Lotus will not get boost increase for race day
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Two drivers using Lotus engines will not get any extra power for Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
IndyCar officials announced their decision Tuesday after watching Lotus post substantially slower speeds than the Chevrolet- and Honda-powered cars all month and hearing safety concerns from drivers -- including Lotus' own Jean Alesi.
Instead, they'll monitor race-day speeds to make sure all drivers are running within the mandated 105 percent pace of the leaders.
"After evaluating a variety of options and speaking with all engine manufacturers, we feel it is best from both a competition and safety standpoint to maintain the current superspeedway boost level for our Lotus-powered entrants,'' IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said. "At this point, there are too many unknown variables in allowing an engine to run a full-race distance at the increased boost level, so it's something we are going to need to explore further. At the beginning of the season we mandated there would be no changes to performance regulations prior to June 18, and we plan to maintain that time frame.''
The move only affects Switzerland's Simona de Silvestro and Alesi, who will start 32nd and 33rd after four-lap qualifying averages of 214.393 mph and 210.094, respectively. Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe won the pole at 226.484.
All cars were given an additional 40-50 horsepower boost on Friday and Saturday, and non-qualified cars were given the same boost on Sunday. That added 4-5 mph to the speeds.
With a nearly 16 1/2 mph disparity between the fastest qualifier and the slowest, Alesi, many drivers have expressed concern.
Alesi, a Frenchman who made 201 starts in Formula One, said last week that he felt "unsafe'' at the slower speeds and was worried he would be an impediment for other drivers. De Silvestro also acknowledged that she was trying to stay out of the way of faster cars, and points leader Will Power, who praised de Silvestro's skills, acknowledged the engines could cause potential problems.
All engines will be changed for Friday's final practice, and Alesi said Tuesday that he now believes the cars will run at speeds closer to the leaders. De Silvestro changed engines last weekend, swapping in a new one and her speeds went up dramatically. The unapproved engine change means she will be assessed a 10-spot penalty in the starting lineup at the series' next race, June 3 in Belle Isle, Mich.
"They put a new engine on Simona's car and it went better, so we'll see if we're closer,'' Alesi said before the decision was announced. "We're not looking for something more that would have us fighting for the lead.''
Asked if he feels safer in the car now, Alesi said simply "Yeah.''
Seven months after Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific crash in Las Vegas, the mere mention of safety - particularly at the series' marquee race - is bound to raise red flags.
The solution may be using black flags to force drivers off the track if they are too slow. The 105 percent rule, which was changed from 107 percent last year, is intended to weed out slower drivers. If the fastest car takes 60 seconds to make a lap, for example, the slowest car must now do it within 63 seconds.
The decisions will be up to new race director Beaux Barfield, who will be calling his first 500 and the biggest race of his career.
"From a safety standpoint, we will be keeping a close eye on speeds as the race progresses,'' Barfield said. "We want to make sure that we are managing the speeds and car placement as the drivers navigate through traffic.''
Engines, extra boost and penalties have dominated the discussion into the lead up to the race.
IndyCar handed out $275,000 in fines Sunday for a variety of rules violations during last weekend's qualifying. E.J. Viso's No. 5 car, which belongs to KV Racing Technology, joined the list Tuesday when it was fined $25,000 for improper brakes, bringing the total amount to $300,000. Viso's team also was fined $15,000 on Sunday for other brake violations and technical issues.