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Drivers use Indianapolis open test to gear up for Indy 500

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

INDIANAPOLIS – Drivers, teams and fans got a taste of May in April at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and came away hungry for more.

Takuma Sato. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Wednesday’s NTT IndyCar Series open test on the world-famous 2.5-mile oval permitted 29 drivers to get comfortable in their machines, go through team test checklists and provide rookies and veterans who’ve been out of the cockpit a while the chance to pass evaluations that clear them to run at full tilt when practice for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge begins in 20 days. The 103rd running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is just 32 days away on Sunday, May 26.

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY OPEN TEST: Veterans session results I Rookie orientation/refresher results 

Despite limited track time due to periodic rain showers, much was accomplished. Takuma Sato turned the best lap of the day at 226.993 mph in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with Ed Carpenter just behind at 226.414 in the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet. Those speeds were logged during a session open to 20 veteran drivers who have raced this season.

Ed Carpenter driving around the track during the INDYCAR Open Test ranking 2nd overall for the Veterans. — Photo by: James Black

“The program was interrupted and stopped a few times,” Sato, the 2017 Indy 500 winner, said of the rain that halted action twice and eventually put an end to the day with a third shower. “Having said that, today is meant to shake down the car, just check all the functions OK, feel it out. From that point of view, I think it was a very smooth day.”

Carpenter, the only current team owner/driver in the NTT IndyCar Series, won the Indy 500 pole position a year ago and finished a career-best second. He, too, was satisfied despite the disjointed day.

“It was a little odd, but all in all, it was good,” Carpenter said. “We got a decent amount of stuff done, not everything we wanted to do – just with the pauses and intermissions. At the end of the day, I think we ran more than what I thought we were going to the first time it started raining. It kind of sets us up for a decent starting place for when we come back for the full week of practice.”

“It’s still good to get that physical gratification and confidence back that things are looking all right.”

Colton Herta. Photo by Joe Skibinski

The day’s second session was reserved for Indy 500 rookie drivers and veterans who haven’t competed in an NTT IndyCar Series event since 2018. Colton Herta was among the four first-timers who completed all three phases of the rookie orientation, turning the best lap of the session and fourth-best of the day at 226.108 mph in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

“It was pretty cool,” said Herta, who became the youngest winner in Indy car history a month ago at Circuit of The Americas and won the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race last year on the IMS oval. “The first few laps was the same speed as an Indy Lights car, so it wasn’t too impressive. But once they kind of let me run at 215-plus on the third stage, it was pretty awesome. 

“Definitely a dream of mine for a long time to be able to run an Indy car here. Even though it’s just testing, it’s still really sentimental.”

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso returned to IMS for the first time since his attention-grabbing effort in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, when he led 27 laps and was named rookie of the year. The Spaniard’s progress was delayed Wednesday by an electrical issue on the installation lap in his No. 66 McLaren Chevrolet and he was unable to complete both phases of the refresher session.

“It’s good to be back, to feel again the magic of the place,” Alonso said.

He added that the car issue wasn’t a complete surprise since it was the first time on track with the Dallara chassis prepared at the McLaren Technology Centre in England, with the finishing touches placed on it a week ago. 

“For us, obviously, we lost a little bit of time at the beginning,” he said. “This was more or less expected because, as I said, it was a brand new chassis, brand new car. Everything fit in the last week. We expect to run slowly, step by step, short runs at the beginning. It’s what we did.

Conor Daly. Photo by Chris Jones

“If we could probably have (run) the (install) laps at midday, maybe you discover these issues, then you have hours to work on the car, be ready for the afternoon. The weather delays everything. You do the lap at 5:30 p.m. and there is no room to get back on track on time.”

Andretti Autosport’s Conor Daly was the only one to complete the veteran refresher. Alonso needs to turn 10 more laps at 215-plus mph, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves three laps at 215-plus, JR Hildebrand two laps and Oriol Servia eight laps. All four will be permitted to do so on the opening day of Indy 500 practice on Tuesday, May 14.

Rain interrupted the open test just 11 minutes into the day. Following a four-hour delay, veterans received about 95 minutes of track time until a light rain returned. Following an hour delay, the rookies and veteran refresher drivers had about 90 minutes until the moisture made an appearance once more and ended the day about 7:30 p.m. ET.

