Inside the pits
A look at some of the tactics teams will use in today's IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Tires: The basics
Each team gets three sets of Firestone alternate tires, distinguished by their red sidewalls, and six sets of standard tires for each race weekend on road and street courses. The reds have a softer tread compound, giving them stronger grip for faster speeds — but they wear out more quickly. Black tires are more durable but not quite as quick, especially early in a run. Teams get one new red set after qualifying and must use that set during the race. Teams must run at least two green-flag laps on each type of tire; beyond that they can go whichever direction they choose. The tires have only 22-29 PSI of air in the front, 20-25 in the rear.
Qualifying strategy: An example
Tony Kanaan is in the front row, qualifying second for his best start since the 2008 race here, when he won the pole. Kanaan credited Andretti Autosport owner and former champion driver Michael Andretti, who told him to start with the standard black tires. "It's nice to have Michael Andretti there, because I was keen to start on the reds, and he said, 'No, no, going to the blacks,' " Kanaan said. "And we can't say no to the boss. So I said, 'All right, the blacks.' "
Race strategy varies based on qualifying
Which tires will the field start with? The top 14 in qualifying will all start with the alternate tires to get the requirement out of the way. Four of the bottom 10 drivers on the grid — including Dan Wheldon (15th) and Danica Patrick (21st) — will start with the primary black tires, either banking on rain or expecting to trade out at some point during a pit stop. Drivers starting on black tires also might be able to stay out longer before pitting and perhaps gain track position, especially if the yellow flag comes out before their stops and after the drivers starting on reds make their stops.
And if it rains…
The red vs. black issue goes out the window. If it rains today as forecast, teams will use grooved tires instead of the "slicks", or grooveless tires.
Another aspect: Push to pass
The "push to pass" overtake assist, a button on the steering wheel, gives drivers a quick boost of horsepower, twice as much as in previous seasons. Each push gives a horsepower boost of 12 seconds, with a required 12-second recharging period between pushes. Drivers in this weekend's race have 20 pushes available over the course of the 100-lap race. The long straightaway on the runway at Albert Whitted Airport is ideally suited for such acceleration.
Greg Auman and Jim Tomlin, Times staff writers