The calendar says March, but today, Verizon IndyCar Series teams and drivers got a taste of the Month of May.
Four teams and 11 drivers began their preparations for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500. It was a Honda manufacturer test for Ganassi, SPM, and RLL. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, Max Chilton, James Hinchcliffe, Mikhail Aleshin, and Graham Rahal were also joined by Roger Penske’s team. According to the IndyCar rule book, teams with another manufacturer are allowed to use a team test day at the same time. Thus, Chevrolet drivers Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Josef Newgarden were also on hand.
No official times were released today, since it was a private test. Still, RACER reported that Rahal had the fastest lap of the day, at 227.182 mph during the morning session. There was plenty of action in the morning, with every driver turning laps. The wind picked up after the lunch break, which limited the running during the afternoon portion of the test. Still, fans and drivers alike were just pleased to be back at the speedway.
Dixon, running in the all-white No. 9 Honda, was one of those excited to be back. “It’s always cool to be at this place,” he said. “We were lucky enough to win in 2008, but once you win you just want that second one much, much more.” It was an important day of testing for everyone involved, but especially Chip Ganassi’s team. They had their first opportunity for laps around the speedway after moving from Chevrolet to Honda during the off-season.
The four Penske drivers logged a lot of laps on Friday. While Roger’s success is well documented, three of his drivers are still searching for their first taste of milk. Castroneves once again aims for his record-tying fourth Indy 500 win.
Newgarden, the newest member of the team, spoke about the effect the gusty winds have on the drivers. “It’s understanding the balance shifts that the wind provides but also the unpredictability,” he said. “You get these gusts sometimes when the wind hits the car in different directions that you don’t suspect and the car reacts in a way that you wouldn’t suspect as a driver. It’s trying to understand that and just be on your toes so that when the car does move one way of the other, not knowing where it’s going to go, you can react and keep it off the fence.”
Rahal was the only RLL driver testing today, but he will have a teammate in May, as Oriol Servia is signed up to drive a second car for the team. “We’re a one-car team and we’ve got to try and make the most of it,” said Rahal. “I wish Oriol was here running. It would have been nice having him here running for the test as well just to get some more data, but he’s not. “We’re always trying to overcome the same battle but it is what it is. We just have to stick to our game plan and try to do what we need to do to be at our best.”
Last year’s Indy 500 Pole sitter, James Hinchcliffe, was excited to get going. “We never need an excuse to test at the speedway,” he said. “It’s the first test of the year at the track, so it’s super important for everybody. It will be nice to know what you have going into the month of May. We were strong there last year, so we feel good going back.”
Today’s test around the 2.5 mile oval was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was moved up a day due to the strong threat of rain this weekend. Chevrolet is scheduled to have their test next Saturday, April 1. Team Penske will be back, along with the two-car teams of AJ Foyt Racing (Carlos Munoz, Conor Daly) and Ed Carpenter Racing (Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand). That test will also run from 9-5 with a one-hour lunch break at Noon. Fans can watch for free on the Turn 2 viewing mounds and the South Terrace grandstands.
Tickets for the Indianapolis 500 (May 28) are available for purchase here. Don’t forget about the IndyCar Grand Prix, which runs on the IMS road course on May 13. Tickets for that event can be purchased here.
Photos from today’s test, courtesy of IndyCar.