Nancy Knapp Schilke, IndyCar correspondent
For the second day in a row, Scott Dixon was the fastest on the 1.67-mile Sebring International Raceway short course to close out the IndyCar Series Open Test. The teams and drivers for the 2012 season were split into two groups over four days. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon was the only one to break the 52-second barrier.
The Kiwi’s best lap time was set on his final lap this afternoon at 51.7938 seconds. Yesterday, Dixon clocked a 51.7932 for a speed of 116.077mph. With the season opener now two weeks away, he and his teammate Dario Franchitti are pleased with their new Dallara Honda.
"We did the work on the car and as the sun went down a bit and the clouds came in, the track picked up some time. We definitely worked to make the car better as well. I was good to do something for the lads at the end and it worked out,” said Dixon.
The team always does a good job, they're very, very good.
It was not a perfect day for Dixon as he explained the morning session: “We got started late because of some issues, and probably didn't get accomplished what we needed to in the first part of the day. We made a big suspension change at lunch time, and I actually didn't like all of that stuff, but we came out around 3 p.m., and didn't have time to go back on those things, so we stuck with it. We made steering changes and damper changes and seem to find a bit of a compromise for what we had."
Franchitti ended short of the fastest lap by 0.2219 seconds but the championship team showed that even with shaking down a new car, they appear to be on top of their game for the news season as he said, "The team always does a good job, they're very, very good.”
The 2011 champion added, “We're trying to learn the new car, what might break on them, where the weak spots are, how to make them go fast. Honda is learning very quickly too so we're just trying to get through all of this stuff just now. I'm very happy with the two days we've had, obviously the first two days for me right from break-in, we had a lot of questions coming in to this test and we got answers to most of them, so hopefully we can put the pieces together for St. Pete and onwards."
One of the new drivers in IndyCar showed his vast talent by finishing third fastest on both Thursday and Friday for the KV Racing Technology team utilizing the Chevrolet engine as the manufacturer returns to Indy car racing. Rubens Barrichello was third again today with a 52.2242, the former Formula One driver was just 0.4305 seconds off the hot lap set by Dixon. In the overall, the Brazilian was fourth behind Helio Castroneves who turned his best lap of 52.1413 on Tuesday (day two) in his Team Penske Chevrolet.
Ending the final test before the season opener in third with his fellow countryman in fourth indicates the power of the Chevy engine. After leading his two teammates on the second day when they swept the top three, Castroneves said of their new engine for 2012: "It was certainly a long way ahead of everybody in the beginning, all the manufacturers; but Chevy is on-board. Took the bull by the horns as they say. It is a very good commitment from everyone. Right now we are still working; still developing. Certainly it is great to be on top of the charts. But, it doesn't pay anything. The first race of the season is what we are looking for. But, it feels great to have a good practice."
Tony Kanaan's new teammate is one of his best friends and while he was testing also, he kept offering encouragement to Barrichello. With the first race looming, Barrichello commented, "We were able to run a good amount of laps again today and look at some different setups. We also practiced pit stops which will serve me well. I was able to see how the car reacts coming in on warm tires and leaving on cold tires and seeing where to position the car, all things that are very different to what I am used to. Overall though we have had a very good two days of testing."
Team Penske’s Will Power was fifth best with a 52.2059 on March 6th and he did not have a great first day but the crew spent time making the needed fix for the Australian. Power was happy and said, "The Verizon guys did a great job to get that engine in during the morning to get it to run before lunch for a shakedown. I got to run all afternoon. Then we had another problem right there at the end, but still got a lot of running today."
JR Hildebrand completed his two days with the sixth best overall time of 52.2068 in his Panther Racing Dallara powered by Chevrolet. Seventh was taken by Ryan Briscoe with his best at 52.2072 and he commented, “It was a very productive couple of days again. The more miles we get on these Chevys, the better. I feel like we're ready to go racing in St. Pete. The car is feeling strong. Working with the engine guys on the driveability side as well. I think we made a lot of gains there. I'm excited."
Mike Conway impressed with a 52.2230 to end eighth. “We struggled all day to find speed. We need to go quicker because 4 tenths is massive around here. We learned some things but we have more work to do. We just have to keep working at it,” said the driver for A.J.Foyt Racing Honda driver.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay set the early pace on Monday with a time of 52.3466 but even with the Chevy power, he ended ninth overall. “The car is a lot different with the carbon brakes, it being lighter and the power output with the Chevy twin turbo. The funny thing is if you didn't have any lap times you'd think you were two or three seconds a lap quicker just because of the power delivery of the turbo. When it gets going, it really sets you back in your seat. I think the lap times at St. Pete will be quicker, and this car will certainly go faster and faster as we develop it,” explained the American.
Tenth best of the 27 drivers was Takuma Sato in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda with a 52.3841. "We had a small issue this morning and also at the end of the day when we had a failure of a component but overall it was good. We evaluated quite a few different setups and collected good data so we are able to understand the car more and more,” he said yesterday.
One of the teams that are attempting to learn as much as they can in a short time is Lotus Dragon Racing. There two drivers have a lot of experience in open-wheel series, along with other series they have contested. But due to a delay in the program coming together, they are “behind in testing” per Katherine Legge. Both she and her teammate Sebastien Bourdais have lacked time behind the wheel but Legge said, “The team is great and working hard so we hope for the best at St. Pete.”
Former CART champion and Formula One driver, Bourdais commented at the end of the IndyCar test: "Now we're just having to deal with balance issues and fixing stuff, so it's more what I'm used to and what my job is rather than worrying if we're going to get the car on the track. So, nothing is ideal, we would have loved to get more done, but at least I will show up in St. Pete having done some laps in the car. And knowing a little bit, making sure the car was right and was doing everything it was expected to do, and to get the communication going with the engineers is what we need to address and to get the communication going with Lotus as well. Just slowly starting, really."