Rookie Clauson Impressing Early At Indy
INDIANAPOLIS – When the fifth day of practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 dawned, rookie Bryan Clauson ranked tenth in the overall speed standings with a best lap of 221.173 mph, less than a half second off the fastest time, turned by Marco Andretti.
As he relaxed in his garage nearly an hour before the track opened, he smiled and admitted, “I think that everybody’s been a little bit surprised about the speed we’ve had here for the first few days. You’re not really supposed to come to Indianapolis and be quick right out of the box, but these Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing guys have built some fast Honda race cars and made me real comfortable real quick.”
Clauson points out that one of the most critical factors this year is the new Dallara chassis that has been introduced by the IZOD IndyCar Series.
With many of the top drivers, including Will Power, Dario Franchitti. Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan, ranked behind him, he realizes that everyone, including these veterans, are still feeling out the cars. Three practice days remain before qualifying and they are all working to determine what the cars like, don’t like and where its limits are.
“Everybody’s kind of a rookie this year with the new cars,” he says.
From his perspective, this means that the veterans have less of an advantage over the new drivers than they did in the past.
“This year everybody’s kind of learning the cars, it’s a new situation for everybody,” Clauson said. “It’s a good year to be a rookie, I guess.”
Clauson explains the program that his car owner, Sarah Fisher, has established for him. From the solid initial baseline that they unloaded with, the team has been trimming out the car (reducing the downforce) a little more each day. There are still a couple more steps in the trimming process, and then they will begin to turn the motor up.
“It’s been pretty comfortable. We keep making little gains every day and those are all adding up. So we’re excited. We feel like we have a really strong shot at being players in the Fast 9 and maybe even starting on the front two rows,” he speculates.
While the top teams will began running in packs more on Wednesday, as they establish setups for race day conditions, Clauson notes what they have been learning.
“We’ve ran a little bit with them the first day or two and that’s where you see the big numbers. I think that the fastest anyone’s gone by themselves is about 219.9 right now and anything faster than that’s been a tow,” Clauson said. “We’ve run around some other guys and it’s been pretty stable to this point. I think it’s just going to be a matter of where everybody decides race downforce is. Nobody really knows. There are guys toting around out there with a lot more downforce and some guys have gone with less. It will be how much downforce you can get away with, or I guess how little downforce you can get away with, and still be comfortable in the pack.”
“If you can keep the pedal down, with the hole that these cars punch in the air, you’re not going to lose the pack,” Clauson said. “I think if you have a decent car and you can stay flat, the draft will keep you with the pack and be able to pass. So it will be interesting to see how the race plays out. I think that it’s going to be a lot closer race than in years past, and I think that it’s going to be hard to separate yourself from the pack of cars.”
With much of his background on the country’s short tracks in sprint cars and midgets, he allows that having competed in the Indy Lights series last year has paid big dividends.
“It was big to have that – going into turn one for the first time at 180 is a lot easier than doing it at 220. Really the nerves have been down and I’ve been really pretty calm, and confident in the group of people that I have around me and it’s made for a nice month so far.”
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