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Advantage RLL At IndyCar Test In Arizona

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018

Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing laid down the fast lap in Saturday’s test session in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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Here is what’s trending after two days and 12 hours of Open Testing involving 23 Verizon IndyCar Series entries at ISM Raceway near Phoenix:

All teams added to their laptop files on the performance characteristics of the new-for-2018 universal Dallara chassis, and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Hondas have established the early advantage.

RLL drivers Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal set the fastest lap in each of the four, three-hour sessions around the 1.022-mile oval in Avondale, Ariz., on Friday and Saturday. Sato, driver of the No. 30 Honda, recorded the best lap of the Open Test in Saturday evening’s final practice at 19.3790-seconds/189.855 mph. The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion sat atop the speed chart after three of four sessions, with Rahal leading the other practice in the team’s No. 15 Honda.

“The open test was very successful, I would say,” said Sato, who rejoined RLL after driving last season for Andretti Autosport. “Lots of things done and lots of things to be tried, and I think over the course of two days we learned a lot. Great car, definitely more exercise for the drivers, definitely busier with low downforce.

“We did qualifying simulations and race-traffic runs. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is really strong, so I’m really looking forward to two more road-course tests and hopefully we’ll be ready for St. Pete (the season-opener in Florida next month).”

More than 6,000 laps were completed during the two-day test on the famed desert layout. Toss in another 617 laps turned by ISM Raceway newcomers during Thursday’s rookie orientation, and the 23 drivers totaled nearly 6,800 miles of valuable track time to get better acquainted with nuances of the 2018 car featuring the universal aero kit for all competitors.

INDYCAR’s new design produces significantly less downforce than the previous competitive aero kits provided by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda. Most of the downforce is now generated from underneath the car, which can make it feel less stable, or lighter, through turns. That theoretically puts driver skill front-and-center in developing a fast car that handles well.

Team Penske’s Will Power posted the second-fastest lap in Saturday’s practice to rank second on the combined sheet for all practices. The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion toured the oval in 19.3878-seconds/189.769 mph.

“Really enjoying this car; the 2018 car is awesome,” Power said. “Our No. 12 Verizon Chevy’s been pretty good the whole time. We’re really in a good window, I feel like. So are a lot of people, by the look of it.”

Tony Kanaan, entering his 21st season racing Indy cars but first with AJ Foyt Racing, was third in the final practice and overall with a lap of 19.4018-seconds/189.632 mph in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet.

“It was a good couple of days,” said Kanaan, a two-time winner at ISM Raceway including his championship season of 2004. “We tried to run in traffic a little bit at the end. It’s going to be tricky, it’s definitely going to be tricky. We’re still learning about the downforce but, all in all, I think it was a positive test for us.

“We learned a lot, we didn’t have any major problems, which that’s what we’re looking for at this team right now is just to build. Build confidence and build momentum.”

Kanaan’s teammate and fellow-Brazilian, Matheus “Matt” Leist, didn’t fare as well. The rookie brushed the wall three times in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy over the course of the day, following a spin without wall contact on Friday. Despite all that, the 19-year-old Indy Lights graduate was fastest of the five rookies participating at 187.431 mph.

The only incident of significance over the two days involved four-time series champion Scott Dixon, whose No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda made contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier with 30 minutes remaining in the final practice. Dixon was uninjured.

“We were just in traffic there,” Dixon said. “It was our second or third lap out of the pits. A couple of the Andretti cars got by and were a little bit slower. I got low in (Turns) 1 and 2, touched the throttle and had a bit of a run and lost the rear. Kind of late in the corner, but just touched with the rear and bent the left rear suspension.”

Josef Newgarden, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion sporting the No. 1 on his car this year, was fourth on the speed chart with a lap of 19.4257-seconds/189.399 mph in his Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Drivers now have a month to prepare in private team testing before the 2018 season-opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 9-11. The first of 17 races on this year’s calendar will air live at 12:30 p.m. (ET) March 11 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix International Raceway, for the Phoenix Grand Prix on April 6-7. The race weekend will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s final Indy car win at the track in 1993. The race will air live at 9 p.m. (ET) on NBC Sports Network and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

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Friday/Saturday combined Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test results around the 1.022-mile ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz., with rank, car number in parenthesis, driver, engine, session time/speed and total laps:

  1. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.3790/189.855, 384
  2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.3878/189.769, 346
  3. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.4018/189.632, 146
  4. (1)  Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.4257/189.399, 303
  5. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:19.4574/189.090, 319
  6. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.4658/189.008, 235
  7. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.4729/188.940, 267
  8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.5152/188.530, 220
  9. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, Test Session 3, 00:19.5256/188.430, 298
  10. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, Test Session 4, 00:19.5358/188.331, 262
  11. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, Test Session 4, 00:19.5746/187.958, 240
  12. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, Test Session 4, 00:19.6019/187.696, 283
  13. (4) Matheus Leist-(R), Chevrolet, Test Session 4, 00:19.6296/187.431, 240
  14. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.6425/187.308, 275
  15. (19) Pietro Fittipaldi-(R), Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.6521/187.217, 285
  16. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Honda, Test Session 4, 00:19.7495/186.293, 261
  17. (26) Zach Veach-(R), Honda, Test Session 5, 00:19.7560/186.232, 284
  18. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.7618/186.177,274
  19. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.8278/185.558, 264
  20. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, Test Session, 5 00:19.9229/184.672, 208
  21. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, Test Session 5, 00:19.9759/184.182, 222
  22. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, Test Session 3, 00:20.0465/183.533, 271
  23. (32) Kyle Kaiser-(R), Chevrolet, Test Session 2, 00:20.2367/181.808, 140

Note: (R)-Rookie. All cars feature Dallara chassis and Firestone Firehawk Racing tires. Total Laps for five combined sessions: 6,027.

| , RacinToday.com Sunday, February 11 2018
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