IRL IndyCar Series testing from Homestead-Miami Speedway. Eighteen Indy Racing LeagueÂ® IndyCarÂ® Series drivers who put their cars through their paces on a new-look track Wednesday gathered information about their engine and chassis packages,...
IRL IndyCar Series testing from Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Eighteen Indy Racing League® IndyCar® Series drivers who put their cars through their paces on a new-look track Wednesday gathered information about their engine and chassis packages, the revamped 1.5-mile oval and themselves.
Marlboro Team Penske's Helio Castroneves led the parade of drivers onto the revamped 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway at 9 a.m. under sunny skies. Like the morning, the afternoon session went off without a hitch, and the field put in 2,291 laps.
Two sessions Thursday complete the test -- the first of two before the season opener on Feb. 29 at this oval. The forecast is for sun and temperatures in the low 70s.
"It's the first time we've run the car, and it was a trouble-free day," said Castroneves, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. "We still have some work to do. (Thursday) we'll continue with our plan, try to improve handling and gain speed."
Dan Wheldon, the 2003 Bombardier Rookie of the Year, topped the speed chart at 217.820 mph in his Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda Firestone car though he ran only 42 laps. Red Bull Cheever Racing teammates Alex Barron (217.482 mph) and Ed Carpenter (217.223) were second and third quick, respectively.
"Certainly, the Klein Tools/Jim Beam car was very strong," said Wheldon, one of four Andretti Green Racing cars to run. "The team did a fantastic job. It is a tough undertaking for them to put together four cars."
Red Bull Racing owner Eddie Cheever took his drivers' success in stride. After all, the race is a month away.
"It was a good day," said Cheever, a former IRL driver. "The conditions when you are testing are obviously a lot laxer than when you're racing. And we were sloppy today in some areas, but we were able to recover."
Carpenter had an electrical problem during the morning session, but still was second-quick. He ran a total of 112 laps.
"The day started off a little slow," said Carpenter, a series rookie. "We had some electrical problems right off, but the guys did an excellent job sorting things out over time."
Drivers such as Carpenter were getting their first look at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which in the fall was repaved and revamped to include variable banking of 18 degrees on the bottom, 19 degrees in the middle and 20 degrees at the top plus the SAFER Barrier in the corners.
"The track did an excellent job," Castroneves said. "It's very smooth and will make for a great race."
Teammate Sam Hornish Jr., known for taking the high groove, said it's not an especially difficult track on which to maneuver. The variable banking will potentially allow three racing lanes.
"This will make our race a little closer," said Hornish, who completed 150 laps. "You'll see more side-by-side racing. The old track (6 degrees of banking) was a very good track because you had to have the car set up really well all day long and you had to be on your toes all day long driving hard.
"This was the first time we ran with the full group. Our focus wasn't to run with the other cars much, but focus on the handling of the car. (Thursday) we'll continue to work on handling and setup for the race."
Track activity was especially gratifying for Andretti Green Racing driver Dario Franchitti, who competed in only three races in 2003 because of a back injury suffered in an April motorcycle accident in his native Scotland. He took 105 trips around the track.
"It felt good to be in the car," said Franchitti, whose best finish last season was fourth at Pikes Peak. "It was good to be running with some other cars and getting to do what I love. Everything is coming back to me, and we're focusing very much on getting the most out of the car for the upcoming races."