Hildebrand Boasts Best Lap At IndyCar Testing In Phoenix
Two days of on-track testing for 21 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers and teams literally played-out like day and night.
Cars supplied with Chevrolet engines and aero kits dominated day sessions during the Phoenix Raceway “Prix View” Open Test, while those with the Honda package occupied the top of the leader board for the night practices. So, following 12 on-track hours and more than 5,000 laps run around the 1.022-mile oval, competition for the upcoming 17-race season appears tight. For the record, the last 11 season championships have been decided at the final race.
JR Hildebrand, who is returning to a full-season ride this year with Ed Carpenter Racing, claimed the honor of best lap of the weekend at 193.234 mph (19.0401-seconds) in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. The lap came early in Saturday afternoon’s session and was better than the track record established last year by Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. Hildebrand’s lap is not considered an official record because it did not take place during qualifications or a race.
“We’d certainly rather be quick than not and we felt good about the laps we’ve been putting in,” Hildebrand said. “We were running at a really good time of day. The conditions tailed off a little after we ran our time. We went back out later trying to go even quicker and had a little bit of a moment.”
Hildebrand experienced a bigger “moment” during Saturday’s final practice, crashing into the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier with less than 30 minutes remaining in the three-hour session. It was one of five incidents on the day, though no drivers were injured.
“(I) just clipped Will (Power) with the right front wing on his left rear pod and it must have just torn off part of the front wing,” Hildebrand said. “I bent it into Turn 3 and was being cautious with it, but I just picked up huge understeer from not having part of the front wing. Couldn’t really avoid getting to the outside wall there, tried to hit the brakes to slow down and it just turned me straight into the inside wall on the front straightaway.”
Ed Carpenter, Hildebrand’s teammate and boss, posted the second-best overall lap of the weekend at 192.404 mph in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, also logged in the afternoon practice. The top five spots in the daytime session were filled by Chevy-powered cars, a day after the Bowtie Brigade held the top four spots.
Saturday night’s final practice _ when cars were fitted in race trim _ saw five Honda-powered entries at the top. Former series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay set the pace in the No. 28 Honda for Andretti Autosport at 189.716 mph while Sebastien Bourdais was second in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda at 189.495 mph. Honda cars claimed the first six positions on the speed chart in Friday’s night practice.
“The team did a really good job and we got a lot of really good information,” said Bourdais, the four-time Indy car champion who finished in the top-10 of all four practices. “Picking a downforce level will be critical when we come back (for the race in April). It’s going to be a ton hotter than it is now. We’re just going have to think long and hard about it and see what we come up with. It’s definitely not representative now, especially in the night session, of what we’re going to be facing in April. Hopefully, we have what we need.”
In addition to Hildebrand, the on-track incidents involved reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden and Bourdais.
Less than five minutes into the afternoon session, Rossi _ last year’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year for both that historic 100th Indy 500 and the entire Verizon IndyCar Series season _ spun the No. 98 Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian and backed into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier.
“I’m not completely sure what happened because the car felt fine _ it just got loose and snapped,” Rossi said. “The car was good going into Turn 1, I went down to the bottom and the back end came out. The test has been productive overall, so this is a pretty big setback. This was my first real contact with the wall _ better here than in qualifying or the race _ and it won’t stop me from pushing hard.”
Thirty minutes into the evening session, Rahal had a similar spin and impact in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The thing was building understeer up until that point and, once I got close to (Newgarden), the rear just went,” Rahal said. “It’s unfortunate. The guys certainly don’t need any more work and I obviously didn’t want to bring the thing home on the wrecker.”
With just more than an hour remaining in the night practice, Sato spun and backed into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. “We were doing a (run) in qualifying trim, and it looks like we just lost the rear on the second lap,” Sato said. “We need to investigate it, but it looks like we were too light on downforce.”
And with 30 minutes left in the night practice, Newgarden’s No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet made light contact with Bourdais as they battled into Turn 1. Both cars continued after touching and returned to pit lane. Newgarden joined 14-time Indy car champion Team Penske during the offseason following five years at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and most recently at Ed Carpenter Racing. The Tennessee native clocked the fastest lap of the day near the end of Friday’s afternoon practice at 190.129 mph (19.3511-seconds).
The 2017 IndyCar Series season opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit March 12 (noon ET, ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix is the fourth race of the season on April 29 (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves earned Phoenix Raceway’s “Speed King” moniker and a real crown last year when he won the Phoenix Grand Prix’s pole position by officially setting the track record around the historic, 1.022-mile oval with a hot lap of 192.631 mph and two-lap average of 192.324 mph.
