Penske Drivers Best At ‘Test In The West’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 28 2016
Simon Pagenaud was red hot in Arizona.

Simon Pagenaud was red hot in Arizona.

Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud cracked the 190 mph barrier to punctuate Day 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ preseason “Test in The West” at Phoenix International Raceway.

Castroneves earned P1 on the overall speed chart by touring the historic 1.022-mile oval in 19.2735-seconds/190.894 mph in his No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet during Saturday’s evening session.

bugindynotesPagenaud was fastest in the afternoon practice and second overall for the four sessions at 19.2884- seconds/190.747 mph. Both Penske drivers were more than three-tenths of a second under Arie Luyendyk’s record lap of 19.608-seconds/183.599 mph set on March 23, 1996, when the track in Avondale, Ariz., was measured at an even 1-mile.

Twenty-one drivers tested at PIR for the first time since 2005. More than 5,300 laps were completed, with 18 drivers clocking times faster than the official track record set by Luyendyk, a two-time Indianapolis 500 champion. While official records only can be set during qualifying and a race, Castroneves and Pagenaud certainly set the bar for the series’ return to PIR for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2 (8 p.m., ET, NBCSN).

“We had a little issue with the Hitachi car in the first session, but were able to take full advantage of the second one,” said Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and winner of the 2002 Phoenix Indy car race. “The car seemed to be very solid in qualifying trim and we were able to jump into race mode. It’s going to be fast and non-stop. The Phoenix fans are going to have a heck of a race.”

Castroneves, a native of Brazil, topped Friday’s chart with a mid-day lap in 19.585-seconds/187.850 mph. Since only four of the 21 drivers previously have raced Indy cars at PIR, most spent the weekend acclimating to a track that generates high G-force levels in the turns.

“We’ve been doing race stuff all day and the times have improved, so I feel very comfortable in every condition now,” said Frenchman Pagenaud, starting his second season with Team Penske and seventh in Indy car racing. “We managed to get a snapshot of what qualifying would be like this time of the day (afternoon). The car was fast. So far, so good.”

Teams now will shift into road/street course mode for a private test Tuesday and Wednesday at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway. The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Fla.) March 11-13. The race will air live on ABC at 12:30 p.m. (ET) on March 13.

Ed Carpenter Racing exited PIR with both team cars near the top of the speed chart.  Josef Newgarden was third-fastest overall in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy at 19.2917-seconds/190.714 mph, with owner/driver Carpenter fourth at 19.3316-seconds/190.321 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy.

“It’s encouraging, for sure, when you look at where we were on the ovals a year ago starting the season,” Carpenter said. “It’s really encouraging to see the effort that the team’s put in to really improve. And not just our team, but the team at Chevrolet with their updates on the aero kit, too.”

Newgarden and Carpenter joined forces in 2015 at CFH Racing. While Newgarden enjoyed a breakout season with two wins and a seventh-place finish in the championship, Carpenter drove only on the ovals with one top-10 start and two top-10 finishes in six events.

“I’ve got a great relationship with Ed,” Newgarden said. “It was great to start working with him last year and it’s just gotten better over the offseason. We’ve really been able to work on a lot of different aspects of the team side, the car side, what we’re doing driving-wise. We have a really fluid relationship. He’s been open about his information, same with me. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.”

Sebastien Bourdais is back with KVSH Racing and so is co-primary sponsor Hydroxycut for the 2016 season.

KVSH co-owners Kevin Kalkhoven, James “Sulli” Sullivan and Jimmy Vasser confirmed that Bourdais, a four-time Indy car champion, will drive the No. 11 Team Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais won titles in Champ Car a record four consecutive seasons from 2004-07 and is tied for seventh in all-time Indy car race wins with 34. Three of those wins have come with KVSH during the past two seasons.

A native of Le Mans, France, Bourdais is expected to be the only full-season entry for KVSH in 2016. “We’re no Penske or Ganassi, but we can be as good or better on any given day when we get our stuff together,” said Bourdais, who turns 37 on Sunday. “That’s really the challenge for me that I relish. I’ve been on the side of being expected to win because you’re on the big teams and that’s what you should be doing.

“To be able to do it with a small organization and sometimes a fraction of their budget is a very awesome feeling. It also proves how competitive the series is. It’s harder but when you get it done, it’s very gratifying and it’s a credit to the people in the organization.”

Vasser said the team was working to field a second full-season entry until recently, when the ownership trio decided to focus solely on Bourdais’ car. “To coin a phrase from Kevin Kalkhoven, we put all the wood behind this one arrow and all of our resources,” said Vasser, the 1996 CART champion. “The main component starts with the driver and Bourdais is a proven, great champion, a legend in the sport. After the last couple years, we really feel we’re in a position to fight for the championship.”

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders spent a busy two days at PIR. While Conor Daly of Dale Coyne Racing and Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams were on-track and learning in the cockpit, fellow IndyCar Series rookies Alexander Rossi and Spencer Pigot were acclimating to new teams and personnel.

Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, will drive in at least three races for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Pigot watched the test laps unfold from teammate Graham Rahal’s pit box. “Just trying to learn as much as I can,” said Pigot, who will debut in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in two weeks but is not slated to race in the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 2.

