Speeds Soar As IndyCars Arrive At Barber

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 13 2013

Will Power got off to a fast start at Fontana. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Record-setting speeds marked the first of a two-day IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test Tuesday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

The session previewing the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 24 produced these by-the-numbers highlights:

_ Twenty-five drivers who hot-lapped quicker than Will Power’s official record on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course.

_ Eight different teams represented in the top 10.

_ Nineteen of 26 drivers within one second of the leader.

_ Six Chevrolet and four Honda teams in the top 10.

Power, of Team Penske, set the record of 1 minute, 9.8529-seconds during Round 1 of qualifications last April. Driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, Power was quickest in the chilly morning session with a lap of 1:08.4984 and lowered the mark to 1:07.8625 at 122.011 mph in the afternoon _ two seconds quicker than his record.

Teammate Helio Castroneves was second (1:07.9388/121.874 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, while James Hinchcliffe was third (1:07.9869/121.788 mph) in the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport.

The defending race winner at Barber, Power won three of the initial four races in 2012 and entered the season-finale as one of two drivers contending for the series title. He’s looking for another quick start _ and his first championship.

“The car is incredibly hooked-up here,” said Power, who turned 58 laps. “I never felt quicker in this car. It’s good to have Penske 1-2; it’s only the first day of testing but it shows we’ve worked hard in the winter and I think as a team we’re determined to check a couple of boxes this year. The Indy 500 and the championship are at the top of the list. I’ve let it go too many times.”

Castroneves, defending event winner on the Streets of St. Pete, echoed his teammate’s observations.

“Wow, it was fun to get back out there today,” Castroneves said after turning 57 laps. “The car was really fast and P2 today shows all the hard work the Team Penske and Chevrolet guys have put in over the offseason. The grip was incredible and the close times show how competitive the racing will be this year. Hopefully (Wednesday) is another good day so we can keep getting ready for St. Pete.”

Hinchcliffe, who started second and finished sixth at Barber Motorsports Park last year, started his day with a baseline established during that race.

“We knew what to show up with for the most part,” said Hinchcliffe, who turned 56 laps. “Today was a lot of working through a lot of the things the engineers dreamed up during the offseason. Some were good and some were bad, but ultimately it was good to end up in the top three. There’s still some time to find in all the Andretti Autosport cars, and hopefully, we can go challenge those Penske cars (Wednesday).”

Reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport was 11th on the chart with a top lap of 1:08.3557 at 121.131 mph in his No. 1 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Dallara/Chevrolet. Hunter-Reay recorded 39 laps.

Dario Franchitti, a four-time series champion and three-time Indy 500 winner, stood 23rd after a top lap of 1:09.0381/119.180 mph. The Scotsman completed 41 laps in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda.

Wednesday’s test sessions have been revised because of the potential of inclement weather to 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:45-6 p.m. (EDT).

Recent surface grinding combined with a new compound for Firestone’s primary tires developed for the track and cool temperatures helping the turbocharged V-6 engines “breathe” contributed to the increased speeds. All teams are using slicks for the test, with alternate tires that tradeoff even more grip for fewer laps for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 5-7.

“It runs like a diamond-bladed polisher horizontal with the surface of the racetrack and takes the aggregate back down to the base,” track manager Mark Whitt said of the surface-grinding process. “We’ve been running 10 years, so the aggregate gets exposed. We ground the aggregate to get it back down to the base, which makes a smoother surface but more grippy surface.”

The process will prolong the life of the course, which is in use more than 220 days a year.

Mike Conway took advantage of his only test day in a Rahal Letterman Lanigan machine on Tuesday. The Englishman, who will compete on the Streets of Long Beach in mid-April for RLL Racing, was behind the wheel of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Dallara/Honda and recorded a quick lap of 1:08.1584 at 121.472 mph_ fourth overall.

“Today was about getting comfortable in a car, working with the guys and seeing how they work and getting myself dialed-in for Long Beach,” said Conway, who completed 42 laps. “I think we got through a lot of stuff, and hopefully helped the guys out for tomorrow. James (Jakes) will be in the car and hopefully he’ll like some of the things we got through and be quick out of the box.”

It was the first test of the year for Conway and engineer Eddie Jones, who also served as his engineer at Andretti Autosport in 2011.

“I’m here to do the best job that I can,” said Conway, who drove last season for A.J. Foyt Racing. “It’s a new group of people, but some people I’ve worked with before so that made it a bit easier. Obviously, I’d like to do a more races, so you have to do a good job whenever you’re in the car.”

INDYCAR, sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series, has announced formation of an advisory Competition Committee, creating a formalized communication platform with various industry stakeholders on competition and technical-related matters.

The committee will consist of a minimum of seven members who will meet regularly throughout the year to evaluate competition-related matters including rules, technical specifications and safety initiatives. The committee will make recommendations to the sanctioning body, with final decisions made by INDYCAR management.

“We believe it’s important to create a forum for drivers, team owners and manufacturers to have organized and structured input to the series as we look to make important decisions that directly impact on-track competition,” said Jeff Belskus, CEO, INDYCAR. “The creation of this committee builds a formalized process to vet proposed initiatives with safety and competition always top-of- mind.

“Once we receive a recommendation from the Competition Committee, the series will evaluate it from a commercial and business standpoint in order to make a final decision.”

For the 2013 season, the INDYCAR Competition Committee will consist of:

_ Two INDYCAR management representatives appointed by the INDYCAR CEO. One will be designated the committee chairman.

_ Two active IZOD IndyCar Series team representatives appointed by the team member group.

_Two active IZOD IndyCar Series driver representatives appointed by the drivers group.

_ Four active IZOD IndyCar Series manufacturer members, one representing each engine, tire and chassis manufacturer. Each manufacturer will appoint its designated representative.

_ One at-large member appointed by the INDYCAR CEO.

Additionally, the committee chairman can invite other key stakeholders such as promoters, racetrack officials and broadcast partners to attend the meetings to provide insight and input on initiatives.

INDYCAR will determine the initiatives sent to the committee for review. To make recommendations to the sanctioning body, each committee member will have one vote. Once a majority vote is achieved, the committee chairman will submit the recommendation to the INDYCAR CEO for review. The INDYCAR CEO will then notify the committee of the sanctioning body’s final decision.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 13 2013
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