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IndyCar weighs up size issue

ST. PETERSBURG — Paddock wisdom estimates that 1 pound of weight is worth about a tenth of a second on a street course, where rapid acceleration and deceleration negate the kind of momentum that makes oval racing so fluid.

So, many larger drivers such as Justin Wilson (6 feet 3 1/2, 193 pounds) were pleased that the Indy Racing League implemented a weight-balancing rule that president Brian Barnhart says brings every entrant within 1 percent of each other.

Though IRL senior technical director Les Mactaggart said the physics of the matter is not as simple as a tenth per pound on every course, weight and momentum matter, so the rule — along with variable assistant steering for all drivers — will see its first real test today.

Danica Patrick, the series' smallest driver at a reported 5-2, 100 pounds, criticized the weight rule for obvious reasons. Under the plan, drivers are split into five categories of undisclosed weight.

The three lightest classes are assigned ballast, up to 35 pounds, behind the seat; one class remains unaffected, and the last has weight removed.

Patrick's main objection was that nothing was done to alleviate smaller drivers' strength deficit, but the new variable-rate steering assist, which makes the wheel easier to turn the further it goes, should address that.

Darren Manning's blistered hands caused him to lose control and his grasp of third place here with just 25 laps left last April.

About half the field uses the system — developed by Panther Racing last season — including two-time defending Grand Prix champion Helio Castroneves (5-8, 147). Patrick used the system to qualify second and finish fifth at the Mid-Ohio road course last season.

Move over buddy: Think passing is hard on Interstate 275? Try it on the Grand Prix course. The dilemma of negotiating slow corners has been compounded this year with the presence of eight more cars.

Two-time runnerup Scott Dixon called Turns 1, 4 and 10 the best passing opportunities, but deemed them "sketchy." And new paddle-shifting, he said, should curtail exploitable mistakes made with the old sequential shift. So the race could become hot from the opening, especially if there are early cautions and especially with Ganassi Racing's normally strong tandem of St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon (eighth) and Dixon (13th) mired in midpack to start.

"It's easier to use strategy and jump them in the pits," Dixon said.

Show me the loonies: IRL CEO Tony George said Andretti Green Promotions and the city of Toronto "need to do what they feel like they need to do in order to position themselves to … talk about being on the schedule," for 2009. They are not sure bets to be included on future schedules.

AGP, which promotes the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, another former Champ Car venue, signed a letter of intent to purchase the assets of the Toronto Grand Prix, which went dormant with Champ Car's demise. The letter expires April  31. AGP would continue to explore the deal with assurances from the IRL that the event could be added to a future schedule. No such assurances are forthcoming.

"There are no guarantees they'll be on there, but we'll take all that into account. I guess we'll see," he said. "If they've got as much enthusiasm for that event as St. Pete does, that will bode well for them, but I don't know that it gives them any kind of inside."

MARBLES: One current Team Penske driver or the other has led in the three IndyCar races here. Ryan Briscoe led 43 as a rookie with Ganassi Racing before crashing late in 2005. Castroneves led 40 laps in 2006 and 95 of 100 last year.

Today's schedule
IndyCar ALMS
Indy Lights Misc.
SUNDAY
8:00 Gates open
8:05 8:15 Indy Lights warmup
8:30 9:00 IndyCar warmup
9:15 9:45 Drifting exhibition
10:15 10:45 Indy Lights pre-race
10:45 Indy Lights race 2

(40 laps/72 miles)
12:00 1:30 Pre-race concert, Gym Class Heroes
1:30 2:00 Air show
2:00 2:45 IndyCar pre-race
2:45 5:00 IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (100 laps/181 miles)

>>FAST FACTS

Media predictions

Brant James, St. Petersburg Times: Tony Kanaan

Tony Fabrizio, Tampa Tribune: Ryan Briscoe

Curt Cavin, Indianapolis Star: Briscoe

Dave Lewandowski, IndyCar.com: Will Power

Robin Miller, SpeedTV.com: Justin Wilson

IndyCar weighs up size issue 04/05/08 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2008 9:38pm]
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