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Extra laps change Grand Prix strategy

Josef Newgarden will see his pit crew three times today. (Some drivers made only two stops last year.) But how much fuel his car gets will depend on the situation.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Josef Newgarden will see his pit crew three times today. (Some drivers made only two stops last year.) But how much fuel his car gets will depend on the situation.

ST. PETERSBURG — Today's forecast for the beginning of the IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg calls for a 20 percent chance of rain. But even if rain doesn't slow the cars, the race will still take longer than usual.

This year's race is 110 laps around the 1.8-mile downtown street circuit, 10 more than the past eight IndyCar races here.

And that resets pit strategy for everyone.

"It's going to be a three-stop race. You just don't know how much fuel you're going to put in for each of those three stops," Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull said Saturday. "But at some point, you're going to put in less than a full tank of fuel. There were four or five people last year that did this race in two stops."

Tires will be another variable. Each team gets six sets of regular-compound slick tires with black sidewalls and three sets with softer compounds and red sidewalls. Cars must use one set of new, soft tires — called "sticker reds" for the stickers on them — and one set of harder "blacks" each for at least two green-flag laps. If it rains, teams use grooved tires and the red/black rule is waived.

"We've had a fair amount of rain here in the past to deal with, and it changes things dramatically," said Dennis Reinbold, co-owner of the Panther DRR team and race strategist for driver Oriol Servia.

"As the track dries, your strategy changes completely because the tires start tearing apart. Then you have to use the reds, use the blacks."

Timing is key, too. Hull said teams can take less fuel — called a short fill — early. However, "You might jump four or five guys, but that's not the part of the race you want to jump them. You want to jump them at the end.

"A lot of people from the outside see multiple switches in the cockpit and (think drivers) just turn it to a certain point and that's going to get you X amount of mileage. It only gets you 70 percent there. The other 30 percent is what your driver does to help you; short-shifting, where he lifts (off the gas), how he lifts."

Whatever the mechanical components, fans will see a racier result, Reinbold says.

"For the fans, it's not much fun to see us try to save our way to a victory as opposed to really going for it," he said. "So this way, we'll be able to run full tilt all the time, and that's really what racing is about."

Extra laps change Grand Prix strategy 03/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:23pm]
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