On Saturday, the popular Brazilian again broke new ground. Castroneves traded his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for a different machine prior to the final day of the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test, climbing aboard an excavator.
Castroneves was asked to officially break ground for the “Phoenix Raceway Project powered by DC Solar,” a $178-million modernization for the facility that hosts the Verizon IndyCar Series and NASCAR. He joined Bryan Sperber, Phoenix Raceway president, and Jay Frye, INDYCAR president of competition and operations, as well as other dignitaries including 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner and Arizonan Tom Sneva for the ceremony outside Turn 2.
The Team Penske driver took control of the excavator to dig up the first shovelful of dirt. “That was something,” Castroneves said. “It was the first time I was in one of those machines. Normally I’m told not to break things. This is the first time they are telling me to actually break things.”
Frye was honored that members of INDYCAR played a central role in the ceremony, making it part of the track’s “Prix View” day that allowed fans to attend practice and the groundbreaking free of charge.
“We’re very proud to be here and to be back here (racing),” Frye said. “It’s spectacular what they are doing to this facility. It’s already a great facility _ a great setting, great area and great history. Now it’s going to have spectacular amenities, great for the fans, so it’s a really great time for us to be back.”
Four-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon took on driving instructor duties Saturday, although his student was hardly a novice.
Comedian and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno was at Phoenix Raceway driving an Indy car under the watchful eyes of Dixon for an upcoming segment of Jay Leno’s Garage on CNBC. The episode slated for July airing also will include a segment taped two weeks ago when Leno went on a ride-along with Series team co-owner Sam Schmidt in the Arrow semi-autonomous motorcar (SAM) Chevrolet Corvette that the quadriplegic Schmidt drives using breath, voice and head movements.
Following instructions from Dixon in the Chip Ganassi Racing pit, Leno turned laps on the Phoenix Raceway oval in one of the INDYCAR Experience single-seaters _ albeit at speeds less than half the 190 mph or so Dixon averages in his No. 9 Honda. Nevertheless, Leno _ a self-described car fanatic _ was thrilled with the experience.
“Really fun,” Leno said. “I’ve driven cars with more power but not that much grip. The level of grip in these is unbelievable. Doing road cars on an oval or something, you feel it start to slip and this doesn’t move at all. It’s just planted. That’s the biggest difference, I think.”
Leno enjoys an extended connection to Indy car racing. He was honorary pace car driver for the 1999 Indianapolis 500 and was treated to an Indy car two-seater ride two years ago at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., with open-wheel legend Mario Andretti at the wheel.
Dixon enjoyed the experience of working with a genuine car-guy. “It’s great to see his passion for racing and how knowledgeable he was on the whole INDYCAR field and drivers and different eras,” Dixon said. “But it was also nice just to chat about different cars, about the new Ford GT and different things.
“He did a really good job (driving) and he’s not scared. He’s really laid back, relaxed. I think for a lot of people this would be a daunting experience, but he definitely took it in stride and really seemed to enjoy it.”
Combined results from two days of testing around the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, chassis/engine/aero kit, session, time/speed and total laps:
- (21) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.0401/193.234, 241
- (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.1223/192.404, 206
- (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.1693/191.932, 275
- (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.1957/191.668, 309
- (12) Will Power, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.1988/191.637, 263
- (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.2549/191.079, 292
- (10) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.2656/190.973, 187
- (1) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:19.2788/190.842, 303
- (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.3236/190.399, 284
- (5) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.3455/190.184, 284
- (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.3548/190.092, 303
- (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, Practice 4, 00:19.3932/189.716, 185
- (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.4428/189.232, 261
- (27) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Honda, Practice 2, 00:19.4541/189.122, 211
- (8) Max Chilton, Dallara/Honda, Practice 4, 00:19.4740/188.929 297, 16
- (26) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, Practice 4, 00:19.4953/188.722, 243
- (14) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 4, 00:19.5193/188.490, 239
- (19) Ed Jones, (R), Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.5399/188.292, 175
- (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, Practice 3, 00:19.5667/188.034, 240
- (4) Conor Daly, Dallara/Chevrolet, Practice 4, 00:19.6058/187.659, 201
- (98) Alexander Rossi, Dallara/Honda, Practice 1, 00:19.6108/187.611, 100
- (28) Alexander Rossi, Dallara/Honda, Practice 2, 00:19.9459/184.459, 24
- (98) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Honda, Practice 2, 00:19.9475/184.444, 11
Note: (R) denotes Rookie. All cars shod with Firestone Firehawk tires.No Comment