The IMS focus shifts now to action on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Practice and qualifying take place Friday, May 10. The sixth annual race airs live at 3 p.m. ET Saturday, May 11 on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

The 103rd Indianapolis 500 takes place Sunday, May 26 and airs live at 11 a.m. ET on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval open test

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Solid day at the track, I think. We managed to do a couple laps and that was important for us. It’s just good to be back here, back in the speedway car. It’s been a long time since the last time I drove one of these, so just happy to be here again. Working towards May now. Just trying to put everything together, doing laps by myself. We didn’t really run in traffic today, which wasn’t our goal, and I think it was a good shakedown for us. We finished P5 or P6, no-tow speed, so I think that was good. We’ve just gotta keep in mind that the conditions in the Month of May are going to be different, the track’s probably going to be hotter and everything, but for the first time here this year it was good. Looking forward to the Month of May now.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Solid first day here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously the weather conditions are not super representative of what we will face in May, and the rain didn’t help, but we got through a decent chunk of what we were hoping to accomplish, which given the time we had, was great. Off the trailer the Arrow car felt great, so a good place to start the month from.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda):  “It’s great to finally do my first laps in the Arrow car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a great feeling. Obviously, there’s been a lot buildup to today. Today was not the best day with the weather; we had to wait a long time before we could get on track which was frustrating… We’ve been here all day and not being able to get in the car, you just want to get out there and get going, so it was a bit of a mental challenge. But the weather came around and we got on track in the end and passed the rookie orientation. I’m feeling comfortable out there, and today was all about that really. We were just about to get into our (run) program and start trying some things when the rain picked up again, so not the ideal day, but we ticked all the boxes for today. I did my first laps and I felt happy with it, so we have something to work with for the month of ahead.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a brand-new car and a very unexpected problem actually. We had a leak and we fixed the leak, then a leak appeared somewhere else. It’s one of those things that I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault. It’s a brand-new car – (owner) A.J. (Foyt) got me chassis number 14 – so those things happen and actually days like this are good for that. This is April, April 24th, so better today than on opening day. So we got that out of the way, but obviously the day got shortened because of the rain, so when we finally fixed the car it ended up raining. No reason to panic. We were on track, we had a fast car. (Teammate) Matheus (Leist) was pretty decent on the no-tow (speed). I’ve been around for too long, the boss has been around for too long. If you panic here, you get in trouble.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda):  “Today was pretty awesome. I’d only been on one other oval before, at Texas Motor Speedway, last fall, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is obviously really different than Texas. This track is definitely special. Rookie Orientation (Program) was super, super helpful, especially for someone who had only been on an oval twice in their life, including today. The Cly-Del Manufacturing car felt really good and we even did a bit of running with another car, which was fun and a good learning experience. I’m now very much looking forward to coming back in May.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet): “It’s always good to be back in the car. It was kind of an odd day, with a little a bit running, then rain, a bit more running and rain again. It feels a little incomplete – we got through a lot of what we wanted to do but not exactly everything. I am happy with the car, but my guess is most everyone is happy with their car. The conditions are pretty nice today with how cool it is, the low track temp and making downforce. Generally, I think the car felt nice, comfortable and a good place to start when we come back in May.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We went through several changes that we’ve been thinking about over the off season and so far we are off to a good start. It will be a lot different when we come back in May and it’s warmer. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how the day went.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Carlin Chevrolet): “It was a really solid day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway testing today. Whenever you come back out on the oval for the first time, it’s really just about getting into the rhythm and the flow. The Carlin guys did a great job preparing the No. 23 Fiasp Carlin Chevrolet and everything ran as smoothly as expected from the first lap on. Unfortunately, we were dodging the weather all day, but that happens around here, especially in Indianapolis in April. When I come back it’ll be the first official practice day for the Month of May, so we’ll spend the next few weeks preparing as much as we can to make that first day of practice as successful as possible.”

