Is there such a thing as a perfect lap? Debate rages in INDYCAR paddock

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Their racing careers have seen so many laps around the track, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers were asked on the verge of this weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma if they have ever turned the perfect lap.

Let the debate begin. Many suggested perfection is impossible, that there’s always a way to improve upon the best laps of the past.

But just as quickly as some said, “There is no such thing,” other drivers insisted they’ve turned a lap that was as quick as humanly possible.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves spoke of a memorable qualifying run to win the pole at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (He is shown above turning a lap at IMS this year.)

“I did in Indianapolis, 2003. Yep. It was incredible,” the Team Penske driver said. “There were gusts of wind about 45 mph. I think T.K. (Tony Kanaan) had just gone out. They had a good strategy, they did about a 231 (mph). I took everything I could possibly take from my race car and we did a 232 there.

Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves“When (Penske driver coach and four-time Indy 500 winner) Rick Mears comes to you and says, ‘That was impressive,’ I said, ‘OK, my day is complete.’ Qualifying, 2003. There was an incredible feeling when I came in. If they would say, ‘Go again,’ I would say, ‘No, that’s it. I used everything that I’ve got.’ That was a perfect lap.”

Count Team Penske teammate Will Power among those who considered one of his laps perfect.

“There was a lap I always talk about with my engineer, it was in Mexico City, 2007, qualifying,” Power said, from when he was with Team Australia in Champ Car. “I think I qualified on the pole by seven-tenths (of a second) over (Sebastien) Bourdais. It was the perfect lap. You couldn’t get better. I said when I was done, ‘There’s no way anyone is going to beat that.’”

Power understands the opinions of others saying otherwise, but he sticks to his story.

“There is always time to be had, but for that condition and tire, that was as good as you can get,” he said. “We even go back and look at the data sometimes. It sucks that it wasn’t on camera.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe, who won the pole for the 100th Indianapolis 500 in May, actually thought Power turned a better lap at another track.

“In 2007, Surfers Paradise (Australia), Will Power, I commentated on that lap and that was as perfect a lap as you could get,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was unreal.”

“Hinch” said it depends upon how a perfect lap is defined. He doesn’t think it’s possible, that as the cars and tires continue to improve, records are made to be broken.

“There’s a difference between getting out of the car and thinking on that day, in that car, I couldn’t have gotten more out of it, and the perfect lap,” he said. “A perfect lap doesn’t necessarily mean the perfect lap with the setup that you had.

“You can always find something else somewhere. I’ve had laps I’m very proud of, but there’s always going to be a shift I could have nailed better, a throttle you could have picked up a foot sooner.”

Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kanaan are among those convinced perfection is unattainable.

“Nah, never,” said Montoya, a two-time Indy 500 winner and 1999 CART champion. “You always have room somewhere. You could be better than everyone else, but it’s never perfect because there’s always a little more. You could have done a little more here or a little more there.”

Added Kanaan, the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series champ and 2013 Indy 500 winner, “I’ve run some good laps and put cars on the pole, but I wouldn’t say ‘perfect lap’ because you’re always unhappy somewhere. There’s no perfect car, so there’s no perfect lap.”

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden enjoyed one of the most dominant victories of this season when he prevailed at Iowa Speedway in July. But that doesn’t mean it was a perfect ride or that he turned a perfect lap.

“I don’t think anyone has run a perfect lap,” Newgarden said. “It would be cool to say you’ve run a perfect lap somewhere, but how do you run a perfect lap? You’ve have to define it, first off.”

If it’s as Hinchcliffe described, the perfect lap for the conditions with a certain setup, Newgarden concurs that’s different.

“I don’t think that’s perfect,” he said. “You’re just executing the best you can. You’re never going to do a perfect lap. It’s always going to be something, whether it’s the engine, the chassis or maybe you feel like you executed properly but you just missed something. Who’s going to do a perfect lap? It’s impossible. You could be 0.001 (of a second) off. Who’s going to do a perfect lap? No one does a perfect lap. You just try to do the best lap out of everyone.

“It’s like Iowa. People said, ‘Man, you dominated at Iowa. It must have been easy to drive that car.’ No, it was really frickin’ hard. It was hard for everyone. My car was just better than everyone’s. It wasn’t that it was easy.”

The continual search for speed sometimes makes a fast lap appear effortless, but Newgarden assured nothing is further from the truth.

“Everyone was struggling,” Newgarden said of Iowa. “We were just better than everyone. You’ve just got to be that much better than everyone. So you don’t have to do a perfect lap.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series drivers will attempt to put together perfect laps on the Sonoma Raceway 2.385-mile permanent road course when practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma begins Friday. Two practice sessions Friday and another Saturday morning precede Verizon P1 Award qualifying (6 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN). Coverage of the 85-lap race, the 2016 season finale, starts at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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