Progress Is ‘Slow’ During New-Car Test At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 6 2012

Scott Dixon prepares to head out onto the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during Wednesday's test session. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Former Indianapolis 500 champion Scott Dixon says target lap speeds in the 225 mile per hour range with the IZOD IndyCar Series’ new chassis/engine package aren’t necessarily a lock for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” next month – nor should they be.

“I think you got to stick to the important things. It’s putting on a good show,” Dixon said during a teleconference on Thursday, one day after his first test of the Dallara DW12/Honda package around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I think it was kind of crazy that IndyCar even put out a statement saying they would achieve 225 (mph) without knowing or having run there too much.”

The 2008 Indy 500 champion, Dixon was referring to a pre-test statement by Will Phillips, INDYCAR vice president of technology. “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t get to that 220-222 (mph) range, and that last little bit will come as teams dial the cars into the track during the week of Indy and 225 is the target,” Phillips said last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., during a discussion regarding framework of the series’ 2013 aero kit regulations.

Dixon said he topped-out at 218 mph Wednesday during a session the INDYCAR engine group used to gather data and feedback regarding handling characteristics and performance levels. Nine participants driving Chevrolet’s and Honda’s 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines – producing about 550-570 horsepower for the oval – turned laps.

Ed Carpenter and Scott Dixon were two of the drivers who took the new Dallara for spins around Indy this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Indy 500 practice begins Saturday, May 12. The four-lap average pole-winning speed in 2011 was 227.472 mph by Alex Tagliani in the former Dallara/Honda Indy V-8 package.

“I think those speeds are still possible,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry. “We only reached 218. But things develop fairly quickly. Once the rubber’s down, I definitely see pole time being in the 220s. Whether it’s 221 or 225, who really knows? I think speed is kind of irrelevant. It wasn’t too long ago – last year we were 226 to 228 – but it wasn’t too far back we were struggling to break 223s and 224s, with the change in the engine and tires.

“You have to remember it’s a new car, a new package. The boosts are a lot lower at big tracks like that. If boosts and things like that were open, those things would be achievable very easily. I don’t think speed is such a crazy thing. I think people get excited. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard of a new track record. I don’t think that’s out of the question down the road.

“But it’s a new package. We have to find our ways and develop tires around the new car. The engine manufacturers have to feel safe in pushing these engines to make sure they’re going to get to the end of the race. I think it’s going to come. But might not be this year.”

One car/driver combination from each team was invited. Scott Dixon, runnerup in both of the series’ first two street-course events of 2012, was joined from the Honda camp by Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Mike Conway (A.J. Foyt Racing) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing).

The Chevy contingent was represented by series points-leader Helio Castroneves (Team Penske), Ed Carpenter (owner/driver for Ed Carpenter Racing), Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology), Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport) and JR Hildebrand (Panther Racing).

Hildebrand, last year’s Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, noted that speed always has been “sort of a big deal” to purists at IMS.

“We didn’t leave that test with a lot of options to continue picking up speed,” said Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National Guard car fielded by Panther Racing. “I think everybody is kind of in the same boat. We’ll have to sort of figure out, I guess as a group, where things are really going to be at when we come back in May.

“I think when it comes to the race and kind of where we’re at, it really is all about putting on a good show. Nobody really cares or probably has any idea how fast individual cars are going as the race is going on, whether it’s 210, 220, 230, whatever. I think that piece of it is sort of unimportant.

“To me, I think the aim should be to go at least as fast as the old car was, the previous car. We’re making,

Helio Castroneves heads up the front straight at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

sort of like Scott said, small gains in going that direction. But I think down the road and in the end that’s certainly something that I’d like to see remain a priority of some sort because that to me is a big piece of what IndyCar racing and open-wheel racing in North America has really been about for a long time.“

Hildebrand noted that no official timing and scoring was provided Wednesday. “I would certainly say it seemed to us as though the 218s that were being put down were at the end of the day in a draft,” Hildebrand said. “It’s sort of an unknown. We don’t have a lot of cars on track. Right until the last hour of the day, there were rarely more than a car or two out there at once. It’s hard to see how big an effect it has on that speed.

“I felt like we were getting into a range of being sort of limited in terms of taking more drag off the car. So it remains to be seen if there will be some more tweaks and changes to make that happen. Historically just taking a two-inch long wicker off the right place on the car, you pick up half a mile an hour. The cars are quite sensitive. I think if the right changes can be found, speed can come in a hurry.

“On the manufacturer’s side, I think it’s a matter of where the engine manufacturers on the whole kind of want to go. As long as the engines are intended to last, I think there’s a little bit of a limit to how much more boost will be allowed or for how long, whatever, during the month. I don’t think either Honda or Chevrolet at this test were really laying it all out on the line to see how fast the cars can go. We were just kind of running within the limits of where we’re at for the races that we’ve got coming up.

“There’s definitely some available changes I think that can be made. It’s just a matter of if that ends up being in the cars or not for this year.”

IndyCar Series newcomers Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, as well as two-time USAC National Driver’s Champion Bryan Clauson, successfully completed rookie testing Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway. The three were cleared to compete in all oval events by Beaux Barfield, INDYCAR president of competition and IndyCar Series race director, who supervised the test.

