WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – When the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi was announced as a replacement for the canceled Boston street race, it left little more than 100 days for everyone involved in the Verizon IndyCar Series to alter preparations.
No one likely had more to change than Firestone Racing. Switching from a temporary street course race to a permanent road course – and one that the current Indy car chassis had not raced on – put the official and exclusive series tire supplier in a time bind to produce completely new tire specifications for the Watkins Glen International race weekend.
“(The schedule) was condensed by at least a month or two over what we would’ve done had it been initially on the schedule,” said Dale Harrigle, chief engineer and manager of race tire development for Firestone Racing.
Once the Watkins Glen event was announced May 13, Firestone engineers and chemists went immediately to their past race database to see what tire specifications were used the last time the Verizon IndyCar Series was there, in 2010, and how the tires fared.
Since then, though, the series has changed to the current Dallara IR-12 chassis with Chevrolet and Honda aero kits that produce exponentially more downforce. In addition, Watkins Glen was repaved to a silky smooth track surface this year.
“We knew that Watkins Glen was a very fast racetrack and we knew that the brand new pavement would also be a challenge for us as well – make the track even faster,” Harrigle said.
That in mind, Firestone scheduled a tire test in late June, bringing its most durable road-course tire compound used at the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America. It wasn’t hard enough.
“We went up there in the end of June with a couple of cars and got a chance to evaluate some tires,” Harrigle said. “Believe it or not, even the Road America tire wasn’t hard enough for Watkins Glen.
“We built (and tested) some experimental (tires) as well. We decided to go with one of the tires we built experimentally as the race tire.”
From there it was a matter of making the precise production of the race tires at Firestone’s technical center in Akron, Ohio, under a rushed schedule. It needed to be a larger production run to account for pre-event team testing at The Glen, not to mention the need to also produce the softer, red-sidewall alternate compound spec Firestone provides for all road and street races.
“We need to get two tires developed that are going to live in that window of the speeds and loads that we see at that particular track.”
The result has worked well thus far this weekend. With the aid of the new Firestone tire specs, Scott Dixon broke the Watkins Glen track record by an astounding 5.6 seconds in Verizon P1 Award qualifying Saturday.
Remembering family at The Glen
The INDYCAR family is honoring a pair of family members it lost this week.
Bob Barnhart, the longtime AJ Foyt Racing crew member and father of Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR vice president of competition, race control, died Tuesday. It follows the Aug. 27 passing of Barbara Rahal, mother of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal and grandmother of RLLR driver Graham Rahal.
Bob “Mr. B” Barnhart worked for the Foyt team since 1988, keeping track of the team’s tires on a race weekend. He would also be with Foyt the car owner during Indianapolis 500 qualifications and would relay lap times to Foyt so Foyt could decide whether to wave the green flag to start or continue a qualifying run.
“Mr. B was a very important person to AJ Foyt Racing and also one of my best friends I ever had,” Foyt said. “He took care of all the tires and before we ever got back to Indy, he’d always make sure all the barns (garages) were cleaned out for us.
“He was just very important to us and we dearly miss him, and I definitely miss him. I know everyone else misses him, too. It’s sickening to lose him, but we’re glad to have had him as part of our team for as long as we did.”
Barbara Rahal died the same day that grandson Graham won the completion of the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway. Graham wasn’t told until after the race of her passing, which made the thrill of victory somewhat bittersweet.
“Rollercoaster emotions” is how he described it. “An hour after the race, I learned that my grandmother passed away earlier that day. Just a lot, a weird sort of moment for me. I guess it was meant to be my day. I don't know what else you say other than that.”
The two AJ Foyt Racing cars and several others in today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen are running a decal that reads “In Loving Memory Mr. B” (above right). Rahal’s car also has a "BWR" decal (right) honoring his grandmother’s memory.
Getting out the vote
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was named earlier this week to the Season 23 cast of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.”
The 29-year-old Canadian and professional dance partner Sharna Burgess began training this week in Indianapolis for the Sept. 12 season premiere before Hinchcliffe had to leave for Watkins Glen and the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi.
INDYCAR has already ramped up the effort to lure voters for the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Honda. Hinchcliffe and his crew were given “Vote 4 Hinch” T-shirts following practice this morning for a group photo (below).
Hinchcliffe will start Sunday’s race from the 13th position. He had advanced from the first segment of qualifying – which would have guaranteed a top-12 start – but was penalized for causing a local yellow that impeded a qualifying lap of Will Power. By rule, Hinchcliffe forfeited his fast lap and did not advance to the next segment.