Saturday Phoenix Open Test

Two days of action at Phoenix International Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series has wrapped up. The test allowed teams and drivers to get up to speed as the season opening race in St Petersburg on March 12 inches closer.

JR Hildebrand recorded the fastest lap of the weekend, when he ran a lap at 193.234 mph during the first session. On Friday, Josef Newgarden was the only driver to break the 190 mph barrier. During the first session on Saturday, there were 11 drivers that did so, with Chevrolet taking the top five spots on the chart.

Hildebrand was sixth fastest overall on Friday, and is clearly up to speed with the team. Team owner Ed Carpenter is not surprised at how quickly he has been able to get up to speed. “JR has been a part of this team the past three years,” Carpenter said. “Even though he hasn’t been in the car as much as we wanted, he was still kind of in tune with what we were doing all the time, communicating with myself, Josef, the engineers.”

Although it won’t officially go into the books, Hildebrand did break the track record on Saturday, with that fastest lap. ECR took the top two spots in the session, with Ed right behind him. The combined results for Saturday are below.

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After a clean day on Friday, there were four incidents today that severely damaged each car. Fortunately all four drivers were okay, being checked and released at the infield care center. On Friday, Andretti Autosport had three of their cars in the top-ten and Marco Andretti was the fastest of the 21 cars during the night session. Saturday was a little rough.

Just minutes into the first session of the day, Alexander Rossi spun exiting Turn 1, and made hard contact with the outside wall. Fortunately he was able to get out of the car on his own power, and shortly thereafter, IndyCar announced that he had been checked, cleared, and released from the infield care center. The rear end of the car was badly damaged, and the crew quickly began repairs in order to get it back out for the evening session.

“I’m not completely sure what happened because the car felt fine, it just got loose and snapped,” Rossi said. “The car was good going into Turn 1, I went down to the bottom and the back end came out. The car has been great this weekend and I’m really happy with the progress we’ve made ahead of this incident. This was my first real contact with the wall, better here than in qualifying or the race, and it won’t stop me from pushing hard.”

Just 30 minutes into the night session, Graham Rahal lost control in the same area where Rossi had his incident. The contact for Rahal was much lighter, and appeared to take place while he was following a handful of other cars.

Rahal mentioned the holes in the floor of the cars, and how that affects the handling. “Newgarden had just come out of the pits and I was trying to get a run on him going down the back to get clear of him and catch back up to the group that I was behind. The thing was building understeer up until that point and, once I got close to him, the rear just went.”

With an hour remaining, things got even worse for the Andretti team. The newest member, Takuma Sato, also ended up in the wall in that same spot. Like his teammate earlier in the day, there was extensive rear-end damage to the car.

If that weren’t enough, Hildebrand also found the wall with only 20 minutes remaining. His situation was different than the other three (broken front wing) but it was a bitter end to the weekend for the ECR team that had been running so well.

Aside from those four incidents, it was another productive day. A total of 5,134 laps were completed this weekend.

According to Motorsport.com the new right-side tires that Firestone developed for Phoenix have gotten many positive reviews. Chief Engineer and Manager of Race Tire Development Cara Adams said “We’ve had a lot of great feedback so far. We spoke to almost all the drivers last night and everyone seemed happy with it – very little tire degradation. Some had 60 laps on them and the drivers said they were very consistent up to about 50 laps.”

For most of the competitors, the next stop will be Sebring International Raceway for test on February 28. Six of the eight teams will be testing that day, and Andretti will make seven as their test will be the following day. That is the same day (March 1) that SPM will have Luis Michael Dorrbecker in the car for his Rookie Day.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Simon Pagenaud: “It was great to be back in the PPG Chevrolet. We’ve had a great test so far. We’ve been able to work on a lot of different things and compile some good data. It was a long off-season but that was good for me, but now I’m ready to go.”

Josef Newgarden: “We’ve accomplished a lot with the Verizon Chevy. The car was good early on yesterday, so that was definitely nice. The transition is going very well, actually. [Engineer] Brian (Campe) is getting used to my terminology and my sensitivities and the other way around. This has been great. We’ve been able to log a lot of track time and work through a ton of things.”

Helio Castroneves: “The Hitachi Chevy felt great. I just love driving that thing. I think we got a lot done so far. Everyone gets caught up in the speeds but testing isn’t always about that which is why I feel really good about the work we’ve got in. Earlier today was really special in being a part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the track renovation. I was honored that they asked me to be involved. It sounds like it will add a lot to the experience here when they’re done.”

