Barrichello Gets The Runaround At Texas Test

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 9 2012

Rubens Barrichello took his first-ever laps on a high-banked oval this week when he tested at Texas Motor Speedway. Offering encouraging words was IndyCar teammate/friend, Tony Kanaan. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Rubens Barrichello says he spent the night before his first hot laps around Texas Motor Speedway “ovaling in my dreams,” which is not a requirement for passing the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie test.

The most experienced driver in Formula One history, Barrichello exited pit road and took to the high-banks of TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval at 8:52 a.m. on Monday to record the first left-turns-only laps of his stellar career. Fifty-five minutes later, and after maintaining a steady 205-206 mph pace through three stints, Barrichello aced the test that will allow him to compete in the oval portion of the 2012 schedule beginning with the 96th edition of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.

“(Sunday) night I went to sleep thinking about it and when I woke up I was on the other side of the bed, so I already was ovaling in my dreams,” Barrichello joked during a post-test news conference at TMS. “Tony (Kanaan) already had told me some things that I might not expect, so that’s good.”

Kanaan, the 2004 series champion who is Barrichello’s KV Racing Technology teammate and Brazilian countryman, shook down the No. 8 BMC/Embrase/Hyundai Brazil Chevrolet Dallara/Chevy on a track where he posted a win in ‘04.

“It was a good experience,” said Barrichello, who logged 14 F1 poles, 11 wins and 68 podium finishes

Former Formula 1 star Rubens Barrichello didn't make a single right turn at TMS. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

over 326 races (322 starts) spanning 19 years. “Tony is not just a brother to me but is someone who has been around so much. So every time I went out and there was something new to me, he already told me. So it was good.

“You ask me if I enjoy? I think it’s very, very different. I did only have three runs by myself before the other cars went out and you are a little bit scared to do something silly there, because to keep the inside line is not that easy in terms of my car is running safe and lots of downforce. On my second run, after I broke the 200s, I was very rude on the radio because I was so excited. I said it was truly awesome, but not in a good manner. I’ve been trying to keep myself away from trouble before I can go really fast.”

Barrichello’s test was the prelude to a critical day-long INDYCAR Open Test in preparation for the Firestone 550k night race weekend at TMS on June 8-9. A revised aerodynamic package with less downforce emerged from “a range of options” tested during 6.5-hours of track time with the series’ new Dallara DW12 chassis powered by 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine packages from Chevrolet and Honda.

Minding his manners, Barrichello stood last among 10 drivers posting speeds during the morning practice at 204.772 mph during a session paced by two-time series champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing at 212.371 mph. Barrichello raised his speed to 206.848 mph during the afternoon session, logging a combined total of 123 laps on a warm and windy day.

“This morning I went to the cage to have a look,” said Barrichello, confirming that the sight of TMS’ 24-degree banked turns were different than anything he had experienced in an open-wheel car. “There wasn’t a lion there yet and I know now where to escape and this-and-that. When they throw all the lions in…I’ll be in a rush a little bit. I guess my season is going to be like that because I’m still not at peace with the whole situation with the car. I’m driving well, but I’m not driving my best just yet because I’m not familiar with everything.”

Four races into his IndyCar career, Barrichello has posted top-10 finishes in his past three road/street course starts and is 11th in the championship standings. His oval-track learning curve will accelerate with the opening of practice for the Indy 500 on Saturday.

“I’ve been to places that you (run) almost flat in Formula One and you got to have the courage to take it flat and to gain that little hundredth sometimes…not even a tenth. And you feel the pleasure of it,” said Barrichello, a two-time F1 championship runnerup during his tenure with Scuderia Ferrari.

“Here it wasn’t a case of actually getting flat – flat is not that difficult. But it’s keeping the line and keeping the vision on it. There’s something here that is holding my neck because obviously I don’t think

Rubens Barrichello and Tony Kanaan talk racing Texas-style. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

anybody could actually drive this racetrack without (it). And that’s different. So I’m looking to this white line (along the track’s bottom lane), ‘so don’t get close but don’t go over it.’ So it’s a lot of info. I wish I had five days over here just to get a peaceful run.”

Barrichello said before taking the test he was advised to try the high-line through the banking to get that experience out of the way. “The higher you go, the closer you are to the wall,” said Barrichello, who was asked what his former colleagues in F1 would think about those banked turns. “Knowing all the guys in Formula One, I guess if we brought 100 percent of them over here, 50 (percent) would like, 50 wouldn’t.

“I enjoyed myself and I was coached to do really well by Tony. But because of the whole 20 years I’ve done in Formula One, all I wanted to check today was to run with people that know what you need from a race car on race day. Qualifying here is important because overtaking hasn’t been easy but I think the whole racing situation must be different from just running by myself. Running by myself has been OK and actually easy, but I think with all the other cars it must be tough.

“I told the officials to let everyone running close to me to give a margin because I’m still not so comfortable running just one lane; maybe one-and-a-half lanes. I’m definitely a newcomer and it’s an exciting challenge. (If it wasn’t) I would have stayed home.”

Kanaan, who played a pivotal role in convincing Barrichello to join the series after his offseason release by Williams F1, was impressed by his protégé. ”It was quite exciting to see how excited he got, and how happy he got out of the car saying how awesome it is,” Kanaan said. “I’m glad he liked it. Now the real challenge begins, which will be to learn as much as he can and try to get faster.”

Barrichello originally was scheduled to test from 8-11 p.m. on Sunday. But that session was scrubbed because of a mechanical issue, to the relief of Rubens’ wife, Silvana, down in Sao Paulo. “She’s fine. She’s not here, obviously, but she’s calling every two minutes,” said Barrichello, 39, the father of two sons. “We are two hours behind Brazil in terms of time and (Sunday) night they were all waiting to see the news before I called and said, ‘I’m not running tonight.’

“It’s like when you are having some bumps on the plane but you are not actually flying it. You feel, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ The pilots know what’s going on. I am in charge of it and I’m feeling comfortable. It’s the people around me that still want to see what I say about it. All the drivers that came to me said ‘respect the place’ and you’ve got to do it. That’s all I’m doing. I’m taking it step-by-step but I am enjoying it.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 9 2012
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