Today was the first of a two-day open test at Phoenix International Raceway. For many teams and drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it marked the official beginning of the 2017 season.
There were a total of 2,638 laps turned by 21 drivers on Friday. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was quickest in the opening session, and had the fastest lap of the day at 190.129 mph. He was the only driver to break the 190 mph barrier. Marco Andretti was the fastest in the second session, at 189.122 mph in his Andretti Autosport Honda.
Both drivers were happy about where they were on the first day. “We rolled off really strong and it felt so solid from the beginning,” said Newgarden. “Brian and I are working well together and he’s trying to learn what I like. But so far, so good. It was a good start.” Marco now has Bryan Herta in his ear, which he thinks will help. “I just think it’s a good change-up. One thing about my dad and I is, we’re both very loud on the radio, and that’s just always how we operated. And we’re fine operating like that, but sometimes people around us aren’t.”
Less than 30 minutes into the first session on Friday, Conor Daly appeared to have a major problem. Fortunately, what looked like a possible engine failure, was actually just a fractured oil line. Daly, behind the wheel of his No. 4 car with AJ Foyt Racing, said that he felt the back of the car wiggle when he exited Turn 4. A trail of oil followed him, but a representative with Chevrolet told RACER that the engine was not damaged.
The Foyt team has quite a challenge on their hands. On top of the driver and engineer changes, they have made the switch to Chevrolet. It is something new to everyone in the organization, but they are confident they will be able to get it figured out. They ended up making the change because Chip Ganassi’s team switched back to Honda.
Ganassi also has the tough task of figuring out their new equipment, but they have been with Honda before. Scott Dixon believes it’s still too early to tell where they are. “As for right now, the engine feels really good, and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent,” he said. “It’s always hard to tell in preseason testing, especially with manufacturers, how tuned up they are, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out once we come back here for the race.”
Marshall Pruett discovered that former Audi LMP1 engineer Justin Taylor is now the engineer for JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing. While he is new to IndyCar, Pruett noted that with his expertise engineering advanced vehicles like the Audi R18s that won Le Mans, he will be up to speed in no time. The real test will be the ovals; like this one.
Testing will continue tomorrow, with the same schedule as today. Saturday is open to the public, and the three-hour sessions begin at 3 PM and 6 PM ET. In between, there will be an autograph session with the drivers.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “We reset it to zero, so here we are, another year. Last year was fantastic, but we have to use what we learned last year to do even better this year. So I’m very excited. It’s the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to actually capitalize on such a great season, so it was a good test today. Just trying to understand everything that we learned during the winter, going slowly test after test, and hopefully we can put the package together and come back and be strong for the race here.”
Josef Newgarden: “It’s great to be going and fun to be with Team Penske. It’s really been an interesting off-season for me, just I’ve not really wanted an off-season this time around. Normally you like a little bit of a break, but this year I wanted to get going immediately, so it’s been a long wait. But I feel fairly squared away with the new operation and just trying to gel a little bit with the group, the Verizon (No.) 2 car team is all new to me. They’re not new to each other, so there’s great continuity there, but I’m new to the group, so they’re trying to understand me and I’m trying to understand them. I think we had a pretty good start to today. The car was really great off the truck, so we didn’t have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start to the afternoon.”
James Hinchcliffe: “This is kind of the unofficial start of the season really for us, to get everybody out here, all the new car and driver combinations, and just the whole field on the track at the same time. You get that kind of competitive spirit going again and that excitement just for the start of the season.”
Scott Dixon: “It’s good to be back in an Indy car. It’s been a little while, so it’s nice to be out running and obviously back here in Phoenix, fond memories from last year. It’s always good to be back at a track that you won at. For us, big changes in the off-season. It’s the second time in the Honda-powered car, first time on a short oval, which as we know is maybe not the best package to have. But all in all, it ran fairly smoothly. … As for right now, the engine feels really good and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent.”
Tony Kanaan: “It was a big change (to Honda) for us. We worked really hard to try to understand off-track how the aero kit worked, and I think we had a pretty good idea. … No big issues, so we’re still learning, learning, scanning through all the lists the engineers have to make it right when we come back. So we’re not really concerned what we’re going to do here today. I mean, we’re here to learn as much as we can, so when we come back we can try to win this thing.”
Graham Rahal: “I think we’re pleased with the performance today. Obviously, we have to take into account that it’s a test, but we worked through a lot of stuff. I don’t think we were necessarily looking for speed to be honest with you, so I was a little bit surprised when we went out right away (in the night session) and did that lap time. We actually backed it up again completely on our own at the end of the session. All in all, I’m pleased with the car. I’d like in race pace to find maybe a couple of tenths to keep up with the Penskes, but we look pretty good. We’re just trying to get through a long checklist of items throughout the winter. I think everyone on the United Rentals team did great job today, and just looking forward to tomorrow.”
Ed Carpenter: “It was a good start to the test. We had good cars here last year, and Josef (Newgarden) and I both qualified well and both were a factor in the race. I made a mistake in the race, otherwise I think we probably would have been on the podium. Coming here, we did a tire test here in the off-season, so we felt pretty good about where we were as a team coming in here, which I think is good for JR (Hildebrand), too, coming in, to make that transition back to full-time guy a little easier. Chevy does have a good package here and we’re thankful for that. But it’s a good place for us to start. We have a good handle on this track and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
JR Hildebrand: “I think for us, it’s just about starting to build the communication, working with the new engineers on the team or on the (No.) 21 car. I feel great about the couple of guys that have been brought in, Justin Taylor and Dan Hobbs. But we’re all just kind of getting familiar with each other at the same time. Definitely a nice way to be able to do that when we know that we’ve got a good package to start with.”
Takuma Sato: “Very happy day, I think. … I’ve been out of the car for over five months, and five months has obviously felt long, but it’s a transition for the team, a lot learned and to meet the people, went to the shop and to go through a lot of stuff with engineers and etc., etc. Just like one click and then now jumping in the car, so I was happy and obviously those strong three other teammates helped me out really well for the first session. The car is there already.”
Marco Andretti: “It’s always encouraging (to see your name at the top). It’s still early but it’s a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be. … The atmosphere, a lot of it is just me. I decided for myself that, ‘I’m going to do this for me. I’m going to have fun. I’m going to drive to impress myself, not anybody else.’ When you drive more relaxed, you do a better job.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It’s just nice to get back to work, really. This is what we do, this is how we operate. This is how we operate mentally. Being away from the racetrack, you kind of feel like a fish out of water, so it’s nice to be back and just be back into it, be back into the rhythm. I wish we were here for a race weekend or something just so you could be in this more. The test is going to fly by, but we have four cars, we’re going to work together as we always do at Andretti Autosport. We’re going to put together the best race car, come back with it and hopefully make for an interesting race when we come back for the Phoenix race weekend.”