Race Report: Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS April 12, 2015--There was nothing easy about this race weekend in the Big Easy for AJ Foyt Racing’s ABC Supply team in the Verizon IndyCar Series’ first appearance at NOLA Motorsports Park, located just outside of New Orleans.

“A difficult weekend continues,” said Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 Honda.

“It’s not been a good weekend on any front,” echoed No. 41 Honda driver Jack Hawksworth.

The drivers’ disappointment was palpable as both were eliminated on restarts in the inaugural race that was defined by yellow flags. Indeed, only 31 minutes of the one hour, 45 minute race was run under green.

One driver’s disappointment was another’s elation though. James Hinchcliffe won the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana because his team gambled on pit strategy, and the large amount of caution laps favored his team’s decision to make just one pit stop early. He vaulted to the front when the leaders pitted for a second time on lap 33 of the 47-lap race. The gamble worked since the race was to end either at 75 laps or 105 minutes, whichever came first. Following Hinchcliffe to the line were Helio Castroneves, James Jakes, Simona DeSilvestro, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who led a race-high 31 laps.

The ABC Supply team did not find the ‘sweet spots’ on the 14 and 41 cars the first two days, but the team caught a break when the Hawksworth and Sato started eighth and 13th after qualifying was rained out and the grid was set by owners’ points.

In the race, the struggle continued as both drivers slipped backwards initially. However, when Sato pitted on lap 11 for alternate tires—and then Hawksworth on lap 13—the cars were handling better.

The first of six full course cautions came out on lap 15 for Gabby Chavez’s stall on track after spinning off. On the lap 19 restart, Hawksworth was behind Jakes when Jakes hit the curb as he rounded the last turn before the main straight. Jakes spun and Hawksworth went to avoid him only to have Jakes drift into his path and force Hawksworth into the tire barrier. The 41 car sustained substantial damage and could not continue. Hawksworth finished 24th. Jakes went on to finish third—winning on a bet just like his teammate Hinchcliffe.

"On a restart, someone spun in front of me and I had nowhere to go and we hit and I ended up in the tire barrier,” said Hawksworth. “It was very unfortunate and there was nothing we could do about it. It's not been a good weekend on any front. We need to analyze what went wrong and put it behind us.”

Qualifying Report: Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS April 11, 2015—A combination of rain, lightning strikes and impending darkness forced officials to cancel the remainder of qualifying for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana today. That turned out to be good news for the ABC Supply team.

The field will be set by the owners’ points which means Jack Hawksworth will start eighth and Takuma Sato will start 13th which is where they finished in the season opener in St. Petersburg two weeks ago. The race’s winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, will start on the pole. Starting second through fifth are: Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Both Sato and Hawksworth were able to sort out rather quickly that changes needed to be made before they raced tomorrow. Despite the brief qualifying session, there was enough time to assess the cars.

“Disappointing day,” said Takuma Sato. “We’re not performing well under the dry track conditions and it’s the same in the wet at this track, so we need to find out what’s wrong and make changes.”

Jack Hawksworth was a little more comfortable in his car although he only got one hot lap registered before the red flew.

“I thought we made the car better in the morning practice, because we were quite a bit closer to the top speed in the dry track conditions compared to yesterday,” Hawksworth said. “We closed that gap by almost 120%. We still have to find some pace but we’re in the ballpark and we have one more warm-up to fine-tune that gap to the front. We’ll be starting on points, so we start eighth and hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

The pressure will be on the Verizon IndyCar Series officials to get the race completed despite the prediction for rain all day at NOLA Motorsports Park. The teams need to be in Long Beach, Calif. by Thursday for that city’s historic race next weekend.

Equipped with treaded rain tires, the cars can run in the rain as long as there isn’t too much rain which can result in standing water pooling in the track’s low spots. Standing water can spell trouble for the low slung Indy cars which can easily aquaplane and spin. Having never raced in the rain with the new aero kits, the drivers will be dealing with quite a few unknowns tomorrow if the weatherman’s prediction is correct.

The race will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network starting at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Practice Report: the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS April 10, 2015— The first practice session for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana was a struggle for the ABC Supply team as the Verizon IndyCar Series made its first visit to NOLA Motorsports Park. By the second session, however, the drivers were more comfortable with the cars and optimistic about their chances for the weekend.

In the first session, which was run under hot and humid conditions, the cars were deep on the speed charts (22nd and 23rd) and neither driver was happy. However, after analyzing the data, the engineers were able to come up with a setup that gave the drivers more confidence. Only 18 cars ran in the second session as some teams did not practice due to the less than ideal track conditions.

