Impressions and comments from testing at Fontana last Monday.
On Monday I spent the day at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, arriving from Pomona where I’d been covering the NHRA drag races. Several Chevrolet IndyCar teams were out at the 2-mile oval for a manufacturers test. The public was invited and there were quite a few people gathered atop the suites to watch the cars go pounding round.
The test was continuous from 9-5; we media were allowed on pit road from 11-12 and there were opportunities to speak with the drivers from noon to 1PM. The latter grouping didn’t yield much in the way of interesting commentary, as everyone’s keeping their opinions fairly close to the vest.
The drivers and teams on-hand included the four-car Ganassi squad: Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe; Team Penske’s Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya; Ed Carpenter for his team with Mike Conway watching (before driving the car on Wednesday at Sonoma Raceway) and KVSH’s Sébastien Bourdais wearing a plain gray Sparco fire suit with absolutely no nomenclature on it.
The only incidents I saw after being there from about 9:15-3PM were cut tires and there were a few. Each car was allocated four sets of Firestone tires, which meant it was tough to really test to the max, but as everyone noted, things will be very different in August when they return to this track. For one thing, while temps were lovely on this particular February day with highs in the low 70s, that will probably be the low for each night come the season finale.
Everyone was using different lines around the 2-mile oval, some going high, some using the center of the circuit but hardly anyone running low unless warming tires and engine components.
With the Ganassi squad changing over the Chevrolet power for the first time, we asked Charlie Kimball how the change was. “The engine changes the way you drive the car. It’s pretty consistent, from what we’ve seen so far. And maybe the Chevrolet changes how we set up the car a little bit? That’s based on weather conditions more than anything else,” he said.
Montoya remarked on the Indy car’s braking capabilities: “I was really amazed by the brakes on these cars,” after driving NASCAR for so many years. He’s using his own setups and is still using last year’s Chevrolet engines while his teammates are testing the 2014 specification.
Teammate Helio Castroneves talked a little bit about Montoya (who wasn’t in the room at the time). “No doubts on Juan Pablo; I always thought had great talent. I think it’s a different part of his life and he’s having a good time. He did a good job and lost a lot of weight. We all mature as drivers and that’s the big difference in Juan Pablo.”
Dario Franchitti was at the track “doing my job” as he told me. He’s working with Tony Kanaan to help acclimate his good friend to the Target team. The Ganassi team's results over the past few years were the deciding factor for Kanaan. “Every team has its own personality and each is run by different people. I expect us to be even stronger than we were last year, but the beauty of this series is that, even with the top three teams that are still going to be very strong, there’s still room for the little guys - like we were last year - to make things happen.”