VERIZON TEAM PENSKE'S POWER PACES DAY 1 OF BARBER OPEN TEST
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.(Monday, March 14, 2011) - A day earlier, Will Power was among numerous IZOD IndyCar Series drivers who relayed their predictions of the "tightest race in series history." He, of course, was speaking in season-long terms, though individual races definitely are included.
The first of a two-day Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park provided a preview. Seven different teams were represented in the top 10 of the combined time sheet for the two sessions (five hours total track time), and the top 18 of the 24 cars participating were separated by one second.
Power, who won five road/street races on the way to a runner-up finish in the 2010 championship, topped the field with a quick lap of 1 minute, 12.5056 seconds (114.198 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car on the 2.38-mile natural-terrain course. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing was second (1:12.5538) and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's Justin Wilson was third (1:12.6791).
Five more hours of track time are scheduled for March 15 in preparation for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next week. Barber Motorsports Park will play host to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 10.
DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:
Selected quotes from Chip Ganassi's media availability:
"You have to remember that motorsports is one of those businesses that as great a year that 2010 was, and it was an unbelievable year and one that any car owner dreams about, that was last year and this is this year. It's a zero-based game. We're starting back at zero and the points are all tied for all the championships. It's a new year and no one is going to forget about last year faster than our competitors that want to beat us. It's going to be a lot of hard work and to accomplish anything close to what we did last year, but that's why we are back here. That's the kind of challenge that we like and what attracts us to the sport, the challenge."
Is that why you've started the effort for Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball?: "Yeah. It's something where we can develop some people and develop our team and bring people along for the not only our team, but also the sport. We're not just developing drivers, we bringing along crew members, sponsors, team members."
About returning to Barber Motorsports Park: "I just like coming to this place. It's a great place. It's nice to come to a facility that you can tell somebody put a lot of passion into it. It's always a pleasure to come here. You feel vindicated in coming to a place where the support is alive and well."
About the changes INDYCAR has announced for the 2011 season: "I was in favor of (double-file restarts). I think it's a good thing. We have to attract some fans and when you visually watch a race on television, it needs to look like other races. Let's face it; most of the people who watch racing on television are watching NASCAR. When they turn on an INDYCAR race, they should be able to see what's happening and it should look similar. If you're watching the NFL or college football game, the rules are pretty much the same and the look is the same and the field is the same. There are small differences, but they are basically the same."
About free pass concept: "I think it's a good thing. It's part and parcel of keeping cars on the lead lap and keeping cars in the race. I've heard the argument that we don't have as many cars and don't pass them as early, it's 26 vs. 43. I'd have to say I'm in favor of it. If you're going to do it, go the whole way. If you're more concerned about yellows, there's going to be more guys who are a lap down, so they're going to need help to get a lap back."
How do you add cars without diluting your other two cars: "We've approached this as if it were two two-car teams. They have separate buildings, separate management. About the only thing that crosses over is some engineering that works back and forth. I've said it's like the Hendrick model in NASCAR. For us, I don't see how four cars under one roof would work."
About Scott Dixon/Jamie McMurray ride swap: "They scheduled it on a day that I can't be there, but I'd sure like to be. It was my idea, so I can't believe I'm not going to be here. I'm happy to do it for our guys. I always like our drivers to experience other things. They know each other from the 24 Hours of Daytona, so it's nice that they can get into each other's cars. Often times you hear those guys talking about each other's cars. It's kind of interesting and nice that they can get a taste of it firsthand. I don't think you need to worry about Jamie coming to INDYCAR or Scott switching to NASCAR, but I think it's really going to be fun. And more importantly, I think it's going to make them both better race car drivers." Scott says he's not worried about Talladega. He's more worried about Jamie wrecking his car. "Tell Scott, it's my car."
About Firestone's return: "The thing I took away from it is that it's more than everyone being unanimous in keeping Firestone. I think it was more that Firestone set the bar high for any tire company to come it. They started in Indy Lights and they were in Indy Lights for a year, then they tested for a year at all the circuits with a real team and driver and then they came in the series. You just don't go look for a tire company on short notice. It's a tall order, so we wanted see what we could do to help their decision making process."
During the lunch break, Andretti Autosport announced that it again will join forces with co-entrant Richard Petty Motorsports and primary sponsor Window World, Inc., to field an entry for John Andretti in the Indianapolis 500.
