Rain, aging asphalt to blame for soggy races
FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Blame it on the rain. Or is it because of the aging asphalt at Texas Motor Speedway that drivers prefer?
Really, it's both, and became a soggy issue for the third consecutive race weekend at the track over an eight-month period.
The IndyCar Series race in Texas is now in what essentially is a 2 1/2-month rain delay, with the resumption scheduled Aug. 27.
"I think we're going through a rough patch," TMS president Eddie Gossage said. "We're just being dealt a tough hand by nature."
After several hours unsuccessfully trying to dry the 1 1/2-mile track, the IndyCar race was postponed late Saturday night without the cars ever getting on to pit road. The race then started late Sunday and didn't get enough laps completed to make it official before more rain came.
Two months ago, the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race there was delayed nearly two hours and ended after midnight. During the Chase for the Sprint Cup last November, drivers lost their two scheduled practice sessions the day before the race while officials tried to dry the track following overnight rain, though the Xfinity Series race was run later that day. The Cup race in April 2014 was postponed a day by rain.
When Gossage was asked if there was anything the track could do with its drainage system, he started with, "Man, I'm just going to get myself in trouble," before a nearly 4-minute answer that included a lecture-like description about the track's surface that was last completely repaved 15 years ago.
"Racecar drivers like old asphalt, right? That's what you always hear," he said. "Well, old asphalt becomes old because it oxidizes, and because over time the fines and the smaller aggregate that makes up asphalt comes out. ... The result is you have a more porous asphalt."
What that means is that there are more small spaces and holes for water to penetrate.
"An inch of rain, well, that upper level gets saturated," Gossage said. "And (water) holds it in there."
Gossage said "Air Titan" track dryers developed by NASCAR and used during those races have accelerated, making the surface more porous by blowing amounts of air into the track and also pulling up small bits of asphalt. Texas used traditional jet dryers during the IndyCar weekend.
Without diagrams to show, Gossage described how under three layers of asphalt there is porous concrete that acts as a drainage mat feeding a French drainage system all the way around the track. He said more drains have been added recently, and that existing ones were examined to make sure they were still fully functional.
High humidity was also an issue Saturday night when trying to dry the track, which still had very noticeable damp spots more than six hours after it had stopped raining.
"Man, it's frustrating to us," Gossage said. "But what can you do? You cannot beat Mother Nature."
Gossage thought the track was ready late Sunday morning, but IndyCar officials later discovered an issue with water on the apron near where cars come off pit road to blend back on to the track.
Had they tried again Monday, there would have been more issues with the weather. There was heavy rain there early in the afternoon, about the same time as when the race likely would have been scheduled.
When IndyCar returns to Texas in August, the race will resume on lap 72 of 248 with James Hinchcliffe leading. The series has seven races scheduled before then, and only two more after that to finish this season.
"It's a little unique, but we do a lot of unique things here," said Jay Frye, IndyCar's president of competition and operations.
While it almost certainly will be hot in August, when the average temperature in that area is in the low 90s, there is also a pretty good chance the track will be dry — and without any significant changes.
"If (the track) were more sealed off on top, (water) wouldn't get into it," Gossage said. "So the question is, Do you want to repave and seal it off, or do you deal with it? The answer is, every racecar driver, without exception, tells you, 'Don't repave.' "