Rossi, the last American to compete in Formula One (2015), was named to drive Andretti Autosport’s No. 98 Honda for the entire season earlier this week. Rossi observed Friday’s evening session from the spotter stand atop the Turn 1 suites with race strategist Bryan Herta and engineer Tom German.

“I’m here in an observatory role,” said Rossi, who made his first visit to an oval circuit and the track where he will make his oval racing debut in April. “It’s building (chemistry) day-by-day. This is only our second day working together and we’re just beginning to understand each other and how we communicate.

“It’s a very interesting perspective to be up top and see the different approaches you can take into a corner. When you’re watching a video or from pit lane, it can all look the same, but when you get up high you can see it from a different perspective.”

Pigot and Rossi are scheduled to test for the first time Tuesday at Sebring International Raceway.

A.J. Foyt Racing/ABC Supply teammates Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth logged their first laps for Honda at PIR during the weekend with very mixed results. Japanese veteran Sato posted his fastest speed at 188.679 mph during Saturday’s evening session.

Hawksworth’s hot-lapping, however, was cut short by a crash. “We came into Turn 1 and the car just got loose,” said Hawksworth, a native of Great Britain who turned 25 Sunday. “I caught it, but by that time it had all the lateral force and just took me into the wall. I don’t know what happened, but we snapped and that was it.”

Hawksworth escaped injury, but the car sustained significant right side damage. Hawksworth had reached a top speed of 184.010 mph during the afternoon’s session. Additionally, Sato lightly brushed the wall earlier in the session when he had to avoid a car which had dramatically slowed in the racing line in Turn 1. Sato’s car sustained cosmetic damage to the right rear bumper but was able to continue.

“It was a very productive two-day test here in Phoenix,” said Sato, driver of the No. 14 Honda. “I’ve never been here before so there was a lot to learn, especially with the new aero package and new engine. The engine felt very powerful so we’re getting competitive speeds and that is exciting. The two sessions in the daytime and then again at night were quite tricky because the balance shift was quite big _ more than we expected _ but that means we learned a lot.”

Veteran racing engineer Bill Pappas has been appointed Vice President of Competition, Race Engineering, for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Pappas brings more than 30 years of motorsports experience to the position and has cultivated strong relationships throughout the racing community.

“We are very pleased to have someone with Bill’s vision and experience join our team at INDYCAR,” said Jay Frye, INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations. “His deep engineering expertise and long history of accomplishments in Indy car racing have earned him the respect of team owners and drivers alike. We look forward to the immediate impact and advancements Bill will bring in strengthening our safety initiatives while also enhancing our racing.”

Pappas will be responsible for all engineering and technical operations, including chassis and engine development, safety enhancements and aerodynamic initiatives. In addition, he will manage relationships with chassis and engine suppliers.

Pappas has worked with some of the most respected teams in the INDYCAR paddock, including Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and, most recently, served as technical director for KV Racing Technology. Pappas, who earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., helped guide Juan Pablo Montoya to his first Indianapolis 500 race win in 2000 with Ganassi.

“Being able to join the INDYCAR team is a great opportunity,” Pappas said. “I hope my racing experience and perspective can be utilized to enhance an already great level of competition.”

Pappas replaces Will Phillips, INDYCAR Vice President of Technology, who will be leaving the organization in March.

A trio of stewards will oversee competition during the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Mark Miles, CEO, Hulman & Co., announced that two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, veteran driver Max Papis and auto industry executive Dan Davis will be responsible for monitoring on-track behavior.

“It was really important to us that we found three very experienced, enthusiastic stewards who will be the stewards for every race,” Miles said. “I mean, maybe there’s an illness or something, but I think everybody’s expectation is the same three stewards all the way through from start-to-finish for the Verizon IndyCar Series this year. I think that has not been the case in the past.”

Davis is a former executive with Ford Racing in NASCAR.  “I was with Ford forever and ever,” Davis said. “I learned a lot about the sport, but I wasn’t an official. Things that are so important to me, so important, are honesty, integrity, and fairness. It’s led my entire career since I started in the business at 18-years-old. It’s 40 years later. If you don’t have integrity, you don’t have anything. That’s what we’re going to bring to the stewardship. I am passionate for motorsports and I am passionate for open-wheel, and that’s why I’m here.”

Papis’ colorful career encompasses endurance sports car racing, various NASCAR touring series and Indy car for some of the industry’s top-shelf organizations.

“You guys know well the love I have for the sport,” said Papis, a native of Italy. “It’s been the No. 1 reason why I came here. When Jay (Frye) called me, I asked him exactly what he meant, what he wanted out of me. When he told me about the word ‘consistency, transparency’, I was sold. I’m still on the other side. I’m still a race car driver. But it’s a set of eyes that really can determine if things are done _ for which reasons things are happening on the track is going to make a really big difference.”

Frye, who is beginning his first full season of INDYCAR duties, said the additions of Pappas, Luyendyk, Davis and Papis completed “a pretty good week” for the sanctioning body. We had an opportunity to make the league better, stronger, and we are really excited about what we have been able to accomplish this week,” Frye said.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 28 2016
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