Conor Daly: “There’s a lot to learn in the switch in manufacturers so we have to use our time wisely, keep working and evaluating everything with the ABC Supply Chevrolet. We have a lot of work to do but that’s what testing is for so we can go through things and be ready to go for the race.”

James Hinchcliffe: “So far so good here. We came here with a pretty comprehensive test plan and shockingly we’ve been able to stick to it. When you get on track and everybody’s around, it’s easy to get away from that plan. We really have work to do to make sure we’re in the best position when we come back here to race. We’re making progress on the car which is the number one thing. As we go through our test list, we’re knocking off items on the list that are really helping. Hoping we have more of that improvement tonight as well.”

Mikhail Aleshin: “We did a good job in today’s first session, and it was pretty productive; we went through our test plan and everything went perfect. I know we are (currently) the fastest Honda, so that is pretty good, but there are still a lot of things in our plan to work on in the second session. This test has been great. We’re here in Arizona, the weather is great, nice people around and I’m with my team, so I think that’s what matters and I’m really enjoying our time here.”

Max Chilton: “I’ve really just been focused on getting familiar with the Honda engine and aero package. This is all new to me and there is definitely a lot to learn. The night practice session will be even more crucial for us as it will be as close to race conditions as we get this week. I’m excited and think the Gallagher team is up for the challenge.”

Scott Dixon: “I think the test has gone pretty well so far. We’re just trying to get through our test list. I think we know the types of tracks where we’re going to have a little bit of a deficit. Here and the other short track ovals sort of present the most challenges for us I think. All in all, the car is running pretty well. The Honda engine is great and I’m happy with the drivability to this point.”

Tony Kanaan: “How can you not love coming to Phoenix? The place is just fast. It’s a little different to be back here in a Honda after last year, but we’re feeling good as a team with where we are and testing has already been pretty good for us. We spent most of the day yesterday getting up to speed with the track and making sure everything was good to go, then we started running qualifying simulations in the afternoon practice today. We’ll spend all of the session tonight making sure we’re where we need to be from a race setup standpoint so we can hit the ground running when we’re back here in April.”

Will Power: “The Verizon Chevrolet team has gotten a lot done. I’m really looking forward to getting a quick start this season. Last year I wasn’t able to do that. We’ve been very focused here on getting some things sorted out so that we can get out of the gate fast. We had a little change on the timing stand with Jon Bouslog coming over from the No. 2 car, but that hasn’t really effected anything. The communication is good. The car felt very comfortable.”

Carlos Munoz: “I think we improved the ABC Supply Chevrolet quite a lot from yesterday-especially balance-wise with car. We have more work to do but we’re getting there. It’s our first time with this aero kit so it’s a learning process. I’m happy with the gains we made overnight.”

Graham Rahal: “It’s always good to be back on track after the off-season. It’s always eye-opening, particularly at a place like this. It wakes you up and gets the blood flowing in a hurry. It’s good to just get back into the rhythm of everything. With the two-day test here it almost feels like a race weekend in many ways. Most of our oval races are two day weekends. Competition wise everything is good. We obviously would like to find a little bit of pace but in general there are a lot of positives that have come from this test. We’re excited to get another session in and see if we can improve the car.”

“Newgarden had just come out of the pits and I was trying to get a run on him going down the back to get clear of him and catch back up to the group that I was behind. The thing was building understeer up until that point and, once I got close to him, the rear just went. It’s unfortunate, the guys certainly don’t need any more work and I obviously didn’t want to bring the thing home on the wrecker. I don’t think the damage is extensive but it’s enough to tick us off. It’s frustrating because the test has been going good. To end it that way is disappointing.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “We’re still looking for a bit of extra speed, but so is everybody else. We obviously looked pretty settled straight away because Ed (Jones) had that rookie day on Wednesday. We’re both pretty comfortable, had the opportunity to shake his car down and do 10 laps like you can when there is a rookie day like that, so that gives you a little bit of extra confidence and we could run a fairly trim car straight away, so we could look good for the first half hour, but really that didn’t last very long. We got to the thick of it today and really trimmed the car out pretty much what we got, but you can always make small adjustments after that, get the balance a little closer so you get a bit less scrub and this and that. But you know, after that, the racing is quite a bit different, and you’ve got to have a big game of patience. So that’s what we’re going to be working on mostly tonight.”

