I know it has been a while, but I needed to take a deep breath after the Chicago weekend. Faithful followers of this column will know that Chicago of last year was my final as a race engineer for RGM. In honor of that anniversary I went and ran a different kind of race. And instead of it ending in tears or emm-effs like just about every race I did with the 7, this race ended at a brewery. Of course I am taking about the Boilermaker 15K road race in Utica New York. It is actually one of the biggest 15K races in the country, and more than 10,000 people ran it. It was a beautiful morning to run, and the community came out in force to support the runners. I ran through little neighborhoods where Irish bands, high school rock bands, belly dancers, and old ladies handing out popsicles lined the streets. Nine point 3 miles and an hour and forty minutes later, I crossed the finish line, watched my partner Kerry reveal her bloody toes from her left sock, and saddled up to the Saranac beer truck for a 10am happy hour.
The start of the Brickyard is just hours away, and you cannot help but get wrapped up in the pageantry of any event held at Indy. The place is so huge and steeped in the shadows of the people that have competed there in the past hundred years, that you can practially breathe the tradition. When you finally get to run a race there, you feel as though you have arrived. I only did one race there in 2007, but it was certainly memorable. We wrecked our primary car before qualifying (dubiously), and had to go to a backup. It was hot as hell that day, and my inner thighs were begging for some Gold Bond by the end. We qualified really bad and ran like a turd in the race, but you could not beat the atmosphere of the event. Take the feeling you get when you play your rival in a high school sporting event, multiply it by 200,000, and that will get you pretty close to what it feels like to walk down Gasoline Alley on the way to the pit box before the race.
So what have teams been working on to dial in their cars for Indy? Just about every team has tested there this year as a result of Goodyear holding about 5 tire tests. So all of the teams (even the really small teams like Tommy Baldwin) have data off their cars. The engineers and crew chiefs have been pouring over the data, and the 7 Post operators have all made really good track maps to test their cars with. The track is really smooth now, so the shock settings can be optimized to keep the car low and out of the air instead of having to control bumps. Since all the teams have had so much time to test and 7 post, you will see the fast cars with the splitter on the ground all the way around the track this afternoon. The two key areas of the track are the exit of 2 and the exit of 4, since they lead onto the longest straights. The team that can get their car to maximize their exit speed of those two corners will be formidable.
Predictions. Juan has not had a top 5 yet this season, but I think that will change today. The Ford's are still struggling, so I don't anticipate them being a factor. I think the top 3 will be some combination of the 14, 9, and the 42. I think the 7 will do better than their qualifying effort, and there could be a spot in the 15-20 range if they don't beat themselves on pit road.