CONOR DALY (No. 25 U.S. Air Force Honda): “Getting time in the car was the most important thing today for sure because just getting in, immediately the balance and the difference in what I’ve driven in the past is massive – and the difference is really nice. It was really, really nice to drive and for me it was really just getting used to this platform. The platform that this car has is very different to what I had in the past. So it was really nice. It was nice to get used to and nice to work on things. We were just kind of by ourselves the whole time, just doing our thing and never got a tow at all. It was nice to go out there and work and it would’ve been nice to go out there and run with traffic. But in the end, it was just good to knock out as many laps as I could – it’s always nice to have more laps, but way happier than had I not got any.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “It’s incredible to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Anytime you come here it’s always special. This test is always fun because it basically starts our month of May. The Indy 500 is a race we spend all year thinking about. Getting back here to turn laps for the first time since May 27 last year is really fun and we ended up sixth on the no-tow list today, so I think we have a really good starting point. We just need to make the most of it when we come back for the long week. Luckily, we have the IMS road course to keep us busy between now and opening day. We test the road course Monday, and then have a weekend off, then it’s really six weekends straight of racing. We’re all going to be thinking about the Indy 500, obviously, but we have a race to try to win for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Once we get through that we can focus on the one thing we want to.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was a pretty disjointed day because of weather and the different groups we have to deal with. At the end of the day I think it was positive. I think the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda was strong and our teammates were happy. We’re just trying to understand where we’re at and the things we need to look at in the couple weeks we having leading into practice. We have a few more days with our R&D team to understand some more things and the information we gathered today will help point us in the right direction.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “They did a really good job with the track surface. The car feels good so far, just getting back in the rhythm of things. We’ve got a long test list to go through – you know the usual first time on-track things. The rain kind of threw us a loop, we were waiting around for that. But all in all, I think it was a pretty good day. I think we got through some items on the checklist and worked as a team. We were able to run out there in a group run, but unfortunately we had shortened up track time today with the weather. The conditions are fast today with the track temp down and the cool, overcast weather and the cars have a lot of downforce on them. You can get away with a lot when you consider what the conditions are. When it heats up a bit it’s going to be sportier out there for sure.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda): “It was unfortunate today that our program was interrupted and stopped a few times by weather. Having said that, today was meant to be a shakedown of the car, to just check all the functions and feel it out. From that point of view, I think it was a very smooth day. I think Indianapolis Motor Speedway did a great job in terms of the sealant. The sealant (applied last fall) was a little smoother, as well. Felt all around the grip level was very consistent. I think we’re happy.  In terms of the car, I mean, the condition is far from different from the end of May. I think it might be a lot hotter, of course. Today is a little bit artificial. We have more downforce because it’s cooler conditions, and engine pulls really well with getting cool air. I think it was a very fast day. From that, I think we brought the new package over the course of the winter, engineers really go through all the details. Of course, every single team does. I think the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team did an amazing job for the preparation of the car. The car performed out of the box, so I was very happy and enjoyed a few laps.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 48 Salesforce Chevrolet): “Very nice to be back in the car. It was kind of a crazy day with the rain and the glitch we had in the middle of the session. But I’m so glad to be able to get proper laps again after a year away. It feels good to get in the groove with the car and the crew. Once you’re out there and getting through all of the refresher laps, things just get back to normal at Indy for you. The new sealer on the track surface as well as the darker skies made it a little interesting as you entered the corners. You had to adjust to the new look. But that was the only thing that was a little different for me. It felt great to work with the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing crew guys again. They are awesome. Last year, I had to watch at the test day and Sage (Karam) ran the car. We switched it up this year. It will be nice to come back for the opening day of practice and be ready to go from day one.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “It was a long day of waiting around, but even if it was a short amount of time it was good to get some running done today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s been a long time since most of us have been on an oval and a year since we’ve been back here, so it felt good to get back into the swing of things. I felt comfortable straight away – I think it’s the quickest I’ve ever gotten to flat out around IMS. That’s a good sign that our platform is good and I felt good enough with the platform of the car that I could make some changes on board. We were actually on our last run before we were going to come in and make a big change to the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet, but we lost power and had to come back to pit lane to assess the issue. The team is looking into what went wrong for us today and I know they’ll get it all squared away. Even with the rain and our day coming to an end early with only an hour of running, I’d say it was well worth it.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda): “It’s been such a long time since we were last here but it’s by far the coolest place that we come to. Your confidence is like a pendulum. You can go from feeling awesome to really bad very quickly. I think we got through everything that we wanted to today, or at least as much as we could do with the weather. The guys up in the stand are pretty happy so it was a solid test day for us.”

ED JONES (No. 63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet):  “It was a solid day, although it wasn’t very long being shortened by rain. We had a great baseline and everything felt very good. We were super quick without a tow. We didn’t get as much traffic running as we would have liked, but with the limited track time, you just want to check as many boxes as you can. We did most of that today and I’m just really looking forward to coming back in May.”

FERNANDO ALONSO (No. 66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet):  “It’s great to be back. Every time you enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it’s a great feeling. Even though we were unlucky with the weather and also had some issues with the car, we still got in some laps and the adrenaline driving around here is unique, so I feel happy. As a team the plan for today was to build speed step by step and complete all the right checks. With every run we were discovering new things, but at the end of the day, it was a very short time on the track, so it is difficult to say if I feel we have a competitive car. More track time is all we need and I’m sure we will recover those laps in May. This time the Indy 500 feels different for me, I know the race, I know the length and we should be a bit more ready especially on the emotional side. Now it’s just about making sure the car is fast. We have two weeks and a lot of work to do, but I’m confident we’ll keep moving in the right direction.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “It’s definitely a slow process to get into it at first, get situated. You have a lot of time to do it, 15 laps for pretty much every stage. Plenty of time to get comfortable. That’s what it was about today, getting comfortable with the car and that type of speed and moving forward from there. It was pretty cool. The first few laps was the same speed as an Indy Lights car, so it wasn’t too impressive. But once they kind of let me run at 215 mph plus on the third stage, it was pretty awesome. Definitely a dream of mine for a long time to be able to run an Indy car here. Even though it’s just testing, it’s still really sentimental. Obviously, we were very comfortable right away. The car was super stable, which was the reason I was able to do that time so quickly. Yeah, there’s a ton of factors that went into it. But it is, like you said, very important to start slow and kind of build up to it. Yeah, obviously I haven’t gotten anywhere near the speed I’ve gone today, so it was a big step up.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda): “It was really good to be out on track today, especially at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, weather limited our track time so we weren’t able to try out as much as we would have liked. Luckily, we have four days of long practices still to go and we’re able to head back to the shop with some data. The US Concrete guys will work hard back over the next few weeks and hopefully we roll off on opening day with a car that will put us on top.”

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