Much has changed at then-New Hampshire International Speedway since Tony Stewart put team owner John Menard’s car in Victory Lane in 1998 – the last IndyCar race at the oval.
Most notably is the addition of progressive banking in the turns, which is probably the biggest of New Hampshire’s many “Hot Spots."
The transitional banking is more abrupt than at the other tracks on the schedule that have the varying degrees of banking. The seams between lane one, lane two and lane three cause a definite “Hot Spot” on the cars because they can grab the wheel and cause the car to abruptly shift.
“If you get on the seam you flow right up,” Team Penske’s Will Power said. “It can be troublesome if the car is out of balance on the seam it will let go if you touch it.”
By the time a driver finds the seam it may be too late.
“I don’t know where the seams are and that is what is screwing me up out there,” said Danica Patrick, who starts 15th for Andretti Autosport.
For those who have better cars, however, the issue seems to go away.
“The seams become less of a problem as your car gets better,” said Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe, who starts sixth.
Even the drivers starting near the front, though, acknowledge this is an issue that appears to be troublesome.
“The track banking is definitely more abrupt and you feel it a lot more here than anywhere else – more than Iowa and a lot more than Milwaukee,” said third-place starter Tony Kanaan. “It is trouble to be on the seam.”
“That’s one of the biggest problems for me because whenever my car touches the seams the car pushes away,” said Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves. “You have to be neutral but at the same time be safe. It’s challenging but at the end of the day it’s a lot of fun.”
“It’s a progressive banking track but the transition is more abrupt than the places we are used to,” said James Hinchcliffe. “With these flat bottom cars it upsets the cars when you hit the seam.”
At the start of the race, the 1.025-mile oval will be 1½ grooves for racing, which means starting up front will be important in the beginning laps.
“Starting up front is very, very important,” said pole winner Dario Franchitti. “I expect very changeable conditions in the race.”
Other drivers in the field are hoping that as the race laps add up more lanes will open up to allow better racing.
“I think if two lines open up it should be OK to pass but it’s hard to tell until you race,” Power said. “I think I’m going to need it after starting so far back. The track has different rubber out there so it’s hard to move the lane up.”
“If we get another half-lane going it will be a lot better for the race,” Scott Dixon said. “We have a lane and a half right now.”
Early on, however, the top groove will be the area where racers fear to tread because of its lack of grip.
“The third groove has no grip and after the first stint the bottom groove will get slippery,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’ll have to see some side-by-side racing early if we are going to develop a second groove.”
While Turn 1 is often the best place to pass on many racetracks, it might actually be Turn 4, according to some of the drivers.
“I’ve passed a lot of cars out of Turn 4,” Patrick said. “It will be out of the corner instead of into the corner because it can become a one-lane track.”
“You can pass a lot better in Turns 3 and 4 than in Turns 1 because of the seam,” Kanaan said.
“You’re going to see a crazy race tomorrow,” Castroneves said.
With so many different racing divisions competing at New Hampshire this weekend it has left lots of different rubber on the racetrack, which has created quite a challenge.
“When we have other rubber on the track from other series it makes our life difficult because we are carrying so much speed into the corner,” Patrick said. “It really matters. The corners are really fast and the seams change the feeling of the car.”
“It gets quicker and quicker as the rubber goes down and it’s easier to drive,” Power said. “I can’t believe how the track changed after so much rubber went down.”
“It’s going to get slippery as the race goes on,” Franchitti predicted.
If it doesn’t improve from a 1½-groove track then many of the drivers will have to rely on quick pit work to pass the competition.
“The pits may be the only place to pass,” Servia said.