James Hinchcliffe said he is enjoying the physical challenge of Phoenix International Raceway but admitted the track's blend of corners made car setup a “huge challenge.”
Talking to the media after the first three-hour session of open testing at PIR, the Canadian said: “It's this weird hybrid of Iowa, Milwaukee and Pocono.
“Turns 1 and 2 are a lot like Iowa’s 3 and 4; Turns 3 and 4 here are a lot like Milwaukee 1 and 2. Then you have the dogleg in the back straight, which is kind of like Turn 2 at Pocono. It makes setting the car up very difficult. It's a huge challenge for the engineers.
“It's going to be a huge challenge for the drivers in the race, as well. Physically the g-forces around a small track like this are very high. The heat is obviously an issue, too.
"For us, this is going to be a tough little race, but it's going to be a lot of fun.”
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsport ace explained that beyond the physical challenge, Phoenix’s average speed – fastest average lap speed has been 187mph – presented mental challenges, too.
“It's incredible how little time you have to think about anything around a lap here. It's so flat out, you cannot let your concentration waiver for even a fraction of a second.
"The back straight is not a straight. The front straight is the only chance you have, whether it's to adjust your weight jacker, your rollbars… whatever it is. You have about three and a half, four seconds to get it done over a lap. That's exhausting!”
“Great to be back”
Hinchcliffe, who suffered grievous leg and pelvic injuries in practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May, said he was thrilled to be back at his first open test since then. Although he participated in the Road America test last September, he said this test at Phoenix still felt like “the first day back at school.”
He said: “We traveled to some races in the second half of last year [but] I still felt like a little bit of an outsider because I wasn't doing my job. Obviously testing and driving an IndyCar is phenomenal always, but it's competition that you really miss after a while. It's nice to be back here with a bunch of cars on track and get sort of those competitive juices flowing again.”
Hinchcliffe also suggested he had learned while being on the timing stands with the SPM team last year.
“It was very fascinating to sit on pitwall and see how these races unfolded, how decisions were made,” he mused.
“When you're in the car, you get one voice telling you one thing, you just kind of take it as gospel and go from there. For me it was fascinating to see how some of these decisions were made. Sometimes when they come on the radio and tell you something, you’re thinking, ‘Are you crazy?! Why are we doing this?’
“But now I understand it a whole lot better. I understand how races unfold from a timing standpoint better. I think that's going to make communication between me and the pit stand during races a lot easier. It will certainly give me a little more comfort and confidence that they really do know what they're doing – even though it looks like kindergarten class down there!”