INDYCAR announces open test schedule for 2023, 1st one at The Thermal Club for season preview, my thoughts on how this could play out next season

INDYCAR will conduct three Open Tests for 2023 in preparation for key moments during the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.

The first Open Test of 2023 will feature the series’ initial trip to The Thermal Club for a season preview Thursday and Friday, Feb. 2-3. The private, world-class facility, located just outside of Palm Springs, California, opened its 470-acre property in 2012 and is known as a premier circuit for club racers and sports car enthusiasts.

INDYCAR will use a combination of the North Palm and South Palm circuits to create a 17-turn, 2.9-mile layout for the 2023 test.

“We liken this to a preseason scrimmage,” INDYCAR President Jay Frye said. “The teams will be doing everything it takes to prepare for a run at the 2023 championship at a new and unique backdrop for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. The facility is spectacular, and I know everyone at The Thermal Club cannot wait to welcome our paddock.”

Located at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains and known as the ultimate destination for driving-minded motorsports enthusiasts, The Thermal Club has everything from luxury homes to a motorsports village and gourmet restaurants. The facility was named “Professional Motorsport Facility of the Year” at the 2017 Professional Motorsports World Expo in Germany.

“For us, it means every INDYCAR fan is going to get an inside look at the best cars in the world on what we think is the best track in the world,” said John Rogers, owner, The Thermal Club. “It’s a wonderful thing, and we’re very happy it’s worked out with INDYCAR and Thermal.”

The Indy 500 Open Test is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, April 20-21 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The annual test on the famed 2.5-mile oval provides crucial preparation for the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, scheduled for Sunday, May 28. The entire field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is expected to participate in the test.

Those tests are expected. The final test was too, but it’s one that I think shakes up some strategy a bit.

The third and final Open Test of the 2023 season comes Thursday, Sept. 7 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, just three days before the Astor Challenge Cup is awarded to the season champion at the same facility after the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Drivers at the Laguna Seca test will get an extra day to come to grips with the planned repave of the legendary 2.238-mile facility, which is expected to be completed by June 2023.

Where this affects strategy is, every team now gets to test there. This past year, how you chose your test dates greatly affected your championship hopes. That’s one thing that the COVID era has helped in and that’s limiting test days for all teams.

In the past, if you had the budget and the time, you could show up and test anywhere at any time on any day. It always allowed the bigger teams to separate themselves from the rest because they get extra data before coming back to that track later on in the season.

By limiting the test days to 5 total for a season, you had to be strategic on when/where you tested.

Just look at how these past 2 seasons played out. Chip Ganassi Racing tested at Portland last year. It’s a race they dominated that season and was pivotal to their championship aspirations. Alex Palou won the pole and the race and had a good enough advantage going to Laguna Seca. In fact, they took 2 of the top 3 in the starting lineup and on the podium last year.

For Laguna Seca, Andretti Autosport tested there ahead of the 2021 race. They swept the front row and won the race via Colton Herta leading 91 of the 95 laps.

That’s likely why Ganassi is skipped Portland this year since they tested there last year. They have those notes. So they chose to use their final test day at Laguna Seca.

Penske this year elected to test at Portland instead of Laguna Seca. They’ve struggled more there. They finished P5-P9-P13 in 2021. Coming into this season, Josef Newgarden had 3 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s but neither finish was better than 5th. Will Power had 1 win but his other two results were 21st and 13th respectively. Scott McLaughlin was 9th in his lone Portland start a year ago.

This past season, they dominated Portland as a direct result of that test. They should have qualified 1-2-3 if not for Newgarden’s grid penalty and were close to a 1-2-3 finish. It greatly helped their cause for a championship this season.

Now, those games are gone from next season. Everyone has the same data for an extra day at Laguna which means those in the championship hunt can use their final day ahead of Portland too…

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