Team Penske’s Power Ends Barber Test In ‘A Happy Place’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 19 2014

Will Power ruled at Barber test. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

Will Power completed a two-day sweep of an unseasonably cold spring training Tuesday, topping the time chart at Barber Motorsports Park as the Verizon IndyCar Series wrapped up its traditional Open Test.

Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, recorded a top lap of 1 minute, 7.0608-seconds Tuesday around Barber’s 2.3-mile, 17-turn road-course in Birmingham, Ala. Power, who paced Monday’s weather-shortened test in 1:07.6492-seconds/122.396 mph, recorded 62 laps during a session delayed because of cold temperatures and intermittent mist in the morning.

“Coming back to Barber, hopefully we found a happy place,” said Power, winner of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at BMP twice during its four-year history. “Obviously, the temperature will be a lot different and I think that brings out imbalances in the car. It was so cold today and there was so much grip that I think it was hard to get good reads on changes. We’ll see where we go and head to St. Pete. It’s going to be really tight.”

For comparison, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport qualified on-pole at Barber last April in 1:07.0871-seconds/123.422 mph en route to victory in the 90-lapper.

The 2014 season will open with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on, Sunday, March 30. Barber Motorsports Park will play host to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama four weeks later.

The series’ depth of field was evident on the time sheet as 17 drivers were less than one second off Power’s pace. Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, was 0.0038-seconds back and quickest among drivers powered by the new twin-turbocharged Honda V6 engine.

“I think it’s great; I just want to know where it puts me on the grid for the race here,” Wilson deadpanned. “Obviously nowhere, so you just have to take it with a pinch of salt. We like the progress that we’ve made to the car and the work that the team is doing. It’s a complete new set of guys, working with Michael Cannon, that just keeps getting better and better every time we run. The last two days have been all about jelling as a team, coming together more than anything else, so I think that helps us going into St. Pete.

“When we come back here the track is going to be a lot warmer, it reacts totally different and the setup probably needs to change. Probably half the things we think we learned will get thrown out the window. You just have to be careful. I think we’re trying to take it very steady and one step at a time.”

Three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato joined Will Power among the top five on the BMP time sheet both days. And for the second consecutive day, Honda and Chevrolet split the top-10 on the time sheet.

Dixon, runnerup in each of the four series races contested at Barber, posted a best lap of 1:07.0791-seconds in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Sato, driver the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda fielded by A.J. Foyt Racing, was fourth at 1:07.3314-seconds. Ryan Briscoe, who has returned to Chip Ganassi Racing Teams for the first season since 2005, was fifth-quickest at 1:07.3705-seconds in the No. 8 NTT Data Dallara/Chevy.

“It’s been a very productive two days,” said Sato, who posted his first career IndyCar Series victory on the Streets of Long Beach last spring. “We’ve been unlucky in terms of the weather; it was wet in the morning so we didn’t run and the afternoon was cold so that won’t replicate for the race weekend. Nevertheless we did a lot of the test program that we wanted to do and saw how the car reacted. It was very positive performance-wise and the feedback. It’s been a good preparation and we’re ready to go to St. Petersburg.”

Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz laid down a field-high 121 combined laps as teammate to 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti.

“I learned a lot these two days,” said Munoz, driver of the No. 34 Cinsay Dallara/Honda. “Also, the team tested out a lot of different things, so we were able to get a lot out of it. I think, personally, I need to work a lot more to get used to the car. The circuit was quite tough; there was much more downforce than I’m used to having come from Indy Lights. I’m definitely more comfortable at this test than previous ones. I think we’ve made a lot of progress and today was better than yesterday. Each time I get in the car is better than the last, so I’m just really looking forward to St. Pete.”

The season-opener on the Streets of St. Pete will be televised live by ABC at 3 p.m. (EDT) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including Sirius and XM Channels 209 and the INDYCAR 14 app for most smart phones and tablets.

Chevrolet Racing’s Chris Berube contends that some of the best innovations come to fruition from constraints. Operating within sanctioning body INDYCAR’s constraints for the 2.2-liter, direct-injected, twin-turbocharged V6 engines supplied by Chevrolet (with partner Ilmor Engineering) and Honda Performance Development, engineers are seeking performance advantages via managing the air and fuel mixture for more power and increased fuel economy.

The series’ engine manufacturers have some leeway in development, including a 20 percent larger volume plenum (the chamber/reservoir of air that supplies the engine) for 2014 and new valve sizing and porting of cylinder heads. They also are up against an increased durability mandate for the 18-race season to 2,500 miles between overhauls. Each entry is allowed four fresh engines for the season, with the count starting at the two-day Open Test at Barber.

“Those are pretty big challenges for an engineering team to execute on,” said Berube, program manager for Chevrolet Racing. “(But) similar technologies that we’re racing with are for sale in our vehicles. That’s part of the value of why we race, these linkages and technology transfers to the showroom.”

