INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Helio Castroneves and most other IndyCar drivers know their crews have the toughest job in Indianapolis.
No, they’re not racing in front of tens of thousands of fans this weekend or feeling the pressure of trying to win the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
All they have to do is compete in the toughest race nobody will see — converting cars designed to run on road courses into viable challengers on ovals literally overnight.
“I think it will take about 12 to 16 hours,” said Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion who expects the transition to go relatively smoothly. “This part is up to the professionals and I have no doubt they are going to get that done.”
There’s no choice this weekend.
When track officials decided last fall to add a road race to Indy’s May schedule, drivers raved, traditionalists complained and crew members cringed.
Since then, teams have been trying to devise vastly different game plans to cope with the switchover.
Roger Penske’s team, which is based in North Carolina, will scramble to have their three cars ready when Indianapolis 500 practice opens Sunday at noon.
Other teams, like Andretti Autosport, will take a different tack. Michael Andretti will bring in four different cars from his Indianapolis-based shop to replace the road-course cars, leaving the crew with a much more manageable task of converting only one car — the No. 26 Honda that Kurt Busch will be driving as he attempts “the double.”
“It’s easy because we have our oval cars already set up,” Andretti said.
Series and track officials created this challenge for one reason: They knew May would be the best opportunity to showcase the versatility of drivers who compete on ovals, road and street courses, and the cars that are built to withstand each of the different disciplines.
There will be other strange sights this weekend, too.
Track workers will scurry to convert the track from the newly configured road course to the traditional 2.5-mile in less than 24 hours, something they did flawlessly last summer when sports cars made their debut on Indy’s old road course during Brickyard 400 weekend. Defending Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan, who moved from KV Racing Technology to Target Chip Ganassi during the offseason, also noted the oddity of seeing tire marks going the opposite direction when they pull out of the pits Sunday.
But Kanaan has a simple solution for what could be a tough weekend.
“I think of it like we used to run Brazil right before Indy, so let’s just pretend this (road) race is Brazil and then treat the 500 like the 500,” Kanaan said.
The difference, of course, is that there was more time between Brazil and Indy, making things a little easier on everyone involved in the IndyCar Series.
On Saturday night, it will be a more like a major late-night cram session for most IndyCar crews.
“I think most teams have the nucleus to change it over that fast,” Ganassi’s managing director Mike Hull said. “We think it will take us about 16 to 24 total man hours, of everybody pitching in.
“I don’t know that being ready at noon (Sunday) is that important because we’ve got six hours of practice every day, and if you can’t get it done in 36 hours, you probably should pack up your truck and head back on I-65.”
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