All of the off-season work was put to the test on Monday at Sebring International Raceway. The ten driver/car combinations got seven hours of track time in preparation for the season-opening race at St. Petersburg on March 25. With the season set to start in roughly two weeks, teams are in a rush to do their homework and get settled in with the new DW12 machines.
Just before testing ended late Monday afternoon, Ryan Hunter-Reay took his Andretti Autosport machine out and ran the quickest lap of the day. Helio Castroneves was second fastest, while Simon Pagenaud turned some heads with the third-fastest time of the day in his Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda. These three drivers were the class of group one.
There were a total of 674 laps run on Monday, and no reported accidents, although Will Power had a bit of a scare when his car caught fire. Power was able to get out of his Penske Chevrolet, took the fire extinguisher from the track personnel, and proceeded to put out the small fire that was in the engine bay.
The top five cars (four Chevrolets and one Honda) were separated by less than four-tenths of a second. The Lotus machine of Simona de Silvestro was running on five cylinders and had to be taken back to the hauler. The team discovered a problem with the wiring system. The team had the only Lotus engine of everyone in group one.
Dragon Racing spent Monday waiting on their engines. While they waited, Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge worked with getting their steering wheels adjusted to their liking. The team is still working with Bourdais in trying to get his contract finalized.
Monday was a great day for Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton, as they announced their partnership with the number 77 car, driven by Pagenaud. Both Schmidt and Hamilton have been a part of the sport since 1996, and now form a legitimate team capable of winning races. Their car was the fastest of the Honda powered machines on Monday.
On Tuesday, testing continued at the track, but it was a town here in Indiana that was grabbing a lot of the attention around IndyCar. The 2012 Indianapolis 500 race ticket was unveiled at Avon Middle School, which features the late Dan Wheldon. This is just one of what will be many tributes to Dan throughout the year. On Wednesday, his hometown of St. Petersburg will honor him with a waterfront street named for him. The street is actually part of the race course where he made the winning pass in the first race there back in 2005.
Helio Castroneves led drivers in morning practice on Tuesday, in which the track activity seemed to die down a little. Gusts of wind were delaying some drivers from going out, but Helio managed to log 47 laps at Sebring. Penske had the three fastest times by the time the Tuesday session concluded.
While the times weren’t as quick as prior testing, that can be attributed to the tires used. Teams are only allowed to use the harder primary tires that will be used for the first five street races of the 2012 season. There were also some concerns about the rubber that was put down on track.
Testing will continue throughout the week. There are two groups doing testing – the first ran on Monday and Tuesday, while the second group runs Thursday and Friday.