MOORESVILLE, N.C. – There were so many Indy cars at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday, they could have nearly staged a race.
Seventeen NTT IndyCar Series teams tested the 1.5-mile oval in preparation for the Genesys 300 and XPEL 375 doubleheader in May.
This test was technically a “private test” with Team Penske renting out the track, but the 1.5-mile high-banked oval was open to all teams in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Because it was a “private test” no speeds were officially released by IndyCar or TMS.
James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 29 Genesys Honda for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing, was one of the drivers on track Wednesday and talked about the challenges of back-to-back, doubleheader races at the demanding high-banked oval located near Fort Worth.
“It’s going to be about maximizing the points over both races,” Hinchcliffe explained. “You can’t really afford to make too big a mistake in the first one because it’s going to have consequences for Race 2 so that’s always kind of something in the back of your mind on the first race.
“From a physicality point of view, the ovals are generally a little less physical, but Texas is fast, man. It’s fast and it’s hot. By the end of the race, trying to keep it flat in (Turns) 3 and 4, you’re sorta hanging on for dear life so having to rehydrate, rest and do it again the next day for even longer is definitely going to be a challenge for everybody.”
What will make the Texas weekend important is that it gives teams two oval races before the 105th Indianapolis 500 on the schedule. Prior to this year, the annual Saturday night race at Texas was held the second weekend of June.
“We always used to have an oval on the schedule before Indy, but it was usually a short track,” Hinchcliffe replied. “It was normally Phoenix or something like that. To get to come to a speedway and run is kind of a double-edged sword. It’s nice to get your speedway car out on track so you can test some things you’ve been working on over the winter. It’s amazing to me how still after how many years with this car we still find stuff every single year to improve the speedways but, you know, you’ve got a doubleheader race – that’s two chances to wreck your Indy stuff right at the start of May.
“That’s not necessarily ideal.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword – you get to test a little bit about what you’re going to have for the speedway but there’s definitely a huge risk about ruining some stuff so do you bring all your best stuff to Texas Motor Speedway. It’s a doubleheader, essentially a double-points weekend so you kind of have to but, like I said, there’s a risk involved in that so keeping your nosed clean is going to be extra-important here.”
Back in 2016, Hinchcliffe nearly won the race at Texas, leading 188 laps in the 248-lap contest before Graham Rahal passed him on the final lap to win by just .008-of-a-second at the checkered flag.
It was the only lap that Rahal led in the race.
Rahal spoke about his practice session at Texas on Wednesday.
“It’s great to be back behind the wheel,” he said. “It’s always a challenge here but I think the changes IndyCar has made … we’re kind of evolving as the day goes on, even with the barge boards and different things that we’re trying to help improve the racing seem to be really positive so far. Definitely pleased with what we’re seeing. The tire life has been good, but I know yesterday was a bit of a struggle for the guys.
“Today, with some rubber down, it seems to be good. It’s nice to be back turning some laps.”
Rahal said most of the drivers made sure to avoid the areas where the PJ1 traction compound remains in the turns. Texas Motor Speedway officials are attempting to remove the PJ1 before IndyCar arrives for the early May doubleheader weekend.
“It’s a no-go zone,” Rahal said. “When they repaved the track and used the lime wash, it was slippery. The first NASCAR Cup race they raced here, there were a lot of guys crashing. I remember talking to Jimmie (Johnson) about it. It’s just very slippery.
“Everybody here at TMS does a great job trying to find ways to find grip. Unfortunately, the dark black stuff is, I think from the data we got, is about 20 percent less grip than the bottom lane and a half so it’s still going to be a no-go zone.
“Having said that, if the downforce levels are correct and the tire combination is correct and you have kind of an evening race on both days, Sunday not so much but on Saturday if I’m not mistaken, that gives you an opportunity for the track to cool down and be good conditions to let you go race anyway. So, I think we’ll be able to put on a better show than what we have the last year or the time before that.
“Everyone at TMS is responding. I’m sure when they repaved the track, they thought it was going to be the perfect combination and they know that they’ve acknowledged that, and I think everybody here has done a great job to try to adjust to that and make it racy again and I think it’s getting closer.”
Rahal believes it will be a challenging weekend with a doubleheader, but the team will be saving its best equipment for the 105th Indianapolis 500.
“In our case, we’ll leave the Indy 500 car back in Indy,” Rahal said. “Last year we did, we brought the sharpest tool we had in the shed. Frankly, I had a pretty good car, qualified up toward the front but, unfortunately, it didn’t start on the grid, so we started the race two laps down and that was that. We’re fortunate we have the cars to leave back and the one that is going to be racing the 500 is … that’s it’s job.
“It’s a brand-new chassis and it will be focused on that.”