Takuma Sato, who was ninth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda, said “It was a difficult first day for NOLA. The first session we were struggling with the grip level and the balance when the track was dry and we had to go through a lot of items and data to figure out why. In the second session, the track conditions were a little tricky because it was damp but towards the end it was 80-90 percent dry but there were still a couple damp spots. It’s relative but the car improved a lot and the car is in the ballpark. It was a good improvement and we were very happy that we were able to run the second session to check it out.”

Jack Hawksworth, who was 11th in the No. 41 ABC Supply Honda, also felt better about the improvement to his car’s handling, and said, “We didn’t roll off in the direction we should have but we wanted to try something that we thought was the way. We found a new direction the second session and I think it made a big difference. Both cars are looking a little bit better now and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.”

Tony Kanaan, in the Ganassi Chevrolet, was the quickest of the day with a time of 1:18.8743 (125.058 mph) around the 2.74-mile  road course, a time he set in the first session. All of the times in the first session were quicker than the second session due to better track conditions.

The teams have one more practice session tomorrow before qualifying which will be televised live on NBC Sports Network tomorrow starting at 5 p.m. ET. The 75-lap race will be broadcast live Sunday afternoon starting at 2:30 E.T.

Notes & Quotes: Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana

Takuma Sato: No. 14 ABC Supply Honda
Jack Hawksworth: No. 41 ABC Supply Honda

TAKUMA SATO ON:

NOLA Motorsports Park: “It’s a new track for us, so to optimize the set-up will be a one of the challenges. Also, there are a few fast corners around this track so that’ll be challenging for the driver. Turns 1 and 3 are probably the most popular places for to pass at NOLA and at the end of the back straight could be another one. There will be slight modification for Turn 1 from when we tested there so we will see, but it seemed very bumpy on the inside of the braking area toward Turn 1 so that will be a bit of a concern when overtaking.”

NOLA’s similarity to other tracks: “Everyone says it feels like the Indy road course. That’s because the track is very flat and has a couple of high-speed chicanes. To me, there are some bumpy, tricky corners which remind me a little bit of Edmonton’s airport circuit. It’s in a big, open field and you can see pretty much everything from the grandstands. There is not much of a real run-off area and that field is a little rough if you go off, so that’s similar to Edmonton too.  However, NOLA will be installing some new gravel areas so that will improve the safety of the track. I look forward to going there.”

New Orleans: “I’ve been to New Orleans for an appearance for our sponsor ABC Supply but it was just in and out the same day, so it wasn’t a real city visit. Downtown sounds a lot of fun: great food, Jazz music and many events around the historical Jackson Square. I don’t know how much time I can spend there on the race weekend this time, but I am certainly very interested to visit a new place!”

The St. Petersburg race: “We are very concerned about the fragility of the new aero kits, and increased possibility of pieces coming off the car. There were some long yellows because of that at St. Pete. However, the new aero kit brings excitement to: the cars go faster, there is great competition and the engine improvement definitely boosts our chances for good results. There are many elements we could improve and the race result could have been better, but generally speaking we were satisfied with our performance. I feel we will be building a good season ahead.”

JACK HAWKSWORTH ON:

The 8th place finish at St. Petersburg: “St. Pete was a very good race in the circumstances. Starting at the back puts you in a tricky position but fortunately the team was able to run a really good strategy and get me into clean air. Even more importantly, we had a very fast car which allowed us to set the necessary lap times to vault up the field once all the pit stops had shaken themselves out. There's certainly a very positive atmosphere in the team at the moment and we are very excited about the speed of both cars. Hopefully we can have a clean weekend at NOLA, qualify at the front and make things a little bit more straight forward for ourselves in the race!”

What he learned at St. Pete: “There is a lot of turbulence when following other cars in comparison to last year due to the new aerodynamic kits, plus the front wings are also a little more fragile. I don't think it'll take long for the drivers to adjust, but certainly the style of racing is going to change a little this year as car preservation is more critical than with the old DW12 aero kit. From the team’s perspective, we were able to continue our development and understanding of the new aero package as well as continue to smooth out the operational side of expanding to two cars.”

Going to new venues: “I really enjoy going to new circuits. It's always exciting to see which teams and drivers can understand the circuit quickly with the limited track time we get over the course of a race weekend. The strategy is always very interesting as well due to the fact we have no previous race data to call on. It makes for some interesting races!”

NOLA Motorsports Park: “It reminds me of a slightly quicker version of the IMS (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) road course as they’re both very flat with a couple of quick corners and some long straights with big braking zones. Hopefully this should open up a lot of overtaking opportunities in the race.”

Drivers giving more room at NOLA: “I certainly don't think you'll see quite as much bumping and banging as we have seen in recent years because the front wing structure is just not as strong as previously. Having said that, this is IndyCar racing and it is always furious, fast and aggressive. I think they'll be a lot of action this weekend.”