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A case of chicanery

September 1, 2012

Sebastien Bourdais checks out the renewed Pratt St chicane
IZOD IndyCar Series photo – LAT USA ©Phil Abbott

A case of chicanery

Last year the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers thought the chicane on Pratt Street at the rail crossing on the Baltimore Grand Prix race circuit was a bit over the top. They asked that it be removed for the 2012 race.

Course designer Tony Cotman of NZR Consulting acquiesced to their suggestions and the chicane was duly removed. Come Friday practice for the 2012 race, that decision turned out to be a complete disaster, as cars jumped three feet in the air (notably Simon Pagenaud’s) and drivers complained of back pain after landing from the lip of the front edge before the light rail tracks. Justin Wilson, in particular, felt pain from the hard landing; Pagenaud said it was the hardest landing he’d ever had in his years of competition.

That’s heady stuff. And it reminds us all that this year is very different from 2011 with regards to the equipment being used and its ability to withstand this type of torture. The Dallara DW12 is a very different animal from the previous Indy car; asking it to be “supercar” by leaping tall rail crossings in a single bound is not the right exercise – without prior testing.

And there was no prior testing before practice on Friday, was there? There was barely time for a track walk as the circuit was transformed from city streets to a proper race track. Therein lies the rub of street racing. You have to take the circuit as it is; not necessarily as you want it to be.

The area prior to the light rail crossing had been subjected to grinding work before race weekend. It was reground and the chicane replaced overnight with Cotman, race director Beaux Barfield and his entire staff pitching in. Drivers came by to observe and affirm the work performed.

Cotman was convinced the chicane’s return was inevitable after watching practice and seeing what transpired once a second round of grinding was performed. The return of the chicane pleased the drivers, including driver rep Tony Kanaan and quickest driver Will Power.

“Last year it was unanimous among all us drivers that we could take the chicane out,” Kanaan told Autosport.com. “The tracks sit on rubber, so they’re not the same from a year ago. We all thought we could avoid the chicane and have a better passing zone, and obviously we found out that we cannot. I think it was a best solution that we could get.”

Power thought it was “definitely the right thing to do,” after Charlie Kimball’s engine broke a fuel pump and others had bottoming problems. Will this impact qualifying? Quite likely, but at least the safety of all is somewhat better than it might have been before the chicane was restored.

Caveat – this story is written from rainy Clermont, Indiana, where NHRA is waiting out the remnants of Tropical Storm Isaac.

By Anne Proffit

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