Allan Brewer, IndyCar correspondent
The IndyCar Series continued development of the new Dallara DW12 chassis and various engine combinations with an open test at Sebring International Raceway on January 17th and 18th.
Drivers participating in the two-day shakedown included Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves of Penske Racing, Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Lotus HVM Racing's Simona deSilvestro, Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport, JR Hildebrand of Panther Racing and Tony Kanaan of KV Racing.
It will take some time to adapt, but that's why we're out here testing.
Teams took to the 1.8-mile, 10-turn Sebring short course to try out the three power plants that will compete in the 2012 season: Chevrolet (Penske, Andretti, KV Racing and Panther), Lotus and Honda (Ganassi).
Unofficial clocking put Dixon among the fastest of the testing drivers, pursued by Kanaan. Reliability was reportedly not an issue with at least team (Lotus) putting over 150 laps at speed on their 2.2 liter, twin-turbo V6 engine.
Lotus also tested in the final days of last week at Palm Beach International Raceway in West Palm Beach, Florida; reportedly amassing there and at Sebring a grand total of 870 miles of on-track experience in the new race car.
"I think it was really a good four days," said De Silvestro. "We ran a lot of miles. We did a lot of laps. I've never spent so much time in a race car."
"We started tweaking on the race car just to see what it liked. It was a really positive test and I learned many things. The engineers have been really open and showed me everything, and we worked really well together which was really cool. I can't wait to get back in the car again."
Lotus engine representative Olivier Picquenot was equally pleased with the initial testing. "This was the most successful test I have ever participated in," he said. "We achieved more than I expected. The quality of the engine is perfect. We're very pleased from a technical aspect."
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Bryan Herta Autosport are also working with Lotus to develop the new engine. DeSilvestro will drive again in February, while Oriol Servia and Alex Tagliani will share seat-time with her during tests in both February and March.
Hildebrand put in laps with the Chevrolet engine in a previous test at Miami Homestead Speedway, then took his turn in the new DW12/Chevy he'll drive for John Barnes' team in the coming season at Sebring.
"I felt like as a team, and me kind of getting used to it as a driver, we made good progress over the couple of days," he said afterwards." And that’s really what it was all about; trying to figure out what’s going to be different."
"There definitely are some things that I needed to adjust to - like the new carbon brakes. We found them to be much more sensitive, and a little bit tougher to manage. All things considered, it was a successful and productive couple of days for us, and by the end of the second day we felt like we were quite competitive with everyone."
Another new challenge for the drivers to overcome is the move of the clutch control from the floor to the paddle shifter on the steering wheel of the DW12. Three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves had to remind himself to brake with his left foot during the testing session.
"It will take some time to adapt, but that's why we're out here testing," he said. "It's kind of fun, though; like go-karts. The only car I drove before (with left-foot braking) was in a Formula One test in 2002."
The Sebring test followed a wind-tunnel session last week in North Carolina where IndyCar officials and Dallara technicians determined the new chassis has the potential (when optimized with the proper aero set-up, parts and balance) to achieve speeds on ovals approaching 225 mph with a nominal engine horsepower rating of 575 hp.
Penske's Will Power, Ganassi's Graham Rahal and Lotus HVM Racing's E.J. Viso also took laps at speed at Sebring.
Full-scale testing resumes January 30th as James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport will be joined at Sebring by Kanaan, Hildebrand, Team Penske and Lotus.
A.J. Foyt Racing's Mike Conway tests January 31st-February 1st at Sebring, as does Charlie Kimball of Ganassi Racing.
The season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is March 25th, and the first oval race is the Indianapolis 500 on May 27th.