The 2020 NTT IndyCar season ended just over a week ago but the preparation for the 2021 season has been fast and furious. Following last week’s two-day test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, teams and drivers were slated to get in even more testing at Barber Motorsports Park on Monday. In total, 21 drivers from eight different teams took to the track today in Alabama.
Team Penske had all four of their drivers in Josef Newgarden, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott McLaughlin. Andretti Autosport had five drivers in Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, and James Hinchcliffe. Chip Ganassi had their four cars with Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, and Jimmie Johnson. Ed Carpenter Racing had both Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly there to test. Arrow McLaren SP had their two drivers in Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. AJ Foyt’s team had Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett in their two cars. Meyer Shank Racing was there with Jack Harvey and RLL Racing had one car for Antonio Felix da Costa to test.
Today was the first time that Johnson was in the car with other cars on track. Speaking to the media earlier in the day, the 45-year old said that he is still carving huge chunks from his lap times as he gets comfortable inside the cockpit. “There’s so many things that are foreign to me, working through a lot of those little technicalities with the car, with the cockpit, procedures, then trying to get some laps in there as well,” said Johnson. “I was able to get probably 20 or 30 laps this morning. Shaving seconds off at a time, so I’m still a ways off. Looking forward to the second half of the today, getting down to a much smaller window on track.”
The 7-time NASCAR Cup series champion will make his final start for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend in his No. 48 Chevrolet at Phoenix. Johnson stressed that he is just trying to stay out of the way at this stage. “I just want to be courteous on track, not be the rookie that makes mistakes,” he said. “I feel like I’ve probably been a bit too worried about my mirrors, making sure I let guys by. Now that I’m closer on pace, it takes them a lot longer to get to me, catch me. They can pass me in a traditional braking area. Each time I go on track, things seem to slow down a bit more for me. I’m able to work through all that stuff to get faster and get more comfortable.”
Johnson will test one more time this year, which is next week at Laguna Seca. He believes that he will have five or six more tests before the 2021 season begins.
Another “rookie” that was having a blast behind the wheel today was da Costa, who was there on behalf of the RLL team. With reigning Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato back home in Japan and Graham Rahal on baby watch, the 2020 Formula E champion was handling everything for the Honda-based team.
The only full-time teams that were not present at today’s test were Dale Coyne Racing and Carlin Racing. Aside from Johnson and da Costa, there were other drivers getting comfortable in different seats. Rosenqvist has taken over the No. 7 Chevrolet with Arrow McLaren SP, replacing the ousted Oliver Askew. His vacant spot at Ganassi was just recently filled by Alex Palou. The new driver of the No. 10 car had a solid rookie season with Dale Coyne in 2020. McLaughlin was back in his Penske machine after passing his Rookie Orientation Program at IMS less than a week ago.
Andretti Autosport had Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay back for this test, which bodes well for their future. A formal announcement for Hunter-Reay could come any day, as the team is just finalizing sponsorship deals to have the former series champion and Indy 500 winner back in the No. 28 car next season. Daly continues to work with ECR on securing sponsorship to have him back with the team for the full season in 2021.
Foyt’s No. 4 car is still presumably open, although Kellett was in the car for today’s test. Coyne is expected to retain Santino Ferrucci in the No. 18 car but still has an open seat with the departure of Palou. The only other likely seat to fill for next season is a possible second car at Meyer Shank, where they recently purchased the chassis that Dragonspeed had been using before they closed their IndyCar program.
According to unofficial times from the test, VeeKay was the fastest of the 21 drivers putting in a best lap of 65.6148 seconds. Herta was 0.1236 seconds behind the 2020 rookie of the year. There were 15 cars that unofficially broke the qualifying track record held by Bourdais in 2016. Johnson turned 100 laps on Monday, which was the most by any driver. O’Ward, Rossi, and Harvey rounded out the top five on Monday.
The next on-track action for the series will be another open test on November 10 at Laguna Seca.