ST PETERSBURG, Fla. (March 25) - While the signing of Tony Kanaan signaled a new commitment to putting a car in victory lane in the upcoming season, It seems as though KV-Lotus Racing is equally serious about mounting a challenge its own unofficial IndyCar series record for crashes in a single season. EJ Viso's car is already a perfect three-for-three with contact in each practice session thus far.
"Hiring (Tony Kanaan) won't matter if they keep tearing up equipment," noted one veteran crew member. "Can't get to the front if you are always thrashing to put cars together, it puts you behind in preparation."
KV Racing spent most of last season shuttling equipment from the parts truck. Viso's practice crashes, while not serious, does raise concerns about when a single driver's performance can drag a whole team down with the tow truck. Veteran IndyCar fans recall the 2005 season, in which Chip Ganassi threatened to fire the next driver to wreck a car after a dismal showing on the Milwaukee Mile. Lucky for Chip, Scott Dixon did not put it in the wall at that time.
Okay, let's get the disclaimer out of the way first: I HATE to talk about tires. Write about tires. Ask questions about tires. And worst of all listen to drivers either cry about tires or say how great their tires performed. It's all so NASCAR, as cliche and scripted as the "hat dance" in victory lane.
But the topic of tires came up with every driver and crew member that I've talked to the last few days.
Not that the tires are better or worse than last year, but rather that they are different. The Firestone rubber on this year's IndyCar is a significantly different compound than the teams used last season and as such it wears differently, behaves differently and has left more than a few engineers scratching their heads.
From what teams have been told, it's due to petrochemical composition and availability issues and exists in all forms of racing, not just the IndyCar series. The main concern is that it affects smaller teams who don't have the same engineering manpower as the big teams, and may put them further behind the eight ball.
Wheldon signs with Bryan Herta
2005 IndyCar champion and St. Petersburg Dan Wheldon announced he will contest the 2011 Indy 500 (and perhaps several more races later in the season, sponsor-dependent) for Bryan Herta Autosport. Herta was Wheldon's teammate at Andretti Green Racing and told Pop Off Valve's Erica Shidler that their close personal relationship led to the signing.
Of the five IZOD IndyCar Series rookies in this weekend's race, perhaps the least public attention has been paid to 20-year old Colombian Sebastian Saavedra, who was a late signing to Conquest Racing. But through three practice sessions, Saavedra has not only been the fastest rooke, but also placed ahead of such established street racing talent Alex Tagliani, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastian Bourdais. Could be one to watch as a darkhorse early candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
Davey Hamilton announced a three-race deal with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing with sponsorship from Hewlett-Packard, beginning with the Indy 500. This is the fourth announced car DRR car for Indy and some info from an IndyLights driver I spoke to yesterday indicated that the team could field as many as seven cars for the 500. It could be an interesting scenario in which DRR cars end up bumping each other for a slot in the 33-car field. It makes me wish Robbie Buhl was back in the Versus booth, if only for entertainment value.