Andretti, who seeks to make his 12th Indy 500 start, will drive the No. 43 Window World car with a traditional "Petty Blue" and "Day-Glo Red" color scheme. However, the livery featured on this year's entry was designed to commemorate the 1982 race-winning car of Gordon Johncock.
It's the third consecutive year that Window World will be the primary sponsor of the entry and the third year in a row to include participation from Petty.
"As a racer, the Indianapolis 500 is something that you love to be involved in," said Petty, owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. "Heading back to Indy in May with John, Michael (Andretti) and Window World is the way we want to do it and I'm really looking forward to it."
In conjunction with the effort, Window World and ABILITY Magazine have created the "$1,000,000 WIN-WIN" promotion that will provide one contestant the chance to win $1 million should Andretti win the '500.' That contestant will be selected randomly from a group of six semifinalists, with five representatives from designated U.S. regions and one representative from the national community of veterans, including active duty, retired and wounded warriors. The semifinalists will also be selected from a random drawing.
"No matter how many times you've done it before, it never gets old to announce that you're going to run in the Indianapolis 500," John Andretti said. "Winning the Indianapolis 500 has always been a dream of mine. To be able to have another shot at that is tremendous, and being able to make one of our military heroes a millionaire in the process would make it that much better."
The No. 43 will be a fifth entry for Andretti Autosport. Fifth in 1991 is John Andretti's best finish -- the same year he started a race-high seventh.
"It's great for us to be able to put this program together again for 2011," said team owner Michael Andretti, who is John's cousin. "Window World is a great partner, and getting the chance to work with Richard and John means so much to me personally. We learned a lot last year with John in the car and hopefully all of that will pay off for us this year. John is running the race for one reason and that's to win it, so we're going to give it everything we've got."
Sebastian Saavedra impressed Conquest Racing owner Eric Bachelart during the 2010 season finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They'll continue to work together this year.
Saavedra, 20, will compete in the full IZOD IndyCar Series season in the No. 34 Conquest Racing car, the team announced.
"I'm excited to be entering my first full season of IndyCar competition," said Saavedra, who advanced eight positions to finish 16th on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. "I've been working a long time towards this and for it to finally happen is fantastic. I can't wait for the season to start. I know it won't always be easy but I am up for the challenge."
Saavedra, of Bogota, Colombia, made his IZOD IndyCar Series debut in the 2010 Indianapolis 500 (started 32nd, finished 23rd). In Firestone Indy Lights, he recorded one victory (Iowa Speedway) and four other top-five finishes in 11 starts. He was the '09 Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year, finishing third in the championship.
"We're delighted to have Sebastian back with us and this time for the complete season," Bachelart said. "I think we can expect some good things from him this season. We're also happy to be keeping up our tradition of giving young up-and-coming drivers the chance to take their career to the next level."
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said a decision regarding implementation of the "free pass" to complement its restart procedures would be announced this week. The feature gives the first car a lap down a free pass to regain its lap before restarts.
Alterations to the restart procedures, including cars side-by-side heading to the green flag, were announced late last week.
"As much as I want to do everything the team owners want, I want to make sure we first and foremost take care of our fans," Bernard said. "I've heard from a lot of them that don't want it, that it's too gimmicky."
ZOOM Motorsports, promoter and event manager for Barber Motorsports Park, expects a sellout for the second IZOD IndyCar Series race at the scenic facility.
"It gives me chills," Bernard said of the prospects of the hillsides covered with spectators on blankets for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy on April 10.
Oriol Servia has "crashed like 20 cars" in Turn 1 at Barber Motorsports Park. Fortunately, it's only been on iRacing.com. He'll get in his first laps on the 2.38-mile course in the No. 02 Newman/Haas Racing car during the Open Test.
"It looks like you need to really have it together here," said Servia, who said he has a full-season deal to return to the team.
Scott Dixon will have some advice March 16 for Jamie McMurray, who will drive Dixon's No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car on the Barber Motorsports Park.
"Take it easy, especially being my car. I asked if they could use the 10 car (of teammate Dario Franchitti) and they said no," joked Dixon, who, in turn, will drive McMurray's stock car at Talladega Superspeedway.
"For me, it's a restrictor plate track, it's a massive track so I think my side of it is going to be a lot easier. It would have been cool to go to some short track like Bristol or Milwaukee."
There will be occasions of side-by-side running on the 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park circuit during the two days (about 10 hours total) of the IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test but no official two-wide restarts.
