Indy 500 tire testing carries on with heavy hearts but resolve

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In the face of adversity, six Verizon IndyCar Series drivers sought refuge at the place that makes them feel best – on a racetrack behind the wheel of an Indy car.

Shortly after learning that fellow Indianapolis 500 competitor Bryan Clauson died from injuries sustained in a weekend crash at the Belleville Midget Nationals in Kansas, the six were on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval today taking part in a Firestone tire test. And to a man, they said it was just the right therapy.

“It’s something you can never get used to and you never become accustomed to it,” 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said of losing one of his peers. “The good thing is I’m behind the wheel of a race car today, which is definitely the best place to be at a time like this.”

Hunter-Reay, from Andretti Autosport, and team owner/driver Ed Carpenter were the primary tire testers for the daylong session, running through an assortment of experimental compounds and constructions as Firestone hones in on its 2017 Indianapolis 500 tire specification. Firestone typically produces some 5,000 tires for the Indy 500 practice, qualifying and race.

Also turning laps in IMS team testing were Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal and Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian’s Alexander Rossi.

CLICK HERE: IMS tire test photo gallery

Kanaan (2013), Hunter-Reay (2014), Montoya (2015) and Rossi (2016) make up the last four Indianapolis 500 winners.

“Firestone’s always looking to put an even better product than they already have on the racetrack, so they’re always developing – just like we are,” said Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda. “We’re always developing our car and setups; they’re always developing their product.

“It’s just great testing Firestone tires because I always have 100 percent confidence in them. There’s not going to be any big surprises out there. It’s just constant development, going faster and faster.”

Hunter-Reay and two-time Indy 500 pole winner Carpenter, in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, spent the morning alternating short runs on a “control set” of Firehawk tires – the 2016 Indy 500 spec – and experimental sets that varied in tread compound and/or construction on at least one tire position. The afternoon was reserved for full-stint runs on a few preferred specs from the morning, as Carpenter said, “to kind of close the loop on the tires that they think they might want to move forward with.

“Firestone’s a great partner for INDYCAR so to be part of helping them come back here with another great tire for next year is always rewarding.”

According to Dale Harrigle, chief engineer and manager of race tire development for Bridgestone Americas, today’s testing regimen was smaller in scope than some years due to how well the 2016 Indy spec functioned.

“We were very happy with the performance of the tire in 2016 so we actually came with a relatively small test,” Harrigle said. “We only have two (experimental) right-side compounds and a couple of constructions, so it’s a pretty small, focused test for us this year.”

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