Honda Performance Development, meanwhile, has joined Chevrolet in developing and producing a twin-turbocharged V6 for 2014. Both use the BorgWarner Turbo Systems’ model 7163, new for 2014. Chevrolet captured the 2013 Manufacturers’ Championship by three points (144-141) via 10 wins and 11 poles to Honda’s nine wins and eight poles.

Upgrades to the Dallara chassis and evaluation of a steering damper have been initiated by INDYCAR with input from series drivers. The current chassis enters its third year of competition on a diverse set of racetracks, including the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit used for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30.

For 2014, carbon fiber panels bonded to the exterior and interior sides of the cockpit supplement the Xylon anti-intrusion panels introduced in 2008. The additions reportedly will increase the chassis’ side impact integrity by 60 percent.

Additionally, a carbon fiber reinforcement ring is being added to increase structural integrity of the cockpit opening. The upgrades will add about 10 pounds to the rolling chassis. Work, which began in January, is being conducted at Aerodine Composites Group in Indianapolis. The update will be required for all cars entered in the Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

“Part of racing is always is an evolution,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR president of competition and operations. “The rules change and there are things you’ll do this year because you never saw them (problems) last year.”

Along those lines, a modification of the cockpit headrest surround for road and street courses will reduce the low G-force levels usually seen on bumpy street circuits when the driver’s helmet buffets the headrest. A Kevlar covering has been replaced by Nomex, which wraps three different densities of Confor Foam and EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) foam. The Confor Foam addition did not affect high-end G-force impact performance during testing conducted at the Center for Advanced Product Evaluation in Westfield, Ind.

EPP _ an engineered plastic foam material utilized in the fourth-generation chassis and in molding driver seats _ will replace carbon panels on the outsides of the drivers’ thighs. Also, the road-course rear wheel pods have been strengthened to match the pods utilized on ovals.

INDYCAR also has commissioned Dallara to investigate a steering damper. The hydraulic device built into a steering rack will have its initial test in the near future. Walker said power steering in the future has not been ruled out.

Open-wheel veteran Alex Tagliani will drive a second Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing entry in the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. The Indy 500 pole-sitter in 2011, Tagliani will wheel the No. 68 SFHR Dallara/Honda as teammate to fulltime IndyCar Series driver Josef Newgarden at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tagliani has five career starts on IMS’ 2.5-mile oval with a best finish of 10th in 2010. He was voted Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year in 2009, earning an 11th-place finish after starting 33rd. In 2011, he made history during the 100th anniversary of the world’s most prestigious race by becoming the only Canadian driver to qualify on-pole. Tagliani has started in the first two rows twice, on-pole in 2011 and fifth in 2010. He has led 23 laps during his Indianapolis 500 career.

“I love this race, and this track has always been a comfortable fit for me,” said Tagliani, working with the team co-owned by former series driver Fisher and businessman Wink Hartman. “I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity with SFHR, and I will do my best to contribute to the success of the team.

“I need to really thank Sarah and Wink for this chance to go back to Indianapolis to win this race. It’s been a pleasure working with them. This has the potential to develop into a longer association because I really love what this team is about. They have the ability to surprise a lot of people.”

Icon Mario Andretti, who won three Indy car races and the 1977 Formula One event on the Streets of Long Beach, will serve as grand marshal of America’s premier street race _the 40th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13.

“It is totally appropriate to have Mario as grand marshal for our 40th race,” said Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “Over the years, he has been an important part of our history and heritage and we’re happy to honor his contributions to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in this way.”

Andretti won the 1984, ’85 and ’87 Championship Auto Racing Teams-sanctioned events on the 1.67-mile temporary circuit while his eldest son, Michael, won the 1986 race (Mario started third and finished fifth). The ’84 race was the opener of Mario’s last of four (three U.S. Auto Club, one CART) championship campaigns. Andretti’s 52 career Indy car victories are second only to archrival A.J. Foyt Jr.’s 67.

“I raced for four decades on just about every course imaginable,” said Andretti, whose grandson, Marco, will compete in this year’s race in the No. 25 Snapple Dallara/Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. “And I have been associated with the Grand Prix of Long Beach since its beginning in 1975. So I think I speak with authority when I say that it is by far the most successful street race ever staged in American motor racing history.

“Obviously, the fondest memories I have of the streets of Long Beach are my victories, but the entertainment and ambiance away from the track has also become classic. No one leaves Long Beach without vowing to come back. It is truly amongst the best I’ve ever seen and I’m proud to be serving as grand marshal this year.”

The 1978 F1 World Driving Champion, Andretti also will be honored during the race weekend at the annual Road Racing Drivers Club event.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 19 2014
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