De Vries impresses MSR, leads IndyCar driver evaluation test

Nyck de Vries put Meyer Shank Racing-Honda at the top of the times in a four-car IndyCar test at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

De Vries impresses MSR, leads IndyCar driver evaluation test
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The reigning Formula E champion lapped the 1.7-mile configuration of the legendary track in 52.552sec, setting his best time on the 25th of a total of 62 laps.

“He’s very, very good,” enthused team founder and co-owner Michael Shank, whose team will expand to two full-time entries in 2022, with Simon Pagenaud joining the squad’s defending Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. “

It’s hard to work out where he might end up because he’s still working on his life and career in Europe somewhat, but we wanted to have a look at him just to gauge him for the future.”

The teams were granted only four sets of tires, which MSR elected to use more sparingly, hence de Vries turning far fewer laps than the other drivers in action.

“You could burn through four sets in just the morning if you wanted to,” remarked Shank, “so we evenly spaced them out and didn’t do a lot of long runs on old tires. From 1.00 through to 3.30pm you’re just doing nothing really.

“These cars are beasts compared with what these guys are used to. I think it was [Romain] Grosjean who said these are ‘steering monsters’, and that was Nyck’s comment after he came in after his first run – like, ‘This thing is ridiculous in terms of steering effort.’ So that’s the biggest thing for these guys to get used to, and then it’s the tires – totally different from what they’re used to.

“So yes, he was very impressive. His feedback was very, very good – you can tell he’s been around really professional organizations for the last four or five years – and he’s sure of himself and he understands the terminology we use, and he just gets on with it. We waited a little while to go out, so Nyck was 20-30 laps behind those other guys and in his first five laps he went straight to P1.

“The test served another purpose for us because I’ve got a lot of new people with us going to two full-time cars, and so we brought a lot of people down here to give them some more experience, figure out what we’re lacking, and ironing out any mistakes – things we just wanted to work on before the Christmas break.”

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing-Chevrolet was the outlier of the group, in that he competed in the last three races of the 2021 IndyCar season. He ran 109 laps, setting his best time on his penultimate flier, a 52.860sec which left him just over three tenths behind de Vries but with a similar gap over Stoffel Vandoorne, piloting an Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy.

The former McLaren Formula 1 driver, and de Vries’ teammate at Mercedes in FE this year, put in 138 laps and impressed team president Taylor Kiel.

“Stoffel was a pleasure to work with, on and off the track,” said Kiel. “It was about getting him comfortable with the car as quickly as possible. He was happy with the car right away on the first set of tires so we were able to just get on with the program.

“He was ultra professional and got up to speed and did everything was asked him to do. His feedback was good and I think he enjoyed the experience with our team and we certainly enjoyed working with him. I left the circuit pleased with what he’d done and he seemed excited.”

Arrow McLaren SP is planning to run to three full-time entries in 2023, but has talked about bringing forward that expansion date to include several rounds in 2022, hence the test with Nico Hulkenberg in October at Barber Motorsports Park.

While the German elected not to pursue an IndyCar career move, Kiel says that Vandoorne remains a potential candidate for the AMSP squad which will again run Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist in 2022.

“I would say Stoffel’s in the conversation, no doubt,” he remarked. “He did a great job for us today but we’re well away from a decision at the moment. It’s a two-way street – he’s got to go away and digest what IndyCar is, what these cars are like and what our team is, and if he decides it’s something he’d like to do, then we’ll have a conversation at that point.

“We’re not making any decisions at this point, but I can say he’s in the conversation.

“Any time you test a new guy in a driver evaluation test, you go back and spend a lot of time critiquing and talking and trying to draw conclusions. Testing with a guy for one day and trying to draw a conclusion is difficult.

“Driver evaluation days were unlimited but IndyCar has just recently re-written the rule to limit it to two days, so that’s it for us. If another driver takes our fancy and we feel like we’ve got a good case, we’ll take the matter to IndyCar because it’s an important decision, so as we start to scale up and achieve our objectives and goals for 2023, we’re going to have to make a move for a third driver at some point.”

The 26-year-old Briton Jack Aitken was fourth for Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevy, as the team seeks to find a road/street course driver for the #20 car, which on ovals is driven by team owner Ed Carpenter. Aitken ended the day with a 53.436sec lap, 0.884sec off pacesetter de Vries.

Carpenter, a three-time Indy 500 pole-winner told Motorsport.com: “I had to leave the test slightly early to catch my flight but De Vries was fastest while the other three were ping-ponging around in terms of lap time and tires, regarding who was next quickest. But I think it was a productive day for us and for him.

“I don’t fully know what Jack’s thinking of for next year, I need to discuss it with him further, but I definitely think he was enjoying our car, and the challenge of IndyCar. They were all quality guys testing today – we saw what Callum could do last year when he got the call-up – but for sure Jack was doing a nice job, he’s talented and professional.”

“So we’ll need to look at him for next year, talk to him a bit more. But there are others – some of whom have been reported, some who have not.”

These are believed to still include former Andretti Autosport ace Ryan Hunter-Reay who tested with the team at Barber in October.

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