Rahal Others Warn This Year’s Indy 500 May Be Tougher Than Year’s Past To Pass

INDIANAPOLIS – The new Verizon IndyCar Series car has done everything and more that it was designed to do. Increase the drag? Check. Allow for cars to follow closer than ever before due to less dirty air? Check. Aesthetically pleasing? Check. Better racing? Check.

Through five races into the 2018 season, the car has been met by rave reviews. It looks good and races even better. Heading into next Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/ABC/INDYCAR Radio Network), the year’s biggest race in the world, the car has produced over 1,300 on track passes. That’s over a 110-percent increase from where we were at in 2017. 

So, with the DW12 and aerokit eras producing some of the most thrilling Indy 500’s known to man, what would this new car do to that slingshot racing? Over the last six years, we’ve been treated to at least 34 lead changes every race. With this car producing racing closer than ever before, will that make the May 27 race a “pack race?”

Initially, some said yes. Jay Frye disagreed with those drivers’ statements saying that this car was designed to not change anything with the racing for Indy. After 21 full hours of practice this week though, a lot of drivers are saying that not only will this year’s race possibly not be like the ones in the past, it may have gone the other way.

“I think first and second is awesome,” Graham Rahal said of how the new cars are taking to the famed 2.5-mile track this week. “Anything beyond that is tough, tough. You see that. Obviously with JR’s (Hildebrand)” incident, I can’t tell you how many times I thought I was going to be in that scenario today where the right front tire is so overworked, you have so much slip angle in it, it just gives up. When it gives up, I literally just explained it on TV. It’s like ice and then, bang, you hit a curb. You turn into a neighborhood, it doesn’t turn. We’ve all done it. That’s exactly what it feels like.

“It’s difficult because you don’t know what a fine line is. Sometimes it’s slide, slide, slide, then okay. Other times it never comes back. I just think the further back you are, you have to hang on. These cars, you got to drive the you know what out of them. The rear is sliding around, the front is pushing. It’s not pretty, that’s for sure.

“But the one thing it does do, if you do get a tow, it is massive. I mean, when you get 10 car lengths back, the acceleration rate is unbelievable. Takuma and I were even joking about it. Do you want to lead the last lap or not? Where do you place yourself if you’re in that position in the race?

“I don’t know. If you’re leading, you could be in trouble. So we’ll see. We’ll all make strides by Monday, I can guarantee you that.”

His sentiments are met among a lot of others. Ed Jones said the same thing on Wednesday that being in the top two is fine because the tow is so big in these cars that you can pass up front. But, realistically third on back, well good luck. He said the cars aren’t sucking up as easily as they should and even if they do, it’s difficult to pass.

Others shared that same opinion and even went as far to say that this could be a track position race where the front two may be battling it out and everyone else behind is single file.

The defending Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato says that the first two cars will pass with ease but those behind lose the downforce in the corners.

“The overtaking a single car is very difficult this year, particular from third backwards,” said Sato. “The second guy can overtake the first guy because of such a big tow and having less air. It’s just the natural of the aerodynamics and sophistication of the car. Two things happen. The first car has so much drag. The car in front drags and has a huge air pocket behind the car. That makes such a big slipstream to make the car behind better. But, you’re going fast in straight in slipstream which helps. However when you get in the corners, you do lose the downforce by a significant amount which makes passing hard.

Will Power though sees it as tougher to pass yes, but says that the lead change record to potentially fall due to how Sato put it. He’s says the passing at the front of the pack is easier than in the past and that all the complaining about how hard it is to pass midpack on back has always been that way.

“You push off, try to fix that, you’ll be loose in,” said Power on this year’s car. “It’s very tough to get the balance exactly right. The racing in the front to me, honestly, is going to be more intense than last year. You can pass someone on the front straight, they’ll repass you back on the back straight. I think the changes for lead will be more than ever. As you get back in the pack, it’s always been tough to pass. I don’t think it’s ever been easy to get by. I think it will be great racing, yeah. I think the fans will enjoy it.”

So, it seems like the drivers all agree. Up front, we could see some hectic racing, midpack on back, it could be difficult.

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