INDIANAPOLIS — 8 drivers from 4 NTT INDYCAR Series teams took part in a day long test on Thursday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It’s a makeup from the test that was washed out back in the spring with some feeling now still that it’s valuable to test the 2.439-mile layout in June.
While the GMR Grand Prix is already a little over a month behind us, the Gallagher Grand Prix (12 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) is still coming up ahead next month too.
So some may wonder, why with such few test days allotted on a season would you test on a track that you just raced at 6 weeks ago? Well, in this series, any time you can get a leg up on the competition you do so.
“I think this is a great opportunity today,” Felix Rosenqvist told me. “If it stays like this you can definitely learn stuff. If you can do progress in this weather then you’re going to be set.”
See, for whatever reason, despite the races being just a couple of months apart, they’re run entirely different than each other.
Some may automatically think that next month’s race would look like May’s. Well, with it raining this past May and for most instances the Month of May being on the cooler side here than it is during the summer months, it completely changes the way that these cars react to this 2.439-mile layout.
“For sure it does,” Rosenqvist continued. “During the race in May we were running up front the whole time. We were quick. But it was with a damp track.”
The GMR Grand Prix race winner in Colton Herta agreed.
“I’d imagine no rain so it’s going to be a very different race,” he said. “Trying to get an understanding of what it’s going to be like. I imagine it’s going to be even hotter than it would be today.
“We’re working through changes because we want to see what things are like in hot conditions because we know what they were like when it was colder.”
Which is why as he says, it was a good thing the test in the spring was postponed.
“I guess it’s a good thing because it was going to be in the wet (in May) so it didn’t matter what it was going to be like in the test,” he says. “This is probably a better representation of what we’ll have race weekend and a better test for that.”
Today also is a great test to propel you forward too. We’re nearing the midway mark of the season. We’re 8 races in with 9 to go.
Penske and Ganassi have 6 of the top 9 in points including 5 of the top 6 in general. They’ve won 13 out of the last 14 series titles including 9 straight.
Plus, during the Aeroscreen era (17 races) on natural road courses, both Penske and Ganassi have each won 6 times on them accounting for a 71% win rate.
However, Ganassi was pedestrian again last month and with both them and Penske electing to not test on Thursday, this could open the door for Andretti and AMSP now.
“Testing is so valuable because you don’t get to do very much of it,” said Pato O’Ward to me. “Before St. Pete we had just 1 day in Sebring. Yeah this is huge. To have it right before the 2nd half of the season is really good for us. It just gets us into the groove of what’s coming up which is Mid-Ohio, then Toronto, then so forth. It’s going to be intense.”
For the other 2 teams here, they have a different program. AJ Foyt Racing brought 1 of their 3 cars and used Kyle Kirkwood in it. He says this track is as comfortable for him as any due to how many laps he’s logged here in the Road to Indy and other series’ as well.
“It’s very comfortable. It’s also one of the tracks that’s not as punishing if you make a mistake,” he says. “It gives you a comfort of that as well and you learn things fast. Tires come in quick here. Do 2 laps and you’re in. That’s always nice for testing.”
He also says that they went at today with a different plan than usual too.
“We’ve kind of gone about today kind of with a different philosophy,” he noted. “We’ve made some pretty big changes that we normally wouldn’t do on a race weekend. I feel like we’ve learned stuff that we can carry through to a lot of tracks. I think already we’ve found some things to carry over to road courses and street courses.”
For Paretta Autosport and Simona de Silvestro, they’re not even looking at the speed chart. Well, they are, but they’re not basing their success off of it. That’s because they’re not racing here next month. They’re doing 3 races this season and 1 of which was last week in Road America. They’ll compete at Mid-Ohio next weekend then Nashville in August.
So Thursday was more about next weekend than Indy itself.
“I think it’s in a sense good to be here because right now we can test a few things like brake pedal settings where you wouldn’t be able to do in Mid-Ohio because you’re in race mode,” she told me. “That’s good that we can do that. At the end of the day, we’re not trying to be the fastest. I’m still trying to iron out some things to get comfortable in the car heading to Mid-Ohio and go from there. It’s good. I’m really happy. The team is also willing to let me try some different things to help me get up to speed.
“I feel like we tried a few things on setup that I kind of liked and somethings that I didn’t. So that was good.”
What was also good was that she was much quicker to the other 7 drivers than she was in Road America to where she spent most of her weekend 3 seconds off pace. That’s expected though. She hadn’t been in an INDYCAR on a road course since 2015.
“I didn’t expect it to be such a big difference but 7 years is such a long time without driving an open wheel car,” she said. “I didn’t drive any prototypes either so really I was driving a lot of things without much downforce.”
She says that the GT cars that she drove had less downforce and you can slide it around. You can’t in an INDYCAR. So she had to break new habits formed and try to bring back old habits and only had a pair of 45 minute practices, a 30 minute session, qualifying and then race in Road America.
These drivers are halfway through their season. She’s making her debut. But, by the end of the weekend, she was feeling more comfort. This test was just to get her comfort even further ahead too.
“I felt in the race I was more comfortable and especially now,” she continued. “We’re in the ballpark now and we can really start working on things where I like in the car and where we should be. I think that’s definitely a positive step here.“In the race I felt like everything became really normal. Friday and Saturday felt really fast. When you’re not used to it, you feel the car drives you a little bit. Today I feel very normal and I can give a little more input in it now.
“I think the car as a baseline is really solid here. It’s about pushing myself to get out of the comfort zone. “Now when you get within a second, that’s always the hard second to find.”
It’s even harder when you have a 2nd engineer in as many races. Her engineer from Road America isn’t the same one at Mid-Ohio so she’s getting acclimated with another new voice on Thursday too.
“My engineer as well, I didn’t work with him in Road America so I’m once again with a new one,” she said. “We were actually just talking lets try and find a few tools in a sense that I like.”