Teams Hit The Road For Inaugural Grand Prix Of Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 1 2014

Helio Castroneves takes the long way around a corner and Josef Newgarden during practice at Indy. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves neatly summarized Wednesday’s Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

“There is only going to be one winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Indy, and I want that to be me,” Castroneves said after completing 74 laps around the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan of Target Chip Ganassi Racing turned the ceremonial first lap around the circuit, and it didn’t faze the 24 drivers posting hot laps that they crossed the famed “Yard of Bricks” on the front straight in a clockwise direction.

“Driving the car it doesn’t feel strange because you’re focused on hitting your marks. But every time I’m on pit lane and looking at the cars going out it just doesn’t look right,” said Ryan Briscoe, second-quickest overall at 1 minute, 9.6558-seconds/126.054 mph in the No. 8 NTT Data Dallara/Chevrolet for Ganassi Racing. “It’s just a lot of fun to drive and fun to be learning a new track.”

Five hours of track time provided drivers and teams an opportunity to set a baseline for Grand Prix of Indianapolis practice sessions on May 8, when lap times will be considerably more crucial. Three rounds of qualifications are scheduled for May 9, while the standing start for the 82-lap race is set for 3:43 p.m. (ET) May 10.

Less than 24 hours later, practice will open for the 98th edition of the Indy 500 on the 2.5-mile oval.

Three-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon jumped to the top of the time chart on the last of his 46 laps at 1:09.5969-seconds/126.161 mph.

“I’ve obviously got a big smile on my face. The track was so much fun today,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “The thing they captured, it’s a demanding circuit. The cars all seem very close, which is going to create some fantastic racing. These big straights, I think Brazil is probably the only other time we’ve had a straight similar length like this. You’re actually a lot lower here. The sections, especially (Turns) 7, 8, 9, 10, keep you on your toes. I’m really impressed with how everything’s gone. Even the curbing, they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Simon Pagenaud was third (1:09.7544-seconds/125.876 mph) in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Dallara/Honda and posted the most second-session laps (57). “It’s a beautiful layout. They’ve done a really, really good job here,” Pagenaud said. “It suits the Indy car really well, I think. It’s very smooth. It’s the smoothest track we go to. It’s enjoyable. Quite a bit of high-speed corners, medium-speed corners, a lot of braking, which is going to be good for racing. Chicane, seven, eight, nine section, is quite enjoyable as well. You get pretty busy in the car during the day.”

Castroneves (1:10.0209-seconds/125.397 mph) was fourth overall in the No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. “It was good to get out there and get a feel for the track,” Castroneves said. “It’s spectacular and I think we’ll have a good show next weekend. The times are so close that it’s crazy. I think you’ll see the push-to-pass and the draft down the front stretch really come into play.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, winner of Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama, was fifth (1:10.0237-seconds/125.392 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport. The top 19 cars were separated by less than one second.

Will Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet and winner of the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, topped the morning session at 1:11.2128-seconds as teams and drivers made multiple adjustments to pair with the hardest compound of Firestone primary tires. Alternate red tires, which trade more grip for quicker degradation, will be available for race weekend at IMS.

The new track received high marks for its flow and raceability, which will be enhanced when more tire rubber is laid in the turns. Section times produced 196 mph clockings down the front straight into the sharp right-hand Turn 1 and 184 mph on the Hulman Boulevard straight entering the left-hand Turn 7.

“Passing is going to be really good because the brake zones are so big and heavy,” Briscoe said. “Turn 1 and down the Hulman Boulevard straight into Turn 7 will be big passing zones. You come out of Turn 4, sort of a medium-speed corner, and then flat-out through a chicane going up through the gears almost as fast as the front straight into another big brake zone. You have those two corners and overall it’s really fast and flowing and lots of changes of direction.”

Originally laid out for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix run at IMS from 2000-07, the road course underwent a $5-million reconfiguration and infrastructure upgrade that includes new viewing mounds for spectators overlooking the oval’s Turn 2. Hundreds viewed the test day under mostly cloudy skies.

Juan Pablo Montoya, winner of the 2000 Indy 500, also competed on the F1 layout during his tenure with the team fielded by Sir Frank Williams. “First I have to say that the track is phenomenal,” said Montoya, who has returned to INDYCAR in the No. 2 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske. “They did a great job with it and it’s a lot of fun. Some areas of the track have low grip and some have a lot of grip. So we just need to find that balance for the race.”

The test also marked the first time that Justin Wilson turned clockwise laps at the facility since his 2003 Formula One appearance, when he finished eighth for Jaguar Grand Prix.

“It’s a challenging track, trying to get the power down and get the entries just right,” said Wilson, driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Dallara/Honda. “I think this new track is going to be a lot better. The corners leading into the back straight give you a lot of options and so does the corner leading into the front straight, so you can definitely try and set something up. And the straights are long enough that you can definitely make something happen.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 1 2014
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