FORT WORTH, Texas – Texas Motor Speedway unveiled its newly renovated track Monday and it has the Verizon IndyCar Series eager for the Rainguard Waters Sealers 600 on June 10.
The 1.455-mile oval, which has hosted Verizon IndyCar Series races since it opened in 1997, was completely repaved and underwent a re-profiling of Turns 1 and 2, which now rest at 20 degrees of banking (previously 24 degrees) and a widening of the racing surface in those turns from 60 feet to 80 feet. The opposite end of the track in Turns 3 and 4 remains unchanged and stays at 24 degrees of banking, 60 feet wide.
An extensive new drainage system was added under the frontstretch and backstretch to speed the track-drying process. Weather-related delays affected the track’s three major events in 2016, including postponement of completion of the Verizon IndyCar Series event more than two months after persistent rain affected the originally scheduled race weekend.
The new French drainage system includes four trenches put in underneath the track, along the front and back straightaways, with lateral lines to lead water away from the surface.
Jay Frye, president of INDYCAR competition and operations, was impressed with the changes and how fast the new surface dried from an early morning shower Monday with no assistance from track-drying equipment. The Verizon IndyCar Series will conduct a test for all teams on April 12 to become acclimated to the changes.
“It looks spectacular,” said Frye. “We came in this morning and the track was wet, and it dried magically while we were riding around in cars. Obviously, everything they’ve done has worked.
“They spared no expense to do it right. Eddie (Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway) and his people did a great job and it’s pretty exciting. We’re looking forward to testing here on April 12 and then come back and race in June.”
Another change is in the width of the pit road exit along the apron in Turns 1 and 2. It was narrowed significantly with the widening of the racing surface. Ed Carpenter, the 2014 Texas race winner, believes the change will help prevent problems for the drivers.
“It was bumpy (on the apron) and with it being so wide, everyone ran a different line so it would get dirty,” said Carpenter, the team owner and driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet on ovals.
“This was the widest pit exit we had anywhere, but we have other places that are narrow like this (is now) and it’s never created any problems. For me, the fact that it’s new and smooth is the overpowering factor that’s going to be a positive, for sure.”
Graham Rahal won last year’s event by the closest margin of victory in the track’s history at 0.0080 of a second. He is encouraged by the changes made and believes the racing could get even tighter.
“I think it’s going to create an even closer race for us, for sure, for a while as the pavement is still fresh,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda.
“It’s going to be back to the old style of racing, I think, there a little. However, we can adjust the downforce levels in these cars. I feel that it’s going to be a good race. It’s going to be a thriller; we all know that.
“As the sun goes down, (the field) is going to get closer and closer and closer, but it’s fresh pavement, so it’s going to be fast. It’s going to be fast and it is going to be close racing.”
James Hinchcliffe led a race-high 188 laps last year before falling victim to Rahal on a last-lap pass. The Canadian had mixed feelings on the track changes but knows they were necessary.
“Honestly, part of me is kind of sad about it,” said Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. “Old tracks, for sometimes as painful as they are to get your head around from a setup point of view, that's a lot of the character of them.
“We had a pretty good car there last year, so I wasn't super-thrilled at the thought of a complete repave. But at the same time, I understand why it had to happen and definitely give Eddie and the crew a lot of credit for stepping up and doing that. There are a lot of other facilities that could learn from that and should have done certain things by now. Obviously, the drainage was a big reason for wanting to do it and that's going to help everybody going forward.
“So I'm excited to get there and see what it's like. New pavement is usually pretty sticky, which means I think we're going to see some pretty crazy racing in Texas this year.”
Carpenter, who led 92 career laps at Texas under the previous configuration, believes the first half of the track resembles Kentucky Speedway – where he got his first win – and likes the fact that the new layout is a better fit for Indy car racing.
“It makes it a little more like Kentucky down there (in Turns 1 and 2), but it’s still unique to Texas,” said Carpenter. “For us, we don’t race at any other 1.5-mile tracks exactly like this one anymore, so it’s unique to what we do.”
The Rainguard Water Sealers run under the lights on June 10 (8 p.m., NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) will be the ninth of 17 races on this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. For ticket information, click here.