“I knew that Josef and Simon would get up-to-speed quickly, and they did, but Bryan was equally as impressive,” Barfield said. “He was on-pace and consistent throughout the day. All three drivers were comfortable and worked the various lines and setups. It was a productive day for all three, even though it was technically a rookie test.”

Unlike for the Indianapolis 500, where rookies traditionally pass through four speed phases, Barfield

Rookie Simon Pagenaud during last weekend's race in Alabama. He passed his rookie test for ovals this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

allowed Sam Schmidt Motorsports (Pagenaud) and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (Newgarden) to run their own test plans and observed how the rookie drivers worked with their teams on and off the track.

“It was my first time on an oval, so I’m not a virgin anymore,” said Pagenaud, who turned more than 100 laps around the 1.5-mile quadoval. “I enjoyed my first oval experience. I was running by myself, so it’s a lot easier than running in a pack. But I’m really comfortable and the engineers did a great job making me feel comfortable.”

Newgarden, who has oval experience in Firestone Indy Lights, turned his first laps at TMS. “We’re just trying to get our time in so we’re prepared when we come back in June,” said Newgarden, referring to the Firestone 550k night race in Fort Worth on Saturday, June 9. “It’s our first laps with the new car on ovals. It’s interesting to get the car to work on the high line here. You have to get your car working in all lanes, and not just one of them.”

Clauson joined the pair in a car prepared by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. “It feels great to finally get to strap into a 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series car,” Clauson said. “We had a great afternoon of testing with the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing boys and it feels good to get step one of the Indianapolis 500 process complete.”

IndyCar Series regulars are booked to return to TMS for an Open Test on Monday, May 7.

Ana Beatriz will drive for Andretti Autosport in a pair of key IndyCar Series races this season. Beatriz will compete in her hometown event, the Itaipava São Paulo Indy 300 (April 27-29), and then attempt to make her third Indianapolis 500 start in May as a co-entrant for Andretti Autosport with operational support from Conquest Racing. Beatriz will drive the No. 25 Dallara/Chevrolet sponsored by Ipiranga, one of Brazil’s iconic petroleum and convenience retail companies.

“Driving for Andretti Autosport is the biggest opportunity I’ve had in IndyCar and my career,” Beatriz said. “I am very honored to be part of Michael’s (Andretti) team for Brazil and the Indy 500. I would like to thank my management team, Andre Ribeiro and Augusto Cesario, for putting this deal together with Michael, John (Lopes) and JF (Thormann). Also, I am very happy to have Ipiranga supporting me again for these races, and Andretti couldn’t be a better fit.”

Beatriz, 27, will drive the fourth entry for Andretti Autosport at São Paulo, joining teammates Marco

Ana Beatriz to drive for Andretti. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay. For the Indianapolis 500 she will pilot a fifth Chevrolet-powered car for Andretti, as Sebastian Saavedra will be the team’s fourth driver in an AFS Racing co-entry.

Beatriz completed a test session with Andretti Autosport in March at Sebring International Raceway. “I’ve been watching Bia for a few years,” said Michael Andretti, chairman/president and CEO of Andretti Autosport. “She was very strong in Firestone Indy Lights, and I was impressed by the pace she showed there. This opportunity is a good fit for us as a team. Brazil is an important, growing market for many of our sponsors, so to have a Brazilian driver and Ipiranga come aboard with us made a lot of sense. This opportunity came to us late, so we are grateful for the operational support provided by Conquest Racing.”

Beatriz, who goes by the nickname “Bia,” progressed through the Brazilian karting and open-wheel ranks before entering Firestone Indy Lights in 2008. She was the first woman to win in the series at Nashville in 2008, and followed-up with a second oval win at Iowa in 2009. Beatriz has 20 previous starts in the IndyCar Series, with a career-best finish of 11th at Toronto in 2011. She made her first IndyCar start in 2010 at the São Paulo race. Beatriz is the first Brazilian woman to start in the Indianapolis 500, where she twice has finished 21st.

Beatriz’s addition to the grid in Brazil means a total of 27 cars will make the trip for the third annual Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300. Randy Bernard, INDYCAR CEO, confirmed provisions have been made to bring 27 cars to Brazil.

Thirteen IndyCar Series drivers are scheduled to test the new 2012 Dallara DW12 car during a one-day session at Infineon Raceway on Monday, April 9, in advance of the Indy® Grand Prix of Sonoma, Aug. 24-26.

Will Power of Team Penske qualified on-pole en route to victory last year on the 12-turn, 2.303-mile road course. Power will be joined by teammates Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe for the session, along with Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport), Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal (Chip Ganassi Racing), Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan and EJ Viso (KV Racing Technology) and Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing).

Fans are invited to attend the free session from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. In addition, tickets for the Indy® Grand Prix of Sonoma will be available at $10-$65 single day and $65-$85 for the weekend. Further information is available at 800-870-RACE(7223),infineonraceway.com/indycar and ticketmaster.com.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones will serve as grand marshal for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Race No. 3 of the IndyCar Series season, on April 15. The race will be telecast live at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by NBC Sports Network. The IMS Radio Network also will carry the race live on XM Channel 94 and Sirius 212. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Grand Prix of Long Beach, also on April 15. It will be telecast by NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. (EDT) on April 19.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 6 2012
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