Ed Jones: “Overall it’s been a good couple of days. The first session yesterday went really well but I struggled a little bit more in the night session when we were simulating race running. It was my first time running like that so it was a lot to take in. We were also practicing pit stops without laps and in laps. We knew it was going to be hard but I guess that it’s just part of the learning process and I’ll be better next time. I feel comfortable in the car. I also think a lot of the guys went on low trim runs as well so that’s why they did so many quick times. We left it on high downforce the whole time making it hard to compare. I have some catching up to do on that side because I haven’t had that experience before but it’s all part of the learning curve.”

Ed Carpenter: “We had good cars here last year. I think JR (Hildebrand) was the only one faster (than the track record). 19.09 (sec/lap), I think. It’s fine. It’s an open test. It’s a continuation from last year. We had good cars. We were fortunate enough to be part of the tire test team here last fall, so you know, in that regard I think we had a little bit of a jump start on this tire, maybe relative to some of the other guys. So that’s always nice to get that opportunity. We’re thankful for Firestone to do that. So we had been here on this tire. Obviously JR hadn’t, but the team has done a good job. We’ve gone through some changes, but the guys have kept their head down. We still have the same goals of competing for race wins, competing for the championship, Indy 500, and this is an important race. It’s the first oval of the year. You want to come and set of set the tone for the ovals here just as St. Pete is important to kick off the season and set the tone for the road and street courses. The guys have been working hard, and it doesn’t really count, doesn’t mean much today, but at the same time it is fun to be up at the top and reward the guys for hard work this off-season.”

JR Hildebrand: “I think being able to jump in at Iowa this last year was really helpful for me coming here, just to have a little bit of a — Phoenix is different, but it’s more similar to Iowa than it used to be I think in a lot of ways, and not just giving me a chance to get on the short oval aero package and kind of understand what the team’s setup kind of dynamic is, I guess. Definitely helped for me to just get up so speed more quickly that I had that little bit of familiarity with it. We rolled off the truck kind of as we would say just in the window, so it was a lot of just being able to — what we’ve been doing is sort of tailoring the cars to our individual needs, and those aren’t that different, so both of us sort of then working together with our teams to benefit from each other along the way. So that’s all gone smoothly thus far, and we’ll get some more race running in this afternoon and hopefully start off the races — coming back here in a month or two.”

Takuma Sato: “It’s been a very good test, very good start with Andretti Autosport. My first official test with the team. Everything was smooth and the car worked well. We learned a lot and we still need to come back here, there is a lot of work to be done. The amount of data the four cars get makes me so excited to work with the team. I am very happy.”

Marco Andretti: “Overall, it’s really great to be back in the car. We spent some time at Phoenix working in a few different directions, and you can’t take too much away from the times because the whole field is working on different things. The hhgregg boys looked good on practice stops, Bryan (Herta) and I are getting along great and we’re learning some things about the car. Not a bad start to the season so far.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It’s great to get the DHL Honda back in action. It’s nice to be back in the testing mode, getting ready for the race season. We’re back at work full swing. Looking forward to getting back to St. Pete, starting the season off. Hopefully we can find a little bit more speed here and be ready for the Phoenix race when we come back. It would be great to give DHL, Honda and AutoNation a win at our first oval of the year.”

Charlie Kimball: “We’re just learning about how the new Honda engine and aero kit reacts to changes and working through race and qualifying setups. We did a little bit of race work yesterday during the day and then trimmed some down to get closer to a qualifying setup last night. We spent the afternoon of Day 2 doing some qualifying work just trimming downforce out and trying to get the drag out of it. We need to see how the car reacts in both speed and what we need to do on the engine side, but also the balance of the car and any adjustments we need to make before we come back on the race weekend. Tonight the plan is to do some race work and maybe even some full tank runs and see how the car does on a full tank and how it runs in traffic. There’s so much we have to learn, so we’re just trying to get as much information as possible before we come back during the season.”

Alexander Rossi: “I’m not completely sure what happened because the car felt fine – it just got loose and snapped. The car was good going into Turn 1, I went down to the bottom and the back end came out. The test has been productive overall, so this is a pretty big setback. The car has been great this weekend and I’m really happy with the progress we’ve made ahead of this incident. This was my first real contact with the wall – better here than in qualifying or the race – and it won’t stop me from pushing hard.”

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