Power Opens Test With Top Time
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Will Power apparently is more-than-ready to retain his title as reigning road/street-racing ace of the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Power, who won five road/street races en route to a runnerup finish in the 2010 point standings to Dario Franchitti, topped the first session of the series’ two-day Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park Monday. Power toured the 2.38-mile, 17-turn natural-terrain road-course in 1 minute, 12.5056-seconds and 114.198 mph in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing was second (1:12.5538) and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Justin Wilson was third (1:12.6791).
Seven different teams were represented in the top 10 after two sessions covering five hours total track time. The top 18 of 24 cars participating were separated by one second.
Power qualified on-pole for the inaugural series race at BMP last April at 1:10.1356-seconds and 118.057 mph. “It was a good day for Verizon Team Penske,” said Power, who finished fourth in last season’s Grand Prix of Alabama at the facility in Leeds, near Birmingham. “We definitely found some things that will help us here. The track conditions really improved late in the day before we decided to stop a bit early because of the (approaching) rain.”
Steady rain showers hit the area shortly after on-track activity wrapped up Monday.
“We had a big list of things to accomplish and made a lot of different changes as we tried to go through all the development pieces that the team came up with over the winter,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda.
Wilson termed his day “reasonable” after a series of changes on the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara/Honda. “We came back out and I think we made some strong progress in the afternoon,” Wilson said. “Some of the changes were good and some were bad, so we can cross those off of the list and now we’re shortening it up.”
Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, the defending race-winner at BMP, was fourth-quickest at 1:12.7764 in the No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Dallara/Honda. James Hinchcliffe was fifth-quickest at 1:12.8729 in his debut in the No. 06 Newman/Haas Racing Dallara/Honda.
Five more hours of track time are scheduled for today in preparation for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27. Barber Motorsports Park will play host to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10.
Sebastian Saavedra impressed Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart during the 2010 season-finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. On Monday, Bachelart confirmed that Saavedra, 20, will run the full IndyCar Series season in the No. 34 Conquest Racing Dallara/Honda.
“I’m excited to be entering my first full season of IndyCar competition,” said Saavedra, who finished 16th on the 1.5-mile HMS oval in October, and tested at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway last week. “I’ve been working a long time towards this and for it to finally happen is fantastic. I can’t wait for the season to start. I know it won’t always be easy but I am up for the challenge.”
Saavedra’s time of 1:13.8020-seconds was 21st on Monday’s speed chart.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Saavedra made his IndyCar Series debut in the 2010 Indianapolis 500, where he started 32nd and finished 23rd. He was selected 2009 Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year after scoring two wins and finishing third in the championship with AFS/Andretti Green Racing. Saavedra made 11 starts in Indy Lights last season, scoring five top fives, including a win from pole at Iowa Speedway.
“We’re delighted to have Sebastian back with us and this time for the complete season,” Bachelart said. “I think we can expect some good things from him this season. We’re also happy to be keeping up our tradition of giving young up-and-coming drivers the chance to take their career to the next level.”
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said a decision regarding implementation of a NASCAR-style “Lucky Dog/free pass” to complement its restart procedures would be announced this week. The feature would give the first car a lap down a free pass to regain its lap before restarts. Alterations to the restart procedures, including cars running side-by-side heading to the green flag, were announced last week.
“As much as I want to do everything the team owners want, I want to make sure we first and foremost take care of our fans,” Bernard said. “I’ve heard from a lot of them that don’t want it, that it’s too gimmicky.”
Interestingly, IndyCar team-owner Chip Ganassi – whose Earnhardt Ganassi Racing also competes in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series – said the “free pass” is a good idea.
“It’s part-and-parcel of keeping cars on the lead-lap and keeping cars in the race,” Ganassi said. “I’ve heard the argument that we don’t have as many cars and don’t pass them as early, it’s 26 vs. 43. I’d have to say I’m in favor of it. If you’re going to do it, go the whole way. If you’re more concerned about yellows, there’s going to be more guys who are a lap down, so they’re going to need help to get a lap back.”
Ganassi also is in favor of side-by-side restarts in INDYCAR. “We have to attract some fans, and when you visually watch a race on television, it needs to look like other races,” Ganassi said. “Let’s face it; most of the people who watch racing on television are watching NASCAR. When they turn on an INDYCAR race, they should be able to see what’s happening and it should look similar. If you’re watching the NFL or a college football game, the rules are pretty much the same and the look is the same and the field is the same. There are small differences, but they are basically the same.”
Scott Dixon has some advice for corporate teammate Jamie McMurray, who will drive Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday.
“Take it easy, especially being my car. I asked if they could use the (No.) 10 car (of teammate Dario Franchitti) and they said no,” said Dixon, who will drive McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet Impala Cup car at the high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.
“Tell Scott, it’s my car,” team-owner Ganassi joked. “They scheduled it on a day that I can’t be there, but I’d sure like to be. It was my idea, so I can’t believe I’m not going to be here. I’m happy to do it for our guys. I always like our drivers to experience other things. They know each other from the 24 Hours of Daytona, so it’s nice that they can get into each other’s cars.
“Often times you hear those guys talking about each other’s cars. It’s kind of interesting and nice that they can get a taste of it firsthand. I don’t think you need to worry about Jamie coming to INDYCAR or Scott switching to NASCAR, but I think it’s really going to be fun. And more importantly, I think it’s going to make them both better race-car drivers.”
No official two-wide restarts are scheduled for Day 2 of the Open Test at BMP today. But Andretti Autosport’s Danica Patrick said she is all-in for expansion of the concept to the nine road/street courses on the 2011 schedule.
“Whatever we have to do to get people to watch more and come to the races is what we have to do,” Patrick said. “I know it’s a sport and we all want pure, pure, pure – but it’s also a business.”
Dario Franchitti, the three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion, sounded a note of caution but agreed with the entertainment aspect. “Will there be more cars in pieces? Yeah,” said Franchitti, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. “But it will add to the spectacle. Ultimately, it’s a sport but it’s an entertainment and those two have to be balanced and that’s a difficult thing to do. In a lot of ways I’m glad I don’t make the decisions.”
The rules alteration, which includes moving the restart zone closer to the start/finish line, was implemented following input from drivers and owners as a way to further intensify on-track action.
“The IndyCar Series goes way beyond what I saw in NASCAR as far as how the series brings the drivers and fans together from the open paddock, the autograph sessions,” Franchitti said. “The IndyCar community works hard to engage the fans.”
Top 20 times from Monday’s Open Test sessions at Barber Motorsports Park:
1, Will Power, 1:12.5056; 2, Scott Dixon, 1:12.5538; 3, Justin Wilson, 1:12.6791; 4, Helio Castroneves, 1:12.7764; 5, James Hinchliffe, 1:12.8729; 6, Ryan Briscoe, 1:12.9715; 7, E.J. Viso, 1:13.0170; 8, Mike Conway, 1:13.0338; 9, Ryan Hunter-Reay, 1:13.1048; 10, Alex Tagliani, 1:13.1187; 11, Graham Rahal, 1:13.1366; 12, Dario Franchitti, 1:13.1524; 13, Takuma Sato, 1:13.1913; 14, Oriol Servia,1:13.2537; 15, Marco Andretti, 1:13.2586; 16, Sebastian Bourdais, 1:13.2904; 17, Simona de Silvestro, 1:13.4546; 18, Charlie Kimball, 1:13.4830; 19, Danica Patrick, 1:13.7102; 20, Vitor Meira, 1:13.7737.