also some good news regarding major partners. Let’s start with the good news first.
Chevrolet and Honda signed multi-year extensions with the series, joining extensions already in place with Firestone and Dallara. Added to the date equity established with the long range schedule, the series continues to gain stability. One thought I have is did Chevy and Honda sign these extensions because a third engine manufacturer is close to coming on board? That may or may not be a factor. We shall see.
I was at the track only 5 minutes before I began seeing familiar faces. It was great catching up with so many people today. I will get to meet up with others tomorrow. This the greatest thing about the first race of the year.
The practice sessions were very busy. The new tire allotment seemed to accomplish one of its goals, to have cars on track most of a session. No one ran the reds in the morning. I didn’t expect they would, since the afternoon round was about the time qualifying will be tomorrow. In the afternoon, some cars ran reds most of the time, some started on blacks and switched. I think there a few who ran blacks the entire time. Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon led the morning and afternoon, respectively. Both drive Hondas. Honda cars dominated the top ten in both sessions. Could tomorrow be a different story? What was different about today was the number of Hondas in the top ten. They have led practice rounds, but usually did not have many others in the top ten.
Parts of the track were repaved, but drivers still complain about how bumpy it is. This has always been a bumpy track, and probably always will be. There are still issues with brake heating. Spencer Pigot ran just a few laps before he was called in because his brakes were overheating. Indycar approved duct work modifications to help cool the brakes, but it looks like there is still some work to do. This could have an effect on the outcome of the race Sunday. Sato’s crash in the afternoon may have been brake related.
Will Power had a crash in turn 10 in the morning practice. There was damage to the rear wing assembly. He rebounded to finish second in the afternoon. This accident was mild compared to his shunt last year on opening day.
Qualifying tomorrow will answer the question, is Honda better this year? A pole would be a definite answer, though three cars in the Fast 6 would also show progress. As Scott Dixon said after the final practice today, “It’s Friday. It means nothing.”
A sad note to end on. John Surtees, former motorcycle and F1 champion, and championship car builder died today at the age of 83. He is the only person to win world championships in two forms of motorsport. The car he drove to the world title, and a car he built are on display at the Barber Vintage Museum in Birmingham, Alabama. If you’re going to the race at Barber, visit the museum. It is well worth your time.