The sanctioning body announced late last week that double-wide restarts would be conducted at all venues, starting with the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27.
Andretti Autosport's Danica Patrick is all in for the expansion to include the nine road/street courses on the schedule.
"Whatever we have to do to get people to watch more and come to the races is what we have to do," she said. "I know it's a sport and we all want pure, pure, pure, but it's also a business."
Reigning series champion Dario Franchitti might be more cautious from a competition perspective but agreed with the entertainment aspects.
"Will there be more cars in pieces? Yeah," he said. "But it will add to the spectacle. Ultimately, it's a sport but it's an entertainment and those two have to be balanced and that's a difficult thing to do. In a lot of ways I'm glad I don't make the decisions."
The rules alteration, which includes moving the restart zone closer to the start-finish line, was implemented following input from drivers and owners as a way to further entertain and intensify the on-track action.
"The IndyCar Series goes way beyond what I saw in NASCAR as far as how the series brings the drivers and fans together from the open paddock, the autograph sessions," Franchitti continued. "The IndyCar community works hard to engage the fans."
DAY 1 QUOTES:
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, fastest of the day): "It was a good day today for Verizon Team Penske. We definitely found some things today that will help us here. The track conditions really improved late in the day before we decided to stop a bit early because of the rain. It felt really good out there and I hope it's dry tomorrow so we can get back out and do some more laps in the Verizon car." (About closeness of the field today): "I said yesterday that this would be the toughest season in history. I haven't seen the timesheets yet, but it's already shaping up to be that way. There are a lot of good drivers in good cars and maybe some good drivers in not-so-good cars. It's great to see a whole field of good drivers. There's not one person that shouldn't be out there."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, second-fastest): "It was a good day for Team Target. We had a big list of things to accomplish and made a lot of different changes as we tried to go through all the development pieces that team came up with over the winter. The Team Target car was fairly decent, so I'm pretty happy, overall."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, third-fastest): "The first day was OK. We had a few things that we had to spend some time on earlier, so we missed a bit of track time. We came back out and I think we made some strong progress in the afternoon. Some of the changes were good and some were bad, so we can cross those off of the list and now we are shortening it up. I think it has been a reasonable day and we will keep working on it for tomorrow."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske, fourth-fastest): "We were very happy with the No. 3 Guidepoint Systems car today. We turned some solid laps and posted some good times. Today we worked on getting back in the groove and finding our rhythm. We did a lot work and learned some valuable information. I hope that the weather that is heading our way does not affect us tomorrow."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 06 Newman/Haas Racing, fifth-fastest): "Driving an Indy car around Barber is fantastic! It was my first time to drive an Indy car on a proper road circuit so it really gave me a chance to stretch the legs of the Indy car a little bit, especially on the fast corners. It's an incredible machine; it's got a lot of downforce and it's really fun to try to explore the limits of the car. This morning we had a solid car. I think half of the field put new tires on in the morning and we were one of them. Not a lot of guys in the top-10 did so it put us in the top, a little higher than maybe we should have been. The car was really good again this afternoon. I had a little bit of a spin which forced us to put our new tires on a little earlier in the day which was not the best time of the day to do that and we ran an all right time, a time good enough for P7. But what was incredible was that we made a really good change later and matched it on tires that were about 15 laps old. Doing that on my first day at this track in an Indy car with everybody here is something to be really happy about. We'll just build on that tomorrow."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 IZOD Team Penske): "I was really happy with our first day here at Barber. We stopped a little bit early because of the weather coming in. We did a lot of set-up work getting the balance right for this tire. Firestone brought a different tire than what we tested here a couple of weeks ago. Overall, we are very pleased with the IZOD car after today's test and we hope to get some more good miles in tomorrow."
MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 TEAM ANDRETTI AUTOSPORT): "Today was a solid day. We started off with a pretty good balance. We started working with the car, changing many things, and I think we got a load of things done. Now we're just going to go back and compare to the other cars to see where we go for tomorrow. All in all, we got a lot done and I think the pace is there-the car was quick."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 TEAM DHL/SUN DROP): "We got a lot of work done. The setup we started with this morning ended up being our quickest combination. We've got a few good changes for tomorrow. It will be a busy day. We got a lot of information from the other three cars on the team. We just need to put our heads together tonight. It's amazing how close the competition is. The road and street courses are going to be very challenging."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 B&W Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "It was definitely a really strong day for the team. Obviously we had a lot of items on the list that we tried today. It was one of those days where it was item after item after item to test to see if we can get some improvement. I think we found some really interesting things in the car that were helpful. We're still not where we want to be, but we know that and we're aware of it, so it's no big deal, and we're not racing, yet. Today was a huge testing item program for us and I think ninth, considering we just threw bits at it, is pretty decent. Tonight we have to review the things that went wrong today and see if we can make improvements on it tomorrow from the get-go. We'll know where we're at the first out lap, and if we are where we want to be, then we'll probably go after a lap time. We'll just have to put it out on the track in the morning the right way."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Levemir and Novolog FlexPen): "The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team had another very productive test day at Barber Motorsports Park. There were only a few cars running when we were here last week, but today was more like a race weekend with a lot of competition out there. Still, we were able to accomplish our goals for the day. I'm looking forward to getting back to work on the No. 83 Levemir FlexPen and NovoLog Honda tomorrow."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing): "Today was learning day for the Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing team. We made a lot of changes and improvements to the No. 38 Service Central Honda throughout both practice sessions and we ended the day well. We're in a good spot to build on tomorrow."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 HVM Racing): "It's really great to be back in a race car again, and finally back on a high-speed course. We have a few things to test and that's what we've set out to accomplish today. I think we'll be happy with the changes that we're finding."
VITOR MEIRA (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing): "We started ok…did some changes after the last test we ran here. We tried some things that didn't work and we're going back to what we knew was better. We had a problem with the clutch and we're trying to figure out if what caused it, if it was a part failure or something else. It stopped us from running the last 90 minutes of practice which is the most important because that is when you put everything that you learned together and put down a time. Overall, we were ok and we're making steps in the right direction. We'll see what tomorrow brings. [Being back in a car] "It feels good to be back. It's a long off-season and it's a long time to be out of the car so you start saying to yourself, 'Man I want to get into it, I don't want to get rusty.' So it's good to be back on a general test where everybody is and where everybody is competitive so it's a good feeling to be back."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 TEAM VENOM) "It was really good to be back in the Venom car but I think we still have some work to do. We ticked off all the boxes and as a team ran several different setups, but we're not moving as far forward as we'd like. We're looking forward to working hard tomorrow."
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 TEAM GoDaddy.com): "Overall I think today's practice sessions were successful. We made a lot of changes to the car, some worked, some didn't, but that's what testing is about. I think we will be able to fine tune some of the things that worked well, and put them to test again tomorrow. The time that we have spent on track is going to be useful when we are back here in a few weeks."
ANA BEATRIZ (No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing): "Well it was a little bit tougher that I had expected. I don't know the Barber track, this was my first time to run here. It's a very technical circuit and it has some really fast corners, so I really had to trust the car. We did improve the car all day, which is a good thing. At the end of the day, just at the point when I think that I was right with the setup and we put on new tires, but unfortunately on my fastest lap I spun the car and destroyed the tires so we couldn't run anymore, which was frustrating. All in all, we did improve a lot, it's just disappointing that we couldn't show the times that I know we could show."
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 02 Newman/Haas Racing): "The track is even more fun than it looks on the computer. I really enjoy it; a lot more than I thought I would. We made some big changes with the car that went towards suiting me. I was very comfortable with the setup of the car but more than anything it's a track with a lot of technical, very fast corners where you need confidence and it just took me some time to get that confidence. I still have quite a bit to go but I felt, from lunchtime to the afternoon, a lot more comfortable. I'm starting to feel how I should. In the morning I was still too rusty. I am very happy with the progress in the afternoon though."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 34 Conquest Racing): "Today was exactly what I needed. Seat time is pretty important right now. I just signed with the team, so I needed the time to get used to everything - a new engineer, a new team and a new car. We made huge progress today. We started pretty conservative and just started working through it. We finished the day at a point where we feel like we can continue to make progress. Tomorrow we'll if we can pick up where we left off."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing): "It was an interesting day. We started, really, from nowhere. The car was really bad and we had a bit of a tough time. But towards the end, we started to get a little closer. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's encouraging because we made some progress. We have a lot of things to try with the geometry of the car, and I'm still learning the car and what changes work for me. We still have a lot of things to investigate, but the boys worked really hard today, and we'll keep plugging away."
The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 12:30 p.m. (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season opens on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 27.